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Lords Chamber

Volume 688: debated on Friday 26 January 2007

House of Lords

Friday, 26 January 2007.

The House met at eleven o’clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Business

My Lords, as the House will know, there is a total of 34 speakers down for the debates today. The debates are not time-limited, but the House should meet the target rising time for Friday of four o’clock if all Back-Bench contributions were limited to about six minutes.

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The serious social evil which the Bill seeks to combat and remedy is the forcing of children and young adults to marry against their will. It gives rise to gross abuses of human rights especially affecting children and young people of either sex within our British Asian communities and elsewhere. It involves inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment of those who resist coercion, even their murder. It is a form of domestic violence and there is a direct link between forced marriages and honour killings, as was noted in the important debate on honour killings initiated by my noble friend Lord Russell-Johnston on 15 December 2005.

Forced marriage is, of course, an oxymoron. It is condemned across and within all communities, including their more religious and traditional sections. It is a form of sexual enslavement, sometimes amounting to domestic slavery. Dowry is often paid and women are bought and sold in the process of being forced into a so-called marriage. As we mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade, we should surely take effective measures to tackle this gross abuse.

I am indebted to the Southall Black Sisters and many other dedicated NGOs with practical experience of the actual problems on the ground for their invaluable advice and support.

It is essential that the Bill is not misused or misrepresented politically as a way of demonising British Asians or resisting much-needed reform. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, emphasised last March, on the first anniversary of the Forced Marriage Unit:

“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”.

We are very sorry that the noble Baroness’s bereavement prevents her from taking part in this debate and convey our sympathy to her and her family. But we are delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, has ministerial responsibility for the Government’s response.

The Bill adopts what the Government have described, in the context of human trafficking, as a,

“victim centred human rights approach”.

It empowers women and children, enhancing the protection given by existing law. It would help the overstretched, under-resourced Forced Marriage Unit, working with other agencies and NGOs, to develop and implement training, to develop victim support networks, and to secure compliance with the unit’s admirable forced marriage guidelines.

There is support from British Asian groups, such as Karma Nirvana and the British Muslim Parliament, as well as the Kurdistan Refugee Women’s Organisation; from women's groups, including the Middle East Centre for Women’s Rights, Rights of Women and Women’s Aid, as well as child protection organisations such as the NSPCC, the Children’s Commissioner, and both Liberty and JUSTICE. Liberty’s briefing paper explains how the Bill gives effect to the UK’s international human rights obligations. The Bill is also supported by senior specialist members of the police service, such as Commander Stephen Allen, whom it would assist to combat this form of serious abuse.

I am grateful to the Members of this House who served on the working party on forced marriage in 2000 and who will take part in this debate: the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who has visited Kashmir to obtain direct knowledge of the problem, and other experienced and expert noble Lords. Several noble Lords who cannot take part have written expressing support, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Prashar, Lady Flather, Lady Verma, Lady Young of Hornsey and Lady Whitaker.

I am also grateful to four family law practitioners: Henry Setright QC, Teertha Gupta, Anne-Marie Hutchinson and James Turner QC, who have advised in designing the Bill, drawing on their practical experience. They welcome the way in which the Bill would promote access to justice in county courts as well as in the High Court, making legal aid more readily available and enabling properly interested third parties to apply for injunctive relief on behalf of potential victims who are unable or unwilling to take such action themselves against members of their families. It is essential that the burden of seeking protection should not rest only with victims, who are deterred from seeking help for fear of triggering the criminal justice process against family members. The diversity sub-committee of the Family Justice Council has expressed its strong support, and I wish there were time to explain to the House the marvellous work that it has done.

It is more than 30 years since I warned that,

“it would be entirely misguided for public authorities to tolerate the exploitation of children or the maltreatment of wives and daughters because such practices were condoned by a particular national, religious or cultural group ... cultural tolerance must not be a cloak for oppression and injustice within the immigrant communities themselves”.

Regrettably, the warning was not heeded.

We hope that the Bill will pass speedily into law and that it will be the springboard for effective educational and administrative measures and for leadership and public education within, as well as outside, minority communities. Ram Mohan Roy, the great Bengali social reformer, made common cause two centuries ago with British Benthamites in abolishing the practice of sati. Mahatma Gandhi acted similarly in securing the 1929 Act on Hindu child marriages during the British Raj. Today, the abolition of forced marriages and associated evils will be effective only if there is clear and bold leadership from within minority communities, making common cause with mainstream leaders, irrespective of religious, ethnic or cultural identity, or political party. Reform has to come from within, backed by well designed and well executed legislative, administrative and educational measures.

The violence and cruelty involved in forcing children and young adults into so-called marriages is powerfully described by a remarkably brave survivor, Jasvinder Sanghera, in her book Shame, published this week. On Tuesday, I was privileged to take part in the book’s launch in Derby, where she was born, and to meet other survivors of the most terrible ordeals, who told me that the Bill would have been of vital help to them. Jasvinder is present at this debate. Her experience painfully illustrates the pressing need for effective legislative and other measures.

Jasvinder was born into a Sikh family in Derby, one of seven sisters, all coerced into marrying Sikh men living in the Punjab. She alone escaped by running away and being treated as dead by her parents and siblings for bringing shame on them in the eyes of their close-knit community. Jasvinder describes her struggle to survive the brutality of family and community coercion, her escape aged barely 16 into poverty and destitution, one sister’s suicide to escape being sent back to a brutal husband, and her work on behalf of women affected by honour-based violence, where the suicide rate among Asian women in Britain is three times the national average. Those who stand up to family oppression may receive real threats to kill. If they run away, they have to live in hiding. Hers is a vivid, honest and deeply moving narrative of despair, courage and hope.

As Jasvinder notes, our public authorities,

“can be in a fog of ignorance, and misplaced cultural and religious sensitivity. To put it bluntly, a blind eye was turned to the problem in the name of cultural diversity ... and for those brave and desperate enough to escape, they are dead in the eyes of their parents and their community ... the women brave enough to stand up for themselves, and escape from families who bully, abuse and imprison them face disownment, immense sadness and loss”.

Mr Justice Munby, a family judge with particular experience, has written to me in support of the Bill. He drew attention to a recent judgment in which he noted that,

“a distressing feature of such cases is that too often the marriage is consummated by force—by rape. In one case ... it appeared that the ‘wife’ had been repeatedly raped in the most degrading circumstances until she conceived—the ‘husband’s’ motives apparently being to ensure that he would gain admission to this country without official challenge if accompanied by a pregnant wife”.

The time is over-ripe for effective measures now to be enacted giving enhanced legal protection. Law is not a panacea, but a well designed law can influence anti-social attitudes and behaviour derived from cultural practices, condemned by all religious faiths but embedded in traditions of community, family honour and identity.

Last summer, the Government decided against making forced marriage a crime. The Southall Black Sisters was among many well informed organisations opposing such an extension of the criminal law. It argued that a new criminal offence would add little to the existing body of law on murder, kidnapping and offences against the person; that police intervention would be counter-productive; and that it would be difficult to obtain sufficient evidence to satisfy the criminal burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt.

At the most recent Labour Party conference, the Home Secretary announced that the Government intended to return to the problem of tackling forced marriage, but there was nothing in the Queen's Speech to give effect to his statement of intent. It was because the clear and present danger to vulnerable children and young adults at risk—mainly, but not only, girls and women—requires an urgent legislative response that I decided to introduce this Bill in the hope that it will win the support of British Asians and that, with government support, it will soon become law.

The Bill is concerned with what happens in this country, but it should also assist in tackling abuse overseas and could serve as a model for similar legislation elsewhere. That is important because the problem is international. No other country has used civil law to give protection and legal remedies to victims in this way. If the Bill is duly enacted, it may encourage the introduction of similar legislation in South Asia and elsewhere.

Following public-interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India seeking stricter enforcement of the rather useless law against child marriages, a compensatory mechanism and rehabilitation for victims and preventive measures, last month, India's Parliament passed an Act on the prevention and prohibition of child marriages. It deals with child marriage, but the Minister for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chaudhary, hopes that it will give protection to,

“tens of thousands of children forced into marriage every year”.

The women's commissioner for India, who is actively involved in forced marriage prevention, is taking a great interest in our Bill. Shruti Pandey, an Indian advocate expert in this area, who is present at this debate, believes that if the Bill becomes law, it may influence India's lawmakers in giving enhanced civil protection. The same may be true of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Bill is carefully tailored to prevent and deter forced marriage, and to provide practical remedies. It goes further than existing legislation, notably the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Family Law Act 1996. We have placed an Explanatory Memorandum in the Printed Paper Office summarising the Bill's contents. It applies only to England and Wales because of the need to respect the terms of the Scottish and Northern Ireland devolution settlements, but, if enacted in England and Wales, it will no doubt result in similar legislation in those countries.

No provision in existing legislation states that forced marriage is unlawful and a civil wrong. That provision is contained in Clause 1. The Bill covers deception for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage or purported marriage without that person's free and full consent. That is essential and is not covered by existing legislation. Cases of forced marriage frequently involve removal of the victim to another country, on the pretext of taking a family holiday or similar deceptive conduct. Clause 1(1)(b) deals with that form of abuse.

Clauses 2 and 3 apply to the aiding and abetting and the inducing of unlawful acts. That is essential in the context of forced marriages because wider family members are frequently involved. There is rarely a single perpetrator where family or community “honour” is regarded as requiring the victim to enter into a marriage with a partner acceptable to them. I hasten to say that that situation is entirely different from the practice of voluntary arranged marriages. The Bill protects both adults and children. Clause 4(2) goes further than existing legislation by enabling an application for an injunction to be made not only by the victim or potential victim but also by her or his litigation friend or any other concerned person who has the court's permission, which is obviously essential to get access to justice.

Family judges, notably Mr Justice Munby and Mr Justice Singer, have been creative and innovative in their use of the High Court's inherent jurisdiction to fashion remedies for victims. They have relied on their jurisdiction over minors, or have treated potential victims as “potentially incapacitated adults”. But there are clear limits to the remedies they can give, and it is important for their work to be recognised and extended in the Bill, giving jurisdiction to the local and accessible county courts. Clause 7 makes it clear that the Bill does not detract from existing remedies available in the exercise of the High Court's inherent jurisdiction.

Clause 4(4) provides that interim relief may be granted to secure the safety of the person who is or may be the victim of the conduct in question until the first hearing. That is another important advance on the Protection from Harassment Act.

The primary remedy is preventive orders for injunctions under Clause 4. But the Bill, like the recent Act in India, also provides for compensation under Clause 5 for anxiety, distress, injury to feelings, or other detriment caused by unlawful conduct. Clause 5(3) makes it clear that no award of damages may be made unless the court is satisfied that it is appropriate and necessary as an effective remedy in the particular circumstances of the case. To ensure that the law is not abused, we have included a standard of objective reasonableness in Clause 10(2) in determining whether conduct breaches Clauses 1, 2 or 3.

We have received several suggestions for the Bill’s improvement—clearly it can be improved—but that is for a later stage. I thank the Attorney-General for meeting with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and me to discuss the Bill’s legal effect. We hope that the Bill will be supported from all sides of the House and that the Government will recognise the need to enact this measure urgently as a matter of high parliamentary priority so that it may become law by the end of this year. We have waited too long, and too many vulnerable children and young adults have been grossly abused for us to delay further. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Lester of Herne Hill.)

My Lords, I begin by expressing my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for introducing the Bill. I would like it noted at this point that it was the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, and Mike O'Brien who first instigated the original working group to examine forced marriages, following a debate in the Commons in 1999 on human rights of women. I express my thanks to them and pay tribute to the work of Southall Black Sisters, Imkaan and East London Asian Family Counselling Service, among others. I appreciate all the comments that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has so eloquently made about those who survive forced marriages and I pay tribute to Jasvinder Sanghera, who is present.

I also take this opportunity to thank all those organisations that have worked in this arena for a long time, supporting the victims of forced marriages, often with very few resources. Our debate has been enriched by so many contributions and briefings from so many organisations, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the NSPCC, the Equal Opportunities Commission, Liberty and particularly Khatun Sapnara, who is a part-time judge. I am grateful for their contributions.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and other noble Lords who will take part in the debate, I condemn this shameful practice. I am deeply committed to rooting out this harmful act of violence. Forced marriage is a fundamental abuse of human rights. It contravenes thousands of universally accepted standards. Any legislation that makes this unlawful, and any measure which supports the victims and provides practical and valuable redress has to be given full consideration. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for detailing the many points that the Bill needs to consider. I shall not refer to all the clauses that he detailed, as I leave that to the many other noble Lords who have decided to take part in this important debate. My contribution will refer to some general points and highlight further considerations that perhaps need to be made at a later stage to ensure the effectiveness of the Bill as it stands and the likely impact on the victims. Together I hope we can reach a satisfactory way of supporting those who suffer or face the indignity of a forced marriage.

My noble friend Lord Ahmed and I come to this discussion having spent the best part of 14 months, in 1999 and 2000, in countrywide consultation, research and conversation. We covered as much ground and as many stakeholders as was evident at the time. The report, A Choice by Right, which we put together, recognised that the definition of “force” is that defined by the victims themselves, which I hope noble Lords will accept. That is very positive and unique. The report recognised that we had been letting down the victims of forced marriages over a number of years. It recommended numerous remedies to prevent the practice and to support the victims, including educating the communities from which significant numbers of victims come.

I note the caution to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred about ensuring that a small section of the community is not criminalised by the acts of a few as a result of the Bill. I believe that we have produced a good framework from which we can begin to address the forced marriage issue.

As well as sending out clear condemnation that forced marriage is unlawful and will not be excused as a cultural practice, we produced numerous recommendations which argued strongly for forced marriage to be dealt with within the existing legislative framework of domestic violence, child protection, abduction and kidnapping. I would still like noble Lords to come back to that in due course.

In addition to getting the Forced Marriage Unit established in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we called on the Government to commit resources and work across various departments to support women’s organisations, produce educational materials to raise awareness and utilise all means available within the local authority statutory framework to provide protection for potential victims. I am therefore pleased to see this position being reiterated today by the EOC and Imkaan, an organisation representing about 30 or 40 refuges, particularly Asian ones. If properly consulted upon and well resourced, the proposed Bill may be able to provide stronger protection to people affected by forced marriage and send a clear message to all communities that forcing someone into marriage is unacceptable.

However, there is also a concern that the few available appropriate services must be supported to help those at risk. We hope that this debate will help not only to raise the profile of the issue, but force the Government to examine where some of the difficulties have been in supporting some of the agencies campaigning for the eradication of forced marriage. Perhaps the Government have not taken that great responsibility so seriously to date. Here we are, asking for similar assistance and raising the same kind of issues six years later.

I commend some of the work undertaken by Ministers thus far, but hope that the Government will accept that they must work to ensure wider consultation with a variety of women’s organisations which have not come to their doors to date. This is an important opportunity for us to hear the voices of women’s organisations that are not necessarily used to the parliamentary system, and who therefore may not have been able to get their voices or opinions across. I hope that the opportunity to progress the Bill will also give rise to further consultation.

I am being pressed by my noble friends to keep within the six-minute speaking time, but forgive me for pressing my points a little while longer. I support the Bill in principle, but am concerned that it should not be regarded as a panacea: a convenient but empty tool by which well meaning but practically ill-informed individuals and agencies can feel that a shallow victory has been secured, while women affected by this are kept out of the loop, not receiving the services and provisions they desire and rightly deserve.

The creation of a civil remedy must go hand in hand with a broad infrastructure to support its implementation. The Government, wider society, individual communities and the voluntary sector must come together to tackle the practice of forced marriage, as well as ensuring that any new legislation is accompanied by mandatory obligation for training for all professionals involved in the process, including the judiciary, social workers, police officers and so on. In this context, I would like some assurance from the Minister about the genuine concerns raised by members, particularly of Imkaan and SBS, about the resources and financial commitment of the Government. Does she accept that the current trend of reduction and closures of specialised units has put our commitment to the victims of violence and forced marriage under threat? How do the Government intend to address this? I also ask the Minister whether, in considering this Bill, she can say if existing legislation can be amended to incorporate the measures of support and protection desired and stated in this Bill. If so, would she ensure that the consultation process which will need to take place gives this matter further deliberation and includes, as I suggested earlier, a wider number of groups?

I fear that a solitary Act may be a symbolic outlawing of forced marriage—a good thing—but, without sufficient practical and mainstream support such as economic emancipation and opportunities for education and training for women from specific minority communities, it will not be able to eradicate forced marriage. Despite many misgivings, I give this Bill a cautious welcome on the basis that we shall ensure further consultations, widening participation of the numbers of women’s organisations, and make some co-ordinated efforts within the mainstream legislative framework to address this barbaric practice.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill on introducing the Bill and giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. He has an international reputation as a jurist. When he proposes legislation on individual liberties, we should always sit up and take notice. On this occasion, he also happens to be right.

The Bill is about marriage, an important private and public institution. It is also fragile. It is worth a great deal to those involved—to families and the wider public—if founded on mutual respect. It is worth nothing if founded on fear and mere obedience. The Bill addresses those themes.

I declare an interest as a patron of a recently formed charity, STOP—Stop Trafficking of People in the UK. It has brought together members of the judiciary, experienced police officers and others with professional experience of observing the problems and tragedies caused by people trafficking. Forced marriages are part of the people-trafficking picture which that charity wishes to address. Those of us involved in STOP have observed that the slavery which still exists—not only elsewhere in the world, but in the country in which we live and are debating today—includes a great deal of sexual slavery. It is not confined to prostitution, although that often catches the headlines. The sort of sexual slavery we have observed includes domestic sexual slavery, involving enforced domestic service, which occurs in this country, and, shockingly, enforced marriage.

Enforced marriage destroys the dignity of the person upon whom it is enforced. The spouse faces sexual compulsion, domestic compulsion of all kinds and the abolition of that self-determination which all Members of this Parliament in both Houses value above all things. We must, however, emphasise that we are sensitive to religious and cultural diversity. I have enormous respect for the Sikh community. In my role as independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, I have turned to the Sikh community for advice on international issues from time to time. I have always found it helpful, responsible, ever robust and cogent in what it says. Nobody should get the impression that any community is being targeted in a discriminatory Bill by this legislation. It is intended particularly to enhance the dignity of women living in the United Kingdom and throughout the world.

About a year ago, I was in south Asia, where I encountered by chance some staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office whose dedicated work is dealing with forced marriage. I commend their extraordinary work. Sometimes they go, with local police, into pretty hostile places, where the practices they seek to undermine remain traditional. They quite often leave those places with young women who have been forced into unwelcome marriages, who have usually been taken from the United Kingdom in their early teens. It is important that this House recognises the fantastic work being done by government officials in that context.

One of the complaints that judges constantly make about this Government is that they seem to have a compulsion to introduce more and more criminal law—although this week, they seem to be telling judges not to enforce it from time to time, but that is part of the stuff of political life. My noble friend has saved the Government from that compulsion by taking the imaginative course of using civil law to achieve something that could have been achieved with a blunt instrument through criminal sanctions. I applaud him for taking that approach. It is measured and proportional and emphasises that women should control their own lives, which I hope is our shared aspiration. I believe that this measure is widely supported in this House.

After many years in one or other House of this Parliament, I think we see the best of our UK Parliament when a private Member is able to use parliamentary time to introduce legislation that adds to the value of the lives of vulnerable citizens. That is what my noble friend has done today. I hope that the Government will support the enactment of these proposals with as little delay as possible.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on his Private Member’s Bill. The Bench of Bishops welcomes it. As he eloquently indicated, marriage without freely given consent is wrong and every world religion condemns it. Nevertheless, I know from heart-rending stories in Manchester that forced marriages happen and that the victims of that wholly unacceptable practice—the noble Baroness called it shameful and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, spoke of slavery—need legislative protection. It is interesting that the Bill provides for claims in civil proceedings rather than for criminal prosecution, which could have been a symbolic and effective way of discouraging attempts at forced marriage. Having said that, I have to admit to hearing mixed messages in my diocese from within the communities likely to be most affected. There are those who feel that forced marriage should become a criminal offence, but who then go on admit that, when it came to it, cultural influences would work against young people taking parents or families to court, and I accept that.

There is a significant expression of views from within the communities that any kind of legislation could make things worse rather than better. There are legitimate fears about forced marriages being pushed further underground in the event of legislation, and there is the danger of victims of forced marriages being taken overseas and held there. It would be foolish to underestimate that risk, and it would be wise for noble Lords to be satisfied that making use of existing legislation, family courts and civil remedies was not a better option, or would be if professionals in the field and statutory agencies were provided with stronger and more effective support. However, the fact that the Bill permits victims to seek protection under the law without recourse to the police is important for some of the communities and potential victims I am aware of. The Bill also strengthens and simplifies the resources available to them, which is a great help.

It is only from the background of Manchester that I am in a position to speak on this matter. Asian ethnic communities are probably most significant in the matter under debate, although, as the noble Lord rightly said, the abuse is not confined to Islam or Sikhism. The Muslim Council of Britain has emphasised that in Islam the consent of the parties is essential to a marriage, and that position is common to all the main religions. But the rub is that that is the official position. I always want to pay tribute to the enormous value of the Muslim Council of Britain, which does its utmost to further social and community cohesion, but from my local experience, in any religion—I do not exclude the Christian church from this—the membership does not in practice always follow the official line, especially on human relationships. There are often different nuances of interpretation and disagreements among local leaders.

As the noble Lord indicated, the abuse within ethnic communities is not confined to people of faith. I realise that I tread on delicate ground, but even though the Muslim Council of Britain, when consulted, expressed the view that there was no need for new legislation on this matter, that such a law could be regarded as targeting ethnic minorities—a view that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred to—and that such coercive methods would not work anyway, there is sufficient evidence of the abuse and evil of forced marriage to show that the Bill is necessary and that even educating communities about current laws would not on its own be a sufficiently effective way of dealing with a continuing and wholly unacceptable feature among a segment of our population.

Forced marriage is not only an abuse of human rights; it is also in faith terms a complete and utter contradiction. From a Christian point of view, marriage is by definition a voluntary union for life between one woman and one man to the exclusion of all others. As the Book of Common Prayer puts it in a poetic style that no other liturgy quite manages to achieve, holy matrimony is,

“an honourable estate, instituted of God … signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church”.

The New Testament, the long tradition of Christian theology and the 1988 General Synod document An Honourable Estate all emphasise that that mystical union is a sign of love that is freely given, not forced. That is why the essence of the Church of England marriage service is the public exchange of vows. The giving of consent is its central and defining feature. Our marriage law in this country is shaped by that Christian understanding and the principle of consent. That is why it is wholly against our culture and legal framework to accept forced marriage that so offends that principle of consent, especially in sexual relations.

The Bench of Bishops is well aware of the cultural and gender sensitivities in this, but believes that there are no grounds for this practice and that a separate, distinct offence of forcing a person to marry, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will be a welcome deterrent and a needed guide for judges. If we want to encourage marriage as a fundamental social institution, as the Minister said in a debate yesterday, then the abuse of forced marriages must be rooted out.

I shall end by saying that, important though the Bill is, we need to beware of the growing tendency in this country to think that patterns of behaviour and deep-seated attitudes can be changed by legislation alone. In addition to taking seriously the advice of, for example, the Muslim Council of Britain, about the need to raise awareness, we would do well to apply our minds to, and provide better resources for, the community work and sensitive education that I hope will, in the end, render unnecessary the use of the legislation so rightly and properly set out in the Bill.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on introducing the Bill. Forced marriage is primarily an issue of violence against women, as is female genital mutilation, and the motivation for its continuance is, in many respects, the same as for that other abuse. It is another way of controlling a woman's conduct and her sexuality.

To counter that, we are told that males are also coerced into marriage, but the Forced Marriage Unit's figures show that of the 300 cases brought to it annually, only 15 per cent of men are victims while 85 per cent are women. Forced marriage is an abuse of women's human rights. It is not a Romeo and Juliet situation, romantic and poetical, but one in which parents assert their perceived right over a daughter, body and soul, and obey a tradition in which there is no place for happiness or marital accord.

The Forced Marriage Unit stresses that a clear distinction must be made between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages the families of both bride and groom choose the marriage partner but the final choice remains with the couple. So well and good, but it should not be forgotten that many, if not all, forced marriages begin as arranged marriages but change in character when one of the couple, usually the prospective bride, objects to the arrangement.

A major difficulty here is something which all civilised societies must regard as desirable. I refer to the love and respect which young women of Asian origin have for their parents, a regard far in excess of what we generally see in relations between daughters and parents in white communities. This civilised and honourable attitude makes resisting parental control immeasurably more difficult for young Asians; fear of causing mothers and fathers pain may lead them into marriage situations which have tragic consequences. Refusal can result in the kind of family solidarity which leads to so-called honour killings in horrific circumstances, of which we hear all too often.

I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, because I believe that we have need of a law to protect the vulnerable and also that, at present, the criminal offences and protective measures on the statute book are inadequate. But there are great difficulties, not least instanced by that love and respect, which I have mentioned, and which the great majority of these—often very young—girls feel towards their parents. One can easily see how making forced marriage a criminal offence could result in breakdown within the family; and that this, which a non-Asian woman might take quite lightly, may be a tragic outcome of defiance for those whose fate we are discussing. Many such parents, like those of another ethnic minority and country of origin determined on the mutilation of their daughters, are following an age-old tradition and are otherwise law-abiding and good citizens. They are not criminals but often of high moral character; and those intending to force a daughter into marriage against her will are more likely to be deterred from taking such a step when they know they would be acting against the law.

It is a matter of concern that there seems no way around the fact that the majority of victims of forced marriage are young women who have come here, or whose parents or grandparents have come here, from the Asian sub-continent. Whatever may have happened in the past, we are not going to find a 16 year-old white girl coerced into marriage with a boy she has never met. And herein lies an obstacle, not perhaps insurmountable, but very serious. We have heard a great deal in the past fortnight of racism underlying the surface of our society, more of it than perhaps most of us realised. We have heard of disgraceful taunts levelled at innocent people from those who are either vicious or ignorant and whose behaviour is unacceptable. The more enlightened of us will not forget that forms of forced marriage existed here in historical times. Literature and social history have countless instances and it is only wise legislation which finally put an end to it.

As the Bill proceeds along its course, it is important for all who support its recommendations to understand how sensitive a matter it is and what careful handling it needs. There are, apparently, all too many members of the public out there who look constantly for reasons to vilify and condemn black and Asian people—even now, after all these years of immigration and integration. It is important to do nothing to encourage those who call everyone with a brown skin and black hair a “Paki” and are ever on the watch for a chance to abuse those whose customs strike them as bizarre or outlandish.

If the Bill is to become law, as I hope it will, its measures must be implemented. Parallels with female genital mutilation have been pointed out in the several reports on forced marriage, and it should be remembered that the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act, later superseded by the Female Genital Mutilation Act, has been in existence for almost 23 years without a single prosecution having been brought.

It is important to remember that in many instances young women have been deceived into believing they are travelling from the United Kingdom to India or Pakistan, their ancestral home, for a holiday or a visit to relations when, in fact, they are being taken to meet a future husband whom they will be coerced into marrying while there. This is a very close parallel with the provision in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 which forbids the taking of a child or young girl out of the United Kingdom to an African country for the purpose of mutilation. As I have said, the Bill, when it becomes law, must not be permitted to lie moribund on the statute book, a fate which threatens the Female Genital Mutilation Act. Many have defended FGM on the grounds that we should not interfere with age-old traditional practices. The same or similar arguments should not be allowed to prevail here.

My Lords, as the chairman of both the Conservative Party's Ethnic Diversity Council and the Conservative Muslim Forum, forced marriage is an issue I deeply care about. Thus, in principle I support the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Forced marriages are an abuse against an individual’s human rights. International law is clear. As the Universal Declaration on Human Rights says:

“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses”.

Concerns have been expressed that in seeking to tackle the issue of forced marriage we are stigmatising Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims. That is simply not the case and I would like to make that absolutely clear. Forced marriage is a global problem affecting communities from all over the world, not just south Asian communities. Victims come from a variety of diverse cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, every major world religion explicitly condemns it. I may add that sadly certain cases of forced marriages have unfortunately resulted in a murder or suicide.

It is also important to make it clear that the Bill is about forced marriage, and not arranged marriage. The distinction lies in an individual’s right to choose. Arranged marriages are facilitated by parents, families and friends who take a leading role in identifying a potential marriage partner. Once identified, these individuals give their full support, knowing that they have every option of refusing the proposal. In my own extended family there have been a number of successful arranged marriages where either both the bride and groom or one of the partners was born in this country.

Currently there is no specific law to prevent forced marriages. Parents or family members can be prosecuted only for offences that are associated with forcing someone into marriage, such as abduction, false imprisonment and child abuse. That is, however, inadequate and does not offer enough protection to those over 17 years of age or those who suffer from emotional blackmail and psychological pressure. Threats of exclusion from the family and social isolation can be just as powerful as physical abuse for many victims. It is therefore right to remember that being forced does not simply mean physical force.

Some might argue that the Bill does not do enough. They propose that we should create a criminal offence with regard to forced marriage. That would be counter-productive because there is a significant risk that the victims of actual or threatened forced marriage would be discouraged from taking their case further if they believed that members of their family might face criminal prosecution. In addition, involvement in criminal proceedings, which are taken by the state in the public interest, could cause distress for victims who could face further pressure not to support a prosecution.

The Bill provides a civil remedy. This will empower individuals with additional tools to prevent and to deter forced marriage. Victims are more likely to take their case further and seek protection in the civil courts. The Bill will send out a clear message that forcing someone into marriage is completely unacceptable. It will make it easier for judges and the police to help victims. It will give them protection through the option of redress and make intervention easier. It will also help to prevent cases where someone is tricked into going overseas where a forced marriage may take place.

As much as I commend the Bill, I also add caution. In a subject this sensitive, it may sometimes be difficult to prove that someone has been forced into marriage. Proceedings that are entirely dependent on the victim’s evidence may give rise to problems, such as the possibility of reprisals. Adequate protection for the falsely accused must also be ensured. It is not uncommon in rape cases, for example, for the course of justice to be perverted by false accusation. Protection is therefore needed from those with personal vendettas, especially as any “concerned person” may bring a case to the court of law.

Forced marriage is a serious issue that has until now been controlled only through factors surrounding the issue, rather than by the offence itself. Therefore, I support the measures proposed by the noble Lord, but for the Bill to be effective, I urge Her Majesty's Government to play a key role by supporting the groups likely to be used for help and guidance with extra training and resources, by building on and strengthening the close relationships that we have with foreign Governments and ensuring that our embassies and high commissions are appropriately guided and adequately resourced.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the long overdue measure introduced by my noble friend Lord Lester and congratulate him on bringing it forward. I also welcome his unequivocal statement that the Bill’s provisions should not be misused politically as a way of demonising British Asians. I identify myself with that sentiment.

Let me say from the outset that within the communities most affected by the issue of forced marriage, there are a number of well-meaning people who have legitimate disagreements on the issue. During the passage of the Bill, we should work together to build a consensus that we can all agree on. That is the least that we owe our young people.

I will address some of those concerns later, but want to share with the House some of the research into the enormity of the problem. The research is international but anyone reading it cannot fail to see that many of the countries affected have significant communities residing here in the United Kingdom. It is therefore extremely relevant to our domestic framework.

In November 2006, the United Nations Population Fund highlighted a series of studies to draw attention to the issue of coercion and violence against women. In UNFPA’s findings, 82 million girls between the ages of 10 and 17 living in developing countries will be married before their 18th birthday. In some countries, half of all girls under 18 are already married. To name a few countries where girls under 18 were married, in Nigeria, 55 per cent were married under 18, in Bangladesh, it was 65 per cent, in India, it was 50 per cent, and in Ethiopia it was 49 per cent.

Although the age at which women are married is generally increasing, it is not uncommon to find girls married before the age of 15. According to UNFPA, in Ethiopia and some parts of west Africa, some girls get married as early as the age of seven. In Bangladesh, 45 per cent were married at age 15. In rural India, 25 per cent of women surveyed between the ages of 25 and 29 were married before their 13th birthday.

What I am trying to demonstrate is that where you have such widespread cultural practice, it is inevitable that values held by British communities from those countries will reflect similar patterns of thinking. Speaking about one community that I know well, the Pakistani community, I know that some sections of my community do not really see the distinction between consent under duress and consent freely given. The very prevalence of obedience as an overarching filial duty makes the distinction negligible. In fact, given the age at which consent is sometimes sought when a girl is “promised” by her parents, the young person would probably be unable to give free consent, as her knowledge of the implications for her well-being, sexual and reproductive health and her own rights would be such that she could not possibly be deemed to have given informed consent.

The Pakistan Human Rights Commission, a well respected independent body, highlighted some of the issues in a report issued in 2004. It cited a recent court case in which a 12 year-old girl was recovered from her husband. She was found to have broken bones and had routinely been given electric shocks. The husband did not deny the charges, but sought to justify them on the ground that she had run away from his house and that her father had agreed with the punishment meted out to her. In another instance, a Pakistani court refused to intervene in the case of a 13 year-old because it could not proceed against a legally wedded spouse.

Unfortunately, even when women in Pakistan are sufficiently courageous to seek police intervention, they are routinely told to obey their husbands and advised by the police that men have the right to apply physical force against “wayward” or “rebellious” women. Furthermore, most of those women suffer acute poverty if they are turned out from their parental or matrimonial home. Refuges and shelters are few and far between. So although the law technically exists in Pakistan to protect women from those abuses, cultural practice is condoned and courts are reluctant to take on cases where religious belief might be confused with cultural practice. The more reactionary political parties are prone to bring out their supporters by the thousands to protest against a brave court's ruling.

I use those illustrations to argue, first, that the practice of coercion to marry women off without their consent is widespread across certain countries and that those communities in Britain have subscribed and currently subscribe to some of those values. The fact that several hundred cases per year are assisted by the Forced Marriage Unit speaks for itself. Secondly, even if it were extremely rare in the UK, we could do much in terms of international leadership by setting an example through making the Bill law. It would send a powerful signal that we intend to stand up for young people's human rights across all our communities.

I turn to whether bringing in the legislation would drive this problem underground or put young people into an invidious position vis-à-vis their families. I know that many in my community feel that this would be the case. One cannot know for sure either way, but I know from many recorded and personal accounts that the line between coercion and consent is often obscured by perceptions of family honour, filial duty and cultural conformity. By the time the young person is strong enough to speak out and seek assistance, children may be involved and more than one life is ruined.

My noble friend Lord Lester has spoken of the pressures of culture: I will go further. I agree that cultural diversity is to be celebrated and that pluralism of values, with the requisite tolerance that must accompany them, is perfectly valid. However, the state has a duty to all its citizens that overrides value pluralism—the duty of non-discrimination. Where a problem is relevant only to certain groups, it still has a duty to uphold their human rights and to accord them the protection of law. If it failed to do so it would be engaging not in value pluralism, but in cultural relativism. To quote the provocative phrase used by the American sociologist, Steven Lukes:

“It would amount to a view that subscribed to liberalism for Liberals and cannibalism for cannibals”.

Thus it would let down all who seek equality.

In my community, there is no doubt among Muslim scholars that marriage is a contract where free consent must be given, a point to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester has already alluded. There is no argument as to the religious invalidity of this practice, yet there seems to be much reluctance comprehensively to eradicate the cultural sentiment that underpins it.

We keep hoping that education, support and other soft-touch measures will help to change things. I would argue that with each young person’s life that is blighted, and where physical and mental harm are so profound, we in the communities most acutely affected now need to have the courage to argue the case for legal measures within our own people. It is to us that the job of education and leadership also falls. To wait in hope that incremental change will come is to let down our young people. I am proud that my noble friend Lord Lester has challenged us to rise to this task.

My Lords, I am delighted to support this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and his colleagues on nurturing this important legislation through to Second Reading. Long may the debate continue and may it result in a law to uphold the dignity, autonomy and freedom of women. Forced marriage includes many different violations against women and therefore transgresses international laws and customary norms. The UK has ratified all the main human rights treaties and is the guarantor of women's rights, so there really should not be any objection to the proposed legislation. The Government should welcome it as a logical outcome to earlier consultations during the passage of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 when it was agreed, for reasons already expounded, that forced marriage should not be subject to criminal sanctions. In this context, it is disappointing to see that one Member from the other place seeks to misinterpret the Bill for political reasons. If minority political leaders choose not to take a stand, it is perhaps doubly important that this Bill becomes law.

Forced marriage, especially if it involves abduction, is a violation of women's fundamental rights in that it is an act of violence against a woman. The Southall Black Sisters, sponsors of this Bill, note that forced marriage necessarily includes emotional blackmail, assault, harassment, abduction, coercion and, if the woman refuses, possible social ostracism for her family. International law dictates that marriage should take place only with the clear consent of both people. The key international instruments include Article 10 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is unequivocal. It states:

“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations”.

The treaty recognises that violence against women encompasses physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children, dowry related marriages, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women. It also refers to physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state wherever it occurs. The convention sets out the obligations of states to provide remedies for violation of women’s rights and in the exercise of due diligence in investigating and prosecuting such abuses.

Article 1 of the UN Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages enjoins that no marriage should be entered into without the free consent of both parties and that such consent must be expressed by them in person after due publicity and in the presence of a competent authority. The former UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, wrote in her first report:

“In the context of norms recently established by the international community, a State that does not act against crimes of violence against women is as guilty as the perpetrators”.

States therefore are under a positive duty to prevent, investigate and punish crimes associated with violence against women. She added that the gender specific nature of domestic violence requires that domestic violence be classified and treated as a human rights concern rather than a domestic criminal justice concern.

This array of international law and opinion should at once banish any idea that the practice of forced marriage is either too widely accepted among certain communities or too entrenched to be eradicated. It must by law be eradicated and there should be no impunity for those who perpetrate it. Multiculturalism does not mean accepting the unacceptable. Traditional practices that reflect and celebrate cultural diversity are warmly welcomed; abuse of women is not. If victims of forced marriage cannot have recourse to the law, to whom can they turn?

I shall end with some words from a Turkish practising lawyer, Seyran Ates, a Muslim who lives in Germany. In a recent article she wrote:

“Minority protection with respect to Islam and religious freedom can only be had at the cost of the equal rights of women and ultimately only serves to perpetuate and reinforce obsolete, archaic, patriarchal structures”.

She asserts that somehow we have all slipped into an almost infinite tolerance of abuses that oppress women and into forgetting that human rights are universal and unconditional. Girls are exempted from swimming, field trips and sex education in the name of cultural norms. Coeducation is undermined and we may find ourselves in danger of creating parallel societies while at the same time demanding respect for women. The view that minorities should be left in peace to integrate if and when they wish, and of their own free will, is of course desirable. But surely this must not mean condoning the abuse of women. Can we adhere to the policy of non-integration and thereby avert our eyes from the brutal practices of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and domestic violence? Has it become too dangerous for the majority society to support the reform process? I hope not.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for introducing this Bill. He has a distinguished career as an international jurist and his expertise on race relations, equality and human rights is well respected. He is the most qualified person to introduce this Bill, which I am delighted to support. It gives us a real opportunity to discuss a very serious social evil and to try to stop this practice.

Seven years ago, the Government said that even one forced marriage is one too many. That applies even today because forced marriages continue to take place. I will work with colleagues to amend the Bill as it goes through your Lordships’ House to make it more effective legislation. I agree with the Children’s Rights Alliance for England that forced marriage is an abuse of human rights, and a form of domestic violence and child abuse. On many occasions, wonderful quotes can be misunderstood. I want to say again as a Muslim what has already been said today: no religion—Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism or Islam—condones this practice. In fact, they condemn it. And yet we have heard quoted Home Office figures showing 300 cases, and I am sure that many more are not reported.

The Bill sends a signal to the perpetrators of this heinous crime that such evil practices must stop. Seven years ago I had the pleasure of working with my noble friend Lady Uddin and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, on the working group, which heard from organisations such as Southall Black Sisters and many others which I do not have the time to list. The Government were right to say at the time that cultural sensitivity is no excuse for moral blindness, and we should continue to say it. But we need to make sure that we do not stigmatise a community. As we have heard, this is a practice to be found in many cultures, religions and ethnic groups. There is a real fear of the demonisation of Asian communities. Sometimes that is right because when noble Lords have expressed concerns about certain communities, with racism on the increase and Islamophobia a contemporary form of it, our speeches can be misunderstood. For example, earlier the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, talked about Pakistan, saying that the practice of forced marriage is widespread. All the media need to do is to take out one little word and report the noble Baroness as saying that the practice is widespread, and it then happens within her community. Suddenly the British Pakistani community is demonised. Our language has to be chosen carefully because Mrs Jones and Mrs Smith next door do not know.

My Lords, I want to put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. While it may well be true that certain sections of the media take our words and use them to be sensational or to demonise—as he puts it—a certain community, is he saying that in difficult cases we should not raise difficult issues and that we must censor ourselves in that regard in order not to upset the media?

Absolutely not, and that is the point I am making, my Lords. We have to be proactive. That is why we condemn the practice of forced marriage and why we want to make sure that there is a law to protect people from it. But figures published by the British Crime Survey yesterday show that 50,000 women alleged that they had been raped, but only 1,000 people were convicted or their cases went to court. The crime rate is running at 2.4 million, but that does not mean that the entire British community is demonised. Because there are 50,000 rapes does not mean that we are all blamed. The point I am making is that certain sections of the media will point the finger at the Asian community. They will find a woman from a Pakistani background and they will target the Pakistani community. That is why it is important for people like myself, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and my noble friend Lady Uddin to stand up here and condemn the practice.

In fact, I want to go even further. I would encourage Asian and ethnic minority communities to arrange marriages in this country rather than bring people in from abroad where there is no compatibility. In fact I know of so many cases where a marriage takes place and for the next two years the boy or man who has come from abroad will do everything. After two years there will be a baby from the marriage. But then suddenly there is a break-up once the man has secured his citizenship or right to stay in this country. What happens then? He goes for a divorce and he brings over another bride from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. This means that the community continues to go backwards rather than move forwards.

Another practice is that of bringing young women over to this country. Parents want to organise marriages for boys who might be taking drugs, or who have a girlfriend and there is already a child from that relationship. Because the family wants to save face in the community, they have to arrange a marriage with a girl from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. For the next 18 months to two years that girl becomes a slave in the household, but just before her two years are up, some fraudulent reason is made to take her on holiday and her passport is taken away. She then does not have the right to come back to this country, and she does not even have a right to life in the country where she lives. I feel so sorry for these girls.

I have gone over my time. I had lots of questions. I support the Bill.

My Lords, I had not originally intended to speak in this debate. I well know that the House admires and respects knowledge and experience, and is less tolerant of ignorance, but I hope noble Lords will accept my wish to support the Bill vocally. My noble friend Lady Verma has encouraged me to do so. She cannot be in her place today as she is in India accompanying her husband, who is receiving an award. Noble Lords who know her will know that she remains a strong supporter of the Bill, and I share her enthusiasm.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for his commitment and determination in bringing forward the Bill. It is an example of just the sort of legislation, both in subject matter and style, which demonstrates the value of this House. He has constructed and presented his Bill with great skill. We appear to be of one mind, and I hope that the Government will be similarly in step with the feelings of the House. Ten days ago I was able to attend the meeting organised by the noble Lord. It was a significant experience to listen to Jasvinder Sanghera, to hear of the great distress that she had undergone, and to learn from others the extent of the problem. The Forced Marriage Unit is seeing between 250 and 300 cases per year, which may be just the tip of the iceberg. Clearly it is doing a significant job, but the figures point up the need to bring this profound abuse of individual freedom and happiness within the scope of the law.

I also see the reason for steering away from criminalising those involved. All family matters are difficult enough without the inevitable insensitivity that is represented by criminal investigation and prosecution. The Bill quite rightly works to its end through civil protection and the creation of civil wrong. This was reinforced by my companions at a Burns Night dinner, a married couple, both British Asians. She is a Hindu born in Pakistan and her husband is an Anglo-Pakistani Muslim. When I told them about today’s business, they explained that there is a world of difference between arranged and forced marriages. That point was made in what I think the House will consider to have been a very thoughtful and excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Sheikh. Forced marriages are often the consequence of ignorance and social pressures. While the consequences of coercion in the form of psychological and physical abuse are frequently the case and are absolutely appalling, the law must reflect the need for understanding and privacy.

I have a question which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will be able to answer in his summing up. It concerns the scope of the Bill, a point he addressed in his opening remarks. The Bill as it stands extends only to England and Wales, but I hope that he has plans to work with others to see that it is extended to apply throughout the United Kingdom. There are dangers that the parties may flee to Scotland, for example. What redress, if any, does a British citizen have if they are taken to the Asian sub-continent—whether willingly or not—and the visit turns out to be engineered for a forced marriage there?

I hope that the Government will give the Bill time enough, in this House and in the other place, to be enacted into law. They have been generous with their time today. It will be to their credit, as well as to the credit of the noble Lord, if this is so, and many people will have reason to be grateful.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on introducing a very important Bill and on his typically humane approach to this issue, which allows for a civil remedy and avoids inflaming by criminal proceedings an already emotionally charged situation.

In my very brief remarks I want to concentrate on the impact on young lives—in extreme cases, as we have heard, of people as young as 12 or 13—of being taken out of the UK to another country with which they are very unfamiliar, under the pretext of a normal family visit, only to find that they are expected to marry. Family members other than parents often, sadly, collude in this deception and coercion. What a dreadful betrayal of trust; what intolerable pressure to place on adolescents when they are coming to terms with adulthood and their own identity. We can scarcely be surprised when what follows is so often isolation, depression, domestic violence, self-harm and even death.

In the UK we can celebrate, justly, great advances in laws on equality and human rights and institutions designed to uphold and promote these values. I declare an interest as a member of the newly established Commission for Equality and Human Rights. Not only do forced marriages breach the most fundamental human rights, but they are overwhelmingly an assault against the rights of young women. The weight of expectation is entirely on such young women to satisfy what are still seen as traditional concepts of honour in certain communities, although more mundane and even mercenary considerations can also lie behind the parents’ choice of a marriage partner.

These inequalities and pressures and the very idea that a family’s honour resides in the conduct of its daughters alone can ultimately result in honour killings. Thankfully, these are rare and not necessarily the outcome of forced marriages. But the two abuses grow from the same beliefs, and it is those beliefs that we have to challenge. We know that they are cultural and not based on any of the great religions.

In one such case of which I have a little knowledge, a 16 year-old girl in London was regularly beaten and eventually killed by her father for having “dishonoured” the family. The law took its course and he is now serving a life sentence. But the damage did not stop with the girl’s death; there were attempts within the community to cover up the crime and the girl’s elder brother—who, like her, had lived most of his life in the UK—felt absolutely powerless to help her. Both these young people were caught between conflicting and irreconcilable values. In a note indicating that she planned to run away from home, this young woman wrote to her father,

“me and you will probably never understand each other. I’m sorry I wasn’t what you wanted, but there’s some things you can’t change”.

I believe the Bill will signal society’s determination to uphold the basic right of young women like her to choose their own emotional path and show that there is nothing dishonourable in doing so.

My Lords, I am pleased to support the Bill. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for introducing it and thank him for his very full explanation of its provisions. I was, unfortunately, not able to attend the meeting held on 15 January to discuss the Bill. The issue of forced marriages has in recent years become quite a problem in this country. It seems to affect minority communities particularly, and both men and women, and the Bill rightly deals with both sexes.

I wondered at first why the Bill aimed to make use of civil law rather than making forced marriage a criminal offence. However, I have read the excellent article in the current issue of House Magazine and now understand that a new criminal offence would not assist those whom we most want to help; that police intervention at an early stage could be counterproductive and that a civil remedy would be of help to those acting on behalf of possible victims.

I have been particularly concerned about reported cases involving very young women from immigrant communities. The effect of a threatened enforced marriage on a very young woman without friends outside her immediate family must be absolutely devastating. Sometimes a young woman in this situation has taken what must be the extreme action of running away from home. Without the support of organisations such as the Southall Black Sisters she would be absolutely lost and alone. It is therefore gratifying to learn that this organisation and others with a similar objective support the Bill. I understand that the Southall Black Sisters has more than 25 years’ experience of fighting domestic violence and forced marriage within minority communities. That is very important.

Unfortunately, the custom of forced marriages is often claimed to be a cultural requirement, even a religious one. There are extreme versions of some religions where the subjugation of women and a denial of gender equality are regarded as religious necessities. It is this belief that causes male-dominated families to act as though daughters can simply be disposed of as they think fit, sometimes when they are children. Many women from immigrant communities simply do not accept this. I have been told by such women who practise their religion that this outlook is a perversion. There is no requirement, they tell me, for this in the Koran; it is simply a perversion of misogynist clerics.

We must do everything we can to support women who struggle to assert their human rights, and the Bill is part of that struggle. Of course, the Bill also applies to men as well as women because there have been instances of men being forced into marriages, for family and allegedly cultural reasons, with young women whom they have never seen. Again it is a matter of human rights.

I have found this an interesting debate. It has been very stimulating to listen to the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Ahmed and Lord Sheikh, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady Falkner, who have told us about their experiences and spoken from their own knowledge of their immigrant communities. I support the Bill. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for introducing it and I hope it will have support from the Government.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, has already mentioned Romeo and Juliet. I remind the House that Juliet pleads with her mother not to force her to marry Paris, the choice of her father, Capulet. She says:

“Is there no pity sitting in the clouds,

That sees into the bottom of my grief?

O, sweet my mother, cast me not away!

Delay this marriage for a month, a week;

Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed

In that dim monument where Tybalt lies”.

In other words, “I’d rather die than marry that man”. How does her father respond?

“Look to’t, think on’t, I do not use to jest.

Thursday is near; lay hand on heart, advise:

An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend;

An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,

For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee,

Nor what is mine shall never do thee good”.

So Capulet’s attitude to his daughter is precisely that of those few who see nothing wrong in marrying their children for what they see as the greater good of their community—erroneously, as we have heard from every speaker today. Forced marriage is not, as we have heard, a characteristic of any religious group. It is worth reminding ourselves that it was pretty much accepted here—if despised—until the 19th century, especially in aristocratic circles where property and the inheritance of it formed the basis of a marriage contract. I have recently been reading with horror the story of the poor 15 year-old Lady Jane Grey, forced, in the 16th century, into marrying the youth Guildford Dudley, who was equally reluctant, it seems; a marriage to promote the tragic ambitions of their families.

Forced marriages are the consequence of medieval feudalism, paternal supremacy and the desperate desire to maintain one’s culture in the face of threats to it posed by there being insufficient local marriage partners of the desired restricted kind for one’s offspring. It is of course the evil end of a wide spectrum of behaviours and attitudes that place some young women in despairing situations, where their education and exposure to wider influences in the UK—by no means would we necessarily say superior influences, but certainly different from those of the communities from which they came—bring them into profound conflict with their parents, and that conflict produces a profound sense of guilt and failure about their obligations.

At St George’s, University of London, where I chair the council, 40 per cent of our medical students are Muslim, largely from the south Asian community. We see every day the challenge that some young British Asian women feel when faced with the freedoms and the need to adopt the assertive, confident social interaction we demand of a doctor in the UK. A conventional medical education can pose serious challenges for some parents of our young women students.

There will be many people who say that has nothing to do with forced marriages, but it does. It is the extreme and totally unacceptable end of a spectrum of cultural attitudes about women and children’s rights and proper place in the family group. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has bravely outlined some of the issues that face communities today. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lester, suicides among young Asian women are three times higher than among their white counterparts, particularly in very young age groups. The victims are often wives who cannot have children, or who produce only daughters, but another group that is at risk are those living in families where there is intergenerational conflict and a clash of ideas.

The Government have explained their reluctance to introduce a specific criminal law against forced marriages. Although I was not at first entirely convinced by them, having seen the responses on the Home Office website, I understand how difficult that would be, with prevention, investigation and prosecution occurring across international boundaries, as well as the dangers of driving the practice even further underground than it already is.

The noble Lord’s Bill today, though, is one way that we can make some major progress. Like many others here, I suspect, I have received emails from groups who feel that it would drive the practice further underground and would not be helpful, but I have observed that they have no satisfactory alternative apart from doing more of what we are already doing. That does not seem to have been enough. The journalist Camilla Cavendish asked in the Times on 31 August last year,

“When so many women are being forced into marriage, why are there not more howls of protest? Where have all the feminists gone?”

Why are we not saying more about the plight of these women who have been treated not as individuals but as possessions?

I hope the Muslim Council of Britain, which was concerned that a criminal law would be yet,

“another way to stigmatise our communities”,

will give its support to the Bill, recognising that a small minority of its community are seriously jeopardising the reputation of Islam. It has declared that it regards men and women as equal partners in marriage. It would be even more encouraging if it gave practical support to those communities to stamp out this abusive and detestable practice. I would like to see it use its influence and financial muscle to support the charities working in this area, and to support the Bill.

The cultural questions are complex, but the feminist cause is clear. Every woman should be able to say no to an unwanted marriage. I give my full support to this Bill.

My Lords, I declare an interest. As a former judge, I tried cases that contained elements of forced marriage.

I strongly support the Bill. I pay tribute to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Carlile, with which I entirely agree, as I agree with all the other speeches that have so far been given in this House. I am aware that the Bill is strongly supported by the NSPCC, the diversity sub-committee of the Family Justice Council—the council is chaired by the President of the Family Division, while the sub-committee is chaired by a British Bangladeshi barrister—and the Family Law Bar Association and its diversity sub-committee, as well as several High Court judges.

I think it is important to remember—it has already been said several times, but I believe it is worth saying again—that an arranged marriage is a well known and well respected way among many communities to safeguard the future of their children and help them to make sensible permanent relationships, so long as it is genuinely consensual. But to require a young person to marry without his—and there are young men in this position as well as young women—or her consent is not only unacceptable, but, as the right reverend Prelate said earlier, contrary to the beliefs of the major religions of the world, such as Islam or Sikhism. It is also an obvious violation of a person’s human rights.

In 2004 I went, at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, to talk mainly about international child abduction, but also about forced marriages. I met some of the leaders of the communities in Mirpur, from where come a large number of British-born or resident members of the Pakistan community in England. They are actually Kashmiri, not Pakistani. There is, I understand, a practice of marrying within the wider family—to marry one’s cousin—and I was told firmly by the leaders from Mirpur that they were concerned at the number of young people from the United Kingdom who were married to their cousins in Mirpur. They felt that this was often not a consensual arrangement, but they felt unable to take any steps to discourage it. They said that this was an English problem.

We may ask: is there really a problem that needs to be dealt with? Today in your Lordships’ House we have heard many speeches to show that there is. It is a problem right across the world; the community leaders from Mirpur were right to say that it is also here in England. We must tackle it. It is not a problem only of the Muslim community, as has been said, and it may occur among Sikhs or Kurds. We heard at the meeting last week about the Kurdish community, where this happens from time to time. It can happen among Christians, Hindus or Jews. It happens, no doubt, within the Arab communities, but we do not usually hear about it.

I would say in parenthesis that landowning families in the 18th and 19th centuries in England married their daughters in order to consolidate their land. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, told us about the sad position of Juliet. The major problems arise from families originating from the Indian subcontinent, but it is important to remember that they are certainly not confined to them.

This issue is a major concern of the NSPCC, and I declare another interest as I am president of another of its appeals, which is just about completed. The NSPCC is involved because forced marriages affect children and young people under 18, as well as adults. The NSPCC has given me an example of a 15 year-old girl, about to take her GCSEs, who wanted to become a doctor. Her sister was married at 16, and her parents were planning to take her to marry the man chosen for her, who lived in the Indian subcontinent, and whom she had never met. They had already booked the flight. How was she to deal with this situation? The parents would not listen to her, and would disown her if she refused.

The NSPCC has an Asian child protection helpline, and 10 per cent of the calls in 2004-05 were about forced marriages. Childline, which is now amalgamated with the NSPCC, had 82 calls last year from children about arranged and forced marriages. The main complaint was that parents did not listen to them. The family judges of the High Court deal with cases of children who are abducted by a parent for the purpose of marriage. Forced marriages affect mainly girls and young women, but they affect young men also.

One way in which we hear about forced marriages is in cases of honour killings, where a member or members of a family may punish another member for refusing to marry the proposed partner or for choosing to marry someone else. They are often reported in the press. I remember being in Birmingham on one occasion as a judge when the judge who was there with me had a case in the Crown Court of a father who knifed his elder daughter because she refused to marry the man he chose for her and then knifed the younger daughter because she went to the aid of her sister. The tragic thing was that the father did not know that he was doing wrong. And that was in Birmingham, not a remote part of some distant place.

There are sad cases told in the family courts by those bringing nullity petitions to end marriages to which they did not consent. Some High Court judges have engaged in a creative use of their inherent jurisdiction to enable them to help these girls. There is a worrying element of domestic violence in some cases, as noble Lords will have already heard. Domestic violence in the family has, as we all know too well, a serious, adverse and long-term effect on the children in the family, and children of these marriages as well as others. I understand that an average of about 300 girls a year go to the police and seek protection from their family who require them to marry. That is a dramatic and tragic step for a girl to take. She is likely to be barred from the family thereafter and live in isolation from the community in which she has been brought up. I pay tribute to the Southall Black Sisters for taking on and looking after so many of the girls who come though their hands.

Another question is whether legislation directed at preventing forced marriages will do any good or will it only demonise or stigmatise a community and be ineffective? I was unhappy about the previous proposed legislation which would have created criminal offences. As we have heard, it had little support from NGOs and other organisations which remain extremely concerned about the plight of many young people in this country. But a civil remedy does not have the same coercive force. It is accessible in the county court and it would be relatively easy to make an application to a family judge.

The Bill would give a message that could be understood by those communities or individuals who consider they have the right to choose the spouse for their child. Speaking as a former judge, I have to say that one of the attractive features of the communities from the Asian subcontinent is their recognition and acceptance of the rule of law. They are generally law-abiding people and are accustomed to using the courts in family and other disputes. The possibility of litigation if the Bill was law might give the family a breathing space and an opportunity for reflection. Our family judges are experienced in defusing a fraught situation and persuading a settlement. It would be far better to have an injunction or the threat of proceedings and then a family discussion than a trial on attempted murder in the Crown Court. There is also the chance of keeping the family together rather than a tragic and permanent family rift.

The Bill provides several remedies, of which the most important is the granting of an injunction, with a power of arrest if the injunction is not obeyed. This is a strong remedy which has been effectively used in domestic violence legislation. Very helpfully, the Bill provides that when a girl is locked in her bedroom at home, for example—I know of such cases—another member of the family or a friend may help her obtain relief by making the application on her behalf if, and only if, the judge gives specific permission. So there will be no unsuitable people making applications about which the girl does not know or to which she does not consent.

The Bill makes provision for granting injunctions against other members of the family who take part in the threats or intimidation to force the marriage on the unwilling young person. It also includes forcing a marriage by deceit as well as by intimidation. It provides the interim relief to secure the safety of the young person, pending the hearing before the court.

In the view of NGOs, including those from the ethnic minorities, the legislation would not demonise any community and would be very effective both in its use and as a preventive measure. It might be said that to change culture is a slow business and would it do any good as it would take so long. My answer is that one has to start somewhere. There are examples of changing culture in other areas of legislation such as public disapproval of drink-driving in the past 10 years, increased disapproval of smoking and a relatively recent understanding and awareness of the evil of domestic violence. The Bill would be a trigger to move people forward.

Does the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 provide protection so that the Bill would be an unnecessary addition to the statute book? With one voice the Family Law Bar Association, the diversity sub-committee of the Family Justice Council and, in particular, Mr Justice Munby from the High Court Family Division advise that it does not give adequate protection. One act of forcing a child or young person to marry would not, I believe, come within the definition of harassment. The county court does not at present have the powers it would have if the Bill were passed. The 1997 Act is also somewhat cumbersome. The Bill is short, to the point and—unusually, perhaps—easy to understand.

Perhaps even more importantly, from time to time legislation appropriately fulfils a declaratory or denunciatory role expressing the view of society that certain behaviour not only is unacceptable but requires to be identified as such. An example would be the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, and I suggest that forced marriages come within this category.

I very much hope that the Bill will have a strong preventive element and that leaders in the communities will recognise the law and spread the message that to force a daughter or son to marry someone they do not agree to marry is wrong and is against the law as it is against the principles of the major religions.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I have nothing very technical or legal to say, but first I welcome the Bill and thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for introducing it.

It is always said that the law is not really a solution to a problem and that instead we have to change the culture. I remember that when I was a young man in America in the early 1960s, a lot of civil rights Bills were being opposed because people said that legislation about black equality would never be enough and what was really needed was a change of heart. At that time, if one had waited for a change of heart in the American South, there would never have had been any progress whatever. So I strongly believe that in the solution to something like this, the law is always a good first step—perhaps not sufficient, but definitely more than necessary. In the absence of law, there is no incentive to change behaviour.

It is always said that all religions are against all evil. I have heard that before and have never been convinced. All religions, at one level of generality, are for peace and they have all been used as excuses for war. However, I do not want to get diverted into a diatribe. In Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, among Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, whatever the religion may say, we know that very bad things happen to women. They are forced into marriage and raped in marriage. In India, you hear rumours such as, “Oh, she was cooking and suddenly the kerosene stove flared up and she burnt herself down”. That is a case of dowry murder. Even if a religion allows such things, we should not allow them here. If a religion does not allow them, that is all well and good, but even if it does, that is no reason to condone such things.

People often say, “That is our culture and we do not want our culture to be interfered with by law”. First, culture is not homogeneous, even back in the south Asian subcontinent. I know for a fact that among Hindus—let me stick to a safe pitch and talk about Hindus—there is a tremendous difference in attitudes to forced marriage across castes. Some would never contemplate it. I come from a group where even arranged marriages are frowned on and people want to make their own choices, but there are communities where forced marriages exist. What is much worse is that, often, groups have come from the subcontinent to this country and the culture that they believe in has been frozen in aspic from the time they were there in the 1940s and 1950s. Back in south Asia, the culture has progressed and the position of women has improved, but some people here feel, “We must preserve our culture as we thought it was in the 1940s”. What we call “culture clash” is often generated by the refusal of the immigrant community to advance, not just with the culture here, but with that back in their place of origin. Cultural arguments should be examined with great caution and not be conceded at all.

What is happening is immigration. As many noble Lords have pointed out, one reason for forced marriage is to allow someone from the subcontinent to obtain entrance to this country. Usually, it is a man who wants to come here, although the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, pointed out that to save the family honour some women are brought over like that. When they grant visas to decide entry to this country, Her Majesty’s Government should try to have a separate interview with the bride to see whether she is being used as an excuse for coming here. The interview should include people who can facilitate conversation, not only interpreters but socially skilled people who could reassure the woman that if she tells the truth she will not be victimised. That would go a long way to discourage this practice. At the bottom, all such matters of culture boil down to matters of money. If we can prevent the advantage of a British passport being earned through forced marriage and statutory rape, it would be much better for us.

I have said enough to provoke other noble Lords. My time is up so I shall sit down.

My Lords, I support the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I thank him for the excellent, expert Bill that he has produced for us and thank the many organisations that have sent us invaluable material and widened the range of knowledge of what is going on in this area.

The intolerable abuse that some forced-marriage victims suffer cannot be allowed to continue unchecked in a country which prides itself on its human rights record. I realise that if, as I hope, this Bill becomes law, it will operate, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has just pointed out, in that hugely sensitive area of divided religious and cultural racial customs.

The Government certainly deserve praise for the steps that they have taken since the whole issue was raised, particularly during the passage of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. Their consultation results since then have confirmed the mixed views within the communities concerned about the creation of any kind of new offence, but with a very clear majority against creating any new criminal offence. That is why I see this Bill as an appropriate and far from draconian next step. By creating a civil rather than a criminal offence, it fully reflects the victim’s understandable reluctance to harm his or her family, yet it provides some redress for the victim. Where actual violence or psychological harassment is a serious threat, or aiding and abetting or inducing unlawful acts is involved, it gives the judge the power to issue appropriate injunctions.

There are other important aspects of the Bill, which should help boost the speed at which it becomes accepted that forced marriages are just not acceptable in this country. As other noble Lords have said, something like 250 to 300 cases each year are known to the Forced Marriage Unit, although Liberty says the number is considerably higher, so there is some urgency. The Bill allows a litigious friend of the victim to bring proceedings, with the judge’s consent as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, just emphasised. Because cases can be brought at county court level, valuable case law will become available to lawyers working at that local level to draw on. In addition, legal aid will be available. We need reassurance on that point, because we hear far too much at the moment about legal aid disappearing into the sand.

There will be other benefits. Once on the statute book, the fact that such a law exists will undoubtedly have a deterrent effect on families who might in the past have felt entitled to use the forced-marriage route for their children. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights make this move essential. I find it quite ironic that in the many Bills involving children that we have discussed in your Lordships' House, we have constantly referred to the need to ask the views of the children about their own futures and for everything to be done in their best interests. In this case, it is the children who are suffering the most—whether as the children of unhappy forced marriages, or at second or third-generation themselves being recycled at far too young an age into forced marriages with all the misery and suffering that that entails. Any age would be too young, but 12, 13 or 14 is far too young. With this Bill on the statute book, those who are reluctant to involve the law to end the physical and/or psychological violation of their human rights will, once they see others succeed, be much more likely to follow suit in that direction.

This is a Bill brought to your Lordships' House by probably the most dedicated and experienced human rights expert in the land. As adviser to Roy Jenkins when he was Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was the architect of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Equal Pay Act 1970. Having worked with him in addressing many equal opportunity issues over the years, I have every confidence that it is the right time for this Bill, amended and improved as it inevitably will be in its passage through Parliament. The EOC was set up by the 1975 Act both to enforce the new law and to promote equality of opportunity. As its first deputy chairman under the leadership, at that time, of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, I am more than aware of the time that it takes to get acceptance of laws that change a nation’s entrenched behaviour. However, although there is still a lot more to be achieved in those areas, I am encouraged by the progress that has been made in this country and indeed across a far wider field in European and other countries on both racial and sexual equal opportunities. I have enough faith to believe that this even more complex cultural misbehaviour will respond to similar treatment.

Many will say that we have allowed this situation to continue for far too long already, and that if people from different races, religions and cultural backgrounds choose to live in this country and become British citizens, the basic human rights law of this country must be accepted. We need to be clear, and other noble Lords have stressed this, that we are not talking about what some regard as harmless cultural customs—arranged marriages—where both parties agree and want the marriage to take place. We are talking about an entirely different, brutal custom, often involving extreme mental and physical cruelty. Anyone who has read even some of the detailed stories of the victims who have been so abused, murdered, had to commit suicide, and had their lives destroyed in so many other ways could not but agree that the sooner these practices are obliterated the better.

The absence of any law such as this undervalues and undermines the role that women can and do play, as mothers and wives, and as equal citizens contributing to their country’s economic well-being. Above all—and women are some 85 per cent of the victims that we are talking about—the continued toleration of the concept of forced marriage reinforces the view of women as second-class citizens. Frankly, that in itself is intolerable. I hope that everyone, but especially the Government, will now take the necessary steps to end what up to now has been a rather blind-eye policy which, no doubt for understandable but misguided reasons, has been allowed to continue for far too long. By adopting this Bill, the Government can redeem their record, which is already excellent in so many other respects.

My Lords, I strongly support this Bill, and I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for devising it. It is a very sophisticated mechanism to deal with a very significant evil. I will talk about two things: first, the arguments that might be proposed from cultural communities and groups against the Bill, and secondly, a little about coercion, in Clause 2, because the definition of “forcing” is rather important in a forced marriage Bill.

Critics of the legislation will argue at least two things. First, they will argue that it is wrong for Parliament to seek to regulate the behaviour of well established cultural and religious communities. They will argue that the civil society to which such communities belong should be autonomous and free from state interference and regulation, and that it is not the role of the state to seek to liberalise cultural communities. The reason why such groups might believe that leads to my second point, namely that such liberalisation, in their view, would presuppose that freedom and autonomy are values that are in some sense universal and shared; whereas critics will say that is not the case. They will argue that there are many religions and cultures in which the values of freedom and autonomy do not figure as at all desirable. They will say that to seek to liberalise such communities in terms of such values is oppressive and wrong, that it does not treat such communities with respect, and that it will homogenise all communities and transform them into communities sanctioned by the liberal state.

There are at least three clear answers to this. First, we happen to live in a liberal, democratic society, and it is not wrong to seek to ensure that all groups meet the minimum standards of common morality of such a society—freedom and respect, basic rights and so forth—which forced marriages infringe. Secondly, we need to stand up for common values. There is a big debate at the moment about the idea of Britishness. It is difficult to get far in thinking about a common-sensical view of the nature of Britishness without the ideas of individual liberty, respect for persons and equal rights. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly in my mind, is that cultural groups that are looking for autonomy and self-regulation are in fact demanding freedom from the interference of the state, and they are demanding equality of recognition and equality of rights. They are themselves trading on the very values that they seek to deny the members of those groups. It seems to me therefore vital that, if we accept ideas such as the importance of freedom from interference and equal respect for cultural identity and cultural norms, those freedoms should be extended to members of the groups covered by those norms. So I do not think that there is a good case to be deployed against the general principles of the Bill.

I will say a few words about coercion, which I suspect will prove controversial in Committee. I want to defend Clause 2, which will be controversial because it refers to threats and offers as being coercive. We normally think that, at least in one sense, coercion is straightforward and clear. If I lock you in a room, you cannot then do anything; it is coercive. If I imprison you, you are unable to go outside the prison; that is a form of coercion. It is coercion as physical restraint. That is uncontroversial; there is no question or problem about that. Once we move to threats and offers, the issue becomes a bit more complicated, and we need to think about the complications a little more. We would regard most threats as coercive. They are threats because they impact on our desires. I want to do X; you impose a cost on my doing X, and I abstain from doing it, even though I want to do it, because of that cost. The threat constitutes the cost; we would recognise that as a form of coercion.

If we recognise that as coercion, it is not at all clear that offers are not equally coercive. Offers also operate to change our desires in an unwanted way. I want to do X, and someone comes along and makes either me or someone else in relation to that X an offer which it is very difficult to refuse. That operates on the balance of my desires in exactly the same way as a threat operates on the balance of my desires, but both of them are rather different from physical constraint and physical locking up. We have to get some kind of principle that will extend from coercion as physical restraint and going through to both threats and offers. I do not think that there is a categorical distinction between threats and offers, because a lot of threats can be turned into offers. There is nothing arcane or difficult about thinking in that way.

I consider parking at the side of the road, and there is a notice saying, “Parking penalty £30”. If I am poor, I regard that as a threat, and I do not park. That changes my desire to park. If I am rich, and I come to the same notice, I might decide that it is really an offer; it says that I can park here for £30, and £30 means nothing to me. If we regard threats as coercive, many threats can be reformulated as offers, and we should not therefore think that offers and inducements cannot be coercive. They can be coercive. We cannot say that all offers extend choice and therefore cannot be coercive, partly because we know about mafia offers—an offer you cannot refuse. We know about the highwayman offer—your money or your life. A hard-nosed person might say, “Before the highwayman comes on to the scene, my choices are limited. I am just to keep my money. Now he has made me an offer; I can either keep my money or keep my life”. Threats and offers are very complex things to figure out, and most threats can be reformulated as offers. We have to be clear about some of the complexities about the nature of coercion in Clause 2, which need to be focused on a little more.

Because threats and offers are highly contextualised and depend on the situation of the person—a threat to make someone destitute or a threat to withhold the love and support of the family—the civil remedy approach favoured by the Bill, and the great tribute that it reflects on the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is exactly the way forward, and I give it my wholehearted support.

My Lords, we now come to the concluding part of the debate. The Minister has a very good record on rights and civil liberties. I see that she is taking copious notes, and I have no doubt that she will have taken note of the fact that the legislation is supported by almost all noble Lords who have spoken.

All noble Lords. I thank my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill for introducing this private Member’s Bill, which is a relevant and nuanced solution to a multilayered problem that must be tackled with sensitivity and grace. Forced marriage, in which a victim is pressed into marriage against their will, is a growing problem in this country. This practice can lead to huge stresses on tightly knit communities, and to young students being removed from schools and virtually confined to their homes. It can be used as a tool for immigration violations and, at its worst, has led to honour killings. At least a third of recorded cases affect children aged 17 or under, and, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UK Government have an obligation to ensure that children’s rights are fully protected. Furthermore, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has urged the national Parliaments of member states to,

“adapt their domestic legislation so as to make it easier for forced and child marriages to be prevented, detected and annulled and to bring to justice the perpetrators of such marriages, as well as those who aided and abetted the contracting of such a marriage”.

This proposed solution is welcome and timely, and has been prepared by an expert in this field, as has been pointed out. My noble friend Lord Lester has a remarkable record in dealing with human rights issues, having campaigned for 30 years to make the European Convention on Human Rights directly enforceable in British courts, and having introduced two private Member’s Bills that became models for the Human Rights Act 1998. He is an expert in this field, and there can be no better person to put forward this legislation.

I begin my remarks on the Bill by highlighting the words of a young woman—a victim of forced marriage:

“A person knows when they are being forced into a marriage against their will”.

That must be the starting point. Thankfully, the Bill understands that sentiment implicitly. It does not attempt to patronise any community or to attempt to speak for the diverse groups of people for whom forced marriage is a problem. The above quotation makes it clear that the Bill distinctly understands the differences between forced marriage and arranged marriage. Arranged marriage should involve active and open dialogue and the consent of all parties, and is a successful practice today in many such communities. It is also worth pointing out that it was actively pursued by the English in Victorian times. By making this distinction clear, we can all be sure that the Bill does not discriminate against specific communities and will lead to prejudice in the future.

Rather, the Bill has made use of a process of consultation to provide proactive solutions to an issue that the Government have been working on since 1999, when the Home Office set up a working group, in which I was directly involved, to investigate the issue. This work was done with the best of intentions, but it did not result in any concrete achievements, except to prove without a doubt the scope of the problem. The Government instructed FCO offices to be more proactive in providing support to those seeking help in forced marriages, but that is not enough. Such an approach is not comprehensive, as FCO locations are few and far between and may not be easy to access. Most importantly, such an approach relies on the victim seeking out an office of the UK Government, rather than the UK Government seeking out ways to help the victim. Legislation is what is needed because, with it, women will for the first time ever be able to know that this practice is illegal. They will be able say to the perpetrators that it is unequivocally wrong, and will be able use the law as a basis for action.

The reason why many years of work resulted in no new legislation hinged on the criminality of forced marriage. There was no consensus on making forced marriage a crime in its own right. It was considered too costly and too complex to introduce, given that existing laws provided a workable form of protection. Most importantly, however, it was considered an unwieldy solution that might drive the problem further underground, prevent reconciliation, isolate the victim and unfairly stigmatise certain communities.

We are dealing with a problem in which fewer than one in 10 cases is reported, which means that the 300 cases reported by the Home Office and Foreign office are simply the tip of the iceberg. We must accept that the problem is far more deeply rooted, and that some cases never come to light. In the diverse communities in which forced marriages take place, it is often the parents or close family members who force a victim into marriage. There is a strong chance that the victims of forced marriages would be unwilling to report their own parents, or other family members, if the punishment included jail or a criminal record. However, by not pursuing other forms of legislation, victims may be less aware of their avenues for redress, and communities may be less aware that such actions are wrong in today’s society.

Multiculturalism must never blunt the fundamental point at the heart of the debate; that it is a person’s right to choose whom he or she wants to marry. It is a tragedy that a victim of forced marriage may have to use charges of rape, kidnapping, domestic abuse or torture as a way of dealing with a forced marriage. If she has not yet been subjected to such depravity, but is in fear of it, where does that leave her? It leaves her in a state of confusion, wondering what her rights are.

One of the key recommendations from the wide consultation process in which I was involved was that,

“Resources should be used to support a holistic approach that addresses the causes, supports the victims and works with communities to eliminate the problem”.

Thankfully, we have such an approach in the Bill, and I sincerely hope that, now there is a solution in sight, the Government will take the necessary steps. We must be aware that change is always frightening, and that changing people’s mindset is difficult. There are always transitional problems for immigrants into new communities, and forced marriage is one such problem. However, this legislation is not about racial profiling or insensitivity, because across south Asia, forced marriages are in the minority, and there, as in any culture, those who abuse the trust of their families are not respected. It may eventually iron itself out in the United Kingdom as second, third and fourth generations of families are born here, but it is our role to spur on this process by smoothing the way for its acceptance and to increase awareness. For this, we need legislation.

We will be looking after the welfare and future of the young generations of British people, we will be making this an issue among first and second generation British people, and we will be fulfilling our role as leaders in the global community by setting an example that countries that face forced marriages within their borders may want to follow.

A law is necessary because the law is an unequivocal statement of public policy, whereas the current patchwork of laws that can be used to challenge forced marriages does not present any unequivocal statement against the act. By using existing and ill defined laws to tackle the issue, we are putting the burden of proof on to the victim—a victim who may be reluctant to come forward anyway—and we will allow the issue to continue to be swept under the carpet.

Most people are law-abiding citizens and most look to their community for support. This legislation will allow people to point out obvious wrongdoing and to pursue an avenue of complaint where prison is not the end result. By making the issue a civil one, the Bill elegantly gives direct redress to victims without any of the drawbacks suggested by the research on the implementation of criminal legislation. The remedies in the Bill focus on the protection of the victim and the prevention of the forced marriage rather than the punishment of a crime. The Bill is proactive and preventive rather than reactionary. A civil remedy to this problem will help to change people’s behaviour because it will allow victims to come forward in pursuit of compensation, mediation and reconciliation—the cornerstones that have been requested by the victims themselves.

The Bill has the support of my party. I believe that all communities, particularly the black and ethnic minority community, owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, whose record on rights and liberty is second to none. He has been right before and he is right today. Let us not dither in the task before us.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Opposition support this Bill. It is right in both principle and practice to try to prevent forced marriages taking place—they can and they do destroy lives. It is surely better to prevent a forced marriage taking place rather than to leave a person in the invidious position of trying to make an application for nullity after the event of the marriage taking place.

This Bill does make some advances through the civil rather than the criminal law. It should not be seen as a eureka answer to the problem, although it is a worthwhile piece in the jigsaw. The aim of the Bill is laudable, but it needs to be more than window dressing. We have seen enough of that from the Government over the past 10 years.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for meeting me last week to discuss his Bill in detail. I am certainly convinced that he is making a worthwhile addition to the measures that are currently available to victims of forced marriage and those who are at risk of being victims in the future. As always, this House will wish to scrutinise the Bill’s provisions very carefully at Committee. We will need to consider how effective it will be and how accessible it will be to those who should benefit from it. In particular, we will have to consider what protections it adds that are not adequately covered by existing legislation.

Noble Lords have today been at one in condemning the practice of forced marriage. Noble Lords, such as my noble friends Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Lord Sheikh, who made a particularly powerful speech, were right to draw the attention of the House to the differences between arranged and forced marriages. It is absolutely vital that we do so.

I was interested to read the guidelines on this matter that were issued for the police by ACPO, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office. They are sensible and sensitive—not words I often use in the same sentence as the Home Office these days. The guidelines state:

“The tradition of arranged marriages has operated successfully within many communities and many countries for a very long time. A clear distinction must be made between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages the families of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage but the choice whether to accept the arrangement remains with the individuals. In forced marriage at least one party does not consent to the marriage and some element of duress is involved”.

It is right to stress now, and to continue to do so in our examination of the Bill, the difference between arranged and forced marriages and ensure that we do not by mistake or oversight bring arranged marriages within the scope of any measures that are intended to prevent forced marriage. That would not be the right thing for Parliament to attempt to do. But I believe that it is right for Parliament to take an active role deterring forced marriage. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was right today, as he so often is on these matters, to remind us that legislation should not be our first or only recourse in changing human behaviour. There are other and much better methods, which have to be complementary and, if possible, preferred routes.

There are times when I agree with the Minister, Lady Scotland, who has the policy responsibility in this area—we all regret that, for a very good reason, she is not able to be here today. In her press statement on 7 June last year, she said:

“Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence which cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds”.

She was right to draw attention to the fact that forced marriage is more than domestic violence. It is violence to the right of the individual to make their own life choices. No doubt when the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, replies to the debate, she will tell the House of the various schemes that the Government have launched in recent years to give aid to those who are the victims of forced marriage. I do not criticise those schemes—far from it. They are important, but I ask whether they are enough.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Government have changed their position regarding legislation. They had promised a criminal offence as requested by police, but then backed off. In September 2005, the Home Office put out a press release about its plans to hold a three-month consultation on whether to create a specific criminal offence of forcing someone to marry. The police had already told the Government that there should be a new criminal offence. They believed that it would make prosecutions easier and send a clear message that intimidating young people into marriages that they do not want is unacceptable in the UK. In the Government’s consultation document, Forced Marriage: A Wrong Not a Right, Ministers accepted that the arguments against creating a new criminal offence outweighed those for it. Despite that, the Government said that they would go ahead and create a criminal offence. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said that a new offence would act as a preventive measure and “say to people this is wrong”. She told reporters in central London:

“It’s like a clarion call that this is not legal, you are not going to get away with it”.

The Government subsequently changed their mind, and I think that it is important that we hear from them why they did. There may be very good reasons for the Government changing their course on this occasion, but we need to hear them.

Noble Lords who have spoken today have pointed out some of the dangers that may follow from criminalising forced marriage. My noble friend Lord Sheikh set out how a criminal offence in particular could be counterproductive in its effects. I note that there have been concerns in the past that, if there were a criminal offence, young people might not report their parents for fear of criminalising them. Have the Government carried out any further research on that matter? If the concern remains about introducing a criminal offence, surely it should not interfere with having a civil offence. I do not think that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, should fall foul of the same arguments; I think that he has found his way round that difficulty.

What work has been done over the past two years to make better use of existing civil remedies and the family courts, and with what success? I would be grateful if the Minister could give us information on that. I am aware that there is a range of criminal offences that can cover some of the aspects of the abuse involved in a forced marriage: rape, false imprisonment, kidnap, and assault. However, that can usually follow on only after the event of the marriage and after the damage has been done. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has the enormous advantage of trying to prevent the abuse in the first place.

As noble Lords from around the House have so correctly pointed out, this a highly sensitive issue, but one that must be addressed, in a sensitive way but strongly and with determination. As my noble friend Lord Sheikh said, it is a global problem. It is not just about one ethnic or religious community. It is not a south-east Asian issue per se. It affects communities across a wide range of countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Syria, Sri Lanka, the USA, Holland, Somalia, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Turkey and Bosnia—we could go on.

I look forward to the opportunity to examine the detail of the Bill closely in Committee. In relation to Clause 2, there is one improvement that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Lester, may consider, and I have already given him notice of it in advance. I listened very carefully to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, because he highlighted the fact that Clause 2 could provide some element of controversy and I hope that we can find a way of overcoming that; I am sure that there are practical ways in which we can address it. I am concerned that the drafting of Clause 2 may not go wide enough to protect those who need to be protected. It covers people who threaten, “If you don’t help me, I will damage you”, or offer a benefit to the person that is being threatened or coerced. I am concerned to assist in circumstances where someone says, “If you don’t help me, I will not necessarily damage you, but I will damage your mother-in-law’s or father-in-law’s business. I will cause damage to another person who is of great importance to you”. We need to ensure that Clause 2 provides all the protection that it needs to, without bringing too much within it.

I note that when the Government published their consultation in 2005, the estimated cost of creating a criminal offence was around £420,000 in the first year of implementation and £220,000 in subsequent years. Can the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, say what he considers might be the costs of implementing the Bill? If not, perhaps he may assist us in Committee.

Clause 5 makes it possible for the victim of a forced marriage to make a civil claim for damages in the last resort. We will have to consider in Committee whether daughters and sons would wish to do that by imposing extra financial burdens on their parents by suing them for payment. We need to explore that legitimate area.

Last month, the Women’s National Commission, ably chaired by the Minister’s noble friend Lady Prosser, published its report from the Muslim Women's Network, She Who Disputes—Muslim women shape the debate. It makes for arresting reading. A respondent from Bradford made the following plea:

“By minimising our problems on domestic violence and forced marriage it will not disappear. It has to be addressed. Women would rather die in their silence—we need confident women; we don't need shattered, battered women”.

I agree with her with all my heart. In the final analysis, that is why my party supports the Bill—I certainly do—and I hope that the Government will support it.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to reply to this debate. I, too, am very sorry that my noble friend Lady Scotland is not with us—she would do a much better job than me, given her expertise and knowledge. I know that noble Lords will not mind that I sent her a text message just before the start of the debate to say that we would all be thinking of her and that we look forward to seeing her back soon. I pay tribute to her commitment and energy—which I am not often able to do in your Lordships’ House, because the occasion does not allow that—particularly on these matters and on issues concerning domestic violence. I have worked with her on these issues for some time and it will come as no surprise to your Lordships that no one is more committed and dedicated to the work that she undertakes.

I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lester. Very few people can stand up and state, “Thirty years ago, I said this”, and, without wavering, continue to press their concerns. Sometimes I wish that he would not continue to press those concerns—but what an important contribution he has made. It is also fabulous to stand here and watch him looking extremely embarrassed, which he has done from time to time when people have paid him tribute; I cannot resist it, too. I welcome and salute the noble Lord’s work and his incredible contribution. As a Minister for human rights, I say that, without him, I would find my job far more difficult.

I want to pay tribute to another group of people who I have met only recently—in fact, I met them only yesterday—the people who work in the Forced Marriage Unit. I had the privilege of spending only an hour with them but I came away with the overwhelming impression that they are completely dedicated to their work. I said to one of them—I shall not embarrass her by naming her—that I could not work out how on Earth she did her job without working 24 hours a day, seven days a week; her wry smile suggested that neither did she. It is a small dedicated band and I thank them on behalf of your Lordships for the incredible work that they do. I want to explain a little more about that work. I think that it is worth doing so, even considering the expertise in your Lordships’ House.

The Forced Marriage Unit is a joint Home Office/Foreign and Commonwealth Office venture. It has six members of staff at present, and the team leads on policy development and outreach work. It has three dedicated caseworkers—one from UK Visas—and one office manager, and all members of the unit handle casework. The FMU has a budget of almost £690,000, including staff wages, and it covers 250 to 300 cases a year, 15 per cent of which are male cases of forced marriage.

Our embassies and high commissions overseas assist, rescue and repatriate around 200 people each year. Around a third of the cases that the unit deals with concern children, some as young as 13. It also assists reluctant sponsors—those forced into marriage and subsequently forced to sponsor a visa application—and it has dealt with more than 100 cases since May last year.

In the past two years, the Forced Marriage Unit has produced guidelines for the police, social services and health and education professionals on tackling forced marriage, and it has started work on producing similar guidelines for registrars. As well as commissioning international guidance for lawyers, the unit will shortly be publishing a handbook of legal remedies for family law professionals, holding a series of seminars for practitioners, and exploring ways of introducing forced marriage on family law courses at universities and colleges.

The Forced Marriage Unit is producing a survivors’ handbook to offer information and practical support to survivors of such marriages. In partnership with Jasvinder Sanghera’s group, Karma Nirvana, the unit is also funding a pilot survivors’ network in Derby to provide emotional support to survivors of forced marriage and to create opportunities to build new friendships and relationships. The unit also undertakes a great deal of publicity, outreach and awareness-raising work in key communities, speaking at about 75 events each year. In 2006, it ran a national publicity campaign on forced marriage, involving radio, TV, and national and local press. That shows what the power of six people can achieve. I pay real tribute to their work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked about the criminalisation issues. As she knows, we carried out consultation on introducing a criminal offence, but the primary reason that that did not happen was that 74 per cent of the police respondents and all those from the CPS and probation services said that it was not an appropriate way forward. As the noble Baroness indicated, at the end of the consultation, we said that we would look at the gaps that existed and at identifying ways to fill them. The debate on this Bill will make an extremely important contribution to that. My noble friend Lady Scotland will no doubt have far more information on the consultation process, and I shall ensure that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, receives it.

Some common themes developed very quickly in the debate. They included consent, or mutual respect, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, described it, and the fragility of marriage. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, in particular, talked about consent under duress, where young people do not know what they are agreeing to. The issue of human rights is critical: the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said that they are universal. The noble Lords, Lord Sheikh and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, talked about the difference between arranged and forced marriages, and said that it is critical that we differentiate between the two. But, as my noble friend Lady Rendell said, sometimes there is blurring around the edges, and that is also important. It was said that, more than anything else, these young vulnerable people need protection and the law should ensure that they are protected.

I was delighted that my noble friend Lady Uddin was the first person to speak after the noble Lord had introduced the Bill. Yesterday, I had a conversation with my noble friend about her blood pressure. She rightly said to me that this is also about the emancipation, education and training of women so that they feel they can resist this. They need to know where to go, and they need to feel that they have the right skills and attributes and that they are not held captive by their own culture by not being allowed to participate more fully. My noble friend and my noble friend Lord Ahmed will recognise that, whatever else we do, it is important to continue to work very closely with young people and to give them those skills. However important the legislation is, we must not forget that. I agree with her completely.

We must also consider other forms of legislation and whether the domestic violence legislation applies here. I know that the Equal Opportunities Commission has raised that interesting and important point. My noble friend wanted us to look at the definition of force. I shall summarise some points that need to be considered.

The resources dedicated to the Forced Marriage Unit will not be cut. It is important to have that on the record. However, noble Lords might want to press for more resources for that. When debating the Bill, we have to consider existing legislation.

My Lords, the Minister said that the budget for the Forced Marriage Unit had not been cut. But I have been given figures by the department, which she probably has not seen, that show that the budget was cut between 2005-06 and 2006-07 from around £160,000 to around £114,000; and the Home Office contribution to that paltry sum is estimated to rise from 11 per cent of the total to only 13 per cent. That suggests to me that it has been cut and it is pathetically terrible.

My Lords, my information is that it has not been cut. We shall have to reconcile that. Whether or not the noble Lord and I agree, it is clear that a fantastic job is being done, which is important. Perhaps we will unite in our desire to see that my words are right and that the noble Lord’s words on this occasion, however good the information from my office may be, are not.

I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said about the fantastic work of officials in the very difficult circumstances that he described. I also endorse what he said about women controlling their own lives. That fundamentally underpins all we are discussing in the debate.

The right reverend Prelate raised a key issue about whether young victims want to use the law, and particularly the criminal law, in relation to their families. I know that the Forced Marriage Unit, in looking even at the civil law, is concerned that most of the victims with whom it deals want to find a way back to their families; they want to try to change the nature of their relationship with their families and be supported in so doing. We have to consider the remedies in that context. The knowledge of the way in which young people respond to the work that it does is very important.

A central defining feature is consent. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that this is not about legislation alone. That is another theme that has come through the debate. By itself, legislation can achieve some things but not others.

My noble friend Lady Rendell spoke of the distinction between arranged and forced marriages. I agree that sensitivity is extremely important in looking at all these issues.

The Forced Marriage Unit is very concerned that it is much more difficult for young men to come forward to ask for help. It is now considering different ways to improve the services available to men, to enable the unit to reach out to them and to enable them to come forward more easily. I look forward to seeing how the unit does that.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said that every world religion condemns forced marriages, which, of course, is correct. He spoke of the issue of force and said that force is not just about physical force. We need to be aware of the role of financial assistance that families give to their young people and ensure that we do not mix up things when we consider the legislation. We also need to consider resources and the best use of resources in everything we do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, talked about attitude and cultural practices. It reminded me of something that came up later: not long ago, women were the property of their husbands in this country and children automatically belonged to their fathers. We seek a combination of the law, education and empowerment, and recognise the critical importance of the duty of non-discrimination in upholding human rights.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, continued the theme of being unable to avert our eyes from human rights issues. We recognise our responsibilities under the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women. We are working hard in a number of ways to live up to those responsibilities.

I have written on my notes the word “passionate” about my noble friend Lord Ahmed. He spoke again about the incredible work going on. I pay tribute to my noble friend’s work. He spoke of being pro-active, and I recognise how important it is that we work with the communities. He was also concerned that the issue is not picked up as one that could be turned against some of our communities. It is important that we work together. I endorse everything he said in that context.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, focused on issues of arranged marriages and forced marriages. I agree with everything he said. He asked specifically about extra-territorial jurisdiction. The consultation on the criminal offence highlighted the difficulties of the lack of extra-territorial jurisdiction and gathering evidence on marriages overseas. The overwhelming majority felt that families might take advantage of this, taking their children overseas to circumvent laws in the UK. That is an interesting and important issue. The noble Lord also spoke of Scotland and Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said at the beginning, it will be interesting to see what happens with this Bill and what colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland decide to do. I am sure that there will be dialogue on that for the precise reasons the noble Lord mentioned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, talked about being caught between conflicting and irreconcilable values, with someone saying, “I am sorry that I am not what you wanted”. That is an important part of this issue. The Forced Marriage Unit works with families to show them that these young women are precisely what they want, and to recognise and respect the contribution that these children and young people can make.

My noble friend Lady Turner talked about some misogynist attitudes which must be challenged. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, spoke of the experience beginning with “Romeo and Juliet”, which demonstrates how long this has been an issue in all societies, and how much it takes to deal with it effectively.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has spent a huge amount of time supporting the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on this Bill, and has enormous experience in her role as President of the Family Division. She spoke of the NSPCC and the focus on the child—either because the child is the bride or groom or because the child is the child of the bride and groom. The noble and learned Baroness has overseas expertise and recognises the critical importance of legislation, among many other things, sending a message.

My noble friend Lord Desai spoke of a culture frozen in time, or a cultural clash, an important issue demanding far more time than I can give it now. He also talked about interviewing the bride. The Forced Marriage Unit works with reluctant spouses. There is a special team of entry clearance officers in Islamabad, established to deal with these visa applications. When a victim of a forced marriage contacts the Forced Marriage Unit about the visa application, the unit and team in Islamabad are the victim’s voice, working with the victim to produce a statement about what has happened to—usually—her. With that statement, we can prevent the issuing of a visa. It is a long and complex process, requiring trust between the victim and the Forced Marriage Unit. When the victim does not even give their real name, it can often take many months to build up that trust. It also says on my note that we need more resources to help women through the process, with three exclamation marks. I put that on the record.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, raised the issue of legal aid, something we shall again need to look at. I pay tribute to her tireless work supporting women over many years, and its importance in developing women’s opportunities, particularly in the economic and employment fields.

My noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield raised issues about Clause 2 on threats and offers. I shall not get into that, but I was immediately drawn to Marlon Brando and being made an offer you cannot refuse. My noble friend raised an important point, however, which will of course need to be discussed.

Having paid tribute to all the amazing speeches that have been made, I want to say where I think we are with the Bill. I do not yet know whether it is the right answer. As it is a civil justice Bill, my noble and learned friend and I have a real interest in it, and we will work closely with my noble friend Lady Scotland to take it forward. There is clearly huge support for it, rightly so, because it is very important.

Let me pick up some of the issues that will need to be thought about in Committee. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Uddin, talked about the importance of consultation and how it should not be only with the obvious places and government. I know the noble Lord would wish to consult many organisations, and that will be an important part of what we do. Resources also need to be thought about. Is this the best use of resources or should they be thought about in a different way? We need to think about the breadth of the provisions and, because this matter has been raised by other organisations, we need to look again at whether the gaps to be filled should be filled in different ways by amending other legislation. Some members of the Family Justice Council diversity committee raised the question of damages, which was also was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and it is an important area to consider.

The Forced Marriage Unit is worried that we should take real care about the consequences. We must not inadvertently put young people at greater risk because of the third-party provision or take control out of the hands of the victims. However, it recognises that it is often third parties who ring them for advice on how to support an individual. We need to think about that very carefully.

The Forced Marriage Unit needs to think about and work carefully through the Bill to consider its implications. Most of the people it deals with want to get back to their families and find a way through. That needs to be recognised and has to be considered in that context.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said reasonably that this should not be window-dressing. This must be something that we believe would work. In that spirit, I am delighted that we will be able to see the Bill through its stages in the Lords and consider it. I cannot commit that the Government will decide that this is the best way, but I can commit to work to ensure that we carefully think through all the issues as the Bill goes through.

I shall end with a quotation from Aisha, a survivor of forced marriage who was assisted by the Forced Marriage Unit last year:

“If it wasn’t for the Forced Marriage Unit I wouldn’t be here now. Back then I just needed a cuddle. I needed someone to tell me that everything would be OK. Speaking to the Forced Marriage Unit gave me hope. I felt that somebody who understood me was on my side—no gossip, no judgment and no conditions. I didn’t always like the options the Forced Marriage Unit gave me, but they helped me to take my life into my own hands and understand that I have the right to choose.

Now when I wake up in the morning I can put it all behind me. Sometimes it pops into my head—what I went through—but it’s over now. I’m looking forward to the future, maybe meeting a guy who I have chosen for myself”.

We need more women like Aisha who can speak of their experience of escaping forced marriages and who can describe the new lives that they are now enjoying. We need to enable them to speak to those who need their support. We need to support the excellent work of the unit, and I commend it to your Lordships’ House. History is littered with forced marriages and it is time to end them. I look forward to working with the noble Lord on the Bill.

My Lords, this is a remarkable place. Where else in the world would a legislative body have a debate of the kind that we have had on a Friday? Noble Lords were willing to be here to speak in a long, extraordinarily rich and well informed debate, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, Front-Benchers and Back-Benchers alike. It is clear that one positive thing has come out of this debate, which is that we will today form a parliamentary association of black, Asian and grey sisters and brothers within this House to work together in order to turn the Bill into reality. It is also clear in the light of the wisdom expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that when the Bill becomes law in whatever form, it will become known as Juliet’s law, which will avoid stigmatising anybody, except ourselves, perhaps.

I should like to deal with some of the points raised. How lucky we are that it is this Minister, that it is a civil justice Bill and that it is her department that will deal with it in its civil partnership capacity; for that is what it will be, between civil society, ourselves as part of civil society, and the Government. She made a number of really important points and dealt with a good many of the speeches. Therefore, I will be extremely brief. Perhaps I may say one or two things before I turn to the points raised.

In framing the Bill, I have remembered two perfectly obvious things. One was that Rab Butler used to remind us that politics is the art of the possible; the other was that a very wise government lawyer once said, “Razors are made to cut and Bills are made to pass”. The point about this Bill is that it has been made to pass; it is not to be window-dressing and it is to be effective.

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, was the only person who gave the Bill a cautious welcome. She is a cautious person and I respect her caution, but I am very grateful for her support. She was one of many to emphasise, perfectly rightly, the need for widespread consultation, a proper infrastructure and resources. Those points are all well taken. She and others have persuaded me that when I sit down in a few minutes I shall not ask for the Bill to be committed to a Committee of the Whole House; it is much more sensible that it goes to the Moses Room so that it will not be dealt with on a Friday all the time and there will be much better scope for consultation in that process. Furthermore, it is possible that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I sit, might decide to take evidence on it as well. It is extremely important that this is regarded as the beginning of this process, which is what it is, and that the views of bodies such as Imkaan, which were particularly important in pressing for more consultation, are taken into account.

While on resources, I should say to the Minister—I hope that she will not be cross with me for doing so—that the table which arrived yesterday shocked me. Under a heading about Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office resources, what it shows in terms of the current personnel is a little depressing.

My Lords, I interrupt the noble Lord only because I do not want this to become a running dispute between us, and I have the answer. The money looks less because quite a chunk of it was specifically for the publicity campaign last year. Staff levels and budgets have not been cut. The table says that this has come from the unit itself, so the amount decreased because there was a particular slice of money provided for that. The noble Lord need have no fear. The problem with information without context is something he knows that I feel very strongly about.

My Lords, I am grateful. I am sorry but I need to say one or two more words about resources despite that. The chart shows that we have a head of human rights and assistance policy, and under him or her is a Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy officer who does not deal with casework. Then there is a Home Office policy officer dealing with 15 per cent immigration casework and 15 per cent outreach. Below them is a Foreign and Commonwealth Office caseworker, no doubt dealing with the overseas situation, another Foreign and Commonwealth Office caseworker, and one Home Office caseworker described in the chart as doing 100 per cent immigration casework. Staff costs for all those people in 2005-06 came to £160,000, which then became £114,000 in 2006-07. I will not go into any projected figures, but that simply will not do—if what I have got from the office represents the present position. Maybe it does not.

I wholly admire the work of the Forced Marriage Unit; I wholly admire its guidelines. I do not admire the fact that it is non-statutory.

My Lords, this is a very complex matter. I am sure the noble Lord’s case is very strong, but would it not be wise to deal with it under his excellent suggestion of the Bill going to a Grand Committee?

My Lords, I am sure that that is right. I just wanted to clear up a point that had arisen. Notwithstanding the injunction from my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, to sit down immediately, I shall deal quickly with one or two other points raised in the debate that need to be dealt with now, out of respect for those who have taken part.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, asked whether the Bill would extend beyond England and Wales. Of course it will need to do so. He also asked what happens when someone goes to the subcontinent and the forcing takes place there. There are answers to that, but I can write to him about them, as the Minister would say.

The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, pointed out, and I agree, that no practical alternatives are put forward by those who say that we should do nothing. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, gave judgment. Any wise barrister knows that when the most authoritative family law judge that I know has given judgment, the best thing to do is to say, “I agree”, and I do. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked about legal aid and access to justice. One advantage put to me about the Bill was that it will make it much easier to get legal aid if it is under the rubric of forced marriage. That is important.

The noble Lord, Lord Plant, gave a learned and philosophical discourse on the problem of threats, coercion and offers. The answer is, I hope, in the “reasonable” test in Clause 3 and the test of a civil standard of proof, not a criminal one. I was so pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, support the Bill. My old friend Edward Boyle, the late Lord Boyle of Handsworth, would have been so proud to know that the modern Conservative Party was taking that position because he, more than any other friend I had in politics, understood those issues. I miss him very much. The noble Baroness referred to the very sensible guidelines. One practical problem that we will need to deal with is that the guidelines are not enforceable. In schools and local education authorities, for example, they simply do not lead to practical results.

I have not dealt with everything and I am sure that others waiting to speak will be glad if I do not, so I now thank everyone. Neither I nor those who support the Bill will be content with it being rhetorical or kicked into medium-sized or long grass. I hope and believe that all of us can now take the Bill further and ensure that it is put into practice. That must be what we all seek. I need say nothing else because I am not asking for the Bill to go into a Committee of the whole House.

On Question, Bill read a second time.

Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Business

Before we move to the next debate, perhaps I ought to remind your Lordships that although neither of the debates to follow is time-limited, the House has a practice of normally rising by about four o'clock on a Friday sitting. Therefore, brevity would assist us in achieving our goal.

Public Demonstrations (Repeals) Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill’s purpose is to delete those clauses in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 which condition demonstration. Freedom to demonstrate outside Parliament is one of the most important freedoms of expression that Britain has. This Government changed that fundamental freedom to a conditional one. My Bill would simply return the law to the 2005 position when there were many adequate safeguards against violent or disruptive protests but people were not frightened to demonstrate. People are now afraid that they will get a criminal record for simply holding a placard or even wearing a T-shirt with a slogan on it anywhere near Parliament.

I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is not in her place. I fully understand the reason and I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, for taking this on. But if the noble Baroness were in her place, she might say that she was puzzled why I, who usually speak on environmental matters and did not take part during the passage of the SOCPA, should introduce this Bill. It is because many young people at the start of their careers through to ageing pacifists have said, “Well, I feel like coming up to Parliament and demonstrating, but you just cannot demonstrate there any more like you used to be able to, can you?”. They either think that the right has been lost entirely or they are unsure of how they can be legally able to take part. If an organiser gets it wrong, those taking part are implicated, so people are frightened off. Just being arrested will affect your life for ever. For instance, you lose immediately the right to a visa waiver to the USA, even though you may be innocent of any offence.

The effect of these SOCPA clauses has been to cast a great chill across demonstrating peacefully in the designated zone. As my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby said,

“Parliament is properly described as ‘the people's house’”.—[Official Report, 14/7/05; col. GC 154.]

Now, the people have to watch what they wear, hold or shout outside their House or they may be arrested, charged and face a jail sentence of 51 weeks or a fine of £2,500. The situation was foreseen by my noble friend Lord Dholakia when he said:

“What initially started as a debate about demonstrations in Parliament Square has now resulted in legislation which will create ‘fortress Whitehall’, where no one can protest without permission”.—[Official Report, 14/7/05; col. GC 149.]

The purpose of my Bill is to restate the presumption in favour of the citizen and to ensure that the right to peacefully demonstrate outside their Parliament is not conditional.

I am sure that the Minister will tell us that conditions are not usually imposed. But when the applicant fills in the form to apply for permission, he or she states who they are, how many people will be there and what time the demonstration will take place. They become the conditions unless the police impose additional conditions. In addition, spontaneous protest is illegal because at least 24 hours’ notice must be given. Additional conditions can be imposed on the hoof under Section 135; for example, a vigil could be moved from Parliament to a side street or a 24-hour protest could be suddenly curtailed.

I want to look at why this was introduced. The Government claimed that the powers were needed around Parliament for three reasons: first, increased security because of terrorism; secondly, aesthetics; and, thirdly, undisturbed parliamentary business. I accept totally that the terrorist threat is very real. When the House authorities talked to us about it, they maintained that the highest threat came from the traffic and the road outside remaining open. Yet that road remains open. Of course, there was a remote possibility that a terrorist could hide a device in Mr Haw’s sleeping bag or under his placards, but they also could hide one in the bushes by Victoria Tower or in the vans that deliver vegetables to the kitchens.

The question is whether this legislation was a proportionate response to the terrorist threat posed by Mr Haw’s demonstration. As the order went through, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said from the Conservative Benches:

“Interferences with rights to expression and assembly must … be proportionate”.—[Official Report; 14/7/05; col. GC 153.]

Noble Lords will rightly have concerns about the security of people in the area around Parliament and I want to emphasise that both for security on demonstrations and security on designated sites around the UK, there are already powerful laws in place to stop violence or obstruction and to address the terrorism issue. Indeed, in the evidence that came out in the Brian Haw court case under the Terrorism Act, the police have powers to stop and search in the designated area, and Superintendent Terry stated in the evidence that between January and July 2006, 714 searches took place within the government security zone around Westminster and Whitehall and a further 4,465 people were spoken to about their activities. I certainly pay tribute to the efforts of the police in protecting the area, but I do not feel this legislation is helping them; rather, I will show later how it is hindering their work. Since 1997, the Minister will be aware of many Acts that have been added to the statute book which lengthen the list of powers available to the police to control situations that pose a threat to the public interest. Those powers could have been used to address the situation in Parliament Square, in addition to civil action.

I shall now address the aesthetics. It was one demonstration that provoked the Government. In fact, many parliamentarians find Mr Haw’s demonstration messy and annoying. Now of course it is the subject of an exhibition at Tate Britain. One man’s protest is another man’s mess is another man’s art. But as my honourable friend David Heath MP said in Committee on the Bill in another place:

“What I cannot believe is that the Government, in response to a demonstration that they happen not to like, in a place where they happen not to want it to be, are prepared to bring forward not a civil remedy to provide for an injunction but a new criminal offence”.—”.[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 20/1/05; cols. 434-35.]

Did the Government realise the mess they were getting themselves into with their route for addressing what they saw as a problem? Last week Mr Haw won his court case. He also featured in “The Trial of Tony Blair” a fictional TV drama, and he certainly made his point in a much wider way than he probably thought when he started his protest. His principles and perseverance are admirable. I had only one reservation about his original demonstration, which was that it took up the whole south side of Parliament Square, a prime position which was then denied to other causes. But my Bill is not about Mr Haw because he will demonstrate no matter what. My proposal is about Sue Smith from Salisbury, Mr Jones from Cardiff or Jeff Brown from Yorkshire who have been put off from joining demonstrations by the chilling effect of the SOCPA clauses.

The last of the Government’s reasons for bringing forward the legislation was the wish for undisturbed parliamentary business. The fact is that Parliament needs disturbing—not disrupting or obstructing, but there is already enough legislation to prevent that.

I turn now to the mechanics of the system imposed by the Government. How does it work? The demonstrator who wants to demonstrate has to fill in a form. I shall tell the House what happened to me last week when I wanted to get a form to do just that. I looked through the Metropolitan Police website for a form. I could not find the form, so I rang Charing Cross police station where a very helpful policeman agreed that there might not be one on the site, but that I could download it from the Mark Thomas website. It is lucky for the police that Mark Thomas has it because it saves a lot of trouble. So some demonstrations take place with the form filled in but other events take place which may look and sound like demonstrations, but are not. My Parliamentary Questions have revealed that there is no statutory definition of “demonstration”, so it is left entirely to the police to decide.

Last week at the Mark Wallinger exhibition, a young woman told me that she had stood outside Downing Street wearing a T-shirt saying, “Rogue state Britain”. The policeman on duty told her, “You can’t wear that here, it is a demonstration”. She replied, “I am advertising an art show at the Tate”. He said, “Oh, that’s fine then”.

My noble friends will give several other examples of people who have been arbitrarily arrested for matters which I am sure the Government never imagined would be arrestable offences—for example, reading out a list of names of the people who have died in Iraq. The police have chosen not to apply the law to others such as the carol singers or the owners of the boats demonstrating on 10 January. They received only a warning letter.

As my Parliamentary Question 109 revealed, as I have said, there is no statutory definition of “demonstration”, so the police must make it up as they go along. Is a picnic a demonstration? Perhaps not if it contains only sandwiches, but if it contains a cake iced with the words “Blair out” then, of course, it could be. I do not believe that the time the police have to spend on T-shirted individuals or cake decorators is time well spent. I am not blaming the police. I feel it undermines their credibility and the law in general to give them such ill-considered legislation to enforce.

Many noble Lords will be much better equipped than I to address the issue of whether the arbitrary nature of the enforcement is likely to have any implications under the Human Rights Act. It is a matter which may be debated again.

Why was the legislations so ill considered? It was rushed through Parliament just as it was about to rise for the 2005 election. The remainder of the Bill dealt with very weighty issues and so voting down the Bill as a whole because of these clauses was not an option. But now the Government can have a cool, considered look at the whole matter.

As well as the principle of free expression, the other major reason for the Government to have this cool, reasoned look is that vast amounts of police time and public money are being wasted. We know that the cost of policing only one unauthorised demonstration on 9 October last year was £298,000. As of last week, we also know—because Judge Purdy, in his judgment on the Brian Haw case, said so—that it is the police commissioner himself who must impose the conditions on the demonstration. Judge Purdy said:

“I conclude that the Commissioner cannot delegate his powers as he purported to do”.

So now the commissioner's time is to be spent looking at condition forms instead of conducting the fight against terrorism and crime.

This may not be so simple, as Brian Haw’s defence lawyer, Mr MacDonald, showed As he cross-examined police witnesses the absurdity of some of the conditions imposed in that case became very clear. The Minister may say that conditions are applied in only a very few cases—indeed, only about 10 demonstrations have received added conditions—but the experience of how the Act works has revealed something else. For every demonstration, under Section 133(4), an applicant must state the date, time, place, length and size of the proposed demonstration, and these become the binding rules for the demonstration. Section 134(7) states:

“Each person who takes part in or organises a demonstration in the designated area is guilty of an offence”,

if it is,

“carried on otherwise than in accordance with the particulars set out in the authorisation”.

That means that every protest is effectively subject to conditions.

The requirement for 24 hours’ notice is completely unacceptable anywhere but all the more so outside Parliament where people may want to respond to events as they happen. What will happen if a ministerial statement causes unexpected uproar? Are people to wait a day before they express their feelings?

I have concentrated on the situation affecting Parliament Square but the sections of the Act which my Bill seeks to delete also give the Secretary of State the power to designate any site in the UK in the interests of national security, and so far he has designated 13. In practice, these sites will carry similar problems and penalties for demonstrators.

I have set out the moral, legal, economic and practical reasons for repealing Sections 128 to 138 of SOCPA, which represent the very worst of hurried legislation in an especially serious way. I was struck by the speech of the Leader of the Conservative Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on the gracious Speech on 15 November last year. He said,

“I was born in the Cold War era, in which we faced a society where the surveillance of every individual was a commonplace, where the state was master and not servant, and where freedom was conditional and every citizen a suspect. That is not a society in which I wish to die, and I suspect that that goes for many noble Lords on all sides of this House. Freedom does not die in one blow; it dies by inches in public legislation”.—[Official Report, 15/11/06; col. 120]

I thoroughly agree with that sentiment, and I therefore suggest to the House that the time is right to remove these completely disproportionate restrictions on people’s liberties, both here outside Parliament and around the country. What we had before may not have been perfect—carefully circumscribed rules limiting the disruption of protests—but they were adequate. If it had been really necessary, they could have been strengthened by more moderate amendments that were laid down during the passage of the Act, but which the Government chose to defeat in order to introduce their much more extreme solution. What we have ended up with, however, is totally unworkable and unacceptable.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer.)

My Lords, I urge my noble friends on the Front Bench to co-operate in giving time for the proper consideration of this Bill. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on having introduced the Bill, and on the powerful way in which she has just spoken. I always see her as the epitome of the decent civilised society in which I want to live. She is caring and creative, and has a great sense of history and of social responsibility. No one better could be moving a Bill of this kind.

In that context, I am glad that in her concluding remarks she referred to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in the debate on the humble Address. I, too, was very struck by those words, and I am sure that at that moment he drew a good deal of good will and support from all parts of the House. The point is to make that sentiment a reality.

I emphasise two points in supporting the need to debate the Bill. I choose those words carefully, as the Bill needs to be debated. I am sure the noble Baroness will understand that there are security issues that have to be treated extremely seriously in our deliberations. The circumstances in which we live require from time to time restrictions on what ideally we would like to be the situation. I therefore cannot, as it were, write a blank cheque in my support for the Bill, but I hope we will be able to treat it constructively and positively.

My first point is that if we believe ours is a democratic, free society committed to human rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, described it, and if restrictive legislation is introduced, that restrictive legislation has to be defended and constantly kept under scrutiny. That legislation undermines and damages the very society we say we are trying to protect. The difficulty is that while we may on occasion feel that such restrictions are necessary, they must be watched with great care and scrutiny and constantly be put in the position where they have to be justified. I am fearful that we in this House and in the other place and, indeed, society as a whole, could drift into a kind of complacency whereby the erosion of rights to which the noble Baroness referred becomes a grim reality. So it is absolutely right that Parliament should scrutinise whether the Bill is necessary and remains necessary or whether modifications, at least, are appropriate.

Secondly, there are aesthetic considerations. I was affronted by the activity of Mr Haw; I found it unpleasant. I did not find his displays of literature attractive, and I found his constant megaphone an irritant. Indeed, if I were advising people how to pursue a campaign about which they felt strongly, I would suggest that he was an example of the way not to do it. I think he probably made more enemies than friends, whatever his subsequent successes through the legal system.

As I said, there are aesthetic considerations—this is a fine square, before a great building, in our history. But that square has a greater significance than just its aesthetic considerations. It is the place in the heart of our freedom and our democracy, where people have traditionally been able to come with spontaneity, concern and, yes, decent emotion, to express their outrage on occasion at what may be happening in either of our two Houses. In effect, to have removed that tradition from our society is a very grave step indeed. We have to be certain that it was not overplaying what may have been necessary in security terms.

I conclude by referring to part of a very significant speech given recently by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, to the Criminal Bar Association. Sir Ken Macdonald is a very important public figure, for whom I have great respect. He said that it is critical that we understand that,

“this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious, risk because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response … By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values. I think it is important to understand that this is one of its primary purposes”.

What always troubles me in this area is that we give the extremists a victory and do exactly what their private scripts want. We destroy our own society under provocation. When the threats are greatest, that is the time we have to be most resolute in standing by the values and principles that we believe are central to a free, open, democratic society.

My Lords, I add my voice to that as yet small group of people who remain unhappy about certain clauses in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. It seems worth while underlining the point that silence until now has not necessarily implied assent. The Bill went through in a rush in 2005 and compromises had to be made. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, on her courage and persistence in enabling us to express our discontent.

There are three main points of contention. First, there is the power of the Secretary of State, if he so wishes and it is appropriate, to designate a site,

“in the interests of national security”.

Once designated, that site becomes subject to the controls set out in the Act. The second issue concerns the controls and the rules that govern them. Thirdly, and most crucially, any deviation from such rules can result in criminal sanctions.

I have worked for many a long year on censorship issues and I can fairly say that the most common justification throughout the world for curtailing free expression, which of course includes freedom to demonstrate, is that a restriction is “in the interests of national security”. It is a blanket term that can cover anything and everything from prohibiting ridicule and/or the supposed insult of a president to the concealment of large-scale corruption. It is a wide term and in the SOCPA, where it is combined with the powers of government to designate sites and the criminal sanctions, it appears to be entirely disproportionate. That fact immediately puts these measures up against fundamental freedoms, because they go beyond what is necessary in a democratic society. For the Government to assert that a single peaceful demonstrator near the Cenotaph reciting the names of those killed in recent wars is a threat to national security is ludicrous and shameful.

It cannot be denied that putting the onus on any single would-be demonstrator or group of demonstrators to inform the authorities as much as six days in advance as to the time, date, place and anticipated number of participants has a chilling effect on political expression. It will deter the few people who, for example, want to show their indignation and anger about the demise of a village post office—people who are not seasoned demonstrators, but who nevertheless wish to use the democratic means available.

This chilling effect as we know all too well from non-democratic countries gives rise to self-censorship—the most insidious form. Censorship in whatever form has a habit of increasing. You designate sites around the country where people are forbidden to express concern unless strictly controlled by the police and then you start imposing criminal sanctions for those who flout the rules; then you widen the exclusion zones and add extra rules, perhaps limiting the numbers in any one demonstration. At each stage, we become more accustomed to the restrictions and less disposed to undertake the huge task of taking on the state. It is a slippery slope and it is dangerous. We all know that one has to be ever vigilant about fragile democratic freedoms, because it is in the nature of the governmental system to accrue power often by acting too protectively.

The importance of the right to peaceful assembly is recognised time and again in national, regional and international jurisprudence. Let us consider India 20 years or so ago, where a serial television broadcast portrayed the communal tension and violence in Lahore between Muslims and Hindus and Muslims and Sikhs just before partition. The Central Board of Film Certification thought the series suitable for general showing. However, the petitioner applied to the Supreme Court in India for an order to prevent its broadcast on the grounds, among others, that it was likely to incite people to violence and as such was against public order.

The Supreme Court rejected the petition and in so doing affirmed that the standards by which the likelihood of violence should be assessed are those of,

“reasonable, strong minded, firm and courageous men and not those of weak and vacillating minds, nor those who smell danger in every hostile point of view”.

The Supreme Court of Israel ruled in 1984 that the right of the Committee Against the War in Lebanon to demonstrate outweighed other conflicting human rights and interests. In 1973, the House of Lords ruled on the conviction of a protester who disrupted a sports match, threw leaflets around and used highly insulting language. The Law Lords set aside the conviction and in so doing said:

“It would have been going much too far to prohibit all speech or conduct likely to occasion a breach of the peace because determined opponents may not shrink from organising or at least threatening a breach of the peace in order to silence a speaker whose views they detest”.

Recently, several more judgments have come from the European Court of Human Rights which strongly uphold the unfettered right to demonstrate peacefully and I would argue that, taken together, the clauses in the Act that we now wish to see amended already have and will have a profoundly chilling effect on this democratic freedom. A truly democratic society recognises that there has to be positive and unequivocal support for freedom of expression, because while people can express their will at general and local elections, in the intervening period between elections, individuals cannot have a direct influence on political decisions. Furthermore, the state has a positive duty to enable such freedoms to be enjoyed. Clauses 128 to 138 of SOCPA do not reflect this positive duty.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer on introducing this Bill, which is appropriate and timely. I also thank her for organising many of us to be here to give it the best possible start. Two things emerge very clearly from the fact that we need the Bill so badly. The first demonstrates the role of Parliament, and particularly of this House, in scrutinising legislation. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act is a very good example of unscrutinised, ill-considered and under-discussed legislation, and we have to live with it in a very rough and ready and unsatisfactory form. Parliament should never forget its obligation to ensure that good legislation reaches the statute book, not poor and ill-thought-out legislation such as that law, which we have to live with until we change it.

Secondly, I stress that one of the crucial elements of that law has created a crisis that all of us have read about this morning; the effect of lightly creating criminal offences when civil action, as my noble friend said, would be completely adequate to deal with the problem. Then we wring our hands because prisons are becoming increasingly full of human beings and civilians with no criminal intent, who have suffered receiving a criminal offence simply because they have expressed their views—for heaven’s sake—within 1 kilometre of the Houses of Parliament. That is ludicrous; and we really have to stop this business of drifting towards creating more and more criminality among fellow citizens of impeccable standing, decent integrity and high ideals.

I have two quotations, and noble Lords will see why I use them. The first comes from our Prime Minister. He said it in the United States on 7 April 2002, at the opening of the presidential library for the first George Bush:

“When I pass protestors every day at Downing Street, and believe me, you name it, they protest against it, I may not like what they call me, but I thank God they can. That’s called freedom”.

Now, they cannot, and where does the Prime Minister’s ringing quotation stand in the light of that?

The second, more recent, quotation, comes from the Senate confirmation hearings of Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State, in January 2005. She said:

“The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls the ‘town square test’: if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society”.

My goodness; we do not allow anyone simply to walk into the square of this town, which is called Parliament Square, and express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm. Frankly, we should be ashamed of ourselves that we have not protected this particular crucial, historic purpose of Parliament Square.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, in expressing the values that ran so deep in his party for so long, was expressing what many of us feel; a sense of shame that that square is no longer the place from which men and women can declare themselves. Incidentally, this is not just a statement about freedom of speech; it is also a critical statement about using Parliament Square as a barometer of how people feel. Mrs Thatcher learnt about the anger about the poll tax because there were demonstrations up and down the country. We should warn ourselves about the dangers of closing off those kinds of steam valves and expressions of feeling from our fellow citizens, because it means that we become more and more distanced from knowing what they really feel.

The day that the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act became law, 200 members of the Stop the War Coalition simply stood silently in Parliament Square with their mouths bandaged so that they could not speak. They were arrested; which was an astonishing thing to have happened. My colleagues have mentioned cases such as those who read out the names of the Iraqi dead, and we should mention in that context the case of the man who read out the names of the Iraqi civilians killed, who received a double fine of £350. There is case after case of this kind. It is absurd that Mr Haw’s collection of notices, pamphlets and all the rest of it is being shown at Tate Britain. There is a line across the floor, one side of which what Mr Haw did is legal, the other side of which what Mr Haw did is illegal. We have been driven to such absurdities in trying to defend this legislation.

I do not want to keep Parliament and this House long, so I conclude by saying, first, that we have a deep and profound responsibility to uphold the right of our fellow citizens to demonstrate, provided that the demonstration is peaceful. Indeed, there are no reasons to believe that it will not be peaceful because almost all our demonstrations have been. Secondly, Members of Parliament and Peers have an obligation to listen to what is being said to them and to make themselves available rather than hiding away. Thirdly, and finally, demonstrations are something that we should be proud of. Yes, Mr Haw was messy and could have been compelled by civil action to clean up his act, but when I brought American visitors to this House, one of the things that I always pointed to was Mr Haw’s demonstration. I said, “Look, freedom of speech is alive and thriving in this country”, and they were duly impressed.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller on presenting the Bill, the principle of which I support strongly. I am one of many who have been inspired over the years by listening to speeches by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, and today is no exception; I agree with her every word. She did, however, set me to thinking of the demonstrations I marched on in the 1960s, while a student in London, against a Government of which she and possibly the noble Lord, Lord Judd, were members at the time.

I was just thinking of the themes that we marched against. We used to do a lot of marching. The LSE held an almost permanent demonstration; one occupation lasted many, many months. We used to march up and down Whitehall with students from the LSE to the strains of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. Nuclear weapons were a common theme. I recall, too, marching against the decision of my noble friend’s then Government that Rudi Dutschke should not be allowed to address us at student meetings in London, and that Danny Cohn-Bendit should not be allowed to make similar speeches in London. Of course I also recall marching up and down Whitehall many times for greater student grants. I can tell your Lordships that we failed on every occasion.

Many of the demonstrations were disorganised. We were certainly more aesthetic than Mr Haw; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the aesthetics of Mr Haw’s demonstration. We wore flared trousers and, I suspect, pink or pale green shirts. Much of what we did was entirely spontaneous, and I do not think that it harmed the country a great deal. I regard it as serious formative political experience. I was a member of the Labour Party then, which certainly had an effect on me as I was demonstrating against a Government whom I supported. I had the satisfaction of exercising a right of protest in a place where protest sometimes must be heard.

If protests cannot be heard here, where else will it be worth having them? Political protest is not a creature that should be shunted on to car parks. It should not be forced into places where demonstrators are talking merely to each other or to the odd passing journalist who has nothing better to do at the time. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we do not want protests that are distasteful in appearance and that damage the aesthetics of a very attractive and important London, if we can avoid them, although that is another civil liberties matter. My view is that Mr Haw’s protest was the “Mousetrap” of demonstrations but far less interesting—a footnote in the Guinness Book of Records. It will eventually be forgotten, except by lawyers; we always manage to make something of such incidents and there is some seminal law arising from Mr Haw’s approach.

This is not about Mr Haw. It is about other people—the young people today who want to do the sort of, maybe fairly trivial, marches that I was involved in when I was a student at King’s College, London. This is about people who want to feel that they are involved in the political process. It may be at a very mundane level, but people want to feel that they can do something. To place this artificial barrier one kilometre around Parliament seems to contradict the standards that, when I was protesting, I regarded as givens in this country.

Of course it is important to deal with public safety and national security. I do not know how many cameras, observation points and surveillance posts there are on Whitehall, but I can guarantee that there are as many as on any street in the world, including Pennsylvania Avenue. If demonstrators go down Whitehall, you can be sure that, as with the demonstrations that we went on all those years ago, there will be plenty of police. Today, there will also be a mass of surveillance. Whitehall is probably the safest place to hold a protest in the United Kingdom. I do not believe that special powers are needed for that one-kilometre radius.

There are extensive specific powers to deal with issues arising from terrorism. As I understand it, my noble friend is not arguing in this Bill for the repeal of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, which allows for searching for terrorist material without suspicion that the person who is searched has such material. That is a controversial provision, but it is certainly justified in certain parts of London. There are other powers, such as the power to search with reasonable suspicion for drugs and the public order powers of the police.

The real question is: have we made a mistake in legislating in the way that we did, which is now under criticism in my noble friend’s Bill? Have we been too cautious? For reasons that have already given, which I will not repeat, I believe that we have. If we have, we need to go one stage further and say that we are prepared, even the Government are prepared, from time to time to admit that we have legislated a step too far. All my noble friend is doing in this Bill is saying that we have gone one step too far. Now let us step back and restore those standards that we regard as essential in our precious democracy.

My Lords, I am aware of the time and will try to be as brief as possible. I want to make three points. First, I am certainly in favour of the police having the effective, clearly drawn and appropriate powers that they need in the defence of the community, including this place. Secondly, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer on introducing this Bill. I place on record my agreement with much of what was said by the noble Baronesses, Lady D’Souza and Lady Williams of Crosby. I would just add that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, does not appear to understand that it is the genius of the London School of Economics to be able to mount a full teaching programme while their student body is mounting the best demonstrations in London.

Thirdly, the reason I opposed this legislation has something to do with its character. Legislation tends to be badly drawn when it is hasty and, although its apparent target is everyone, its actual target is very narrow—one or more individuals. I remember debating this point as a student. Criminal law tends to be very bad when, behind its apparent face, it targets one man, one woman or a very small group.

England has a habit of producing rather difficult heroes on the face of such provisions. On 15 September 1381, not far from this place, a simple roof worker from Colchester led thousands of peasant in demonstrations—there had been many previous demonstrations—and spoke to the young King, who, it is recorded on a previous occasion, he had addressed as “comrade”; they were not so far behind the times as we think. Although the King appeared to have some sympathy with the demands, which included the end of serfdom in England, when he turned away, his retinue and supporters arrested Wat Tyler, for that was the man; and one of them ran him through with his sword.

On 22 January 2007, in the City of Westminster court, Judge Purdey passed judgment on a simple carpenter who had been born in Barking, and whose protests against the war in Iraq for six years, day and night, have surpassed the demonstrations against the war by many of those who choose to make speeches about it. I do not say anything about the style to which my noble friend Lord Judd alluded—but it is remarkable that that man has been there, placing himself on the line for such a long time. I spoke of heroes in England—I note that the noble and learned Lord who is to reply for the Government is making a note, and I cannot speak to the record in Scotland, but he will, of course, add Scottish names to the heroes who have resisted—and Brian Haw is one of them. He has suffered a large number of police obstructions—78 policemen visited him at one time. We cannot complain about the police in trying to carry out the terms of this hasty and curious law. All of us who were here in 2005 know that, in terms of the vicinity of Parliament, the law was primarily an expression of outrage by those who could no longer bear his megaphone.

It would be silly not to notice that Judge Purdey said last week that the conditions imposed on Mr Haw were insufficiently precise and that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner had, on inspection, no power to delegate his role, as he had purported to have done in that case. It is silly to have terrorism legislation passed in a rush and in such a rush that it cannot meet simple legal points of that sort.

The case proved that the old principle is correct—it suggested that public legislation should be aimed at the public, not an individual. The police are hardly to be blamed for what they have done in trying to put the law into effect. We need a pause; we need clear, well drafted and proportionate legislation—I underline proportionate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said. Her Bill comes in the nick of time, and now is the moment to sweep away provisions that are easy meat for simple lawyers’ points and to discuss new legislation in the full knowledge that the ability to demonstrate before, and in the vicinity of, Parliament should be preserved at all costs.

My Lords, as a former LSE student, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller on the Bill. The right to peaceful protest goes to the heart of the British tradition of liberty established over past centuries, but it has had to be fought for.

The Law Lords’ judgment in the case of Laporte last November found that anti-Iraq war protesters had been unlawfully turned away from reaching a protest at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in March 2003. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, recalled:

“The approach of the English common law to freedom of expression and assembly was hesitant and negative, permitting that which was not prohibited”.

He quotes Dicey as saying:

“At no time has there in England been any proclamation of the right to liberty of thought or to freedom of speech”,

and that,

“it can hardly be said that our constitution knows of such a thing as any specific right of public meeting”.

Therefore, he continued:

“The Human Rights Act 1998, giving domestic effect to articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention, represented … a constitutional shift”.

He notes that the Strasbourg court has recognised that,

“the right to freedom of assembly is a fundamental right in a democratic society and, like the right to freedom of expression, is one of the foundations of such a society”.

After the conviction of Maya Evans, the then Leader of the other place, Geoff Hoon MP, claimed that the legislation was widely supported by MPs and had worked “remarkably well”. One press report said that his remarks were met by cries of “disgraceful”. Maya Evans lost her appeal in the High Court, as it was said that the requirement of authorisation in itself did not breach the European Convention on Human Rights. I understand that there is a possibility that this case will go to Strasbourg. However, if the case had reached the House of Lords—in fact, leave was refused—I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, would have agreed with the reasonableness of her conviction against the test of the Human Rights Act.

Mr Brian Haw is the awkward squad, and long may he continue being so. Like most Liberal Democrats, what brought me into this party was our constitution’s assertion that,

“none shall be enslaved by … conformity”.

I should like that as my epitaph. I have joined Mr Haw in Parliament Square, along with campaigning comedian Mark Thomas, whose activism I salute, on a “mass lone protest”. We decided not to get arrested; instead, each individual among the couple of hundred of us taking part sought their own personal authorisation from Charing Cross police station. I have mine here—I should have it framed—from poor, overworked Superintendent Hanson Coles, who I am sure has better things to do catching criminals.

One thing that intrigues me—so far as I understand it; no doubt I shall be corrected by noble Lords if I am wrong—is that Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986 allows for the waiver of the requirement for notice to be given of a procession where,

“it is not reasonably practicable”,

or,

“where the procession is one commonly or customarily held in the … area”.

That sounds like an interesting loophole. Mr Haw or Maya Evans—or, indeed, I or Mark Thomas—just need to march round and round and then we would be a procession, not a demonstration. The only saving grace of all these bans and restrictions is the humour that they supply.

Conservative Party activist Julia Gobert was threatened with arrest outside Earl’s Court tube station last April when handing out local election leaflets. It is said that a Labour member—I confess that this has not been verified—complained to the station manager. This was because she was wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words—I have to report this factually, otherwise the point is lost, and I therefore apologise for the expression—“Bollocks to Blair”. She was told that she was in contravention of an apparent ban under the Public Order Act 1986 on “words causing offence”. It really has come to a pretty pass when language which most of us would think rude, even risqué but hardly criminal, could land you in court. What on Earth is going on in this country?

Then—I hope that I am not straying too much from the topic of the Bill—we have the absurd abuse of stop-and-search powers under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the latter not even requiring reasonable suspicion for stop and search. This was the provision deployed quite illegally to bar 82 year-old Walter Wolfgang from the Labour Party conference after he had had the temerity to heckle Jack Straw. I am surprised that they have not made that a capital offence. Section 44 was also used against 80 year-old peace campaigner and RAF Second World War veteran, John Catt, for wearing a T-shirt with anti-Bush and anti-Blair slogans near the Labour Party conference in September 2005. The form that he had to sign said that the purpose of the stop and search was “terrorism” and the grounds for intervention were, “carrying plackard”—spelt with a “k”,

“and T-shirt with anti-Blair info”.

Section 44 has been used to criminalise potentially a whole city. For the past few years, the whole of London—my constituency in my role as MEP for London—has been designated a stop-and-search zone on a continuous rolling basis. As that was authorised by the Home Secretary, the Government are squarely responsible. People who wanted to protest at the London Arms Fair in Docklands were turned back by police. I stress that the police had to give no reasons for suspicion of intended violence, as the Act exempts such a requirement. No wonder that in 2004-05, 36,000 people were stopped and searched. It is far too easy.

As a Member of the European Parliament, I am familiar with Euro-phobes castigating the European Union—as it happens, wrongly—for seeking to suppress traditional British liberties. Brussels is not the culprit here. I am afraid it is Blair. The Prime Minister's own sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, said, when five anti-war protesters were arrested in August 2005, as the SOCPA ban came into force:

“This is all about silencing critics of the war in Iraq and ID cards and denying people the right to free speech”.

If one heard on television that someone in another country was banned from gathering near a government building to stage a legitimate protest, one would probably think, “Thank goodness that does not happen in this country”.

At a time when the European Union is expanding to include countries that have had a long and difficult struggle to establish democracy, the rule of law and fair justice, leadership from member states such as Britain to entrench freedom and liberty as defining EU values and practices is urgently needed. The example that we set to the rest of the world is also vital. How ironic that the Prime Minister, who is so vocal regarding the respect agenda—he wants to set up 40 respect zones around the country—has so little respect for his fellow citizens’ rights to enjoy freedom of expression and peaceful assembly that he imposes a protest-free exclusion zone around Parliament and Downing Street. That will be one part of his legacy for which he deserves no respect at all. It is time to say: “This is our country, these are our public spaces and no arrogant and authoritarian Government should take away our basic freedoms”.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller on introducing this Bill. I also endorse the remarks made about her by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. In September 2003, I was one of the Members of Parliament called to give evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure in the other place. The chairman was Sir Nicholas Winterton and the three witnesses were Mr Nicholas Soames, Mr Jeremy Corbyn and myself. With that cast, it somewhat resembled an undiscovered opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. The main topics of that session were, first, whether a pavement protest obstructed the general public and therefore caused a danger—regardless of the fact that no one uses that pavement, one cannot get on to it very easily, and one almost has to commit suicide to reach it—and, secondly, whether the demonstration was noisy, unaesthetic and scruffy. That point was made very strongly by Mr Soames who, not long before, had camped out with dogs in Parliament Square when the Countryside Alliance came to town and made one hell of a racket with hunting horns, but the banners were professionally made and aesthetic. Incidentally, the noise could have been dealt with easily by the environmental health officers of the City of Westminster. I do not understand why they did not do that.

The real reason for the clauses in this Bill, dubbed by some people as the “Seriously Scruffy Police Bill”, is that the Government were and are seriously discomforted and embarrassed on a daily basis as they go in and out of Parliament. They are discomforted by that brave and patient man, Brian Haw, who happens to think—as many people in this country think—that our Government’s foreign policy is wrong and has caused untold damage and suffering to people in the Middle East. I say to noble Lords and especially to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that war is unaesthetic, scruffy, untidy, dirty, noisy and dangerous, but we must be allowed to protest against it.

Our Government have broken international law by going to war with Iraq. Despite the Government’s legislation prohibiting such action, we are still selling arms to countries that will use them for internal repression or external aggression. The Government have stopped an investigation into allegations that a British company has bribed the Government of Saudi Arabia. On a domestic note, we had the unedifying spectacle of a convicted paedophile on our TV screens last night telling us to blame not the judge but the Government for not sending him to prison. Yet we can go to court, and perhaps be sent to prison for making a peaceful protest within a one-mile radius of Parliament Square without police permission. What a mad, mad country we inhabit.

I conclude—because I know noble Lords want me to be brief—by reflecting on something my noble friend Lady Scott said to me this morning. She asked, “What are these Britishness classes we shall subject our children to?”. What on earth is Britishness if we cannot have the freedom to speak out and protest peacefully in public?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Miller on introducing the Bill. She has my full support.

In the debate on designated areas in July 2005, I spoke about the order dealing with demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament. The arguments I advanced about public demonstrations are just as valid today. Demonstrations are an essential part of our highly valued democratic institutions, and a healthy democracy tolerates opinions with which we disagree.

This year I complete 50 years in Britain. I remember, in 1956, writing to my parents in Africa about my first visit to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. They could not believe that people had the freedom to get up on a platform and vent their feelings on any and all issues that concerned them. A little while ago, I was in Chile after the fall of the Pinochet regime. I saw a trade union demonstration in Santiago. Everyone I spoke to said that this was the difference between democracy and dictatorship. What a wonderful example of tolerance through democratic institutions.

Like my noble friend Lord Carlile, I have participated in many demonstrations; against apartheid in South Africa, the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq to name a few. I see that many Labour activists with whom I demonstrated now occupy high places in Government. Some are in ministerial positions. They are the very people who have now supported the legislation banning public demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament. They should hang their heads in shame, for they deny to others the very rights which they enjoyed in their youth.

In July 2005, answering questions on the Statement about terrorist attacks in London, on a day when there were demonstrations outside this Parliament, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, Leader of the House of Lords, said:

“I cannot think of any other country in the world where the demonstration that is going on right outside Parliament this afternoon—right outside my window—would be going on. We should take immense pride in that”.—[Official Report, 11/7/05; col. 905.]

The noble Baroness rightly reflects the views which have sustained our democracy, values which are the envy of the world.

I have serious concerns about the restrictions being placed on peaceful protests in the vicinity of Parliament—Section 138—and other designated sites as specified for the purposes of Sections 128 and 129 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We now have a situation where demonstrating in designated areas without authorisation is an offence under Section 132(1). The Minister may argue that demonstrations are not banned but now require the authorisation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. That authorisation must be obtained not less than six days or at least 24 hours before the demonstration starts. Requirements of that nature do not allow for spontaneous protests in the vicinity of Parliament. One of the grounds for refusal of authorisation is disruption to the life of the community. I am afraid everything we do is a disruption of some sort. Such blanket powers are more akin to a dictatorial regime than to our democracy.

The argument advanced was that previous legislation did not provide the police with all the powers they need to control all protests and demonstrations around Parliament. I reject that argument. I do not dispute that, at times, placards and slogans in Parliament Square cause annoyance to some parliamentarians; we all agree that they do. However, Parliament, the seat of our democracy, is big enough to take such protests in its stride. In any case, so fundamental are the geographical changes proposed by the Government that they strike at the very heart of the citizen’s right to protest well outside the ambit of Parliament Square. The changes will have a major effect for generations to come. Let me start with the geography of the designated area. What initially started as a debate about demonstrations in Parliament Square resulted in legislation that created “Fortress Whitehall” where no one can protest without permission.

However, business in Parliament can change quickly. There are many days when we are unaware that a Statement will be made in Parliament by the Government. The reality is that one cannot protest freely in that case because 24 hours may not be available in which it is “reasonably practicable” for someone to notify the commissioner.

The massive area covered by this draconian law includes almost all government offices, Scotland Yard, Smith Square and many places of interest in this part of London. Civil servants working in government departments in an area including almost all the major government offices are not able to protest without permission. We have created a situation in which Ministers and members of the Labour Party can walk with their heads held high because there will be no picket lines to cross. I hope the unions and others will note how fundamentally their rights to picket peacefully are hampered by such legislation.

The designated area order made in 2005 is the outcome of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. I need to ask an important question: has protesting outside Parliament ever been regarded as serious organised crime? Did Mr Wolfgang commit a serious organised crime at the Labour Party conference where he was manhandled and thrown out? Is it is a serious organised crime to shout out at the gate of Downing Street the names of our soldiers who died in Iraq? Can the Minister cite a single example where those who are at present protesting with their placards have hampered the business of Parliament in any way, let alone have committed a serious organised crime that has affected Parliament’s work? It is embarrassing to politicians when their policies are exposed, and it is embarrassing when the Government’s human rights record is questioned, but they are no reasons to silence a minority that will always find a way to get its message through.

I have no doubt that freedom of expression and assembly, which are protected under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, are seriously restricted in the designated area. Do we want to violate European human rights law? According to the European Commission:

“The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has repeatedly emphasised that freedom of expression constitutes an essential foundation of democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual's self-fulfilment”.

The Commission also said that freedom of assembly is a,

“fundamental right in a democracy and ... is one of the foundations of such a society”.

We do not believe that the measures the Government seek are proportionate, nor do we believe that there is a legitimate aim, such as the prevention of disorder or crime.

We see no evidence of adequate and effective safeguards to protect against arbitrary interferences with convention rights. If there are no such safeguards, then police power could become fairly oppressive. We have gone though such a sad period in the past, and I do not need to spell out the dangers of such actions by those in power and authority.

I do not underestimate the need for security, but democracy is well served when there is a balance between what is required and what is appropriate. There is a danger if we do not support the Bill that it will make policing work of control and discipline more difficult.

Policing in our country is the envy of the world. It is the independence of the police, accompanied by the consent of the public that makes it possible to maintain law and order. I suspect that, to an extent, we are eroding this independence. The police will soon be forced to take actions that will often smack of political interference. Demonstration and protest are a healthy aspect of our democracy, and by creating obstacles we are treading on values that we have treasured for so long.

If we fail to protect these rights, it will be the Robert Mugabes of this world who will have the last laugh, for their actions will seem all the more justified. If we as a democracy give such comfort and strength to the actions of dictators, it will bring shame upon all of us. We have set a bad example to emerging democracies in various parts of the world. This Bill will need the support of all people in this House.

My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, on introducing this short two-clause Bill to enable this debate to take place. I am particularly gratified by her remarks on the speech of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, also made reference. I am very conscious that this is not the last business of the House today, so I shall keep my comments short.

As other noble Lords have highlighted, this is a timely debate, particularly in light of the news earlier this week that Brian Haw has won his latest legal battle to maintain his demonstration in Parliament Square. Indeed, some may say it is ironic when we consider that the Government put forward their proposals with him in mind and yet he continues to successfully evade them.

We on these Benches share the serious concerns your Lordships’ House has expressed today, as well as those raised during the progress of the Bill regarding the implications that such legislation has on democracy. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns took pains to emphasise during the progress of SOCPA that it is vital that legitimate protest at the very doors of Parliament is available to members of the public. It is an important right for an individual to feel that their voice has been heard and that we listen to those voices.

The Government listened during the passage of SOCPA. They eventually made welcome concessions surrounding the notice period for demonstrations and the exclusion of Trafalgar Square. Yet today we have a situation where, despite assurances made by Ministers during the passage of the Bills, the powers are being used to exclude peaceful protest, far beyond what was originally intended.

The noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, made reference to the remarks of the district judge Quentin Purdy last Monday. He also said that the powers,

“lacked clarity and were not workable in their current form”.

It is when something like this happens that one cannot help but wonder whether other government assurances are similarly founded on quicksand. After hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, it is becoming clear to me that SOCPA is indeed an appropriate weapon for the nanny state.

We need look no further for an example that those feared unintended consequences are happening than that of the much quoted Maya Anne Evans, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others have referred. The 25 year-old, vegan cook from Hastings was found guilty of breaching Section 132 of SOCPA for her part in a peaceful protest where she read out the names of soldiers killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph down the road, while another protester read out the names of dead Iraqi civilians.

It is clear that the legislation has been misused. What assessment have Her Majesty's Government made of the Maya Evans case and what is the Minister’s reaction to Mr Haw’s recent win? I hope that the Minister can inform the House in his reply that the Government are looking again at those powers in SOCPA. We on these Benches believe that the whole of SOCPA and the Terrorism Act merit review. I hope that the Government will undertake to initiate a review as a result of the continued scrutiny and criticism advanced in this debate.

As my right honourable friend David Davis stated in another place, the current situation is contempt of Parliament and contempt of people's right to protest.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for introducing the Bill and setting out her case. It has certainly been an interesting debate with many powerful contributions. I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by the many speakers who have supported her about restrictions on the right to protest.

First, I shall deal with the provisions on trespass on designated sites, as the Bill would amend that area. I appreciate that it was touched on very lightly by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but none the less, I should spell out what the Bill would do. The criminal offence of trespass on a protected site in Sections 128 to 131 of the 2005 Act was created in response to a recommendation in the report by Commander Armstrong into an intrusion at Windsor Castle on 21 June 2003. He recommended that a new offence of criminal trespass at secure and specified royal and government premises should be considered. This was echoed by the Security Commission report of May 2004 following revelations of a journalist’s activities at Buckingham Palace in 2003.

After careful, not hurried consideration, it was agreed that a new criminal offence was necessary in this area. As my noble friend Lord Judd observed, security issues require substantial care. Necessity is an important justification.

The two reasons for criminalising trespass in relation to designated sites were as follows. First, it would create a deterrent to intrusions at such sites. It was noted that it had not been possible to secure prosecution with an appropriate penalty of any of the individuals who had carried out the recent high-profile intrusions. Secondly, it would give the police a specific power of arrest of a trespasser at a sensitive site where no other apparent existing offence had been committed. The police responsible for security at such sites had been lobbying for that. The specific power of arrest in Section 130(1) has now been superseded by the general power of arrest in the 1984 Act under Section 110 of the 2005 Act.

Of course, that is not a restraint on demonstration. Rather, it is a defence against unauthorised intrusion at particular sites. To date, one designation order has been made under the provisions. That is the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Sites) Order 2005, laid before Parliament on 19 December 2005, which came into force on 1 April 2006. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is correct to state that it designated 13 operational Ministry of Defence sites. Following that, on 13 April 2006, all licensed nuclear sites became protected sites following the coming into force of Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2006. In addition, the Home Office is in the final stages of preparing a further designation order which will designate a small number of royal, governmental and parliamentary sites. That is likely to be laid before Parliament within the next month.

The offence is an important deterrent to intrusions at high-profile secure sites. Such intrusions can pose a very real risk to security. There is already anecdotal evidence that there has been a reduction in the number of intrusions at the 13 designated MoD sites since the legislation came into force. The legislation is therefore having an important deterrent effect as well as providing members of our police and security forces with much-needed powers to arrest trespassers at such secure, high-profile sites. To repeal these provisions would be a retrograde step that could only increase the number of high-profile intrusions at sensitive sites, as well as depriving the police who provide the security at such sites of the powers to deal with such incidents.

I turn now to demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament, which has exercised noble Lords most substantially today. Sections 132 to 138 of the 2005 Act cover such demonstrations. I am aware that noble Lords and Members in another place have previously expressed their concerns about these provisions, particularly the terms of proportionality and the impact on a person’s right to protest.

Let me remind noble Lords why the Government introduced legislation covering demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament. Before Parliament enacted this legislation, demonstrations and marches passing the Houses of Parliament while both Houses were sitting were subject to a parliamentary sessional order, which instructed the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to make sure that passageways to and from Parliament were kept free of obstruction and that no obstruction was allowed to hinder the passage of Lords and Members to and from the House. In turn, the commissioner had the power to give directions to all constables under Section 52 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 to disperse all assemblies and demonstrations if they were likely to cause an obstruction or disorder. However, the sessional order conferred no further legal powers on the police.

Noble Lords will recall that the House of Commons Procedure Committee conducted a short inquiry into a number of existing sessional orders and resolutions, including that relating to the Metropolitan Police, and published a report in November 2003. The committee recommended that the Government should introduce appropriate legislation to prohibit long-term demonstrations and to ensure that the laws about access were adequate and enforceable. It also recommended that the Government should explore the use of existing legislation to control the use of loud hailers and other amplification equipment or consider new legislation. The committee said that,

“legislation on demonstrations is the only way to ensure that the police have adequate powers to achieve the result intended by the Sessional Order”.

The Government agreed that further legislation was needed to provide the police with the powers they needed to control protests and demonstrations in Parliament Square. This was not a fear-driven initiative. It was thought out and considered.

I can assure noble Lords that the current provisions covering demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament are not about denying the right to protest. We are not preventing the public from freely expressing their views, but we have put some reasonable, proportionate limits on the exercise of that quite proper right. This is not a question of what the Government do not like, as was perhaps suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in respect of Mr Haw’s demonstration. The provisions do not prevent Mr Haw carrying out demonstrations, as one can see daily. The provisions require the organisers of demonstrations planned to take place in the designated area to notify them to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in advance. It is an offence to take part in a demonstration if the organisers of the demonstration have not gained permission. However, when notice of a demonstration is given, the commissioner must—I repeat, must—authorise it. He has no power to ban it.

It is open to the commissioner to attach conditions to the authorisation where it is necessary to prevent a series of entirely serious problems in the area, which are set out in Section 134. They include hindrance to any person wishing to enter or leave the Palace of Westminster; serious public disorder; serious damage to property; disruption to the life of the community; a security risk in any part of the designated area; or risk to the safety of members of the public, including those taking part in the demonstration. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, correctly identified that the consent of the public is essential if one wishes to maintain public order. I submit that the public do consent to the protection of the entirely legitimate targets addressed by these provisions.

There is no requirement on the commissioner to impose any conditions. He bases that decision on whether conditions are necessary and depending on the circumstances of each demonstration. Where conditions are imposed, it is an offence not to comply with them. The provisions cover all demonstrations within a designated area around Parliament, as noble Lords have plainly identified, and as they are aware, the order defining the precise area came into force on 1 July 2005. The legislation states that no point in the designated area may be more than 1 kilometre in a straight line from the point nearest to it in Parliament Square. In fact, the furthest distance from Parliament Square within the designated area is about 800 metres. I am aware of the detailed discussions held both here and in another place about the geographical area covered by the order. The area was drawn up following discussions with the Metropolitan Police based on their operational experience—

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I think he will understand that his reference to the conditions attached by the commissioner to demonstrations is very disappointing in the light of criticisms made by the court only on Monday of this week about the fact that the conditions are unclear and not set out in a way that can easily be understood. Perhaps he could address that before he moves on.

Certainly, my Lords. As I understand the position in relation to Mr Haw’s case, the judge’s approach was to say that the specific conditions lacked clarity. That is not an indication that the law itself lacks clarity, but that the specific conditions that were employed in relation to Mr Haw did so. The assistant commissioner has placed further conditions in relation to Mr Haw’s position. These, I respectfully suggest, do demonstrate an appropriate level of clarity, but no doubt that inevitably will be a matter for a judge somewhere else to consider.

The designated area was based on police operational experience of where demonstrations may cause a security risk when they hinder the proper operation of Parliament. The risk to safety of members of the public was also considered. I recognise that there will always be a debate about the boundaries of the designated area and that this will be kept under review. Since 1 August 2005 when the rest of the provisions on demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament came into effect, the Metropolitan Police have used their powers to facilitate peaceful protest.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, particularly because it has taken a moment for his previous words to sink in. I am so slow at these things. I wonder if he could assure us that these new conditions which, unless I am wrong, he said that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has now imposed, could be placed in the Library. I ask this since they appear to be central to his argument.

My Lords, I have never detected in his learned writings or anything he has said that the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, is slow. I will of course be delighted to carry out his request.

I was going to indicate the number of convictions that have taken place between 1 August 2005 and December 2006. I am told by the commissioner that there have been 15 convictions and one caution for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration in the designated area, one conviction for using a loud hailer in the designated area and one conviction for organising an unauthorised demonstration. The commissioner indicates that during the same period—this is an interesting figure—1,379 demonstrations have taken place with an authorisation. Demonstrations by, for example, the Pensions Action Group, Unison, Peace Appeal, the Make Poverty History campaign and the Campaign Against Climate Change have all taken place. The commissioner has imposed conditions on very few of the demonstrations. Contrary to the fear expressed by many noble Lords that demonstrations would not take place or that in some way democracy was imperilled because of the authorisation requirement, one should note that the opposite appears to have happened: more demonstrations are taking place than before.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was concerned that future generations may not be able to share his enthusiasm for marching in the student marches of the LSE. However, the position hitherto has been that marches and public processions are governed by the Public Order Act 1986, under which, in certain circumstances, advance notice may be required, conditions may be imposed and marches may even be banned.

We join in complimenting the police on the way in which they have facilitated the substantial number of peaceful protests in the area. They plainly do an important job in Westminster, not only in relation to demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament but in relation to ceremonial occasions and sporting events too.

There have been a number of legal challenges to the legislation. This is not unexpected and, no doubt, it is not the end of them. But the police have facilitated peaceful protest while ensuring that those who live and work in Westminster can go about their lawful business. Judgments arising from legal challenges have served to clarify the law. Recently the courts have ruled that even where a demonstration is entirely peaceful in nature, it is justifiable to impose sanctions in certain circumstances on those who fail to comply with the authorisation procedure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, spoke of the importance of the Human Rights Act and how the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, in his judgment in Laporte, identified that there had been a shift in the way in which the right of assembly is now viewed by the law in our country. The Government are plainly encouraging and supporting the right to assembly, creating it as a legal right as opposed to in some way seeking to erode that right. I assure noble Lords that we believe strongly in freedom of assembly and the freedom to demonstrate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, indicated that in the SOCPA provisions there appears to be a criminal offence of expressing a view in the vicinity of Parliament. I respectfully disagree. It applies only in relation to unauthorised demonstrations or where the conditions are breached. So plainly the notion that we in the United Kingdom have lost any right to protest is incorrect. It is a powerful right which is central to our democracy. Indeed, many noble Lords have spoken powerfully on that.

We believe that the measures we have put in place achieve the balance of allowing people to gather together to express their views and ensuring that those living and working in and around Parliament are able to access Parliament in safety and free from harassment. We keep the law under review but to repeal these provisions would be a retrograde step.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, was concerned that she could not easily get hold of an application form—which appears, apparently, nowhere but on Mark Thomas’s website—but there is no requirement in the legislation for a person to use a particular form. The application has to be in writing and stipulate the time, date, place and so on of the proposed demonstration. These issues are identified in Section 133.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, discussed national security in the context of these provisions. That, of course, is not specifically identified in these provisions but arises very acutely in the context of the intrusion provisions in relation to designated sites. I respectfully suggest that with these provisions we have a proportionate way of dealing with the perceived problem. The “English hero” that the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, described Mr Haw as being is still with us. His right to protest continues. It continues, however, in a proportionate and balanced way that sets the way in which one may protest against the way business is conducted in this area.

For those reasons, I regret I cannot support the Bill. Before sitting down, I shall make a simple point: the concern the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, identified in relation to Mr Haw’s position is covered also by the response I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, with regard to the new condition placed on Mr Haw, which will be made available.

I repeat that I regretfully cannot support the Bill.

My Lords, I warmly thank all noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon in support of the Bill. I knew I had missed out academically by not going to the LSE, but I clearly missed out on the quality of the protests I attended as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, laid her finger on it. I say to the Minister, yes, there have been some protests, but there is the issue of self-censorship; neither the Minister nor the Government can know how many protests there have not been as a result of this, or how many individuals have felt scared to turn up. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, who said incredibly kind words about me, and who is one of the people who have inspired a whole generation of political activists, said that the legislation undermines exactly what we want to protect.

All the contributions from around the House spelled out why there needs to be a Committee stage for the Bill. I am especially grateful for the support from the Conservative Benches expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and to hear that they share serious concerns about this issue.

I was surprised that the Minister felt that there was nothing the Government might be interested to look at here. The fact that there have been a lot of demonstrations recently in Parliament Square simply means there is more to protest about. When I asked the Government in a Written Question how many arrests had been made under SOCPA, the Answer came back that that information was not held centrally. So although there have been some convictions, no one knows how many arrests have been made, according to the Government.

I do not want to hold the House up, because I know time is pressing, but the case has been powerfully put, by all other noble Lords beside myself who have spoken, for a Committee stage.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Government Spending (Website) Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is built upon twin pillars of transparency and value for money. I hope it is uncontroversial and will commend itself to all sides of your Lordships’ House.

The Government brought in the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It represents a significant advance in transparency and openness, which we believe are essential attributes of good government. There are now some practical issues about the operation of the Act, but its basic intent is openness and transparency. My Bill is a companion to it, taking openness about expenditure into the computer age.

My party believes that when Governments spend money, they are spending our money. We paid the taxes, and it is our right to know what the Government are doing with them. The Government owe it to taxpayers to be transparent about how they spend money when they remove it from us by way of taxation.

I am not sure that the Government share our beliefs on taxpayer accountability, but I think that we are on the same page on value for money. Governments do not like wasting money, if only because of the ever vigilant Select Committees in another place and the Comptroller and Auditor-General, both ready and willing to criticise. I shall not get into a critique of the Government’s performance on value for money over the past 10 years, because the important thing is that I am sure that there is a desire within government to achieve value for money. Transparency is a weapon in the war to win value for money, and the Bill is designed to improve transparency about government spending, thereby contributing to a climate of openness and debate. Poor value for money should have nowhere to hide.

Before explaining the detailed contents of the Bill, let me set out an important premise on which it is based. The Treasury wants to achieve value for money. That is what I learnt when, many years ago, I spent two years on secondment to the Treasury, and I hope that the Minister can confirm that that remains a core value. The Bill is drafted with significant implementation powers given to the Treasury on the premise that it will want to implement it in a way that exerts the maximum pressure on spending departments to be open about their expenditure. If the Bill passes into law, it could be implemented in a minimalist way—I fully accept that. But my belief is that the Treasury will enthusiastically embrace this approach to openness.

The Bill is entitled the Government Spending (Website) Bill. I had hoped that it would be called the slightly sexier Government Spending (Transparency) Bill, but I was told, politely but firmly, by our excellent Public Bill Office, which has helped me enormously with the Bill’s preparation, that “transparency” is a slogan, and slogans are not allowed.

Clause 1(1) sets out the basic requirement that:

“The Treasury shall create, or cause to be created, a publicly searchable website containing information about expenditure by all government departments and executive agencies”.

There has to be a website, it has to be publicly available, and it has to be searchable. In essence, once it is up and running, citizens can go online to find out, for example, how much the Government have spent with individual suppliers such as EDS, or on particular things, such as travel and entertainment.

Subsection (2) provides that it does not apply to expenditure out of the Scottish or Welsh Consolidated Funds. That is not because transparency and value for money are unimportant in Scotland and Wales, but because they are devolved matters. I hope that if the Bill becomes law, the other Administrations will want to follow suit with their own transparency laws. Subsection (3) makes it clear that there should be no payment for access to the website because barriers to openness would be wholly inappropriate.

Clause 3 gives the Treasury power to specify the content of the website and its availability. Some of this is easy, such as the hours of access. Other aspects are much more technical, such as the classification or coding systems to be used. The Treasury is clearly in the best position to determine how the database should be constructed.

Clause 3(2) allows the Treasury to specify different information for different amounts of expenditure. It may be appropriate for less information to be available for amounts below a threshold of, say, £25,000. The Bill allows the Treasury to achieve maximum transparency while allowing sensible derogations.

Clause 1(4) to (6) deals with the time the information is available, from 30 days after expenditure to five financial years thereafter. This is to allow comparisons to be made over time.

Under Clause 1, the website applies to government departments and executive agencies, but much government money is actually spent by other bodies. For example, most of the Department of Health’s budget is spent by various NHS bodies—strategic health authorities, primary care trusts, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts. Any examination of how the £100 billion pounds of the Department of Health budget is spent will need to follow that money through the system. Clause 2 gives the Treasury power to extend the website to public sector bodies that receive government money, but it would not require private sector companies or charities to open up their books if they get public funding. This places a proper boundary on the ability to follow public money.

I am well aware that bringing other parts of the public sector within the website could raise practical issues. I have some knowledge of NHS accounting systems and it would not be an understatement to describe them as diverse. If the website is extended to the NHS, which I certainly hope it will be, it will be important for the practical issues of coding and consistency to have been addressed first.

Political issues could also be at stake. Because of the way that the licence fee is structured, the BBC could be required under Clause 2 to bring its expenditure within the website. I personally think that that would be a good thing, but I recognise that it would not be without controversy and should be decided by Parliament. That is why, in Clause 8, I have made the power in Clause 2, which is to extend the website beyond government departments, subject to the affirmative procedure.

The Bill contains relatively few exemptions from disclosure because it is based on the presumption of openness. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has more exemptions but the scope of that Act goes way beyond how money has been spent and covers policy matters and details of dealings between the Government and others. For historical records of expenditure, the exemptions should be very few in number. Clause 4, however, contains important exemptions for information that would prejudice national security and related matters. Those are in line with the exemptions found in the Freedom of Information Act.

Clause 5 makes it clear that the Data Protection Act 1998 is not changed by this Bill, so private information about civil servants’ salaries, for example, benefit payments or the tax affairs of individual taxpayers will remain private.

Clause 6 gives the Information Commissioner an important power to examine compliance, and subsection (2) allows the relevant Secretary of State to make regulations to facilitate the use of these powers.

The philosophy of the Bill is to trust the Treasury to want to implement it in a way that achieves maximum transparency and value for money. But it is also right that there is scrutiny by Parliament, so Clause 7 provides that the Treasury must prepare a report each year on the use of the website and, crucially, the effectiveness of the website in allowing public access to information about government spending. The report would be laid before both Houses of Parliament and I am sure that one or more parliamentary committees would take an interest in the way that the Bill was implemented. I express a personal hope that a committee of both Houses dedicated to the availability of information for the public could be set up, but that is a question above my pay grade.

In relation to the Bill itself, I should finally mention commencement. Under Clause 9, the Act comes into force one year after it is passed. That one year is to allow the Treasury to create the website and set the detailed rules and procedures. I believe that is a reasonable timeframe for an initial website, bearing in mind that the complexities of, say, the NHS, do not have to be addressed at the outset. The Bill asks, in effect, for only a pretty basic website. Over time, I am sure that the website could be made richer in content and more sophisticated in functionality. The best can be the enemy of the good, and there is no harm in starting in a modest way.

What will all this cost, and can it be done? The US Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act 2006, which is the original inspiration for my Bill, is already law in the US. The Congressional Budget Office estimated a cost of $4 million in the first year and about $15 million in total over the first four years. Surely it cannot be any more expensive to do the same thing in the UK. I do not believe that a figure of £2 million in the first year and £7.5 million over four years cannot easily and willingly be found in the Treasury’s existing budget of around £180 million a year.

I have a passionate belief in the power of open and transparent information in achieving value for money. I hope that passion is shared by other noble Lords. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Noakes.)

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on introducing this Bill. There is a pretty widespread sense of unease across the country that the Government have spent very much more on public services, but that the additional output and improvement in services has not been seen to be proportionate. A frequently asked question is, “Where has all the additional money gone?”. Under existing accounting rules and practices, it is extraordinarily difficult for a Member of your Lordships’ House, far less an ordinary citizen, to answer that question and to discover in any detail whatever how government expenditure has been incurred and spent. Therefore, this Bill opens a window into this largely closed world, which many citizens and specialists in particular policy areas would greatly welcome. Therefore, we support the Bill.

At the very least, the fact that there was greater openness would cause both civil servants and those bidding for contracts to think even harder than they do about value for money. If I and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and anyone in the country can look up a particular area and see in some detail how money is being spent, we can exercise what judgment we have on whether value for money has been sought and achieved. Whether it is a civil servant or a consultant—I declare an interest as a consultant who sometimes bids for public sector contracts—if we think that someone is able to look over our shoulders, that is a very good constraint on all concerned.

What, then, can the objections be to such a Bill? First, there could be a technical objection that it cannot be done and it is far too complicated. Secondly—I am not sure whether the noble Baroness mentioned this—there is the question of commercial confidentiality. It could be said that in dealing with many aspects of government policy, the Government are contracting with someone to deliver or provide something, and it would be completely improper for the details of that contract to be made public. The answer to both those questions lies in the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act in the United States. Frankly, if the US federal Government feel that they can do it and that commercial confidentiality is not an over-riding constraint, those arguments should fall here.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for directing me to the White House website—not a website that I usually frequent. Two things struck me about the information that it gave about the Act, as it now is in the United States. The first thing is the extent to which it felt able to go down to pretty small contracts. I think the noble Baroness mentioned £25,000. The United States has gone down to $25,000, and it will publish details of expenditure down to that quite fine-grain level, which is very impressive.

The other thing, which I hope might infuse our discussion, is that this was a bipartisan Bill in the United States. The President warmly signed it, it was supported by people on all sides, and one of its principal sponsors was Senator Barack Obama from Illinois, who is as near to new Labour, despite his wobble on Iraq, as you can get. Here we have a Bill that, in the United States, has bipartisan support, has been accepted as practicable and has been signed into effect. Therefore, although I do not necessarily want to follow American policy, I respect it, and I believe that this is one area in which we could usefully follow it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for placing the Bill before the House so that a select group of your Lordships may consider this very important issue.

The Government view the provision of public spending information that is clear, concise, timely and accurate as extremely important. I agree with all the points that the noble Baroness made at the beginning of her speech. Our view is reflected in the fact that one of the Treasury’s formal objectives, as set out on its public website, is to,

“achieve world-class standards of financial management in government”.

The noble Baroness asked for confirmation that value for money is still a core value of the Treasury, and I confirm that it is.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked what the objections are to the Bill. The Bill may appear to imply that the Treasury does not currently make up-to-date and comprehensive government expenditure information freely available. On the contrary, the Treasury’s public website, which had well over a million hits last year, already contains a great deal of information about public spending. This includes: copies of the central government supply estimates for a five-year period, which contain detailed departmental spending plans for a particular financial year; and copies of public expenditure statistical analyses going back to 1999.

Each publication contains detailed spending information covering a number of outturn years, as well as spending plans for future years. Data are broken down in a variety of ways, and include departmental groups, central and local government, and public corporations by country, region, and function. They also include copies of the Budget and Pre-Budget Reports going back to 1998; detailed information about Treasury spending controls, including past and forthcoming spending reviews that set budgetary limits on spending by government departments; and the public sector finances databank, which is updated monthly and contains runs of data for various aspects of expenditure and finance.

This list is by no means exhaustive but, I hope, gives a flavour of the large amount of public expenditure information that is already made available on the Treasury’s public website. This is in addition to the expenditure information available on other government department websites, such as departmental reports. Such reports also provide information on public service agreements to show not only how much we spend but, just as importantly, what we are achieving with those resources.

Crucially, work is already under way in the Treasury to further expand the quantity of expenditure information on the public website, as well as to restructure the information to make it easier to navigate and search. This means that the public website will, additionally, hold detailed background and guidance material related to public spending issues. The Treasury’s aim is to have this enhanced website material in place on its public website later this year.

This Bill’s requirement—the creation of a new website specifically for spending data—would be contrary to the recommendations arising from the review of public services by Sir David Varney, Service Transformation: A Better Service for Citizens and Businesses, A Better Deal for The Taxpayer, which was published on 6 December 2006. This review, which is available on the HMT’s public website, recommends,

“a freeze on the development of new websites providing citizen or business e-services created by departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies, unless authorised by the Ministerial Committee on Public Services and Public Expenditure Sub-Committee on Electronic Service Delivery”.

It also recommends that,

“by 2011, almost all citizen and business e-services migrate to Directgov and Businesslink.gov and all e-transactions are provided through these two primary websites. This means that all departments should then have one corporate website, utilising shared infrastructure, and all other sites will be closed”.

The Varney review was referred to in the main Pre-Budget Report document, also published on 6 December, which again is available on the Treasury’s public website. It stated:

“The Government strongly welcomes this report and will take forward its recommendations as a comprehensive service transformation programme”.

While I would argue that the reasons that I have given thus far are sufficient to justify this House expressing reservations about this Bill, I feel that I should also refer to one of the Bill’s specific provisions. Section 1(4) requires that,

“information about expenditure by government departments or executive agencies must be available on the website within 30 days of the date on which the expenditure was incurred”.

Although the Treasury seeks monthly expenditure information from all government departments and already makes some information available on its public website, as I have mentioned, such information is inevitably very provisional and could not be regularly produced at a detailed level without a significant impact on resources. It is therefore simply not cost-effective to do this. Most public spending data currently made available relate to full financial years, whether outturn or plans. Audited resource accounts for government departments provide the most comprehensive and accurate information on actual expenditure outturn. The Government have made strides to speed up provision of such information, and faster closing of resource accounts now requires that they are presented to Parliament before the Summer Recess. What is most important is that detailed, accurate and independently audited information about public spending is made available as soon as it is reasonable to do so.

Before I conclude, may I deal with three points? The first point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on the improvement in public services. As the noble Lord knows, departments agree public service agreements with HM Treasury to show the main aims for which the resources are used. These targets are published by all departments. Secondly, I can confirm that the role of the Treasury includes ensuring value for money for public spending, a point that I have made before. The Treasury agrees service targets with all departments. Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, mentioned the American Bill. That Bill applies to all spending over $25,000 but it applies only to federal awards, mainly grants and contractual payments. As we know, a great deal of American spending is at state level.

In conclusion, I would urge noble Lords to consider the points that I have made and to conclude that detailed government spending information is already made freely and publicly available and that setting up additional government websites would be contrary to work currently underway to improve the provision of public information and service delivery through government websites.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for taking part in today’s debate on my Bill. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for supporting it and for pointing out the important behavioural impact that the Bill would have on civil servants and on those who deal with government. They would know that information about their actions would be available if the Bill became law. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for pointing out that if it can be done in the US, then we can do it in the UK.

Naturally, I was a little disappointed by the response of the noble Lord, Lord Evans. He started by providing a long list of the information already available on the Treasury’s website and on other departmental websites. I accept that a large amount of individual information is available, but the Minister did not address the point of my Bill—the provision of a single publicly searchable website on which information on expenditure would be brought together. At the moment, you can access various parts of Treasury’s website and perform multiple searches; you might obtain a few bits of information; but you certainly would not be able to answer the sorts of questions that should be answerable—for example, how much was spent on EDS and on travel and entertaining. Information at that level is not provided; only a different type of information is provided, not information on value for money.

My Lords, it may be helpful if I remind the noble Baroness that I said that work was already underway in the Treasury to produce a single website that will be the one that the public go to. That recommendation by Sir David Varney has been accepted by the Government.

My Lords, I was going to say that I was grateful also for what the Minister said about the work that was being undertaken to expand the available information. We shall have to wait and see what information is made available.

The Minister referred to Sir David Varney’s report, but that was aimed at service delivery, not at value for money in public expenditure, which is completely different. The Minister mentioned that that would have to go through a ministerial committee; I am talking about a Bill that would be approved by Parliament, and that is a separate issue. We should not confuse what Sir David Varney was considering with the aim of this Bill.

The Minister raised some detailed points. He said that the US Bill covers only federal expenditure and that a lot happened under state law. That is indeed the case, but the US Bill also covers the ability to trace through sub-awards, and many of those go through the states. So it is quite powerful when fully implemented, which it is not initially. Just as my Bill has a phased implementation, so, too, does the US Bill.

The noble Lord also referred to information not being available within 30 days. That, too, is based on the US legislation. If information is captured within 30 days of expenditure, it should be capable of being accessed via a website. It does not need to be intermediated through some Treasury information system; it just needs to be available. That is the whole point of my Bill: it is about openness and transparency and about ensuring that there are enough powers to make government departments make all this information available in the right sort of detail.

I had hoped for a warmer welcome from the Treasury, because the Bill is about giving it more weapons in the battle to get value for money. I hope that the House will look favourably on my Bill, and I certainly hope that it will give it a Second Reading today.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 4.25 pm.