Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
May I begin by commending the work done in the other place by Lord Lester, who introduced the Bill? I pay tribute to him for his initial work on the Bill, and thank him for his support for the Government’s amendments and redrafting. The Bill was the subject of much debate in the other place, and it comes to us changed for the better. I hope it will gain similar support in this House as it is much needed if we are to help the young women and, indeed, some men who find themselves in extremely threatening circumstances.
Above all, the Bill’s aim is to offer protection to those faced with forced marriage, whether they are children, teenagers or adults, regardless of background, race or religion. It also offers protection to people who have already been forced into a marriage. As many Members will be aware, the forced marriage unit, which is jointly sponsored by the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, does tremendous work in developing Government policy on the subject. It co-ordinates outreach projects and it provides support and information to individuals who are at risk. It receives about 5,000 calls for general advice and it handles about 300 cases a year.
Last year, the Metropolitan police recorded 518 incidents related to forced marriage, so the numbers involved may not be great, but they are significant, and it is likely that many more victims suffer in silence. As well as offering protection to people who are in danger of being forced into marriage, we hope that the Bill will act as a deterrent, sending out a clear message that forced marriage will not be tolerated in our democracy.
The Bill offers civil remedies to those seeking protection from forced marriage. We consulted in 2005 on whether to introduce a criminal offence for forced marriage, but the response from stakeholders and voluntary groups with great experience of such issues was that criminalising it might be seen to target and stigmatise certain ethnic and religious communities, and that criminalisation would simply drive the practice underground, making the situation even worse for victims.
Everybody in the House will support measures to tackle forced marriage, which is appalling, and I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), who has done an awful lot in the House to highlight the issue. Will the Minister explain which stakeholders she has spoken to, because people are concerned that the Bill will not make forced marriage a criminal offence?
We spoke to a variety of organisations that work with women, a number of faith groups and a series of organisations that have an interest, so the consultation was comprehensive. The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), which I intend to do later in my contribution.
It is important that victims get help to rebuild their lives and, where possible, to ensure that they have an ongoing relationship with their family. One of the reasons many voluntary organisations were concerned about criminalisation was that it might build a wall between the victim and their family that would be impossible to breach. This Bill is part of much wider programme that involves raising awareness of the problem of forced marriage and protecting women’s rights in that area.
The forced marriage unit has produced a handbook that provides practical support to survivors. It is also part-funding a pilot survivors network to provide emotional support to those who survive forced marriage. We are undertaking a great deal of publicity, outreach and awareness-raising work in key communities, which involves speaking at around 75 events every year. There has been a national publicity campaign involving radio, TV and the national and local press.
Like the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, who secured an Adjournment debate on the subject back in 1999. Since then, she has worked tirelessly to bring about changes in the legislation to offer protection to victims. I hope that this Bill and the package of work undertaken by the forced marriage unit will stop the wicked practice of forced marriage.
The Bill gives the courts a wide discretion to deal flexibly and sensitively with the circumstances of each individual case, employing civil remedies that will offer protection to victims without criminalising members of their family. The new provisions take the form of a new part 4A of the Family Law Act 1996, placing them firmly in the wider context of domestic violence and family proceedings generally. That was the wish of Lord Lester, who wanted the provisions to be part of the family law package.
The type of orders that we envisage being made under the Bill are ones prohibiting violence or requiring certain steps, such as requiring a person to surrender a passport, for as long as such measures are appropriate to protect the victim. The Bill does not define what actions would constitute force in those circumstances, but it provides that that includes coercion by threats or the use of psychological pressure. The force may not even be directed against the victim, because it can be indirectly aimed at a third party or directed against the perpetrator themselves. For example, a person attempting to force a marriage may threaten to harm a member of the victim’s family or even himself or herself should the victim not agree to go ahead with the marriage. That avoids narrow definitions of behaviour, which might be too restrictive, and gives the courts powers to offer protection to victims in a wide range of circumstances. Victims may have been subject to a variety of pressures aimed at forcing them into marrying without their free and full consent.
An important aspect of the Bill is that it enables third parties to apply for orders on behalf of victims. Many people have asked me about the point that many victims are afraid to come forward. The Bill recognises that and includes an essential provision that offers protection to women who fear making an application because of intimidation, or even because they have been imprisoned against their will. The Bill allows a “relevant third party” to apply for a protection order on behalf of a victim. A “relevant third party” is an individual or organisation that has been designated as such by the Lord Chancellor. Other third parties—individuals or groups that are not so designated—would need to obtain leave from the court before their application could be made. That provision is designed to minimise the risk of a third party abusing the process. The wishes and feelings of the victim will be a vital consideration for the courts in dealing with third-party applications.
Although the Minister is right that we do not want to see an abuse of the process, the measure that she has just outlined is important, because it allows a near relative to make an application if they are secure in the knowledge that somebody is being forced into a marriage.
It is enormously to the credit of the Government and the Conservative Opposition that they have been prepared to take forward the Bill introduced by my noble Friend Lord Lester. We are grateful for the interest that has been shown—it has been a shared endeavour across the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those kind and positive words. I am sure that all hon. Members on both sides of the House will work together to ensure that the Bill has a safe and smooth passage. We have always been concerned about the issue. Some time ago, we considered whether criminalisation would be appropriate. However, when Lord Lester introduced his private Member’s Bill, it seemed appropriate to join together.
The Bill provides that the court must attach a power of arrest to an order, if it considers that the respondent has used or threatened violence against the victim, a third party or the respondent themselves. The ability for the court to attach a power of arrest to injunctions will provide a further important protection for women in those circumstances and it will act as a strong deterrent to further action for those covered by the order. Powers of arrest may also be attached to orders addressed not only to named respondents, but to third parties. That means that all orders will be capable of being effectively enforced by a power of arrest, if appropriate.
The Bill provides parallel provisions for Northern Ireland. Although incidents of forced marriage are not common in Northern Ireland, I hope that hon. Members agree that extending these important provisions to Northern Ireland sends out an important signal about the seriousness with which we take the problem.
Before concluding, I want to say a few words about the Bill’s implementation. As with any legislation, implementation will require a significant programme of work. The first task will be to develop the necessary court rules, which will implement the procedure for dealing with those cases. The Department will take forward drafting of the rules and necessary court forms in conjunction with the family procedure rule committee.
The cost of court proceedings under part 4A in the form of court fees must also be set. I know that court fees are always a matter of concern in this House and the other place, and I want to reassure hon. Members that the Government are committed to ensuring that vulnerable people who need protection from the courts, but who do not have the means to pay, have access to justice. The intention is that the court fees and eligibility for legal aid will follow the models that are in place in relation to applications for non-molestation and occupation orders under part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996. That means that those on low incomes will be exempt from paying a court fee on the issuing of their applications.
A respondent will, of course, be eligible for legal aid in the usual way.
The need for proper training and guidance on the issue of forced marriage and on the particular provisions included in this legislation has been rightly identified as key to ensuring that the Bill is implemented successfully and to tackling the problem of forced marriage. In the past year, the forced marriage unit—we are the only country in the world that has a forced marriage unit, so it is unique—has issued guidance to health professionals and undertaken an awareness-raising campaign for registrars. Guidance was issued to social workers in 2004, followed by guidance for the police and for teachers in 2005. We expect that revised guidance will go out for social workers before the end of this year.
The Bill provides a power for the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the Bill and on the issue of forced marriage generally. That will enable us to republish the existing guidance in order to put it on a statutory footing. It is anticipated that future guidance issued by the FMU will usually be published under the new power.
It is anticipated that the Judicial Studies Board, which is responsible for judicial training, will undertake the necessary training for judges in these courts. We will discuss with the JSB the cost of training and how to incorporate the training that it considers necessary within the existing provisions. Training for court staff will be a matter for my Department and for Her Majesty’s Courts Service as standard practice for the implementation of any new legislation affecting the courts. We will also consider with HMCS the provision of interpreters for women in forced marriages as part of the implementation programme.
It is clear that the House is already very supportive of the Bill. I hope that I have given hon. Members a sense of the plans that are in place to ensure that this extremely important piece of legislation is implemented as speedily as possible so that we can take another important step forward in tackling the harmful practice of forced marriage and protecting the rights of women, in particular, but of all individuals to choose whom and when to marry. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister’s remarks and her presentation of the Bill. As she will be aware, the Bill commands universal support across the House. It started in another place when it was introduced by Lord Lester as a private Member’s Bill. As the chances of a private Member’s Bill from the other place getting through this House are not usually very good—not because of any obstruction but simply because they tend to come at the very bottom of the Order Paper in private Members’ business—we felt it incumbent on ourselves, as we took the matter so seriously, to ask for time for it to be dealt with, even at the cost of Opposition debating time. We are absolutely delighted to have been able to do that. We are also delighted that the Government responded positively to our proposal and that we have been able to co-operate with the Liberal Democrats on this matter.
Article 16(2) of the universal declaration of human rights says:
“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”
That is an aspiration that most people in this country might well assume to be commonplace, but the unfortunate reality is that there is ample evidence that it is not. The Minister referred to the number of calls received by the forced marriage unit—about 5,000 a year—and the identification of some 300 cases that appeared to be ascertained and 518 matters that had been brought to the attention of the Metropolitan police. Of course, in so many of these matters it is very difficult to know exactly what the scale of the problem may be. Speaking on the basis of my constituency experience in an area that might not necessarily be associated with the demographic profile that might lend itself to this, I think that there is ample evidence that people are contracting marriages, especially abroad, where a degree of coercion appears to be involved in the transaction, if I may call it that.
My hon. Friend raises a perfectly sensible point, which might also go to the question of what the general age of consent for entering into marriage should be. He is fully entitled to want to have those matters considered, although they are rather wider than those that we are considering. Historically in this country, at least until the 19th century, marriages were contracted at younger ages than today. Some argue that 16 is too young, while others say that it is right, particularly given the earlier maturity of young people. It is not an issue on which I would wish to pronounce, but it is a legitimate one.
Coerced marriage involves grey areas. Some people marry under emotional pressure—that may happen frequently in this country, let alone abroad—and may come to regret it afterwards. We must be reasonably pragmatic in our approach. Nevertheless, it is clear that there are some stunning and horrifying cases of individuals who are coerced into marriage. We cannot escape the fact that different cultures have different approaches to marriage. Therefore, as our country has become more multicultural, different examples of coerced marriage have entered into our society—although it would be wrong to suggest that it has not been present here, too, throughout our history.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) inadvertently focused on the role of entry clearance officers and entry clearance managers. Clearly, legislation is very important and we support the Bill. However, should we not also consider an administrative way of dealing with the issue? ECOs and ECMs abroad should be wary when an application is made and the applicant is too afraid to say that it is a forced marriage, because if she does it then appears in the explanatory statement when it is sent to London and everyone knows that she has scuppered her own application.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point that I was going to deal with a little later. It is one area that I think we might like to consider a bit further in Committee, if possible. I shall explain in a moment what I had in mind; other hon. Members might have different ideas.
I do not wish to take up the House’s time on an issue on which there is so much consensus, but I should like to say a couple of things about the Bill. As originally introduced by Lord Lester, it was a new piece of legislation. Since the Government’s helpful intervention, it has, in essence, been turned into an amendment of the Family Law Act 1996. There was great merit in that approach. Lord Lester had the ideas and set them out on paper, but translating them into detailed court powers is a rather more complicated process—I see the Minister smiling in agreement—and the 1996 Act provided the necessary mechanisms. Under the powers set out in new sections 63F, 63G, 63H, 63I and so on, we now have a panoply of court powers that were not originally provided for in Lord Lester’s Bill, and which will be very useful.
That brings me to what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said about whether criminal sanctions are required. That is an important issue. If somebody is forced into marriage, and it can be shown to the criminal standard of proof that that is what has happened, there is no doubt that a great range of criminal offences may have been committed, depending on the circumstances, such as blackmail, threats to kill, assault, false imprisonment, child abduction, kidnapping or sexual offences. However, the problem is that it is questionable whether putting in a criminal standard of proof will get a better result, particularly where somebody is extremely unwilling to come forward. The merit of the way in which this has been approached is that, first, it will encourage people who have been forced into marriages to come forward, and secondly, it allows the courts much greater flexibility to look in the round at what is going on—for example, to listen to a relative or friend who comes forward and says, “I think this is a forced marriage, as the person is clearly not happy about it”, and then do something practical about it. If it becomes clear, in the course of all that, that a criminal offence has been committed, I have no doubt that the opportunity for prosecution may still ensue. My hon. Friend needs to bear in mind the question of whether having a criminal offence of forced marriage would leave us with some serious definitional problems and then the problem of proving to the requisite standard that that is what happened.
My hon. Friend makes a very powerful case and, as he knows, I respect his opinion hugely. Does he agree, however, that a stated and clear criminal offence in this area may well deter people so that such things do not happen in the first place? A criminal offence would send a powerful and important message to people that such activity is not tolerated in this country.
Criminalisation sends out a powerful message, but the question is whether a criminal offence would be workable. If in many cases where an attempt is made to prosecute the criminal offence becomes impossible to prove, people will start to disregard it or treat it with contempt. The merit of Lord Lester’s approach—derived from a lot of consultation and adopted by the Government—is that it maximises the possibility of people coming forward. After all, it is currently true that individuals can come forward. Somebody who has been coerced into a marriage in India, for example, and comes to this country would probably be able to secure a decree of nullity if they so wanted, as it exists today. The difficulty is that that is not happening.
We cannot achieve perfection in such matters, but in so far as we can see a way forward, what is proposed in the Bill maximises the chances of a forced marriage coming to the attention of the courts and of something being done about it. I am sure that many will still slip through the net, but some will end up in prosecution. If someone is prepared to come forward and say that they were, effectively, kidnapped before the marriage, that may provide a powerful ability to do something about it.
The other problem my hon. Friend must bear in mind is that some such marriages may have been contracted abroad. In this country, there is a wide degree of recognition of foreign marriages on the whole, even if they do not necessarily comply with our regulations. That raises a number of problems that the legislation has probably successfully addressed, as far as I can see—we shall look at the matter more closely in Committee.
I do not want to take up the House’s time; there is no point in repeating what the Minister said when I agree with every word she has spoken. To return to the important point of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), I will simply say that we know that the majority—not necessarily all—of these marriages often take place abroad. One reason for that is that any marriage in this country has to undergo the scrutiny of the registrar of marriage, or a person who has been licensed as such, who must see both parties and ascertain consent.
We shall try to return to this matter in Committee—the Bill largely amends the Family Law Act 1996, so that may cause problems—but I wonder whether there should be a system of compulsory re-registration of foreign marriages when someone comes from abroad, so that the facts of the marriage and the consent of the parties can be ascertained. That would go a little further, but it might deal with some of the problems raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East about executive officers in consulates who give out visas and often find it difficult to be satisfied that consent has been given.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but there is a simple way round this problem. Such officers could accept a confidential statement made by the applicant because they would interview the applicant separately, even though the spouse might be sitting outside, having flown from the United Kingdom, and that would not be disclosable—if there were an appeal, it is disclosable only to the judge. That is one way round the problem. There is an administrative way to help the situation that would prevent the spouse having to enter the country against their will in the first place.
Notwithstanding that, I hope that we will consider those issues; it is the one area that I would like to look at in Committee. Given that I am standing at the Dispatch Box, the right hon. Gentleman can infer that it is likely to fall to me to do the job.
With those thoughts in mind, I would like to thank the Government for their approach to the matter. I say again how pleased and privileged we are to help to ensure that the Bill passes through the House. I look forward to Committee, where we can see whether there are any—probably minor—improvements that can be made to it.
The word “delighted” would be inappropriate, but I am certainly pleased to speak about the Bill because forced and child marriages constitute serious and recurrent violations of human rights, and the rights of the child. In Britain, the root causes of this practice lie mainly in the tendency for traditions to become fossilised in migrant communities that are often more conservative than those remaining in home countries. Let us face it, the practice occurs predominantly in Muslim communities, but also in others.
It is almost entirely women and girls who are subjected to this infringement of their personal liberty, but men may also be forced to marry—for example, when young men display gay tendencies, which is not acceptable in their community. It is quite outrageous that under the cloak of “respect” for the culture and traditions of certain communities, some authorities tolerate forced marriages, even though such marriages violate the fundamental rights of each and every victim. It is a case not of stigmatising Islam, but of saying that tolerance or feeling for culture cannot serve as an excuse for condoning such marriages, or for hiding behind moral blindness.
I welcome the way in which my hon. Friend has put her arguments, and she is at the forefront of campaigns to bring religions together. Does she agree, however, that when the Bill becomes an Act, it will be important for us to raise awareness in the community to make people aware of its provisions and effects?
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend, who makes a very valid, and crucial, point. Legislation is only a part of the whole. Education and consultation of the communities involved is important; they must be brought on board. That is of paramount importance.
Forced marriage is defined as the union of two persons, at least one of whom has not given their free and full consent to the marriage. Arranged marriage, by contrast, is typified by the intervention of someone outside the future couple—usually the parents of the future spouses or a broker. However, the ultimate choice of accepting the arrangement rests with each of the future spouses. It can, of course, be difficult to ascertain how far it is possible for them to choose and make up their minds in a properly informed manner because the family environment can be so powerful that choice is induced by upbringing or deference to custom.
Forced marriage is chiefly characterised by the absence of consent. In other words, one future spouse, or both, does not have the choice of opting out because the family resorts to coercive methods, such as emotional blackmail, physical duress, violence or even abduction, confinement and confiscation of official papers, such as passports. For practical purposes, the future spouses have no possibility of choosing whether or not to marry.
Forced marriage, when consummated—as it is in the vast majority of cases—is primarily an act of rape. The young bride does not have the freedom to accept or refuse sexual relations or to exercise her reproductive rights. She must submit. Indeed, a catalogue of elementary and fundamental rights are simply trampled underfoot. Deprivation of happiness and infliction of violence upon them are often the victims’ daily lot. Forced marriage is a modern-day form of slavery. From “rape” to “wrongful seclusion”, no terms are strong enough to condemn those repeated violations of human rights.
The issue of forced marriage hinges on the delicate balance between respect for cultural diversity and respect for human rights. The Government now have an active duty to enforce human rights in this country. Appropriate legislation is necessary but, unfortunately, it is not sufficient to end those undesirable situations. We must also make significant other efforts to guard against such marriages.
In that context—for once, I find myself in slight agreement with Conservative Members—I ask the Government to consider seriously raising the age at which a young person can sponsor a potential spouse to come and live in Britain not to 21 but to 23. That would allow vulnerable youngsters time to receive a full education and mature into young adults. It would make it easier for forced marriages to be prevented, detected and annulled.
The Bill’s central purpose is to provide protection to those at risk of forced marriage and recourse for those who have already been forced into such a marriage. I hope that it will help facilitate the annulment of forced marriages, and perhaps lead even to their automatic annulment. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can tell us whether there will be a time scale for courts to investigate and rule on an application for annulment of a forced marriage.
Naturally, the Bill does not prohibit arranged marriages, when genuine consent exists on both sides. Will the Government therefore expand age-appropriate prevention campaigns, perhaps building on the wonderful MissDorothy.co.uk website, to ensure that young people know the difference between forced and arranged marriages? Such campaigns could inform them of their rights, especially the right to make up one’s own mind about marriage and the right to choose one’s future partner. It could also inform persons under threat of forced marriage of the practical steps that can be taken to forestall such a marriage, such as placing one’s passport in safe keeping or lodging a complaint, for example, of theft of papers, in the event of confiscation.
I would have preferred forced marriage to be made a criminal offence because that would enable the police and social services to intervene more readily in forced marriage and its connection to honour-based violence, which is an increasing menace in this country. However, I am delighted that the Government are supporting the Bill, which will provide some protection to those at risk of forced marriage and recourse for those who have already been forced into such a marriage.
The Bill will change the law to enable courts to order injunctions to prevent forced marriages and, in some cases, to attach powers of arrest if those orders are breached. If used properly, it will become a powerful and useful new tool for those who try to protect the victims of forced marriage.
Forced marriage is an abuse of fundamental human rights. The Bill sends out a clear message that it involves serious wrongdoing and that we will not tolerate it. The Bill creates a civil wrong of forced marriage. I accept that it is a serious attempt to provide suitable remedies for victims and I respect the conclusion of the recent Government consultation that a new criminal offence would not be helpful.
The Bill is in keeping with international human rights standards, including: the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women—CEDAW; the UN convention on consent to marriage; the minimum age for marriage; the registration of marriages, and many other treaties to which the UK is a party.
I believe that primary legislation using civil remedies will contribute towards changing public opinion, perception and practice, and will have a strong deterrent effect. It will help victims defend themselves against forced marriage. It will empower young people with more tools to negotiate with their parents. In some cases, it will help parents who face pressure from their relatives. It will provide a victim-centred remedy, allowing victims to retain control over the process.
The Bill acknowledges the increasing and inhumane practice of forced marriage and its devastating impact on the lives of many young women and some young men. Forced marriage is a culturally sensitive issue, but cultural practices should be sacrosanct only when they do not militate against human rights. Nothing is more important than an individual’s basic human rights. We must ensure that the measure is only the beginning of the process of making forced marriage socially unacceptable as well as illegal.
I am delighted to give Liberal Democrat support to the Bill. My noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who is a great champion of such issues, introduced the measure in the other place. It is to the Government’s credit that they adopted it, and I want to place on record my thanks and appreciation to them for that and for, with Conservative support, providing parliamentary time to ensure that it reaches the statute book. It is a good example of consensual, cross-party working to tackle an appalling problem.
The concept of marriage is one of an equal and loving union and a commitment that is entered into willingly. If the commitment is forced, it is no longer marriage but can be tantamount to a prison sentence for the victim. As we have heard, forced marriage can lead to horrendous crimes: abduction; rape—often repeated rape; honour killings and other violence. Some victims are effectively turned into domestic or sexual slaves.
Although laws that are already on the statute book could be used to punish people who force someone into marriage, waiting until the crimes are committed before we act is too late. The Bill is therefore essential. “Prevention is better than cure” is an old adage; it is much better to stop such marriages happening.
It is important to acknowledge that the coercion does not need to be physical but can be psychological. The huge psychological pressure that can be put on an individual and the stress that that causes can lead to a forced marriage.
There is currently no offence of forced marriage and that must be remedied. As we have heard, the forced marriage unit processes about 300 cases a year and has made great progress in tackling the problem. However, that is not enough to get to grips with the matter. Those 300 cases may be the tip of the iceberg—many go unreported. We therefore hope that, with publicity and education awareness of the legislation, more individuals will be encouraged to come forward.
That leads me to consider whether the offence should be criminal or civil—a point that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised. Although much discussion and debate has taken place, the civil route is the right approach. It is vital not to discourage people from coming forward, which could happen if they felt that they were effectively criminalising members of their family. Although the Bill does not create a criminal offence, we must recognise that it provides for powers of arrest, so effective action can be taken if a forced marriage protection order is broken.
The application by a third party is a vital element of the Bill, especially—though not only—when children are involved. We cannot expect those who are under age to have full cognisance of the different legal options at their disposal and we must rely on others to look after them and highlight the matter to the courts.
Support for the Bill comes from a wide range of organisations, which speaks volumes. They include: the Association of Chief Police Officers, Liberty, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Newham Asian Women’s Project, Rights of Women, Southall Black Sisters, the three main parties in the House, and, I am sure, many other political organisations. It is welcome to see so much support for tackling the issue.
I should like to touch on the point that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) made about the difference between forced and arranged marriages. We must be clear about that distinction. The regulatory impact assessment identified a potential risk that the Bill would disproportionately impact on black and minority ethnic communities and might be interpreted as a cultural criticism of them. That is why we must be clear that forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and can never be acceptable. By contrast, arranged marriages are a union between two consenting adults and have taken place for centuries, across all cultures.
Indeed, we do not need to go back very far in British history to see many examples of arranged marriages, particularly among members of the aristocracy and the upper classes. I must confess that I am quite a fan of Jane Austen’s novels. One only has to read “Pride and Prejudice” to find characters such as Mrs. Bennet who are masters of arranged marriages. Arranged marriages have taken place for a long time and, although they have more recently become less common in British culture, they obviously still happen in our south Asian communities.
I recently met a group of young Asian women in my constituency and we discussed a wide range of topics. The issue of arranged marriages came up, on which I was genuinely interested to listen to their views. They likened the process to an introduction service or a dating agency almost, with their parents making the first move so that they did not have to. They talked about arranged marriages in an incredibly relaxed way, because no pressure would be put on them to marry someone whom they did not want to marry. In fact, they welcomed arranged marriages as something valuable.
The other point that those young women raised with me—it was their major concern and is why it is so important to draw the distinction between forced and arranged marriages—was the continued negative portrayal of British Asian communities, particularly Muslims, in the British media. It is therefore important that we do not allow forced and arranged marriages to be confused. If that happened, the confusion could be used in the media, which would create divisions within our communities, when we need to do the opposite. We should also be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that forced marriages are an issue only in Asian communities. As the Minister pointed out, the victims can come from all racial and religious groups, from all ages and from all parts of the country.
I should like to raise the issue of those victims who are children or who have learning difficulties. There is a problem with those with learning difficulties being forced into marriage, whether it is done to secure a visa or is related to their learning difficulty, in order to create financial security or obtain a full-time carer for them.
I have had direct experience of that. One of the reasons for the practice is simply cultural, on the assumption that all women should be married. There is a school in my constituency for children with learning disabilities. I am afraid that there is a consistent pattern of girls being removed at the age of 16 to be sent to the Indian subcontinent—if that is where they originate from—to be married, even though many of them probably have little understanding of what they are going to do.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important and worrying issue. What is welcome in the Bill is that the wishes and feelings of the victims will be considered by the courts in determining whether to issue a forced marriage protection order. However, there is a possible difficulty, in that the participation of people with learning disabilities in court is often hampered by inadequate provision to assist them. Sometimes it is even assumed that they cannot give evidence, when in fact the proper support to enable that can be provided. The use of intermediaries can be one way round for individuals in those circumstances, including children, to ensure that the court can properly understand the victim’s wishes. Other measures are available, under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Incorporating such measures at the discretion of the judge might be helpful in better understanding the wishes of the victim. I should be interested to know the views of the Government on that issue, which could be explored further in Committee. Finding a solution would be welcome and would ensure that all the victims had their views heard adequately.
Before drawing my remarks to a close, I should like briefly to mention Scotland. The legislation will apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only, but the problem clearly affects people throughout the UK. The forced marriage unit deals with cases in Scotland, because that is where the centre of excellence and expertise is. In fact, the consultation in 2005 was run jointly by the UK Government and the Scottish Executive. The highest number of responses were from London and Scotland, so forced marriage is obviously an issue there. Will the Minister discuss the issue with her counterpart in the Scottish Executive? The view was expressed in the debate on the Bill in the other place that in passing the legislation we would be sending a powerful message to countries throughout the world about how the issue can be dealt with and forced marriages prevented, in the hope that other legislatures might adopt similar proposals.
I hope that I can give the hon. Lady some assurance by saying that we will discuss the issue with the Scottish Executive. My understanding is that they hope to introduce similar legislation later this year, and we will certainly encourage them to do so.
Members of the Scottish Parliament do come back rather earlier—the holiday season is rather different in Scotland. However, it will certainly be helpful if the provisions can be extended north of the border, too. No doubt the experience and expertise of the forced marriage unit will be very welcome in dealing with the legislation in Scotland and in ensuring that Scottish victims are also protected.
In conclusion, the Bill is long overdue. It is urgently needed to tackle a horrific problem. As well as sending out a clear signal about the unacceptability of forced marriages, the Bill will give those at risk of becoming victims access to tools to prevent them from happening, rather than waiting for the crime to be committed, because at that stage the control that is wielded over many victims’ lives makes access to justice all but impossible. It is excellent that the Government have adopted the Bill and it is wonderful that the Conservatives support it. The Liberal Democrats will also give it our wholehearted support.
I, too, welcome the Bill, which has unanimous support throughout the House. However, I was extremely worried by the original Bill, which Lord Lester introduced in another place, and vigorously opposed it. I did not do so because forced marriage is not a serious crime—we all acknowledge that it is—but because I know from my constituency case work that to criminalise it in its own right would be to alienate and divide families. The worst thing that we could do to a victim or survivor of a forced marriage would be permanently to separate her—it is more than often a her—from her family and support networks, and that was what the original Bill would have done. That would be incredibly divisive and would leave the survivor of a forced marriage with nowhere to turn and with inadequate support. That is a deeply damaging proposal for anyone in that position.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I am referring to the earliest discussions on the issue of forced marriage, which certainly did refer to criminalisation, to which many of the groups that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) mentioned were also deeply opposed. Indeed, there was quite a consensus among Refuge, Southall Black Sisters and others that a criminal offence of forced marriage was simply not necessary.
Another problem was that creating a criminal offence would simply add to the existing list of criminal offences that can be applied in such circumstances. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, action can be taken under the Marriage Act 1994. Action can also be taken against kidnapping, child abduction, false imprisonment, and assault and battery under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, against threats to kill under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, against child cruelty under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, against blackmail, and so on. Happily, the Government have introduced many of those measures since 1997. However, the fact that victims and survivors of forced marriages are not using many of those measures is an indication that they were not totally effective in tackling the issue. Civil action is therefore most welcome.
I commend the Government on the fact that a lot of work has already been done in the Home Office and the Foreign Office, including the establishment of the forced marriage unit and the issuing of extensive guidance to the police, to education and social services professionals and, most recently, to health professionals. That guidance is excellent, but we need to test how well it is known, enforced and monitored. We also need to ensure that it applies across all public services, including housing and the whole range of local government services, as well as the whole of the criminal justice system.
Another reason I believe that the Bill represents a more appropriate approach is that we need to take a more co-ordinated and holistic approach to violence against women. Many of the issues that we are dealing with here are parallel and integral to tackling domestic violence and violence against women across the piece, including rape, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley referred.
The issues involved include power relations, protection—which is very much the aim of the Bill—and prevention. The measures on third-party applications and legal aid, and the provisions to enable courts to issue injunctions to prevent repeat offences are most welcome. We also need to ensure that the other “P”, provision, is dealt with. We must ensure that there are appropriate sources—I stress the word “appropriate”—of support and refuge for the survivors of forced marriage, just as we need better and more adequate protection for those surviving domestic violence. There is a huge gap in that provision at the moment, and I hope that Ministers will look at that as part of the implementation of the Bill.
The Bill will allow survivors to come forward more easily. It will also enable us to help them to address the issue. I know from my casework the absolute despair experienced by forced marriage victims who can find nowhere to turn. The incredible family networks, particularly among the Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities in my constituency, are a source of huge strength, but in circumstances such as these, they are a source of great division and despair because there is almost no one who is unknown to the extended family and friends to whom a victim or survivor can turn in a moment of crisis. We need to ensure that we establish appropriate, independent sources of support in these communities. They do not exist at the moment.
I want to refer to a pilot that is one of three UK-wide national pilots on forced marriage. It is being run from my office. How extraordinary is that? I am pleased to say that it is Home Office funded, but it is being run from my office because, despite the size of the Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities in my constituency, there was nowhere for survivors of forced marriage to turn for independent advice and support, where they would not be known and where their stories would not be relayed to other members of their community.
I want to thank the Home Office, Equalities Networks—a social enterprise based in my constituency that is helping to run the pilot programme—and particularly Dr. Nazia Khanum, who wrote the reports to which I will refer in a moment. During the pilot programme, forced marriage survivors talked to other victims and survivors of forced marriage. It has been most impressive. However, although it started out as one of three Home Office-funded pilots, ours is the only one still in existence. Sadly, the other two have gone by the wayside, and Ministers need to learn lessons about why that happened. Those pilots were extremely valuable, but, like the pilot that is being run from my office, they had insufficient resources to continue, and we risk losing the lessons that we have learned. We were originally told that the pilots would be evaluated and rolled out across the UK, but it has all gone terribly quiet.
So, while I commend the measures in the Bill, I believe that we must address the serious issue of matching our words and our deeds to ensure that survivors get the support and resources that they need. We must work with the communities that continue, in some cases, to perpetrate this serious crime to ensure that they understand how seriously we take the matter. More importantly, they must also understand that we are working with them to ensure that they have the education and support to break away from the often intense cultural pressures that exist in some communities. We should never underestimate the intense pressures and obligations that some families feel to bring a bride over from Kotli, or from Sylhet in Bangladesh. These families need help to enable them to be strong enough to say that their daughters or sons should not be put through some of the worst instances that we have seen.
The pilot to which I have referred involves producing a research report to examine the extent of the problem. As other Members have said, it is difficult to estimate the extent of the problem, despite the work of the forced marriage unit, or to determine whether we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. A second aspect of the pilot involves a project called Changing Lives, which works to enable young people—men and women—in the communities that might be subject to forced marriage to advocate within their own communities. This means that people will not just be talking to the “usual suspects”, or the so-called community leaders. We are using young people to educate and support other young people. The third phase, which we are coming to at the moment, involves training key actors in the local community—including deliverers of public services such as the local authority, colleges and other educational institutions—who are likely to come into contact with forced marriage victims so that they can identify and support them where necessary.
Extensive research was undertaken with not only individual victims and survivors, but voluntary and community groups, and one of the most astonishing things that we learned was that local community groups were receiving more than 300 approaches a year on this issue in my constituency alone. That is an enormous figure when seen in the context of what the forced marriage unit is reporting. Obviously, some duplicate reporting could be involved, as forced marriage survivors are forced to go from one agency or community support organisation to another. It is therefore impossible to gauge the exact extent of the problem, but 300 is still, by any standards, a very large number.
The report found that very few of the individual forced marriage survivors or the agencies coming into contact with them had any knowledge of the forced marriage unit. It also found that they had very little awareness of the good work being done by the Home Office and the Foreign Office, and little or no awareness of where to go for support. There was certainly no knowledge of any counselling provision being available. There is a huge chasm between those who are experiencing the problem and the work, albeit good work, that the Government are doing. We need to bridge that gap urgently.
Another issue that arose was a little more controversial. Many of those involved in the report felt that the definition of “forced marriage” should include false marriages. This takes us into more difficult territory. There were many examples of young men and women being told that they were to marry a certain person, or a certain type of person, only to find that the person they were marrying was wholly different. In one case, someone with severe disabilities—not that that should be an impairment—was falsely represented as the person to whom someone was about to be married. Many of the people referred to in the report felt that being coerced into marriage on the basis of false information was almost as bad as being coerced on the basis of no information at all, so they wanted the definition to be extended. They also felt that there was a need for a victim support network to combat isolation and to share experience and spread awareness of the options available. They wanted a building up of capacity in the community and voluntary sector to provide counselling services and guidance where needed. Also important to them was mentoring or partnering of people who have experienced forced marriages with those in danger of experiencing them or those who fear that their families might push them in that direction.
What are the lessons from the project so far? All I have been able to do in the time available is to provide a taste of the report, which will be published shortly. We learned that there is an urgent need for more preventive measures through early detection. We need to work with our schools and colleges, as well as with GPs to identify where forced marriage is likely to occur. Health visitors, social workers and teachers can also be involved. They need to be able to recognise the signs and ask the appropriate and culturally sensitive questions when a young man or woman is in danger of being forced into this situation.
Appropriate training is important so that all those across the public sector and the criminal justice system can understand the issues. I believe that it should be accredited training, as I have already encountered an individual, purporting to be an organisation, claiming to be running forced marriage training, yet there appears to be no substance or understanding behind it. We need to ensure that any training is properly accredited and monitored, while also ensuring that citizenship and English language classes are maintained. In some areas, they have effectively been taken away from some of the women when they do not go ahead with gaining any qualifications. One of the key barriers is language, yet we are depriving some women of the very means of articulating their problem and their desperation. That needs to be looked at again. We need to ensure that we are empowering these women and we need more funding and access to leadership courses for women who are likely to be in this position.
Immigration issues—the hon. Member for Beaconsfield dealt with some of them—are also important. I often see in my constituency surgeries young men and women who have been deprived of permanent residence in this country by their partner’s refusal to sign the appropriate papers. I encounter a whole range of issues where people are forced to sign for permanent residence under the immigration rules under coercion. When that fact is raised with the immigration authorities, the answer is often, “There is nothing we can do about it now, because the person signed the paper”—regardless of the fact that it was done under duress. A whole tranche of immigration issues need to be addressed.
We need a survivor’s network. My project suggested to the Home Office a follow-on project called “Forced Marriage Online”, whereby survivors could give each other advice and support anonymously. More particularly, we could learn more about the circumstances of these victims and survivors in a way that would be safe for them while helping to inform us. We simply do not know enough about the full extent of the problem.
I believe that we should put our money where our mouths are. As I have said, this Bill is excellent, but its implementation and monitoring will be critical. With pilots of the sort that we are running from our office, being told that there is no further funding once the pilot is finished makes a mockery of what we say about tackling forced marriages. What we say and what we do are two very different things. I know that Ministers will take this matter forward and ensure that we put our money where our mouths are. We need more structured consultation and more listening to the survivors so that we can hear their voices more clearly. That has tended to be lacking throughout this entire debate.
It is not often that the House is united in its approach to a Bill. I am delighted that all parties seem to have a common approach to what I believe is a very sensible Bill indeed. Every one of us regards forced marriages as evils. They are quite awful; they are an infringement of human rights; they cause utter misery; and they are often accompanied by violence, so anything we can do to put an end to them is to our advantage.
How many forced marriages are there? I do not think we can ever know the truth about that. The forced marriages unit hears of some 200 or 300 a year, but there must be many more where, in truth, the victim—usually a woman—is unable to speak out or unable, largely through fear, to seek help from those who could offer it. Forced marriages are therefore a very bad thing indeed. We occasionally read horrible stories about so-called “honour killings” and we are disgusted by them. The House has a duty to take note of the problem and to see what can sensibly be done about it.
I represent Woking, which has a large and well settled community of Pakistani background. We have the Shah Jahan mosque—the oldest in the country—and this community, mainly based in Maybury and Sheerwater, makes a huge contribution to local life in Woking. We have a harmonious, happy and settled community there. In preparing my contribution to the debate on the Bill tonight, I thought that I would speak to some of those who represent the Pakistani community in Woking on both the borough and county councils in order to find out their views. It will be no surprise, I am sure, to find out that all those to whom I spoke utterly condemned the practice of forced marriages. A leading county councillor, Shamas Tabrez, reminded me in a conversation that forced marriage is condemned at the highest level and is forbidden and illegal in Islam.
We are very fortunate in Woking in having a strong mosque, which provides a spiritual and cultural centre for so many people and whose imam provides so much excellent advice. There are excellent councillors in the Maybury and Sheerwater area and many other bodies offer support to those in the community who need it.
I am so grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall think of something very nice to say about him at some later stage.
What my friends in Woking told me was that, much as they condemned forced marriages, they believed it important to differentiate them from arranged marriages. There is a world of difference between the two. We must understand that in many cultures, there are arranged marriages that are entered into voluntarily, though in a sense initiated by the families of the parties concerned. I venture to suggest that arranged marriages can often be much more successful than those that are not. The parties may come from families that know each other, so they start out with the absolute advantage of having mutual family support through parents and others who are all together in one big family. That can be essential, particularly in the early years of a marriage. There are many arranged marriages. Providing that they are entered into voluntarily, I say let that habit continue because in many ways they are a force for good in our community.
Is there a problem with forced marriages in Woking? My general view is no, and I shall explain why. What evidence do I have for my proposition? A very important charity, based in the London area, provides safe houses for women who have been forced into marriage. It picked up more than 100 cases between March 2006 and February 2007 of women in London and the home counties. Only one case came from Surrey, and that was not, I think, from Woking.
What is it about Woking? What is it about any community—this is the point of my speech—that can help so far as forced marriages are concerned? The first thing is to have an open and caring community, with strong and effective local support through various agencies to the settled community in that area. That is excellent. The importance of good local representation is also vital. As I said, Woking has an excellent mosque with an imam, the Maybury centre and the Asian women’s groups. There is plenty of advice from different organisations for those in the Pakistani community.
We have four excellent local councillors in Shamas Tabrez, Riasat Khan, Mohammed Iqbal and Muzzafar Ali, all of whom are well known to me and serve their community well. When I say to them, “What about forced marriages in the Woking area?”, they respond in these terms: “We are so stuck into our community and involved in it that we try desperately hard to hear of any problems that may crop up so that we can get on top of them, help the constituents and prove to be good advisers and helpers. We have a community where there is a culture of openness and mutual support. People with problems in our community are encouraged to talk to the various agencies that are there for their benefit, including the local councillors.”
There is a lot to be said for strong local communities. If somebody—let us say that it is likely to be a young woman—is frightened and has been put into a forced marriage, she will need to turn to somebody for help. My point is that a strong community, with plenty of avenues to get good help and advice from people who understand the issue and are close to those whom they are helping, is important. We very much have that in Woking.
I very much support what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he accept, however, that for some women the strong open community might feel as though it is open to people other than them? It is relatively easy for those of us in leading positions in society to assume that those structures are open to everyone in the community, but isolated and young women in particular sometimes do not feel that they are open to them. There is an obligation on us to create alternative structures that they might find more accessible.
How right the hon. Lady is. I am grateful to her for that intervention. There are those who, despite the good local structures and contact points, still feel alone and frightened. It is up to us to try to help them as much as we can.
On the Bill itself, little has been made of whether it is proper to approach the problem from the point of view of the civil law or the criminal law. In my judgment—I declare an interest as a part-time district judge, practising lawyer and Crown court recorder—what the Government have done is right. We should probably approach the problem from the point of view of civil sanctions. To bring the criminal law into it at the moment would not be appropriate. Apart from anything else, we legislate far too much in terms of the criminal law, and it could up the ante a little too much and cause more problems than it would solve. However, as hon. Members have said, forced marriages quite often—in fact, almost always—involve an element of crime, whether it is rape, kidnapping or violence. Many of those serious crimes are deeply connected with forced marriages and should be treated accordingly. The Bill is right to look at the problem from a civil point of view.
I have another point to put to the Solicitor-General. The Bill provides that the procedures for a remedy will go through the family courts, by which I take it to mean the county court, the High Court and so on. Will she dwell a little on the prospect of extending the jurisdiction to the family side of the magistrates courts? They are more in number. An awful lot of places that do not have a county court have a magistrates court. They also have the advantage of speed and cheapness.
I want to raise another issue, which has been touched on. The issues connected with religion and culture, which are quite sensitive, will come before county court and High Court judges. I cannot stress enough the need for relevant training for the judiciary when they are handling such cases. That training was mentioned in an intervention. It could and should be extended to many other people in this general field, if one likes to put it that way, who would benefit from the proper training necessary to equip them adequately to deal with the cultural and religious issues involved. The hon. and learned Lady will know, and will be able to tell me, that the judiciary are obliged to go on regular refresher courses for training purposes and so on, but to add at some stage something specifically on the issue of forced marriages might be a sensible way forward.
I want to touch on some other aspects, which can be examined carefully in Committee. The Bill mentions a forced marriage protection order. First, what is in it and against whom can it be made? Under proposed new section 63B, the contents of the order can be absolutely anything:
“A forced marriage protection order may contain…such other terms”
as the court thinks appropriate. Against whom can it be made? That is very widely drafted, because such an order can be made against other persons
“who are, or who may become, involved in other respects”.
I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Lady will be able to narrow that down a bit either at this stage or in Committee. At the moment, the order can say anything and can in effect be made against anybody. In proposed new section 63B(2), the word “knowingly” does not come before the word “involved”. One wonders whether in fact orders can be made against people who are, in truth, not culpable and not aware of what we might describe as culpable or guilty participation.
My next question is who will be able to apply for a forced marriage protection order? I appreciate that many Bills nowadays do not tell us the full story. That is generally left for regulation to do later. The Bill tells us that an application can be made by
“the person who is to be protected… or… a relevant third party.”
That is fine as far as it goes, but who is a relevant third party? According to the Bill, it is
“a person specified, or falling within a description of persons specified, by order of the Lord Chancellor.”
Who on earth will that be? It might be helpful if we could be told tonight; otherwise it seems likely that anyone with a tenuous or not tenuous, or close or not close, link with the family concerned will be able to make an application. Surely the Government do not want the definition to be as wide as that.
I should be interested to know why the hon. Gentleman thinks that we need to restrict the definition of those who may apply for the order. The person concerned might have a social worker, or might know of someone in the community, who would be prepared to stand up for him or her and who might not be a particularly close associate.
I take the hon. Lady’s point. Indeed, in a sense she has put her finger on the issue, which is that at some stage we shall need a little more definition of the type of person who can make a application. The hon. Lady may agree with me that it might not be appropriate for a family friend or acquaintance to be permitted to make such an application, and that therefore limitations may be necessary.
I have pointed out that a court can make any order that it wishes. I feel that at some point we shall have to discover the likely terms of an order. There is a direct parallel with the legislation on antisocial behaviour orders, which also gave courts power to make whatever orders they wished. As a result, courts all over the country made absurd orders whose terms were so wide as to make them totally unenforceable—for example, “The defendant shall not enter the City of London” or “The defendant shall not commit a crime”. Only case law tightened up the definition of what should be in an ASBO. It now appears that anything can go into a forced marriage protection order. It would be helpful if the Government gave us some idea of what might go into such orders, how wide they might be, and what might be seen as going a step too far.
The provisions on arrest also have powerful implications. A constable may arrest someone who is in breach of an order, but under new section 63J
“An interested party may apply to the relevant judge for the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person”.
An interested person is defined as
“(a) the person being protected by the order”
—so far, so good—
“(b) (if a different person) the person who applied for the order”
—so far, so good—or
“(c) any other person”.
That provision too is very wide, and we may have to have a look at it in Committee.
I think that the Bill is right to provide for a person who is arrested to be brought to court very quickly, but I ask the Minister to confirm that the judge will refer to section 5(1) (a), (b), (c) and (d) of the Bail Act 1976 when considering the granting of bail. Will securities, sureties or other conditions similar to those imposed under that Act be imposed in these circumstances?
I think we all want a society in which people can live without fear, force or coercion of any kind. I hope to goodness that the Bill will prove slightly helpful in the long run, but I remain worried because whatever else happens—even if the Bill sails into law—we will depend on the victim coming forward, or on someone coming forward on the victim’s behalf. We need to make life straightforward enough to give people the feeling that however badly they have been treated they can come forward, obtain protection and be looked after properly.
I wish the Bill well. Let me end by repeating what I said earlier. Woking is a strong community. We are aware of this issue, but there is no evidence of there being a great problem in Woking. That bears testimony to the quality and strength of its advice bodies and local councillors.
The issue of forced marriage can affect anyone. I was privileged to be present at the commemoration of the first anniversary of the forced marriage unit when Baroness Scotland of Asthal reminded us:
“Forced marriage affects children, teenagers and adults from all races and religions, including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. And it is not solely an issue facing Asian communities.”
However, I am shocked that each year the FMU deals with 5,000 inquiries and takes on some 250 to 300 cases, largely relating to people of south Asian descent.
We must be robust in tackling this abuse of human rights. Many Members have referred to forced marriage in that context. I am proud of the Government’s record on legislating on human rights and I wish to remind Members of specific commitments in international human rights instruments that refer to this issue. Article 16 of the universal declaration of human rights states:
“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”
Article 19 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child declares:
“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
Tragically, forced marriage affects a number of children every year.
Unlike some Members, I welcome the decision not to make this a criminal offence. Lord Lester has deployed his legal skills in his usual imaginative and powerful way. Making this a civil offence empowers the victim. In civil cases, the victim has control over the legal proceedings. I have worked too often with victims in criminal proceedings who have felt pushed out as the Crown Prosecution Service takes over the case. In such circumstances, the victim’s worries and concerns—which in cases such as forced marriage are often complex—can be ignored. Making this a civil offence will empower some victims of forced marriage, just as some victims of domestic violence are empowered by the injunction procedure. It will give the victim more control over the system, which is welcome. It also recognises a brutal reality. In forced marriage cases, the family is often both the oppressor and, at some point, the supporter. Families are complicated. A person’s family can wickedly bully and harass them into a marriage that they do not feel is right for them, but at a later point that person might think, “I want my mum.” Making this a civil wrong recognises some of the complexities in family relationships.
All Members agree on the issue and I want to remind Members of our record when we all agree. We should think about what happened in respect of the Child Support Agency and the dangerous dogs legislation. It is risky when we all agree. That is especially true of this Bill and I want to alert Ministers and other colleagues to that. It started as a private Member’s Bill and, although we have consulted on whether we should legislate to criminalise forced marriage—and decided not to—this Bill has not been widely consulted on. Because of the nature of the offence that we are trying to address, we need alliances if we are to enforce our ambition effectively. If people are not signed up, on board, engaged or have not been enabled to use their imagination about how to fix the situation, there is a risk that we could end up with a great piece of legislation that does not work. We have, for example, legislation against genital mutilation that has never been deployed.
There is a job to be done in reaching out to people beyond the confines of this place. When I was speaking in my constituency about this Bill, a Sikh woman, who is a member of Slough borough council and a respected member of her community, asked me, “Who have you talked to about this, Fiona?” I mentioned conversations with Southall Black Sisters and others who are enthusiastic about the Bill. I could tell from her contribution that she was anxious that if the Bill was not well constructed, it could inflame the sort of arguments that happen in families and be used as a tool in family disputes to batter each other. There is a risk of that and we need to avoid it. The best way to do so is by engaging with the communities that know best how their families operate about the sensible ways to avoid it and how to engage the resourcefulness of those communities to make a difference.
I feel strongly that during the summer we need to consult as widely as possible with all sorts of people. As I suggested when I intervened on the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I fear that sometimes we can be a bit smug. We all say that we are against forced marriage, but my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) has dealt with more cases of forced marriage than any other Member. We have to stop and ask why that is so. Is it because Keighley is a hotbed of forced marriage? Is it more prevalent there than in Slough? Or is it because victims of forced marriage in my hon. Friend’s constituency know that she is on their side? It is like wearing a red ribbon. She is on their side and she has stood up in mosques and in front of big, nasty bullies who say, “Oh, that is not a problem round here.” She has stuck up for victims. It behoves all of us not to be complacent, but to stick up for victims and engage with all the communities that might be affected by or interested in this Bill. We should ask them what they can do that would make a difference.
We all know that legislation does make a difference. It creates an important framework of values that can change people’s behaviour. For example, the establishment of the forced marriage unit and the clear lead from this Government on the issue have meant that many religious leaders have said that there is no place for forced marriage in their community and that they oppose it. They are very good at saying that, but slightly less good at acting on those commitments. We need to recognise that legislation has an important role to play, but we need to do more than just pass this Bill. We need to reach beyond it.
Some community leaders who make such statements do not notice the distress of someone who is trying to engage them. They try to pretend that the marriage is not quite false—“It is an arranged marriage with a bit of difficulty” they say, “because she is having a slightly hysterical moment. That’s what happens to teenagers, isn’t it?” I have heard and barged into such conversations. We need to engage with people on that.
I have seen schools turn a blind eye to young women who have spent a lot of time off-roll. They have not bothered to find out what has happened to them when they have gone back to Pakistan, for example. In creating a sort of cultural tolerance, we have sometimes winked at, or not had the determination to march towards, things that should give us pause. We have not challenged habits and practices that, while not being the sort of forced marriages that would be subject to action under the Bill, are on the boundaries of it. We all have a duty to act on that.
Hon. Members have talked about imaginative solutions. If we pass the Bill, we can deliver some of those. A convent of nuns in my constituency—sadly, they have moved to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew)—ran a school that had a place of retreat. I remember Sister Mary Stephen telling me that a young Muslim woman, seeing a female community of people who valued their faith, came to her to see if they could help her in moments of stress. It was striking that that woman wanted to reach outside her community to find like souls, who had some authority and who could provide some refuge for her, because she was fearful. We need to examine whether there are imaginative ways of creating refuge and space for women. First, however, we should give women power over their lives, and this Bill is one of the ways to do that.
We can do other things, and I hope that by passing the Bill we can change the habits of Government Departments, which disempower women in such circumstances. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) pointed out, there are women who have been tricked into marriage, or bullied into signing off the settlement of their husbands, who then perhaps disappear to reunite with wife No. 1, whom wife No. 2 did not know about. The fact that the Home Office says, “It is no business of yours now” is offensive and disempowering for women. We need to think of new ways to solve such problems without interfering with the privacy rights of men and women in such circumstances.
I cannot find adequate words to describe the rage and distress of young people who have been tricked or forced into marriage. It is overwhelming and absolutely disabling for them. It is profoundly disempowering. I hope that the Bill will help to remedy that by giving them power in such circumstances. It is in a long tradition of legislation on human rights. We have an opportunity during the summer to ensure that the sort of consultation that I have talked about is delivered.
We have a fantastic track record on families and marriage, and this Bill will be one example of it. I was therefore enraged today to hear Conservative Members saying that my party does not care about families and marriage. [Interruption.] I am sure that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who is my neighbour and for whom I have a great deal of respect, has not made such comments; I heard those comments on the radio today, however, in relation to tax allowances being shared between husbands and wives. Actually, the Government have a great record on human rights, families and children and on enabling families to cope in the circumstances they face.
The Bill has support across the piece. All Members who have spoken stressed that it is supported by the three parties represented in the Chamber. This is a great opportunity, but we need to make sure that such widespread support does not slide into complacency about the detail of the legislation and how we actually deliver refuge and support for women. We need good practice in every Department—whether on regulations for the courts about witnesses with learning difficulties, the treatment of women by the immigration service or the advice that police and schools are given about women who are at risk. The forced marriage unit sends out advice on such things, but it is often put at the bottom of the pile. The Bill gives us the chance to bring it to the top of the pile and to make sure that it is absolutely what is required in practice. It will allow us to change the lives of disempowered young women and men who have been forced into marriage against their will.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who made her case in a typically powerful manner. I am sure she also made a powerful case for membership of the Public Bill Committee.
It is not often that I rise to congratulate the Government, but I do so on this occasion. I am delighted that they have taken forced marriage so seriously and I commend them for introducing the Bill. All-party consensus usually precedes a mess—the Child Support Agency and membership of the exchange rate mechanism jump instantly to mind—but in this case it has delivered a sensible result. I certainly endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Slough that we should not be complacent about the detail simply because we all support the aims of the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), whom I mentioned earlier. She is both my parliamentary neighbour and my constituent, and has been incredibly persistent about forced marriage for many years. She has also been immensely brave for many years and should take much of the credit for the Bill. I know how sorry she is that she cannot be here to take part in the debate, but that should not detract from all the work she has done on the issue over many years and for which she is extremely well respected both in the House and in our local area.
I supported much of what the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) said in her speech, on which I congratulate her. Whatever legislation is enacted, some cases will always slip through the net; they will go undetected and will not be dealt with. The Bill has two objectives that we all share. The first is that the number of cases should go down. We should like them to be eliminated, but given that some will slip through the net, let us hope that the number goes down. Secondly, we want the people responsible for the practice of forced marriage to be properly prosecuted.
I, too, was shocked at the scale of the issue. The forced marriage unit deals with a massive 5,000 complaints a year—100 a week—in 300 of which the unit is certain a problem has occurred. That is an immense problem and we should be doing everything we can to deal with it.
We need to find ways to reduce the number of cases and to prevent such things from happening, as well as making sure that people are properly prosecuted. As I said earlier, part of the solution must lie in dealing with the issue of people entering the UK on a marriage visa—a point mentioned by the hon. Member for Calder Valley. I would not go quite as far as the hon. Lady, but raising the age from 18 to 21 would certainly help.
The older people are when they are allowed into the country on marriage visas, the greater the chance that they will be mature enough to resist some of the pressures that they face when being forced into marriage, and we should not underestimate those pressures. This is not a silver bullet, but if those people were a bit older, it might help to reduce the number of cases.
There has been lots of talk during the debate—it has been very interesting—about whether this should be a civil or a criminal offence. My hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Woking (Mr. Malins), who are very distinguished lawyers and parliamentarians—certainly far more distinguished than I am or ever will be—made powerful cases for why we should support this being a civil matter. I am not entirely convinced that the offence should be a civil and not a criminal one.
Making forced marriage a specific criminal offence would send out a powerful message that it is not tolerated in our county and might act as a deterrent. I certainly would not want anyone to think that, because it is not a criminal offence, forced marriage is not a problem and that they can carry on with forced marriages, because doing so is not a criminal offence. I would not want anyone to take away such a message from the debate. Making it a criminal offence would help to make it clear that forced marriage is completely and utterly unacceptable.
The hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) raised the issue of promoting the use of English, which would also help. I should certainly like more to be done to ensure that people who come into this country have a better grasp of English. If we are trying to encourage people to come forward with their complaint, they would certainly have more confidence in approaching our legal system, which can be daunting at the best of times to those of us who are fully conversant with English, if they had a better grasp of English. We need to deal with that important aspect.
Above all, I should like to know from the Minister how we will measure the Bill’s success. As I said earlier, presumably we have two objectives: a reduction in the number of cases and ensuring that the people involved are properly prosecuted. I should be grateful to the Minister if she gave an indication of how many people she envisages will be prosecuted as result of the Bill. Everyone supports the objectives and the motives, but the focus of my concern is on how effective the Bill will be in tackling the issue. I am interested to know how much of a reduction in forced marriage we can expect as a result of the Bill.
If the Bill does not lead to the number of prosecutions that we hope for and a reduction in this evil practice does not occur, I hope that the Government will give a commitment to look again at the issue to see whether making forced marriage a criminal offence will deliver the reductions and the change in culture that we want.
Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that the consultation process should not end with the passing into law of the Bill? The Bill provides that guidance can be prepared by the Secretary of State. Is it not important in formulating that guidance that the Minister continues to listen to representations?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He is entirely right, and I was certainly heartened by the Minister’s comments in her speech, when she told us how much consultation had taken place before the Bill was drafted. That was a perfectly proper process, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that that should be an ongoing process, rather than being seen to be done and dusted.
We need to see how the Bill works in practice and we need to continue to consult the people the Minister consulted before the Bill was produced to see whether it is having the desired effect. If it does not have the desired effect, I hope that the Government will commit to look again at whether forced marriage should become a criminal offence. Despite the persuasive skills of my hon. Friends, I am still not entirely convinced that we as a House should not send out a clear message to the country that we will not tolerate this evil trade any longer. It is completely unacceptable in this country and in this day and age. The number of cases that are referred to the authorities is completely unacceptable too. I hope that the merits of making it a criminal offence will be considered further in Committee, but, whether or not that occurs, I am delighted that the Government are making a giant step in the right direction with the Bill and I commend it to the House.
More than 20 years ago, before I ever dreamed that I would end up in this place, I met a young man called Mooli. He was the son of an Asian manager where I worked. Mooli was at university. He had a girlfriend and a happy, fulfilling life. I then heard that Mooli had got married. In his holidays he had been working at a petrol station and, apparently, on his wedding day, he had gone to work, left halfway through his shift, gone through a marriage ceremony and then gone back to work. A bride had been brought over from Pakistan—someone he had never met and certainly did not want to marry. I was quite shocked, as you might imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
That was a forced marriage at one end of the spectrum that was so ably described by the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty). Mooli decided to comply with the marriage and retain his standing in the community. He went back to his university studies and at least had something of a life. However, for those who disobey, running away and often being treated as dead by one’s family—with the ultimate conclusion of the reality of death itself—is all too real a prospect in some circumstances.
We have discussed the difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage, so I do not want to dwell on that. I echo the point made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that it is certainly not for us to consider whether arranged marriages or traditional western types of marriage have advantages over each other. As long as the people who enter into the marriage do so consensually, clearly it is perfectly acceptable.
Lord Lester originally introduced the Bill in the Lords in January. I am delighted that the Government have adopted it and I thank all the other noble Lords who worked so hard to make it a sensitive and workable document. We have talked about the difference between civil and criminal redress. It is right to adopt a pragmatic perspective, because how can a young person take out criminal proceedings against their own family? Forced marriage is a violation of the European convention on human rights, the right freely to enter into marriage and the right to bodily and sexual integrity.
The hon. Lady’s comment about criminal proceedings left me a little puzzled. She asked how a wronged person could take out criminal proceedings. Surely if this was to be a criminal offence, a complaint would be made and it would then be a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. In other words, the decision to prosecute would be at arm’s length from the person complaining.
Regrettably, the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber when others explained that point much better than I can. Earlier, the question was asked: how can someone criminalise a member of their family and still try to maintain their family circle? It is particularly difficult if it is an extended family; when someone is ostracised by their family, the repercussions are severe. The Bill will act as a preventive measure wherever possible. It provides for swift injunctions to prevent marriages, and it will hopefully result in the restoration of family relationships. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman.
I mentioned the violation of the European convention on human rights. Forced marriage also contravenes its underlying principles of self-determination and human dignity, and it contravenes the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. It is a form of sexual slavery; women are bought and sold by means of a dowry. We recently marked the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery, but it is alive and well in our own backyard. It is an affront to everyone in society that we allow that slavery to continue in our midst.
The Government’s forced marriage unit deals with 300 cases a year, although the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) shocked me—and, I am sure, many other hon. Members—when she said that it receives more than 5,000 inquiries a year. Some 85 per cent. of those 300 cases involve women and girls, and at least a third of cases involve young people under the age of 17. Children as young as 12 and 13 come forward as victims. The immediate family, the wider family, and often the community seek to impose on the young and control their behaviour.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) remarked, the cases that we know about are the tip of the iceberg. Forced marriage is often secret, unseen and unreported. Even in Woking, where the sun always shines and everyone shares their deepest family secrets, I am sure that there are instances of forced marriage. It is a bit like domestic violence: it pervades all classes and communities. We do not know what goes on behind closed doors. Homophobic bullying is also similar. Head teachers may say, “Oh no, we don’t have anything like that here,” but that often means that they are not looking or listening for it, and that children do not feel that they can come to them with their problems.
In some communities, the problem is overt. Recently, I listened to chilling interviews on the streets of Birmingham following a so-called honour killing. Some of the men interviewed openly expressed the view that the family had the perfect right to use that ultimate sanction on a young woman or girl who disobeys. Honour killings are clearly already covered in British law as murder. What we need, and what the Bill provides, is legislation to help fix a lesser crime.
We have talked about the fact that the Bill offers civil, not criminal, remedies, but I am sure that it will send a strong message that those practices are not acceptable in this country, regardless of one’s community or background. It will embolden young people to assert their human right not to be forced into marriage, and it will enable people who are concerned for young people’s welfare to act for those who are unwilling or unable to act for themselves. It sends a strong message to those who use many subtle means of exerting pressure on a young person, including emotional blackmail, physical violence, deception, aiding and abetting, and inducement of extended family members. Deception is particularly important. Young people may be lured abroad on the pretext of a holiday or other matter. The wider family may be the ringleaders, and the Bill makes it clear that they may be just as culpable as close family.
Fears have been expressed that the Bill will drive such activities even further underground, with families taking children abroad at an even earlier age. There are also fears that the Bill will stigmatise some ethnic minority communities and lead to entrenchment and further discrimination. However, the emphasis is on the protection of the victim and avoidance of forced marriage rather than prosecuting perpetrators, which is right. As I have said, an injunction will enable swift action to be taken to stop a forced marriage, which will enhance the chance of reconciliation with the family.
As I have said, the cases covered by the FMU are the tip of the iceberg. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has reported that one in 10 calls to its Asian child protection helpline relates to forced marriage, although callers do not always say that that is the problem in the first instance. The initial problem described may involve domestic violence, rape, self-harm, young runaways, suicide or even the threat of murder. In 2006, 82 young people called ChildLine about arranged and forced marriage, describing problems such as their parents not listening to them, the prospect of being disowned, fear of violence from family members and physical abuse that they were already experiencing.
Education is a big issue for girls who, once married, tend not to go to school. There is a huge pool of underused talent that we must exploit for our country. The Equal Opportunities Commission has reported that Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean women are aspirational, confident and increasingly well-qualified. However, even if they enter the world of work fully supported by their families, they can be held back by the work culture. I recently managed to secure a short Westminster Hall debate to bring the issue of cultural intelligence—sensitivity on behalf of employers—to the awareness of the Government and, hopefully, the wider world of work.
Leaving aside the issue of justice, if we do not do all that we can to enable those young women to achieve their true potential, we, as a society, will miss out on their talents and their economic potential to increase the overall wealth of this country. It is all interconnected: the empowerment of women through better education and increased economic power gives them greater awareness and the ability to exert their own human rights, but they need joined-up support.
The group Rights of Women has asserted the need for continued civil legal aid. I was glad when the Minister confirmed in response to an intervention that legal aid will be available, where it is appropriate. Liberty has pointed out the importance of non-legal mechanisms such as funding, women’s groups, non-governmental organisations, community groups, leaflets, websites and videos. The need for the proper training of social workers and others in the field has already been raised, and it is clearly important.
By placing forced marriage within family law as part of domestic violence, the Bill will hopefully avoid the stereotyping of any specific community, which would be entirely wrong. The newly introduced gender equality duty will require agencies that deal with the victims, who include men as well as women, to be sensitive to culture, race and gender.
Violence against women and men is pervasive. As I have said, it occurs in every social group and every class, and it affects every sexual orientation. The Bill provides a sensitive framework that will enable victims of forced marriage and their supporters to gain justice, hopefully without irreparably damaging family and wider relationships, by preventing that form of sexual violence from ever taking place.
Unlike the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I think that if the Bill is successful, a measure of its success will be that the number of complaints goes up as more people feel able to come forward. With the words of the hon. Member for Slough about the importance of consulting and ensuring that we do not go forward with a cosy consensus ringing in our ears, I look forward to examining closely some of the practical implications of the Bill in Committee.
I have been delighted to listen to many of the speeches that have been made in this debate. Clearly, there is enormous cross-party support for the Bill. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) on highlighting this important issue and bringing it to the attention not only of Members of this House but of the wider community.
I will be fairly brief, but I wish to make several points to the Solicitor-General, whose opinion I always appreciate. First, I want to try to understand, from her point of view, the spectrum that has been highlighted during the debate between forced marriage, arranged marriage, matchmaking and the general psychological pressure that is sometimes put on young women to get married. As the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) said, forced marriage often goes hand in hand with violence against women in a symbiotic relationship. Another problem with forced marriages is that of women becoming a form of quasi-forced labour. A lot of the young women who come from abroad have no social or family network. They are brought into this country as a form of slave labour for the household—sometimes, unfortunately, for the mother-in-law, who views her as an adjunct to the family merely as unpaid labour. The hon. Member for Solihull said that sometimes those young girls become, in effect, sex slaves. That is a big problem, because they have nobody to protect them. I hope that the Bill will go some way towards dealing with the three abuses—violence, slave labour and sexual slavery—that these girls have to deal with when they are brought into this country through forced marriages.
I still find it difficult to distinguish between forced marriage, arranged marriage, and psychological pressure. How does one define a forced marriage? As we heard earlier, many women come under enormous psychological pressure to go into a marriage. Is that a forced marriage? If not, why not? Perhaps the Minister can clarify those points.
Secondly, strong community relations are key to this. While there are many benefits to multiculturalism, perhaps one of the unintended consequences has been the prevalence of forced marriage in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) observed that there are 5,000 such cases; there would have been far fewer 10 years ago. Strong community relations play a key role, and communication is critical. It is important that the infrastructure is in place and that there is a facility to help women caught up in forced marriages to find an easy way out of the trap in which they find themselves. That does not mean we must have a society into which people from different ethnic backgrounds feel they have to assimilate; we need an integrated society in which we respect others’ cultures and backgrounds without making them assimilate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley made an important point about language. As people come into this country, it is important that there is far more encouragement for them to adopt its mother tongue, which is English, so that they can integrate, if not assimilate. Learning English is important because if they have a problem with their marriage, they should be able to communicate, in English, any problem to the facility that the Bill seeks to introduce.
I am most intrigued by my hon. Friend’s observations about how to distinguish between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. The definition in the Bill refers to force, including coercion
“by threats or other psychological means”,
whatever that means. What about the situation where there is family pressure for an arranged marriage? Would it not be rather difficult to decide whether that meant it was a forced marriage?
That was very much the point I was trying to make at the beginning of my speech, to tease out from the Solicitor-General how she defines arranged marriages where psychological pressures are created by families at home. They may not come from wealthy backgrounds, and financial pressure may be put on people to get involved in a marriage that ultimately becomes unwelcome and, in many ways, abusive. We want to try to prevent such situations through the Bill.
I want to return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) made during his speech on the importance of judiciary training. There is no point in introducing legislation to deal with this sensitive issue without ensuring not only that people have proper training to understand the variety of issues that those who go through forced marriages deal with, but that the numbers are there. Will people who have judicial training be required to learn a foreign language, so that they can communicate with some of the young ladies who are being abused?
My fourth point relates to what the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said about empowering the victim. Many of the women in question are very young and have no family network in this country. I am perplexed about how we can empower somebody who cannot communicate, and has found themselves in a trap—in a family who may well coalesce around the husband and protect him. They might be abusing that young person, and there might not be a mechanism by which the young woman can escape from the trap in which she finds herself.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. His colleague, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), talked about the wideness of the definition of those able to intervene. I am hoping that if an individual finds themselves in such a circumstance, the Bill will enable a friend, social worker or someone to whom they have gone for help to intervene on their behalf by virtue of the wideness of that definition.
I understand the spirit in which the hon. Lady makes her point, but the reality is that many of those young women feel trapped in their homes. Many do not get out even to do the shopping. They have no social network in which to communicate with anybody, even extended members of the family, let alone social workers or other parties who could try to help them. That is the Bill’s weakness.
Who is the relevant third party, who will make the application? If there is no way for the individual to communicate, no social network and no social worker with whom to interact, and the position is compounded because the family gangs up on her as she becomes increasingly unhappy, a problem develops. I suspect that, although one, two, half-a-dozen or even 500 women may escape and go to the courts to ask for help, probably 10 times that number cannot escape. I believe that that problem will continue to exist.
Although I support the Bill, and it is great that there is cross-party support for dealing with such an important issue, I believe that there are many outstanding questions, which I hope that the Solicitor-General will now clarify.
I compliment all—I stress “all”—the contributors to the debate. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) made a characteristically balanced contribution—he will be a huge asset to the Committee. The Bill is good now, but if it can be improved, he is the man to help us do it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) made the distinction, which is not such a difficult one, between forced and arranged marriage. Her ability to make that distinction was echoed by that of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire made the powerful point that arranged marriage, as opposed to forced marriage, has existed cross-culturally, and she mentioned “Pride and Prejudice”. She is right, and a slightly parodic Bollywood film, “Bride and Prejudice” makes the same point. The great distinction between forced and arranged marriage is consent. People in forced marriages never live happily ever after.
I was glad to have the professional support of the hon. Member for Woking for the civil route that the Government have chosen to take. I assure him that there will be training through the Judicial Studies Board—we have already thought about that. He was keen to know whether the Bill’s implementation could be extended to the family proceedings court. It contains a power to do that, but training will probably be necessary before that happens. We owe a lot to the High Court, which has cut out a niche in identifying the sort of cases that we are considering. It is therefore important that we stay, for the time being, where the expertise is. Of course, powers to extend can follow.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) for her work on violence against women. She has done that year in, year out throughout the time that I have known her. She readily acknowledges that the criminal tools are too unsubtle an approach for the problem. A young person would not be encouraged to leave if it were likely that one or more members of the family would find themselves before the criminal courts. She made the powerful point, which was reflected in other speeches, that the scale of the problem may be much greater than any of us know. We must therefore ensure that there is adequate and good quality training if the problem emerges on a larger scale than we expect. We must ensure that, for example, survivor support is well resourced.
The hon. Member for Woking made more points, but they are better left to the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said that she believed that there was a need for more consultation. As she acknowledged, the Home Office carried out a consultation in 2005. The result was overwhelmingly in favour of not criminalising the offence but dealing with it through a civil route. Many organisations were consulted then.
After Lord Lester introduced his Bill in another place, the Odysseus Trust, with which he is linked, also carried out a consultation on how it ought to be amended to make it more effective. A large number of organisations were contacted and there were 32 respondents, including Ashiana, the Asian Family Counselling Service, the Commission for Racial Equality, Hounslow domestic violence network, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Imkaan, the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain and the Newham Asian Women’s Project. Southall Black Sisters have been deeply involved from the start, as have Rights of Women. As others have said, we must of course not stop consulting or ensuring that eyes remain fixed on the functioning of the Bill. However, I hope that my hon. Friend can none the less be satisfied that a good deal of consultation has been taken forward.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) still has doubts. Even his colleagues cannot persuade him that the criminal route is not the right one. The problem is that people might be deterred from coming forward if they fear that they will criminalise their families. If they can take a gentler route and just seek help, thereby stopping the situation before it really starts, there might be possibilities for reconciliation and healing that would not arise if the police were called in. That is the line that we are taking. It has met with support throughout the House tonight and, overwhelmingly, among the organisations that we have consulted.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about numbers, but we are talking about a quasi-invisible crime, so it is hard to say. Last year or the year before, the Metropolitan police were aware of 518 cases and, as many hon. Members have said, 300 such cases come to the attention of the forced marriages unit each year. Moreover, the High Court was aware of 30 cases, but I cannot say more about numbers. He talked about whether large numbers of people will be, as he put it, prosecuted—he meant be taken to the civil courts. I cannot predict whether that will be the case, but I hope that the Bill will send out a powerful signal from the House not only that those consequences will follow, but that the practice must stop. Rather than there being a great emergence of new cases, it would be far better if we acted effectively tonight to deter people.
There are a number of people to whom I should pay tribute, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice who, as Home Secretary, gave impetus to the original consultation, which took place way back in 2005, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Pensions Reform, my distinguished predecessor, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who launched the document when he was Home Secretary. That document was all about criminal provision, which was overwhelmingly rejected. It is hugely to the credit of Lord Lester that he carried the torch forward and changed the offence into a civil one.
It is also hugely to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) that she has championed the cause throughout. She cannot be here tonight for very good reasons and she is sorry for that, but if she was prepared to serve on the Committee, her input would no doubt be most welcome.
The issue that we are discussing applies to all races and all religions—to Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Muslims. It is also not confined to one society, as many have said. Forced marriage amounts to a serious social evil. It can also amount to sexual slavery and can affect people as young as 12 or 13. Dowries are paid and people are bought and sold. As has been said, resistance can lead to honour killings and submission can lead to suicide. Forced marriages are a dreadful social evil.
May I ask a delicate and sensitive question of the Solicitor-General? What is she prepared to do about what is clearly the physical abuse, and perhaps even rape, of a young girl who has been compelled to enter a forced marriage? Is that a subject about which the Solicitor-General is concerned? I am deeply worried about what we can do about what has been done to a young woman.
The hon. Gentleman has not had the advantage of hearing the debate, which has covered that territory fairly significantly over the past couple of hours while others of us have been here. Of course, if someone is compelled into a marriage and forced to have sex, that would be rape. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield made that point and also listed the other offences that are frequently committed in the course of a forced marriage and what follows thereafter. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will read the report in Hansard tomorrow—
What we are seeking to do is to give young people in danger the tools to prevent the danger from emerging, but if criminal offences are committed and it is appropriate, the people involved should be prosecuted. However, we are not prepared to put the onus on a young person by saying that the only way they can get out of the situation is to go to the police and compel their family to become involved in criminal proceedings. We are not prepared to say that that is the right way forward, because that is not the case. If they can have recourse to someone else, a civil conclusion can be reached that might head the problem off at the pass before it goes into the horrifying areas to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded.
This is not just a national problem; it is an international one as well. India now has a Minister for women and child development, I think for the first time, and I was fortunate enough to meet Renuka Chowdhury recently at a Commonwealth women MPs’ conference in Kampala. She assured me that the Indian Government had legislated to prohibit child marriages in India. She also told me that a women’s commissioner was engaged in a programme to educate people on this matter and to prevent forced marriage. It is possible that the advent of this legislation will encourage legislation over there to give enhanced protection. I also understand from Lord Lester that it is not impossible that similar steps will be taken in Pakistan and Bangladesh. I have read his speeches on this matter, and I met him today. I hope, therefore, that we are creating an influence that will go beyond the four corners of the statute and of our jurisdiction.
Implementation will be important. We have the benefit of the forced marriage unit, which is well grounded in promoting and publicising the issue and in producing guidance. It is a great credit to our High Court judiciary—if that is not too patronising a way to describe such an august group—that they have identified this issue where it has arisen, and responded to it. When the Bill has gone through all its stages, we shall therefore be starting with a body of understanding and support in the judiciary, in the forced marriage unit and in civil society.
The procedure that we shall use involves a tried and tested formula that is to be found in part IV of the Family Law Act 1996, which provides solutions to family problems. It is good that the provisions are to be embedded in family law, because they will not seek to point a finger at any part of society. They will simply accept the issue for what it is, namely, unacceptable family behaviour that can be dealt with by civil injunctions, just as other kinds of violence against family members are now. They are flexible and broad enough to allow a judge to head off the danger and to make all orders that are appropriate for protection.
We are arming ourselves well with the Bill, and we will see whether any more needs to be done in Committee. Cross-party support here today has been most welcome, and I am sure that that will continue. We will all work hard to make the best of the Bill, because we must. We owe it to our young citizens whose young lives are curtailed and whose opportunities, hopes and expectations are blocked by the impossible-to-tolerate evil of forced marriage. We must take steps now, and it is good that we have cross-party support for doing so. We are taking steps now to stop it.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.