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Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [Lords]

Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

Not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has now been carefully debated both here and in the other place, and I think that we can safely say that it is a shining example of cross-party co-operation to tackle the dreadful problem of people who are forced to marry. I therefore want to put on record again my thanks both to the Opposition for providing time for the Bill to be debated in the House and to the Liberal Democrats—in particular, Lord Lester—for introducing the Bill in the other place and working so hard to secure its passage there. With the noble Lord’s help the Government substantially redrafted the Bill, and when it came here, we adopted it as our own. In this House, we have secured support on both sides for a Bill that will provide much-needed help for the young women—and indeed some men—who find themselves forced to marry. The Bill will go a long way towards tackling that pernicious practice. The cross-party support for the Bill has been critical in ensuring that progress.

On Second Reading and in Committee, there were great debates on some of the most important issues raised by the Bill. It was sensible and proper that those aspects were discussed further. I will comment on one or two of the issues. There was concern that there was not sufficient consultation with stakeholders. The Government, through the forced marriage unit, have been engaged with key stakeholders since the unit was established in 2005 and we also consulted on forced marriage—including whether it should be made a criminal offence—in 2005. A wide-ranging and varied group of stakeholders responded to that consultation.

Lord Lester, who sponsored the Bill in another place, consulted on making changes to his original Bill in February this year. Again, those who responded were wide-ranging and included experts in the field, non-governmental organisations, charities dealing with forced marriage casework, faith groups and other interested individuals. Lord Lester himself has worked with the Southall Black Sisters, which is a well-established, well-known and influential women’s group working in London, as well as organisations such as Karma Nirvana in Derby and the Newham Asian Women’s Project, both of which have been closely involved with the work of the forced marriage unit and have been consulted regularly.

We also took it upon ourselves to consult a number of the family division judges, who regularly hear such cases, in order to ensure that the drafting of the legislation was appropriate. They made some helpful suggestions to improve the Bill’s flexibility and I want to record my thanks to them for their contribution. In the run-up to the Lords Grand Committee, Baroness Ashton met a number of stakeholders, including Southall Black Sisters, Imkaan, Karma Nirvana, and Himat—a support group that meets the particular needs of south Asian gay and bisexual men. She also met Khatun Sapnara, a family law lawyer, who worked closely with Lord Lester in drafting the original Bill.

I wholeheartedly agree with the points that have been made about strong community relations being key to the future success of the legislation once passed and, for that reason, I wanted to set out how important it was that we had met the different groups that have an interest in this area. In that respect, the work of the forced marriage unit, and other NGOs and charities, is critical and invaluable in raising awareness of the issue and highlighting access to support and assistance.

The forced marriage unit, as I said in Committee, undertakes a great deal of publicity, outreach and awareness-raising work. Speeches are made at about 75 events every year. The unit runs a national publicity campaign involving radio, TV and the national and local press. As part of its two-year strategy, it will explore ways of making the outreach programme more targeted and focused on the hard-to-reach community groups and on older generations in communities that are affected by forced marriage. It is also focusing on building links with devolved Governments in the UK and with other Governments across Europe through participation in the EU Daphne-funded project, “Active Against Forced Marriage”. The FMU contributes to the Foreign Office’s overall work with overseas Governments to improve human rights, including tackling forced marriage and other forms of violence against women.

The Bill is just one part of a much wider programme of work already under way to raise awareness of the problem of forced marriage and to protect women’s rights in this area. It might be appropriate at this stage if I remind hon. Members that the Bill has been extended to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive Committee considered the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the Bill on 24 May and agreed that it was content that Westminster should legislate on devolved matters on this occasion. Likewise the Northern Ireland Assembly debated and agreed a legislative consent motion on Monday 4 June.

There was some concern during the debates about whether there should be criminal remedies for forced marriage. The Bill offers civil remedies. As I said on Second Reading, we consulted in 2005 on whether we should introduce criminal offences for forced marriage. The majority response from stakeholders and voluntary groups with great experience in the area was that going down the route of criminalisation might be seen to target and stigmatise certain ethnic and religious communities and would simply drive the practice underground, making the situation even worse for victims. Victims of forced marriage are often unwilling to take action against their parents, and many respondents felt that the legislation would simply not be used. So, we decided against criminalisation.

I want to make it clear, however, that clause 63R of the Bill signposts the existing protection that is available under criminal law as well as under other civil legislation. That includes the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Family Law Act 1996, a civil claim for damages, and an application under the Children Act 1989. The clause also makes it clear that the Bill will not prevent a person from seeking a remedy provided in other areas of law. So, when a crime is committed as part of a strategy designed to force someone to marry, it should be reported to the police and can be prosecuted in the normal way.

The primary purpose of the Bill, however, is preventive. It is aimed at protecting the victim from being forced into marriage. Nevertheless, there are some cases in which the victim may wish to seek additional remedies, such as making a civil claim for damages—in cases where she could do so anyway. The clause makes it clear that nothing in the Bill prevents such an application.

The Minister is absolutely right to say that the whole purpose of the Bill is preventive. Is she satisfied that there are enough other policies in place to alert young people, as they come through our schools and as they come to adulthood in this country—whether they were born here or came here—about their rights and the protection that the law will give them? Often, by the time they learn about the law, it may be too late. If they can learn in a multicultural environment, they may have some support systems in place before it comes to the point of a forced marriage.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important and valid point. I will come on to that and describe in some detail some of the things that the Government will do once the Bill becomes law. He is quite right that this is something that we need to raise awareness of, not just among community groups, but within schools, so that the support of the school will be one of the protections that young people can have if they feel that they, or their brothers or sisters, are being forced into a marriage. The Bill will allow a teacher, as a third party, to respond appropriately.

The other aspect of the Bill is deterrence. Each year, the forced marriage unit receives about 5,000 calls for general advice and it ends up handling some 300 cases. Last year, the Metropolitan police recorded 518 incidents related to forced marriage. That gives us the beginning of an indication of the scale of the problem. I believe—I suspect that other hon. Members will agree with me—that, like other forms of domestic violence, forced marriage is seriously under-reported. There are likely to be many more victims who have been suffering in silence. We hope that, as well as offering protection to those who are in danger of being forced into marriage, the Bill will act as a deterrent, sending out a clear message that forced marriage will simply not be tolerated in our democracy.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) raised the issue of whether we should require all British nationals who wish to marry abroad, or who may marry abroad, to register the marriage in this country before it takes place. I have considered that and I understand the point that he is making. He may wish to expand on it in this Third Reading debate. However, I repeat that such a provision may well send out the wrong message: that forced marriages only take place abroad and that the only authorities that can be trusted to recognise whether there is free and full consent are those in England and Wales. Clearly, that is not the case.

As I said in Committee, as part of its review of immigration policy, the Home Office is working on issuing a public consultation paper about new arrangements for marriage visas entitled “Marriage to partners from overseas”. One aspect of the consultation will focus on what steps can be taken as regards the requirements for sponsoring a marriage visa; for example, the minimum age could be raised to help those who are pressurised into sponsoring such a visa. That might be a more fruitful way to tackle the problem than requiring everyone who marries abroad to register their marriage in this country. I understand that the Border and Immigration Agency hopes to publish that consultation before the end of July, and to receive responses in the autumn. The forced marriage unit already works with UKvisas and the Border and Immigration Agency to stop visas being granted on the basis of a forced marriage. There were over 100 such cases involving Pakistan alone in 2006-07.

My other concern about the proposal is that it might be disproportionate. It would affect all marriages entered into abroad, the vast majority of which are clearly legitimate and voluntary. In addition, it could catch two British citizens who are resident in the UK and who choose to marry overseas, as is quite popular nowadays. The proposal would have a significant effect on legitimate marriages, and it might make them invalid in the United Kingdom if a notice of intention to marry had not been registered. That would result in what is called limping marriages—marriages that are recognised in one country but not another. That could leave couples uncertain as to their legal rights. In the end, the measure might have a detrimental effect on legitimate marriage, rather than prevent forced marriages. For that reason, on the whole I do not think that the measure would be appropriate, although I understand what the hon. Member for Beaconsfield was trying to achieve.

The forced marriage unit has had regard to the Bill in its presentations and has discussed its provisions on an ad hoc basis with a variety of audiences in the past six months. When the Bill reaches the statute book, the unit will of course formalise that arrangement, and it will become one of the Government’s foremost means of discussing the Bill with stakeholders across the country. The unit will also re-prioritise its outreach programme. As part of that, it will look to target the specific audiences on whom the Bill will have the greatest impact.

The unit has great access to a wide network of black and minority ethnic media outlets, and it will explore the possibility of generating further media coverage in those specialist outlets when the Bill becomes law. In the past two years, the unit has produced guidelines on tackling forced marriage for the police, social services, and health and education professionals, and it is producing similar guidelines for registrars and legal professionals. The unit recently launched a survivors’ handbook, which offers information and practical support to survivors of forced marriage. Once the Bill is law, the unit will issue revised editions of its guidelines for all those organisations, in accordance with the statutory power that requires those people who exercise public functions to have due regard to relevant guidance. The new version will include advice on how professionals can use the Bill’s new provisions.

In Committee, the issue of the Bill’s application to people other than named respondents was raised. New section 63B(2)(c) of the Family Law Act 1996, which is inserted by the Bill, provides that a forced marriage protection order can be directed at unnamed persons who are, or may become, involved “in other respects”, such as members of the family. However, an order can be so directed only if the court believes it appropriate to make such an order for the purposes of protecting the individual concerned. That provision is necessary to reflect the real nature of forced marriage, which can come about following the involvement of a large group of people, possibly a whole family or even a community group. In many cases it simply is not feasible for the applicant to name all the potential respondents, especially if there is an urgency to the application, and it has been brought by a third party. The provision allows the court to make orders against people who appear to be involved in coercion, even if they cannot be readily identified.

It was suggested in Committee that those categories of people should be captured by the order only if they knowingly acted in a way that might force a person into marriage, but that would be extremely difficult for any applicant to prove, and it might in effect make the provision unworkable. For the most part, being involved “in other respects” will generally require some kind of knowledge of what the lead respondent is doing; for example, counselling, encouraging or conspiring all presuppose some sort of knowledge. However, orders to protect the victim could still in theory be addressed to people who are not morally culpable in any way. An order could be addressed to any person prohibiting them from aiding, abetting or encouraging the victim to marry. To use the example mentioned in Committee, that would include the priest, if the court thought that the circumstances justified it.

However, it is necessary to distinguish between making an order and enforcing it. The Bill does not change the current law of contempt. Before a person can be committed for contempt, the court must be satisfied that that person had sufficient knowledge of the order to know that his actions would frustrate its intention. To continue with the example of the priest, the order could not be enforced against him unless he had knowledge of the order, and intended to interfere with the administration of justice by frustrating it.

I shall say a few words about the implementation of the Bill, because that issue is clearly of interest to the House. The first task will be to develop the necessary court rules, which will put in place the procedure for dealing with the kind of cases that we are talking about. We will take forward the drafting of the rules and the necessary court forms in conjunction with the family procedure rule committee. An early task for us is to discuss with the president of the family division the possibility of his issuing a practice direction to promote the effective handling of such cases in courts that have jurisdiction over such cases. A key element of such a practice direction is to set out what special measures are available to assist vulnerable witnesses in giving evidence.

Committee members rightly identified the need for proper training and guidance, both on forced marriage and on the legislation, as key to ensuring that the Bill is implemented successfully, and to ensuring that we really tackle the problem of forced marriage. As my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said on Second Reading, we have the great advantage of having experienced judges in the family division, who are already used to handling such cases under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court. They will be key to ensuring the success and early implementation of the Act in the High Court and in those county courts where we expect such cases to arise. In addition, the experienced staff in the forced marriage unit will be a key resource in promoting knowledge of the Act among the public service professionals on whom we—and, more importantly, the victims of forced marriage—will rely to make the legislation a success.

The expertise of the forced marriage unit will be essential when it comes to designing the initial process to identify and consult on which bodies might be designated relevant third parties under the legislation. I gave the example of a teacher, but that would be a one-off; there are obviously more established third parties, the forced marriage unit being one of them, which could be designated relevant third parties under the legislation. Such bodies will be enabled to bring actions on behalf of victims of forced marriage without first obtaining the leave of the court.

We have had a thorough debate on the Bill, not just on the Floor of the House and in the other place, but also in Committee. The thoughtful contributions made by all concerned have ensured that the Bill is worthy of the House’s support, and I commend it to the House.

It gives me great pleasure to follow the Minister. This is the first Bill in which I have ever been involved where the Report stage has passed without amendments being tabled. Although one worries that we may have missed something if there is too great a degree of consensus across the House, I should like to think that that properly reflects the care that has gone into making the Bill effective, and also the fact that it has commanded so much support across the House.

We believe that the Bill will be a powerful tool in helping to prevent forced marriages or, if they have taken place, in trying to ensure that their appalling effects may be mitigated or removed. We greatly welcome the fact that the noble Lord Lester of Herne Hill introduced the Bill, and the fact that the Government were willing to take it over and to provide their expertise in its redrafting, which was substantial, while respecting the intention that had led Lord Lester to propose the measure in the first place. As a result of incorporating the provisions in the Bill into the Family Law Act 1996, the Government have produced a sensible measure that will give the courts maximum flexibility in dealing with the problem.

I do not intend to go over the ground that the Minister covered so well. That is not the purpose of debate in the Chamber. For the Opposition, it has been a privilege to participate in the process and to make time available to ensure that the Bill could get through, whereas private Members’ Bills coming from the other place usually encounter difficulty. As the Minister commented, a number of aspects that were raised in Committee merit passing reference before we send the Bill on its way.

The first, with which the Minister dealt at some length a few minutes ago, was whether there ought to have been a criminal offence of causing a forced marriage or participating in causing a forced marriage to take place. I know that a number of Opposition Members have been exercised about that. Because forced marriage is such an unpleasant concept, there are many who feel that only by making it clear to those who participate in such enterprises that there is a criminal sanction will we mark our disapproval. That merits consideration, but a powerful case was made, particularly by those whom the Government consulted on the measure, that one of the consequences would be to discourage individuals from coming forward because of the fear that by doing so, they would bring about criminal sanctions against close relatives.

Trying to apply my lawyer’s mind to the matter, I am left with the sensation that to construct such a criminal offence would require us to look far more narrowly than the very wide definition that we have been able to give in civil proceedings. That would oblige us to highlight the fact that the offence was difficult to define. We know, for example, that it is made up of constituent ingredients, most of which are already criminal offences in themselves. Trying to encapsulate that in a single offence might be very difficult. For that reason I have consistently shied away from attempting to do so.

If the legislation does not prove to be as effective as we hope, we may have to return to the issue. I am conscious that the record for prosecutions linked to forced marriages does not suggest that these are easy offences to prove, even though the individual offences that might currently be committed are pretty clear. I endorse the Government’s approach and I hope that the flexibility gained by using the Family Law Act will produce a more effective measure than would result from introducing criminal sanctions.

On the second matter, the registration of marriages contracted outside the UK, I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me about that and for dealing with it in this evening’s debate. She made a good point when she said that we do not wish to leave people in limbo. I accept that the amendment that I proposed in Committee was never capable of being incorporated in the Bill because of the rather narrow way in which the Bill is drafted in amending the 1996 Act, and it was not my intention to leave people in limbo. There might have to be another approach, allowing registration after marriage, as well as before.

I disagree slightly with the Minister in that I do not see the proposal as being essentially too onerous or discriminatory against the world in general. I fully accept that many countries have effective mechanisms for ensuring that forced marriages do not take place, but quite a few countries probably do not. The merit of the proposal in principle is that by requiring the intention of a resident British national to marry to be registered before the marriage takes place, it allows the registrar, for example, to make an assessment as to whether the person coming to register the marriage, who would have to be the person intending to marry, has the intellectual capacity to be capable of contracting marriage, and appears not to be coerced and to be happy at the prospect of coming along to carry out that registration.

I hope that that idea—I say no more than that—will be borne in mind by the Government when they come to consider the other measures that the Minister helpfully outlined to the House in respect of the granting of visas and entry to the United Kingdom. A procedure that allows a British registrar of marriages or some other person to make a gentle assessment as to whether what is taking place is voluntary or not is an essential prerequisite to stopping such marriages taking place or, if they have taken place, to provide a mechanism by which a reference might be made to the court.

Secrecy is clearly the handmaiden of such marriages. I know from personal experience, as I explained to the Minister in Committee, that there are women who are sent abroad to marry in circumstances where it is clear that their participation is not voluntary or that they are not capable of deciding whether they wish to marry. Once the marriage has taken place, it becomes much more difficult to help the person concerned and put right the evil consequences that flow from it. If it could therefore be picked up prior to the marriage taking place, that would be valuable.

Would the hon. Gentleman apply that principle in general to marriages contracted in this country? He knows that people like Paul Kenyon, who works for the BBC, have done very good work exposing the bogus marriage business. I have always had an inkling of a view that before registrars sign people up for next Saturday week, they ought to see the two parties separately to discover whether there is a valid marriage in prospect, rather than a contrived one.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Until quite recently, the rules in this country were extremely lax, although we have gone some way towards tightening them up. I am sure also—the point was well made by the Minister—that there are forced marriages taking place in this country under the very eyes of registrars or clergy of whichever denomination it may be. We have to put our own house in order. I think that we are capable of doing that, and the proposals mentioned by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) are highly pertinent in that regard.

Although forced marriages clearly take place here, they also take place abroad, and when they take place abroad, it provides a mechanism by which people think that they can subvert scrutiny, which is something that we need to think about. However, I fully accept that the Bill is not the place to address that issue—indeed, as drafted, I could not include such a measure in the Bill, no matter what ingenuity I deployed. I hope that the Minister will forgive me for raising the matter yet again, because when we come on to other matters at some later date, I hope that the general point will be addressed, even if that does not involve my particular drafting—I accept that my provision was not well researched, because I could see the flaws in the arguments even when I was drafting it. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the Government should bear in mind the intention behind that provision.

I do not want to take up any more of the House’s time. The Bill is a good Bill, and I commend it and share its commendation to the House. I simply express again the great hope that it will go some way to alleviating this serious evil.

I am delighted at last to find myself in the House discussing the implementation of legislation to counter forced marriages. How times have changed since February 1999, when I, with the support of the then Member for Halifax, Alice Mahon, first raised the issue in an Adjournment debate.

At that time, the self-appointed leaders of communities met my comments with hostility and denial. Eight years on, it is extremely gratifying to see cross-party support to challenge what is a brutal crime against humanity based on a mediaeval, patriarchal culture that should have no place in our society. However, my delight must be tempered by a note of caution. This Bill, which has been much welcomed, cannot be the end of the matter, and there is a great deal more to do. Over the past three years, I have argued the case for a new specific criminal offence of forcing or conspiring to force someone into marriage. The main thrust of the argument in opposition to my view is that adequate criminal legislation is already in place.

My daughter happens to work for the Crown Prosecution Service, and she kindly obtained a coffee mat—I must point out that it is not a beer mat—produced by the CPS that is headed “Forced marriage”. It states:

“If you are forcing someone into marriage, some of the offences you could be prosecuted for are: Kidnap, Threats to kill, Rape, False imprisonment, Blackmail, Child Abduction, Harassment”.

That is quite a list. However, despite the fact that the forced marriage unit, West Yorkshire police, my office and others have all seen an increasing number of cases, there has not been, as far as I am aware, a single prosecution by the CPS under current criminal legislation against such criminal activity being used to enforce marriage. It is therefore imperative that this Bill does not suffer the same fate by going unused and that it is not seen as a soft option. Its success in addressing the matter will depend on political will and ensuring that it is widely known, understood and used.

We now have guidelines for the police, social workers, schools and health professionals to stop forced marriages. As useful and necessary as those guidelines are, I remain to be convinced that they have managed to filter through to the front line. Indeed, recently officers from one constabulary told me that the guidelines were filed somewhere in the chief constable’s office. Unless the guidelines are publicised among the professionals who encounter forced marriages and training is offered, then the well-being or even the life of a young girl could be in jeopardy.

I am pleased that the Minister has suggested that all such guidelines will be updated to include information regarding the possible actions that this Bill will enable. The Bill must not simply be filed in a desk somewhere. It must be supported by a programme of publicity and education that reaches every school, mosque and community centre in the country. The same drip feed of information that is proving so successful in tackling the wider issue of domestic violence needs to be adopted for forced marriages.

I have some sympathy with the comments made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in Committee and tonight regarding the introduction of a pre-marriage register. That would not only add another tier of protection from a forced marriage, but, as we discussed in Committee, give greater protection to disabled people, who might not be wholly aware of the marriage.

Although I am delighted that we are debating the Bill, there is more that can and should be done. Young girls are still disappearing from schools at the age of 14 or 15, their education interrupted or ended, returned to the country of their parents, married, and returned here only when they are able to support an application for the husband to come to the UK. We cannot allow young women to be used as a vehicle to get round immigration rules in order to assist economic migration. We cannot allow the lives of young people to be disrupted, and in some cases destroyed, for the sake of satisfying mediaeval cultural practices. To be denied the right to an education in such circumstances is discriminatory and unacceptable.

An increase in the age limit from the current 18 for migration to the UK must be introduced for applicants and sponsors. I have asked for it to be increased to 21. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) argued for 23 or 24, in line with the Danish regulations. Whatever the age, it must be sufficient to allow young people to go to school, and plan to go to university if they so choose, without the fear of being used, instead, as a tool to strengthen a biraderi or as a vehicle for economic migration to improve the economic well-being of families thousands of miles away. It is better by far that that should be achieved from general taxation through the Department for International Development. Denmark’s Integration Minister recently argued that the Danish immigration policy

“works exactly as it is intended. We’ve gotten a handle on immigration and broken the pattern where generations of young people primarily found their spouses abroad.”

Zubair Butt Hussain, spokesman for the Danish organisation Muslims in Dialogue, argued:

“There is a completely different tendency now amongst younger groups of immigrants and their children to instead look for a partner here in Denmark or Europe.”

The time has come to abolish the whole concept of indefinite leave to remain after being in the UK for two years. Migrants should, upon arrival, aspire to and work towards citizenship. Only British citizens should be allowed to act as a sponsor for the purposes of immigration through marriage. That would not only address the incidence of forced marriage but increase the move towards greater integration and cohesion.

Decisions and legislation designed to curb the excesses of a culture that are based on a lack of understanding of that culture are unlikely to succeed. Had the Americans bothered to attempt to understand the Vietnamese, they would have realised that theirs was a war they could never have won and should never have fought—similarly with Iraq. Likewise, to challenge criminal, inhumane practices from a position of weakness—that is, a lack of understanding as to why it occurs in the first place—will, history suggests, lead to failure.

The Danes and the Dutch are getting there. The Bill, based as it is on our principles of tolerance and accommodation, may satisfy our understanding of the problem, but does it reflect any understanding of the perpetrators of the crime and their behaviour? I therefore have to say to the families concerned that if this measure, together with changes in immigration regulations, does not stop the enforcement of marriage, I, for one, will seek the introduction of a specific criminal offence, because we simply cannot go on like this—our British-born young Asian women deserve better.

I welcome this Third Reading debate, which follows a productive and consensual Second Reading and Committee stage. The Minister adeptly outlined many of the issues surrounding the Bill, so I will keep my remarks fairly brief, but there are a few points that I would like to put on the record on behalf of my party.

My first point follows on from the comments of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) about the offence being a civil, rather than a criminal, one. She made a good case for looking again at that issue, if the legislation does not provide the tools and armoury we hope for to tackle this insidious activity. The arguments in favour of a civil offence are very strong, and we want to ensure that we encourage potential victims of forced marriage to come forward without fear or concern that their loved ones will be criminalised as a result. Although sending out a strong message by making something a crime is superficially attractive, I suspect that we want the approach that works, and one that is more pragmatic is more likely to achieve results. That is not to say, however, that we should not monitor that approach carefully and ensure that it does achieve results.

I welcome the Minister’s correspondence with Committee members. I welcome the fact that she has taken up two particular points that I raised in Committee. The first concerned ensuring that vulnerable victims of forced marriage, such as children or those with learning disabilities, are adequately considered in the proceedings, and that provision is made to ensure that their voices are heard, with whatever special measures are appropriate. In Committee, and in the House today, the Minister said that she would take that up with the president of the family division with regard to the issuing of practice direction, which is welcome. I hope that it ensures that everyone can benefit from the legislation, particularly the most vulnerable.

Secondly, we had a short debate about guidance in Committee. The Minister said in her letter:

“With the passage of the Forced Marriage Bill into law, the FMU’s Guidelines for Professionals (including Guidance For The Police, Social Workers, Teachers And Health Professionals) will be put onto a statutory footing. This will require the FMU to issue revised editions of these Guidelines and the new versions will include advice on how professionals can best make use of the new provisions contained within the Forced Marriage Bill.”

That is welcome, but the problem outlined by the hon. Member for Keighley remains—guidance can sometimes end up in a filing cabinet somewhere. As well as formal legal guidance, which must be issued, I reiterate what I said in Committee: it is vital that clear, easy-to-understand information is made easily available, such as a simple leaflet that can be distributed more widely than what is issued to professionals.

The Minister mentioned the budget. She said in Committee that how well something is publicised depends on funds being available. We live in the real world; there are always constraints. I argue that the costs associated with this are not necessarily huge. What is important is not that huge amounts of money are spent—although the more, the better, to ensure that information reaches the maximum number of people—but that the Bill is distilled into plain English so that people can understand it. I suspect it will need not only to be in plain English but to be made plain in other languages, too. The hon. Member for Keighley made a point about the legislation not remaining unused, and clear guidance will be essential to ensure that it is used.

The outreach programme from the forced marriage unit, which the Minister outlined, is important and greatly welcome, and I also welcome her point that devolved Governments will be involved in the process. People are victims of this situation throughout the United Kingdom, and we must ensure that the expertise of the FMU is put to good use.

In conclusion, the FMU deals with 300 cases a year of people in the most desperate situations, who are often subject to an horrific catalogue of crimes, from violence to kidnap and rape. Those 300 cases could be just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, prevention is much better than cure, and if the legislation ensures a route out before such marriages take place, victims will be provided with another option. I very much hope that that will be the case.

All the organisations that were consulted about and involved in shaping the Bill and all the people who campaigned on the issue for many years, including the hon. Member for Keighley, deserve the thanks of the House. I also thank my noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill for introducing the measure in another place, the Government for adopting it to ensure that it had a fighting chance of making it to the statute book—that is much appreciated—and, of course, the Conservatives for making sure that parliamentary time was made available. Getting the Bill on to the statute book has therefore taken an effort of the whole House, and I am delighted to add Liberal Democrat support to its Third Reading.

I am glad of the opportunity to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) to say a few words from a constituency perspective and from my experience. I have been unable to participate in the debates so far in the short time that the Bill has been before the House, but I am glad that it is here.

I join hon. Members’ tributes not only to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) but to Alice Mahon, whom she mentioned. Such people ensure that we do not run away from the difficult issue that we are considering. My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire rightly paid tribute to my noble Friend Lord Lester. As a human rights lawyer, he understood the importance of the issue in many communities. I want to share my experience to show how important it is not only to accept the Bill, but to perceive it as unfinished work.

Last year I attended a wedding of some friends, a young couple who are Indian Hindus. Their marriage was contracted willingly, but in the context of an arranged family get-together. That is common; it is fine, and it works. I attended a similar marriage between cousins of theirs some years ago. That marriage has been successful. The family live near me and I see them almost every day; they have lovely children and everything is going well.

However, one night some years ago I was asked to respond to a Green Card from Central Lobby. A young man had been referred to me because his family were trying to drive him into a marriage and he could not stand it any longer. He ran away from home. I was not his Member of Parliament, but he had been given my name as somebody who might be helpful, and I worked with his Member of Parliament, who was in a different party, to support the young man.

In the past couple of weeks I learned—sadly, too late—of some acquaintances, a boy and a girl, who have both been forced to be married. In their case, the violence was not physical but psychological, and there were huge other pressures. The girl is only 20 and wants to study. She does not want to get married at the moment. The boy wants to go on being single for the foreseeable future. However, they have given in. In their case, the arrangement was made on a trip to Pakistan, where the engagement happened. The marriage took place here.

Many young people—boys as well as girls, men as well as women—are in the position that I described. The Bill covers people who are forced into marriage without their “free and full consent”—the words are clear and simple. It clearly provides that it does not matter where the conduct is directed, and that it includes coercion by threats or other psychological means. We must send a clear and strong signal about what that means.

Sometimes young women do not simply not want to get married to a specific person, they do not want to get married at all at that stage in their lives. They may want to remain single; indeed, they may never want to get married, for various reasons. That is a choice. The same applies to young men. When cultural pressures are huge, people are often assumed to be ready to settle down, get married and have children young when they do not want to do that. That applies to people who are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, those who do not know their sexuality and those have not determined the lifestyle that they want to adopt. They are often driven to comply with the norms and expectations of their families, and the pressures are enormous.

The 300 cases of forced marriage are the tip of the iceberg. I am absolutely clear that we are not talking about thousands of people in this country, but about tens of thousands of people who are married, but who would chose not to be married if they had their free will. I am not saying that in the end people do not make a go of it, or that sometimes people do not accept that, but that is not the society that we should encourage or support. We should allow people to make their own choices. Of course we try to encourage people to settle down into relationships. None the less, we should require that people get married only when they are clear what they are doing, and when they enter into marriage freely and willingly.

I want to make my two final points, one of which I made in my intervention on the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). Instinctively, I am against the creation of lots of legislation, and particularly lots of new offences, as the Minister knows. Therefore it is right to start with a civil procedure rather than further criminal law, because there are already relevant laws on the statute book. However, I am also clear that we need to address the linked questions of how we register marriages both here and abroad, and how we recognise marriages here that are made abroad, some of which are made by custom and practice and are barely marriages at all. Sometimes people have come to my surgery and said, “I’m married.” “How were you married?” I have asked. The answer is that they were married when one person was in this country and the other in another. The marriage was contracted without those involved being in the same place. Let us face up to these things.

It is not so easy to do this now, but there has been a sad tradition, for all the reasons that we know, of people forcing others to get married or using their marriages to get all the other advantages—normally citizenship, residency or leave to remain. We should examine that. I invite the Minister to give us an opportunity to examine—perhaps with her colleagues, who I know are very sympathetic—the broader issue that the hon. Member for Keighley has often raised, of ensuring that the systems are not abused, and of how we can, as it were, turn people away from the doors of the registry office, the registrar, the temple, the gurdwara, the mosque or the church, when one or both of them do not want to be there, or the marriage is a contrivance.

My final point is about education. The Minister represents a similar sort of constituency to mine, while the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has significant links with many of our minority communities and my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire has done work on behalf of women in our party and beyond. We all know the reality: education starts at an early age. One needs to establish, at the beginning of secondary school, the basis of how this country works, and expects people to get married. That should be done not just through formal education but through informal education, including youth clubs and other organisations. There are some really good charities that help people—the Minister referred to some voluntary organisations with good practice—as well as women’s organisations, youth organisations and so on. I hope that we will continue to encourage those organisations, to ensure that we get the message out early—in all the appropriate languages, as my hon. Friend said—and that we give support.

That is particularly important in single-faith schools, where the cultural pressures are greater. In mixed-community schools, where people come from all faiths and none, the chances of having a friend who does not come from the same cultural background in whom one can confide are much greater. A young person who goes to an all-Muslim, all-Sikh or all-Hindu school is in much greater difficulty. I have had to counsel people who have had nobody in whom they could confide, because they just did not trust those around them—the uncle, aunt or equivalent of the godparent—because they were not sure whether, in the end, they would come down on their side or the side of the parents and the cousins. Sadly, on one occasion I have seen the family come and kidnap somebody, in order to take them home to do their will as a family.

That is the sort of society that we still have, so the Bill, which is the result of a worthwhile private Member’s initiative, is timely. However, legislating is the beginning of the process, not the end. Education needs to follow, and to reach the parts that other education has not reached. Beyond that, I hope that we can have a further debate about how to stop people from being driven into marriages that they do not want to enter into, because that way lies huge unhappiness, often domestic violence, mental illness and psychological upset, and extremely unhappy lives. If we can spare tens of thousands of people that, we will be doing a lot of people a good service.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, without amendment..


With the permission of the House, I shall put together motions 4 to 13.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Criminal Law

That the draft Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (Amendment) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 21st May, be approved.

Investigatory Powers

That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.

That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Investigation of Protected Electronic Information: Code of Practice) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.


That the draft Verification of Information Passport Applications Etc. (Specified Persons) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 29th June, be approved.

Access to Justice

That the Revised Funding Code prepared by the Legal Services Commission, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th June, be approved.

Industrial Development

That the draft Financial Assistance For Industry (Increase of Limit) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 19th June, be approved.

Constitutional Law

That the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 20th June, be approved.

That the draft Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) (Amendment) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved.

International Development

That the draft International Fund for Agricultural Development (Seventh Replenishment) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 21st June, be approved.

Disabled Persons

That the draft Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amendment etc.) (General Qualifications Bodies) (Alteration of Premises and Enforcement) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.—[Mr. David.]

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9)(European Standing Committees),

Global Approach to Migration

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 9773/07, Commission Communication on the application of the EU Global Approach to Migration to the Eastern and South-Eastern Regions Neighbouring the European Union and No. 9776/07, Commission Communication on circular migration and mobility partnerships between the European Union and third countries; and supports the Government’s position that the expansion of the Global Approach to Migration provides an opportunity to assess progress so far as well as explore and clarify the concepts of circular migration and mobility partnerships.—[Mr. David.]

Question agreed to.