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Lords Chamber

Volume 749: debated on Tuesday 12 November 2013

House of Lords

Tuesday, 12 November 2013.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

NHS: Clinical Commissioning Groups’ Funding of Treatment


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many types of treatment Clinical Commissioning Groups have decided not to offer to patients since April 2013.

My Lords, clinical commissioning groups are now responsible for commissioning services and treatments for their local populations, with NHS England providing oversight and support. NHS England has advised that it does not routinely collect data on the number and type of treatments that CCGs have decided not to offer to patients. We have been clear: restricting access to services on the basis of cost alone is wrong and compromises patient care. Commissioning decisions should be made using clinical evidence and best practice guidance.

I thank the Minister for his response. Is he not concerned about the recent British Medical Journal survey, which showed that since CCGs took over, one in seven have introduced new treatment restrictions, including treatment for hip and knee replacements, cataracts, and caesarean births for non-medical reasons? What steps are the Government taking to ensure regional and national monitoring and consistency of treatment policies across the NHS? Moreover, the Royal College of Surgeons is concerned that so few CCGs are meeting their legal obligation to publish guidance on how they will provide medicines, surgery and therapeutic interventions. This was meant to provide transparency in rationing decisions. What will the Government do about it?

My Lords, the availability of some healthcare services is determined nationally; for example, under NICE technology recommendations. Some services are commissioned directly by NHS England, but in most cases decision-making on whether to fund a service or treatment is left to the local CCG or local authority. That is to enable CCGs and local authorities to commission services that best fit the needs of their local population. For such decision-making it is very important that the process is rational, transparent and fair. The right contained in the NHS constitution ensures that that happens. If a CCG decides that a treatment will not normally be funded, it needs to be able to consider whether to fund that treatment for an individual patient on an exceptional basis.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, largely as a result of new developments in molecular biology, a number of highly effective but also very expensive so-called orphan and ultra-orphan drugs are coming on stream for the treatment of patients with rare diseases? If these drugs are approved by the rare disease advisory group of NHS England and by NICE, will it then be incumbent on clinical commissioning groups to agree to their being prescribed for NHS patients?

My Lords, the system is very clear. If NICE recommends under its technology appraisal that a drug should be made available, the funding will automatically follow.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a patient with rheumatoid arthritis who is on a biologic. What data are available to show whether CCGs follow NICE guidelines for the use of biologics and how long does it take for permission to be granted? I talked to rheumatologists last week at the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society awards ceremony and I was told that there is increasing evidence that CCGs delay treatment for those on biologics. Is there a case for moving chronic illnesses such as RA to NHS England rather than relying on the lottery of CCGs?

My Lords, the list of conditions for which treatment is directly commissioned by NHS England is reviewed regularly. On the particular question my noble friend asked about transparency, as part of Innovation Health and Wealth the innovation scorecard is now showing up the variations in prescribing rates between different clinical commissioning groups. We expect this information to be extremely informative as regards the decisions taken by commissioners.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the recent evidence given by the Nuffield Trust to the Health Select Committee showing that a growing, and increasingly large, number of NHS hospitals are financially unsustainable? In the light of his earlier answer to my noble friend, what arrangements do the Government have for ensuring that CCGs or local health economies are not in breach of the NHS constitution by failing to deliver the mandate that the Secretary of State has given NHS England?

My Lords, it is for NHS England to oversee the commissioning practices and policies of CCGs. If any deficiencies are brought to the attention of NHS England, they will be followed up. On the specific point made by the noble Lord about the financial sustainability of provider trusts, we would expect commissioners and trusts to engage in regular discussions about how to ameliorate that position, not only for the sake of the NHS but also to ensure that patients are treated in the right setting. As we all know, that imperative needs to be pursued very vigorously over the coming months.

They can appeal to the clinical commissioning group itself in the first instance under what is known as an individual funding request. That request has to be considered rationally and transparently. If the request is turned down, the reasons must be published.

My Lords, 55 years ago, I had my tonsils removed on the National Health Service. Had that not taken place and I now needed that procedure as an adult, according to figures from the Royal College of Surgeons I would be extremely unlikely to have them removed in the area in which I live—Haringey—but 22 times more likely to have the same procedure carried out in the Isle of Wight. Can the Minister explain why this Government’s arrangements facilitate that extraordinary postcode lottery, which means that there is no equity of treatment across the National Health Service?

My Lords, what the noble Lord calls the postcode lottery is, as he knows, nothing new. That is why Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS, has commissioned a project to engage professional bodies, particularly the Royal College of Surgeons, to develop clinical commissioning guidance, in particular, where there is unwarranted variation in the rates of elective surgical intervention. They are currently looking at 28 common types of surgical intervention with more topics under development, and commissioning guidance will ensue from that work stream.

Banking: Lending


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to encourage banks to prioritise their lending to the manufacturing sector compared to the property sector.

My Lords, the Government are committed to improving the flow of credit to all businesses, including those in the manufacturing sector. The Funding for Lending scheme has contributed to an improvement in the bank funding environment and banks are now passing this on to the real economy, including to small businesses. The Business Bank and the Business Finance Partnership are developing alternative sources of finance for smaller businesses.

That is a very different story from the one given by the chief executive of RBS, who, as the noble Lord will know, has told us that the bank is working very closely with the Treasury—by which he means Treasury officials. RBS has now set up an internal bad bank, while the Chancellor, whom I assume the officials talk to occasionally, has refused to set up a bad bank. Between them, they have found £38 billion of high-risk assets which they have decided will go into the bad bank. They have also said that they propose to finish the rest after writing off £4.5 billion by 2016. For those who owe that money, there is now an incentive to wait until the very end, which will mean the bank having to write off even more. Is that something that the officials, with the Chancellor’s consent, have agreed to?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, there was a review about whether there should be a formal good bank/bad bank split of RBS. The Government decided that the cost and disruption of doing this was not justified. However, as the noble Lord says, the bank has itself decided to make an internal split, enabling it to have a greater focus on lending and on dealing in a more orderly way with many loans which will not be repaid or will be only partially repaid. Many of these are related to the property sector.

My Lords, in March it was noted that lending to SMEs had shrunk by 25% in real terms since 2009 and it has continued to decline since then. The Business Bank is intended to address the problem and BIS forecasts that the first SME loan portfolio guarantees will be in place by the end of this year. Can the Minister update the House on progress?

My Lords, in respect of SME lending more generally, gross lending is now rising. The picture is clouded by the fact that a lot of SMEs are still paying back loans, so the net position is not as positive, but net lending is down by a much lower amount. As far as lending to SMEs as a whole is concerned, the picture is improving. The Business Bank was launched on 17 October and it aims to support economic growth by bringing together public and private sector funds to improve financial markets for SMEs. Very recently it announced its first commitment of £45 million from the initial £300 million investment programme.

My Lords, does the Minister think that his answers thus far will have given any satisfaction to those vocal critics of the low level of lending by banks to business, who include the director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, the International Monetary Fund and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable?

My Lords, it is important to look at what is happening in the real world. The CBI’s SME trends survey, published yesterday, showed that SME business optimism was rising at the fastest rate since the survey began some 25 years ago. Among SMEs, output grew for the fourth quarter and is expected to grow more rapidly going into 2014. More generally, vacancies—the best indication of growing or falling demand for labour—are rising at the sharpest rate for more than six years.

My Lords, the noble Lord forgot to answer my question. Did the Chancellor agree with his officials in setting up the internal bad bank?

My Lords, the decision on setting up the bad bank was, primarily, for the management of RBS. The Treasury and UKFI are obviously in regular contact with RBS.

Does my noble friend not agree that one of the reasons that the banks have had difficulty in providing loans for small business is the disastrous state of their balance sheets, which was the responsibility of the ridiculous monetary policy followed by the previous Government?

My Lords, that was clearly a major contributory factor. However, I refer noble Lords to the review undertaken by Sir Andrew Large for RBS, which found that the bank had failed to meet its own lending standards, had risk-averse staff and took longer to process applications than other banks, and that its treatment of customers in financial distress had led to major negative perceptions of the bank. The bank is now, at long last, moving to tackle many of those issues, but the failures in the way that RBS ran its business were a major contributory factor to its failure in recent years to lend to SMEs the amounts it set itself in its target.

My Lords, does the Minister not accept that his characterisation is grossly inaccurate, and that in the past few years the huge fall in output in the western capitalist economies—I use that term advisedly—was due to the way in which Lehman Brothers and others at that time were able to cause that financial bubble and cause output to fall 10% below trend right across the western world? Simply to say that it was the fault of the Labour Government is ludicrous.

My Lords, I may be mistaken but I do not think that I said it was the fault of the Labour Government.

I attempt to take responsibility for things that I say at the Dispatch Box; it is beyond the scope of my responsibilities to take responsibility for the views of every other noble Lord.

I congratulate my noble friend on accepting some responsibility at the Dispatch Box. Is that not far better than, in the case of Members opposite, apparently accepting no responsibility whatever for anything they ever managed to do in government?

That is extremely kind but perhaps I may, as a final word, remind noble Lords—given the subject of the Question—not only that manufacturing output is up but that the Government have adopted a very wide range of proactive measures to promote manufacturing, including increasing the investment allowance to £250,000, supporting the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative, supporting high-value engineering and vastly increasing the apprenticeships scheme, including apprentices in manufacturing companies.

Railways: British Rail


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to mark the passage of the legislation enabling the privatisation of British Rail.

My Lords, at the express request of my noble friend Lord Spicer and on his behalf, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to do so but note that a recent European Commission rail comparison study found that since the 1990s Britain’s railway is the most improved in all European Union countries.

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that when privatisation was proceeding and being implemented, the Government made two strong and clear commitments: first, that privatisation would reverse 40 years of decline in the use of railways, which has manifestly been the case; and, secondly, that there would be a huge input in private investment over and above anything that the taxpayer could contribute, which has also obviously taken place? Will my noble friend confirm that both those things have been the product of the privatisation of the railways?

I can certainly confirm those comments from the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney. He is absolutely right that at the time of privatisation— 5 November 1993, which I assume is the date to be commemorated in the Question in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Spicer—the railway essentially was expected to fall into decline, having had a long history of underinvestment and of stop-and-start annual budgets. Since then, the UK has seen a doubling of passenger journeys to the highest level since the 1920s; 4,000 more services a day than in the mid-1990s; a 60% increase in rail freight; and the fastest growth of European railways. The UK railway now carries nearly 20% of the EU’s passenger journeys.

My Lords, has any assessment been made of the sort of railway that we would be enjoying today had the British Railways Board received the same levels of support and investment —much of which has come from the taxpayer, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, said, but has been made available to privatised industry—and had the railway not been subject to the negative influences of decline and contraction, to which the Minister rightly referred, largely at the behest of Her Majesty’s Treasury?

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, gets to the heart of the problem. Under a system in which this was a Government-run industry, an essential feature was the constant stop-start and underinvestment. It is by putting in place a structure with the ability to set up arrangements that force the Government into long-term decision-making and long-term commitment that we have been able to rebuild the infrastructure.

Did not the privatisation of the railways simply follow the pattern of previous privatisations, which was that priceless national assets acquired by the great Labour Government of 1945 were sold off at knockdown prices by a Tory Government to a small number of investors, who made huge sums of money overnight? Does the Minister share my near despair that precisely the same pattern has been followed with the sale of Royal Mail, which was grossly undersold against the wishes of its previous owners—that is, me and everyone else in the country? Incidentally, as my assets have been sold off against my will, at the very least I ought to receive a cheque for the value of the assets sold.

My Lords, I will resist the temptation to go into the territory of Royal Mail. The privatisation of the railways may not have been perfect; we certainly had Railtrack going into administration in 2002, and there have been other issues. The question is: do we have a system that has delivered a significantly better railway for customers and freight in this country? I would argue that we very evidently have. Does this give a basis for moving forward and providing yet further improvement? I think that argument is also made.

While I am delighted to travel by rail most of the time, all the way down to the West Country, I am very sorry to see, after all these years since 5 November 1993, that raw sewage is still going out on to the lines. Before we rush forward to HS2—to which I am looking forward enormously—I urge our new Minister to think about the men working on the lines and in the stations who have to deal with this excrement.

The comments of my noble friend totally resonate. It is utterly disgusting. It speaks to the fact that customer service has not always been at the centre of the railways, because I think customers are very concerned about this issue. Beginning in 2017, the current InterCity 125 trains will all be replaced by the new Class 800/801 intercity express trains from Hitachi, which will solve that problem on the intercity lines. It is a tougher issue on the local diesel trains, which are gradually going out of service, and we could use some help from the industry in tackling that problem.

The Question was whether the Government would mark the passage of the legislation. Is this the legislation that, within 10 years, saw the bankruptcy of Railtrack? Is this the legislation that saw the franchise fiasco on the line from Paddington to south Wales a short while ago? Is this the legislation that insists that a publicly operated company, which produces £47 million of profit to invest in the railway and hands £800 million back to the Treasury as extra profit, is disbarred from competing for the franchise against German and French state railways?

My Lords, Network Rail plans to invest £38 billion into the system between 2014 and 2019, which will shortly bring into the system Crossrail, the upgraded Thameslink, a northern hub cross-Manchester link that will provide electrification linking the core centres of the economy in the north, the West and East Midlands and Yorkshire. Today, the south of England has 75% of passenger miles on electric trains. I assume that the noble Lord was talking about the east coast main line franchise and, as he knows, it was always intended by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that this would be in public control only temporarily. He said:

“I do not believe that it would be in the public interest for us to have a nationalised train operating company indefinitely”.—[Official Report, 1/7/09; col. 232.]

The public sector—DOR—has done an excellent job of stabilising the system, but now returns it to a period of investment, which requires private sector engagement.

Immigration: Economic Impact


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent analyses of the value of immigration to the United Kingdom economy; and whether they have any plans to revise their target to reduce net migration in response to those analyses.

My Lords, the Government have made no official assessment of the recent analyses of the economic value of immigration to the UK economy. Each policy that influences immigration is assessed using the impact assessment process. The Government have a commitment to reduce net migration to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament and believe that that will be achieved without an adverse impact on the economy.

I think I thank the Minister for that Answer, but it is disappointing. It seems that the only real criterion that the Government have in dealing with immigration is in numbers, not in need. Do they have any other policy at all to tackle immigration positively? This morning a news item stated that 20,000 nurses were needed for the NHS. In north Wales I know of three general hospitals where a third of the consultants come from overseas. Is it not short-sighted to deal only in numbers and not look at this in a positive and long-term way?

My Lords, the Dustmann and Frattini report looked at the fiscal impact of immigration, and made it clear that continued high levels of immigration—net immigration of, say, 200,000 a year—would be unsustainable. Obviously two of the areas affected would be housing, which I know greatly exercises noble Lords, and other services, including the health service. We intend to attract the brightest and the best, including healthcare professionals.

While I accept that all those who live in our country should have a legal right to do so, will the Minister condemn the disgraceful scene of vans touring parts of north London inviting immigrants to go home?

My Lords, if an immigrant is here illegally I would invite him to go home, but if he is here making a valuable, worthwhile and legal contribution to the economy, I would like him to stay and continue to do that.

Does my noble friend welcome, as I do, the large number of French people who have come to live in this country, making London now the sixth largest French city by population? Does he think that there is any connection between the presence of those people and the high-tax Socialist policies of President Hollande, whose election was so widely welcomed by the party opposite?

My noble friend makes a very good point about the adverse impact of high marginal rates of taxation, but it demonstrates how the free market in Europe works in terms of free movement of labour and capital.

Does the Minister share my concern that the Government are continuing to talk about net migration figures, yet contrary to the advice of every inquiry in both Houses of Parliament they continue to include overseas students in that net migration count? Would they accept that this is a nonsense that needs to be removed?

My Lords, I am very sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but the decision to include students in net migration figures was not ours. As the noble Lord knows, they are international statistics and we need to be consistent with other states. We also need to include students in the total figure because students have an impact on the housing and services that they need to support them while they are studying. I make it absolutely clear that we welcome foreign students and that there is no limit on the number of students that we will accept.

We recognise that, while there are real benefits from immigration, they are not equally shared, due to inadequate labour standards, exploitation of the supply of low-waged migrant labour and the failure to provide young people with the necessary skills. What steps are the Government taking to see that the minimum wage is properly enforced? Do the Government agree with us that the maximum fine should be doubled to £10,000 and are the Government, like us, also prepared to consider whether the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority needs to be extended to new sectors in order to stop exploitation? Finally, are the Government reviewing sectors that have become dependent on migrant labour, to identify where enough has not been done to equip young people with the skills they need to compete?

The noble Lord asked rather a lot of questions. I share his concern about the exploitation of migrant labour. All employers must adhere to the minimum wage provisions, which apply to migrants as well as to UK natives. There are very few prosecutions for paying below the minimum wage; however, it is normally dealt with by means of fixed penalties and the income is about £700,000 of fixed penalties.

Philippines: Emergency Aid

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to get emergency aid to the people of the Philippines.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have so far committed £10 million to support relief efforts in the Philippines. This includes rapid funding for non-governmental organisations, emergency shelter and household items and the deployment of public health experts. HMS “Daring” will also redeploy to the affected region in order to support relief efforts. A UK team in Manila is guiding the UK’s response.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. This natural disaster looks like being one of the worst to have been experienced worldwide in the past decade. Does the Minister really believe that £10 million is sufficient, given that there are 800,000 people in immediate and dire need of water, medical supplies and food? Can she give us an assurance that this figure will be kept under constant review? I understand that HMS “Daring” is on the way and I think that a C17 is being deployed, but there will be a need for vehicles on the ground to get to the isolated communities that those big transport carriers cannot reach. Will the noble Baroness also tell us what advice the Foreign Office is giving to UK nationals who may be in difficulty in the Philippines? What advice are they able to give people in this country who have family members or loved ones in the Philippines about whom they have very understandable anxieties?

I thank the noble Baroness for asking this extremely important Question. There is a dedicated team at the moment working continuously on this in Whitehall and things are constantly under review. The noble Baroness mentioned a number of things that we are doing. I shall expand on the points about vehicles. She is quite right that we need to get to some of the affected areas and there are flights going to the Philippines. Two flights are going in at the moment and three more cargo flights will go from Dubai shortly. We are delivering 4x4 vehicles to get to these areas and the noble Baroness mentioned the C17s. Noble Lords will probably be aware that the United Nations has just launched an appeal for $301 million. All the numbers are under review. We have published a Written Ministerial Statement today, but I should point out that it mentions that 4.3 million people have been affected by what is the strongest ever tropical cyclone on record. The figure is now 6.9 million people, and no doubt it will increase.

My Lords, given that the Prime Minister is leading our delegation to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka imminently, what discussions will he have with other heads, particularly those from countries in the region such as India, Singapore and Malaysia, which could provide timely logistical support? Of course, Brunei Darussalam could help with financial aid. Will the Commonwealth get behind the relief effort as well?

I am sure that all countries, and certainly those that are close by, will wish to help. Our colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, who is the head of UN OCHA, has just arrived in Manila. The Government of the Philippines are in overall control of what is happening, although of course they are working closely with the United Nations. Our NGOs are being co-ordinated by the Disasters Emergency Committee. It is extremely important that everyone works well together, and for that to extend internationally as well as nationally.

My Lords, anyone who has seen the distressing pictures on the TV and in the newspapers today will understand the need for urgent relief, and I certainly welcome the Government’s action. I also share the concern of my noble friend Lady Symons that the amount of money needs to be kept under constant review. However, I have another point that I want to focus on. Will the Government combine their efforts with the international community to commit to longer-term aid and support? While there are short-term concerns, it will be a tough job for the country to recover fully and ensure that people can get back their livelihoods.

The noble Lord of course knows that the United Kingdom has a long-term commitment, which is why we have committed 0.7% of our GNI to aid. He is quite right to emphasise the need for long-term reconstruction. One of the lessons that came out of the report penned by my noble friend Lord Ashdown was that when bringing in aid in this sort of circumstance, one needs also to look at long-term reconstruction. However, right now we need to deliver immediate assistance to people in the form of shelters, water supplies and so on. I note that we are also bringing in solar lanterns with built-in mobile phone chargers because the need for communication is absolutely essential in these circumstances. However, we are well aware of the need to ensure that reconstruction looks to the long term.

My Lords, after Haiti, the tsunami and now this appallingly tragic and devastating catastrophe, is there not a case for the Government to have a larger contingency fund within the aid budget? Some of us are a little concerned that nations which have space programmes are helped, as are nations whose regimes are not beyond the accusation of corruption. We need a much larger contingency fund so that not only can we go in quickly with large sums, we can also deal with what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about—the aftermath.

It was in the light of the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, that we set up the Rapid Response Facility, which has been brought into operation here. Money is set aside for just this kind of situation because clearly that is important.

Perhaps I may come back to a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, about FCO advice, which I do not think I answered at that point. The FCO is advising against all travel to the Philippines, and the embassy in Manila is working to support UK nationals in the country.

My Lords, in the context of absolutely indispensable international co-ordination, does the Minister accept that what has been demonstrated over and over again in situations of this kind is the vital importance of local knowledge to the reconstruction effort as well as for short-term relief? A number of distinguished and effective NGOs in this country have been working in the Philippines for a long time. Have they already been consulted and how can we make the most effective use of their assistance?

That is why it is important that the Government of the Philippines are in overall charge of this. The noble Lord will be aware that in some circumstances the Government of a particular country are knocked out by whatever disaster occurs, but the Government of the Philippines ordered mass evacuation. They took all sorts of measures to try to reduce the impact of the disaster, but it was an unprecedented typhoon. They have the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which has been co-ordinating aid. Internationally, and certainly within the United Kingdom, we are well aware of the great importance of making sure that what happens now and thereafter is something that makes sense within the country and that can be best determined within the country.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the former Leader of the House. Will she accept how many of us appreciate the immensely valuable work that she is doing in her post at the United Nations, particularly in this crisis? My noble friend Lady Falkner also mentioned the current Commonwealth meeting in Colombo. Is she aware, as I am sure she is, that the Chinese and the Japanese—not members of the Commonwealth, of course—are sending enormous delegations to the business forum in Colombo? Will that be an opportunity to remind them that, as aspiring world powers and key players in the international landscape, they too have a task—which I am sure they can be encouraged to perform—to bring the maximum help of their enormous economic power to the Philippines, to which they are considerably nearer than we are?

My noble friend makes some very important points. We owe a great deal to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. She is formidable in making sure that she gets assistance from wherever she requires it, as she has sought to do in the case of Syria. I am sure that the points that he has made will be picked up.

Personal Service Companies Committee

Membership Motion

Moved by

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the consequences of the use of personal service companies for tax collection, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:

B Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, B Donaghy, L Empey, L Higgins, L Hope of Craighead, L Levene of Portsoken, B Morgan of Huyton, L Myners, B Noakes (Chairman), L Palmer of Childs Hill, L Stewartby, L Woolmer of Leeds;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;

That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published;

That the Committee do report by 31 March 2014;

That the Report of the Committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House.

My Lords, I do not know whether there is a misprint on the Order Paper but can the Chairman of Committees explain how this committee can possibly report by 31 March 2014? This is a very complex subject. We will be in recess for a short period and then it will soon be Christmas. This seems an enormous task for a very short period of time.

If the noble Lord thinks back to the beginning of the Session, we decided to try the experiment of having two relatively short inquiries, each taking up half a Session. This one, in the second half of the Session, takes up the space that was previously occupied by the inquiry on the Olympic legacy. The aim is to see if it is possible to do work on an inquiry reasonably and effectively in half a Session, rather than taking up a full Session. The House, of course, will have to reach a judgment on the basis of what the committee produces.

Motion agreed.

Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Moved by

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 7, Schedule 1, Clauses 8 to 13, Schedule 2, Clauses 14 to 26, Schedule 3, Clauses 27 to 31, Schedule 4, Clauses 32 to 69, Schedule 5, Clauses 70 to 106, Schedules 6 and 7, Clauses 107 to 114, Schedule 8, Clauses 115 to 120, Schedule 9, Clause 121, Schedule 10, Clauses 122 to 127.

Motion agreed.

Committee (1st Day)

Relevant documents: 12th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Clause 104 agreed.

Schedule 5: Amendments of Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Schedule 5, page 151, line 28, at end insert—

“( ) Where a court makes a sexual harm prevention order in relation to a “child” as defined in section 103B(1), the court must have regard to safeguards in place to ensure the child receives the support he or she needs, including an assessment of their emotional, welfare and behavioural needs, therapeutic or educational support.”

My Lords, the first thing I need to say is happy birthday to the Minister. I am sure noble Lords will agree with me in wishing him all the very best. I am not sure that this is the best way I would choose to spend my birthday.

As I said at Second Reading, we on these Benches generally support the sexual harm prevention orders and the sexual risk orders as set out in Part 9 of the Bill. The two new orders will replace existing powers, and the threshold for risk will be lowered to cover any case of sexual harm, not just cases of serious sexual harm. These orders seek to improve the protection of vulnerable children at risk of sexual harm. On Report in the Commons, the Minister, Damian Green, provided details of the two new orders. He explained:

“The sexual harm prevention order may prohibit the person from doing anything described in it, including preventing travel overseas. Any prohibition must be necessary for protecting the public in the UK from sexual harm or, in relation to foreign travel, protecting children or vulnerable adults from sexual harm. It lasts a minimum of five years and has no maximum duration, with the exception of any foreign travel restrictions which, if applicable, lasts for a maximum of five years but can be renewed”.

The sexual risk order,

“will be available for those who have not been convicted of an offence but who none the less pose a risk of sexual harm to the public. It may be made by the magistrates court on application by the police or the new National Crime Agency where an individual has done an act of a sexual nature and poses a risk of harm to the public in the UK or adults or vulnerable children overseas”.

Of course, any prohibition in the sexual risk order must be necessary for protecting the public in the UK from sexual harm or for protecting vulnerable adults abroad. Such an order, as I have described it, will last for a minimum of two years. The police are very keen on these orders as their view is that they do not have the right measures at their disposal to intervene to prevent harm to children. We agree with them.

It is also welcome that these orders simplify the current system. In relation to non-conviction behaviour, they reduce the number of acts of harm required for an order to be used from two to one, which means that they can be obtained more easily. Extending the scope of sexual behaviour covered by the orders and lowering the threshold from serious sexual harm will also increase their use. This will help tackle behaviour that poses a risk of sexual abuse to children but which has not yet translated into a criminal offence.

In the Commons, my honourable friend Ann Coffey MP noted:

“The risk of sexual harm orders, which the new sexual risk orders would replace, can be given only to offenders aged 18 and over”.

She asked the Minister:

“Will the new sexual harm prevention orders also only apply to offenders over 18? If they will apply to offenders under 18, what consideration has he given to introducing accompanying rehabilitative provisions for child sex offenders?”.

That is at the heart of what this probing amendment is about. At the time, the Minister, Mr Green, said:

“The two new orders will apply to both over-18s and under-18s”.

He also clarified the situation in relation to the sex offenders register:

“In line with the old order, the new sexual harm prevention order will make the offender subject to the notification requirements for registered sex offenders—it will put them on the sex offenders register. For both new orders, in line with the existing position, breach is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. Conviction for a breach of a sexual risk order would also make that individual subject to the sex offender notification requirements”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/10/13; cols. 472-75.]

Extending the ability to use these orders to protect children under 18, including 16 and 17 year-olds, recognises that older children are still vulnerable and can be subject to child sexual exploitation and abuse. The inclusion of vulnerable adults to the SHPO and SRO is welcome. We know that young adults with learning difficulties or special educational needs are targeted by individuals looking to exploit them.

The amendment seeks to probe how the orders will work for young people under 18 subject to the orders and how they are supported. Some young people who are subject to the orders may also have been victims of sexual exploitation, or become involved as a means of self-preservation, as was the case for a young person quoted in one of the briefs that I received. We are seeking safeguards from the Government for young people under 18 who are subject to the orders, to ensure that they receive the support that they need,

“including an assessment of their emotional, welfare and behavioural needs, therapeutic or educational support”.

We are concerned that a breach of the child SHPO without conviction or the SRO can result in five years’ imprisonment when a child has not actually committed a criminal offence. We know that custody may not be the most effective way to tackle children’s criminal behaviour, and I am sure that we all agree that custody for under-18s should only be used as a very last resort in the most serious and violent offences, so we must question whether this is appropriate where children have not been convicted of an offence. We are very concerned about the use of custodial sentences for under-18s subject to SROs or SHPOs obtained without conviction. That is why we have put forward this amendment.

What measures do the Government propose for under-18s subject to these orders? Will the Government consider prescribing the use of therapeutic support and/or education and an assessment of needs in guidance when the orders are applied to under-18s? Will the Government review and evaluate the effectiveness of the orders, such as through rates of reoffending and the effectiveness of any assessment of needs, when they are applied to under-18s? It is important that we question the detail of how this will work for under-18s.

The Minister very kindly wrote to me on this matter and in his letter he mentioned that the Government will be,

“working closely with the Ministry of Justice on applications for orders relating to under-18s and will ensure that guidance is available to the courts and others to ensure that such cases are heard in the youth court as appropriate”.

Will that draft guidance be available before the Bill has completed its passage through your Lordships’ House? I beg to move.

My Lords, the Government have moved forward a great deal, as have the police and the CPS, in understanding that in some cases, particularly in cases of trafficked people, those who may at first be seen as a perpetrator—often of relatively small crimes, but sometimes of bigger ones—are in fact victims and have done what they have done as a result of the way that they have been treated. It seems to me that what the noble Baroness proposes is absolutely in line with that thinking.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments and join with her and the rest of the House in wishing my noble friend a very happy birthday. My appearance at the Dispatch Box may be one of the best presents that I can give my noble friend, who is doing a gallant job as my Whip today. This may well be part of the Conservative birthday present allocation.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has explained, Amendment 1 would require a court making sexual harm prevention orders in relation to under-18s to have regard to,

“their emotional, welfare and behavioural needs, therapeutic or educational support”.

Schedule 5 makes provision to replace the current sexual offences prevention order, foreign travel order and risk of sexual harm order with sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders. The new sexual harm prevention order can be applied where an individual has had a conviction for a specific sexual or violent offence and the court is satisfied that the prohibitions are necessary to protect the public in the UK or children or vulnerable adults abroad from sexual harm. The new sexual risk order can be applied to individuals without a conviction but who have committed an act of a sexual nature and, as a result, the court is satisfied that prohibitions are necessary to protect the public in the UK or children or vulnerable adults abroad from sexual harm.

In line with the current sexual offences prevention order, the new orders can be applied to under-18s. Of course, I recognise the important points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, at Second Reading and again in this short debate. I reassure your Lordships that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are working very closely together on applications for orders relating to under-18s.

For both the sexual harm prevention order and the sexual risk order, our intention is that applications relating to under-18s are heard in the specialist youth court as appropriate. As noble Lords may be aware, the youth court is tailored to the needs of young people; for example, the magistrates in youth courts are trained and encouraged to engage in conversation and use plain language. The room layout is less formal than in the standard court; for example, where possible, the magistrates’ bench will be on the same level as the rest of the court, and the young person is able to sit with their parents.

The courts, the youth court in particular, recognise the specialist consideration and sensitivity needed for cases relating to under-18s. Of course, this is particularly important where the court is dealing with individuals who pose a risk of sexual harm; for example, there may be circumstances where the line between a young person being an offender and a victim becomes blurred, and such cases will require particularly sensitive handling. The new orders are flexible enough to allow the courts the discretion they need when hearing such cases.

The primary purpose of these orders is the prevention of sexual harm, with a focus on young people. There may be circumstances in which obtaining one of the new sexual risk orders to help manage a young person’s risky behaviour will also help prevent that young person becoming criminalised in the future.

I reassure the Committee that, as with the current system, there are safeguards in place. To impose an order, the court will, in effect, need to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt in relation to the matters on the basis of which the application for an order is made. In addition, the individual has a right of appeal against the making of an order to the Crown Court or, where the order was made by the Crown Court, to the Court of Appeal. Furthermore, where there is a change of circumstances, the individual subject to the order has the same right as the applicant to apply to the court for the order to be varied, and a court may discharge an order early with the consent of the defendant and the police.

Finally, the Bill includes provision for statutory guidance. This guidance will be developed in consultation with the police, Courts Service and others, and will include specific guidance on the application of the orders to under-18s. The noble Baroness asked when this guidance would be available. Following the successful passage of the Bill, the Government will work with the police, the National Crime Agency and others to develop guidance on the new orders, and we want to ensure that there is adequate time for consultation with experts in preparing this guidance.

I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and that she will withdraw her amendment.

I thank the Minister for that detailed reply. I will read it in more detail but the Government seem to be taking this issue extremely seriously. I would just like to be reassured that when these orders are being considered, therapeutic and educational support can also be prescribed, as it were, as part of the order. The noble Lord is nodding—I thank him.

Finally, I suggest that the others that are consulted in the process of producing this guidance will include the children’s organisations that are expert in dealing with abused children. Their expertise has certainly been very useful to me in bringing this amendment to the Committee and I hope that the Government will draw on those resources. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Schedule 5 agreed.

Clause 105 agreed.

Clause 106: Violent offender orders

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 106, page 77, line 17, after “may” insert “, following consultation with such persons as she considers appropriate,”

I hope that neither this amendment nor the two that I have in the next group will cause the Minister to run to and from the Dispatch Box. I see that he is already confident enough that that will not be the case. Amendment 2 takes us to violent offender orders, and my noble friend will, I hope, already know what my point is.

Clause 106, the new clause to be inserted in the 2008 Act, will allow the Secretary of State by an affirmative order to amend the list of specified offences, either by adding to or subtracting from the list—the specified offences being those which can trigger the order. It seems to me that this is a very wide power. As I said, it would require an affirmative resolution, and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has not chosen to share any concern about this because it is an affirmative power. However, I think that it would be helpful to understand how the Secretary of State will be expected to go about making such a change. Of course, we always have to remember that, although there may be a benign Secretary of State this month, next month or next year the Secretary of State may be less benign in the eyes of some Members of the House.

In order to probe this, my amendment would provide for consultation, before an order is made, with such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate. I cannot believe that any Secretary of State would undertake such an act without consultation, but you never know. It would be good to have confirmation on record as to the means that would be followed. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising this issue. Amendment 2 would, as she has outlined, require the Secretary of State to consult those deemed appropriate prior to making an order to amend the list of specified offences for a violent offender order.

Clause 106 gives the Secretary of State the power to amend the list of specified offences through secondary legislation, subject to the affirmative procedure. Models of offending change over time, and this change will help to ensure that the legislative powers for managing violent offenders can be updated to reflect changes with the appropriate parliamentary oversight.

My noble friend asked specifically about the consultation. I reassure her and the Committee that any changes to the list of specified offences will be considered in close consultation with the police, the National Offender Management Service and others to help to ensure that the police and NOMS are able to manage the risk posed by serious violent offenders. Specialist input will be sought as a matter of course. We do not consider that specific requirement to consult is required on the face of the Bill. I hope that this reassures my noble friend that appropriate consultation will take place and that she will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, that is helpful. It has only just occurred to me that I should have asked whether any change is in mind at the moment. I do not know whether the Minister’s briefing allows him to answer that question.

As I have highlighted, there is NOMS and the police will be involved. Additional experts will be sought as part of that process.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 106 agreed.

Clause 107: Offence of breaching forced marriage protection order

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 107, page 77, leave out lines 35 to 38

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 4. This is a very low-key group of amendments as we start the part of the Bill on forced marriages. Many noble Lords will have far more to say on this issue than is appropriate to this little group. I will confine my remarks very narrowly to the points of which I have given the Government notice.

These are two probing amendments. Amendment 3 would take out new subsection (2). The intention is to probe the meaning of “aware” in it, where it says that,

“a person can be guilty of an offence … in respect of conduct engaged in at a time when the person was aware of the existence of the”,

forced marriage protection order. What is the burden of proof as to whether an individual is aware of an order? I assumed on first reading that this meant actually aware as distinct from having been served with an order, which is rather more particular. Is there scope for judicial discretion in dealing with this? As I said, this is just intended to understand what is meant by “aware” in this context. My noble friend Lord McNally accuses me of being too curious about this sort of terminology.

Amendment 4 probes the relationship between criminal proceedings following a forced marriage protection order and contempt of court if an order is not complied with. I agree with what I understand the Bill to provide—that it should be one or the other—but I hope that my noble friend can explain to the Committee how decisions will be taken about which enforcement route will be followed. What criteria will be used? I am not challenging the content; I simply wish to understand how the matter will be approached. I beg to move.

I was not completely clear what these amendments concerned when I read them and I assumed they were probing. They are both legitimate questions and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about them.

My Lords, first, I reassure my noble friend that her curiosity is always welcome on these Benches. That is well acknowledged by my noble friend Lord McNally.

Turning to her specific amendments, as she rightly said, we are moving on to the subject of forced marriages. This is an important subject to address. It is unfortunate that we have to address it but it is a reality that exists. As my noble friend said, we will move on to other elements of this. I say from the outset that the Government take this particular issue very seriously. It tragically impacts on people in this country and it needs to be tackled and dealt with. I hope that through our discussions this afternoon we will be able to throw further light on what is a very important matter.

The new offence of the breach of a forced marriage protection order mirrors closely the existing offence of the breach of a non-molestation order in Part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996. This approach of closely following the non-molestation order precedent is the proposal on which the Government consulted in 2012, as noble Lords will know, and with which a large majority of respondents—71%—agreed.

Consistent with the existing offence, new Section 63CA of the Family Law Act provides that, first, a person can be guilty of an offence under Section 63CA only in respect of conduct engaged in at a time when the person was aware of the existence of the order and, secondly, where a person is convicted of a breach of a forced marriage protection order, they cannot be punished subsequently for contempt in relation to subsections (3) and (4).

Specifically on the questions raised, the effect of Amendments 3 and 4 would be to remove subsections (2), (3) and (4), and it may assist the Committee if I explain the provisions in more detail.

Making the breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offence, for which arrest without warrant is possible, will mean that the police are always able to arrest a person who breaches an order without the need for the court to attach a power of arrest, or for the victim to apply to the civil court for an arrest warrant. Subsection (1) provides some protection for the person who will be arrested in recognition of the fact that orders may be obtained without notice, just as with non-molestation orders. The protection is afforded by making it clear that they will be guilty of the criminal offence only if they were aware of the existence of the order.

That does not mean that the order has to have been served on the person, or that they need to know the exact contents of the order, provided that they are aware that an order has been made prohibiting certain acts or behaviour. Therefore, a respondent who is aware of the existence of an order but who has not been served with the order, or who does not know precisely what it prohibits, could be liable for breaching the order. The provision is not a licence to evade service and wilfully maintain ignorance with a view to a defence. However, subsection (1) provides that a person can be found guilty of breaching the order only if the breach is “without reasonable excuse”. That provides a safeguard for a person who has been accused of a breach and who has, for example, genuinely not been served with an order or who has been unable to establish its contents.

Ultimately it will be for the court to determine, on the facts of each case, whether the accused person had a reasonable excuse for the breach and whether they should have been aware of the order. The court will then determine whether in the light of that knowledge the person was indeed in breach of the order. On the issue of burden of proof that my noble friend raised, the court will need to be satisfied, to the criminal standard, that the elements of the offence have been made out. This includes that the accused is aware of the forced marriage protection order.

On the second amendment, in making a breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offence, Clause 107 none the less preserves the option for breach of an order to be dealt with as a civil contempt of court. In the light of this, subsections (3) and (4) are intended to prevent someone being punished twice for the same breach. This means that a person being protected by a forced marriage protection order will be able to choose whether the criminal or civil law is used to deal with a breach of the order, just as Section 42A of the 1996 Act allows a person protected by a non-molestation order to do. They can either report the breach to the police to have it dealt with as a criminal matter or make an application to the originating county court to have the breach dealt with as a civil contempt of court. If the victim decides to pursue the criminal route for breach of an order, the decision on whether to prosecute will rest with the Crown Prosecution Service. If the victim decides to pursue the civil route, the Crown Prosecution Service will not be involved.

It is important to retain both options in case some victims are deterred from reporting a breach of an order because they are reluctant to pursue criminal proceedings against the perpetrator, who may be a close relative. However, it would not be right for the person who breached the order to face criminal and civil sanctions for the same actions. Victims need reassurance that if they seek civil redress and sanctions are imposed under that route there is no risk of a criminal prosecution being brought as well.

We will ensure that victims are made aware of what the new law will mean for them in practical terms. We will continue to deliver an engagement programme focused on prevention and education through a series of regional road shows and debates. This will complement our ongoing work with front-line practitioners and our partners to deliver additional awareness training that will enable them to help victims to utilise the civil remedies and criminal sanctions more effectively. This approach will ultimately strengthen the message within all communities that forced marriage is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK.

I assure my noble friend that the issue of information and education, as I am sure all noble Lords will agree, is extremely important in how we communicate with, and raise awareness among, those who fall victim to this heinous crime so that they know what routes are accessible to them. The Government will be working with all partners on the ground to ensure that this is appropriately facilitated. I hope that, in the light of my explanation, my noble friend will agree to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful for that and will of course withdraw my amendment. With regard to my first amendment, the clause refers to awareness,

“of the existence of the order”.

My noble friend said that one can be aware of the existence of the order without knowing what it prohibits, and so awareness of its existence is not the same as being aware of its content. I would like to think about whether “without reasonable excuse”, to which he referred, is an adequate protection in that situation. Obviously a range of circumstances could be covered by that.

On the two distinct remedies, if that is the right term for them, I believe the Minister is saying that the decision is very much in the hands of the victim. That, of course, is completely in line with what I have read about the Government’s approach to this and the rest of the Bill. This may perhaps be an issue for us later in today’s debates. On a later amendment, I will be looking to understand what guidance the police may have as to the advice they give. On paper, it looks easy for a potential victim—I would like to start calling them “survivors”—to take that decision, and it may look easy to us sitting in this Chamber, but when one is caught up in the situation, how does one assess the right course to take? That is a sort of trail for some of the points which may come up later. Unless the Minister wants to come in again, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 107, page 78, line 39, at end insert—

“( ) It shall be a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish guidance about the effect of this section before it comes into force to such descriptions of persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

( ) A person exercising public functions to whom guidance is given under this section must have regard to it in the exercise of those functions.”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 5 I also speak to Amendment 10; both are in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. Amendment 5 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish guidance about the consequences of forced marriage and breaching a forced marriage protection order. We all agree that criminalisation, whether through criminalisation of a breach of a forced marriage protection order or through direct criminalisation, is not enough to tackle forced marriage alone. The previous Government recognised this and that all the authorities which come into contact with victims of forced marriage—schools, colleges, the police, doctors and health services, social services, local authorities, airport staff, FCO staff and the courts—must be aware of forced marriage, how it manifests itself, what to look for and, most importantly, the appropriate action that needs to be taken.

For example, in August this year, the Government issued a warning to teachers, doctors and airport staff to be alert to forced marriages over the summer holidays. Between June and August, the Forced Marriage Unit—a joint operation between the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—received over 400 reports. This year the unit handed out leaflet cards called Marriage: It’s Your Choice, to provide help and information to potential victims, signposting them to confidential advice. The cards reminded young people to speak to police or airline staff if they found themselves at an airport with nowhere to turn. That is an important initiative. Of course, it referred them to the Forced Marriage Unit, which was set up in January 2005 as the Government’s one-stop shop for dealing with forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. It does an excellent job, operating both inside the UK, where support is provided to any individual, and overseas, where consular assistance is to be provided to British nationals, including dual nationals. I pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland and other noble Lords who set up this important initiative.

However, we need to look at what has happened since that time. We must recognise that, if we look at the evidence, the action we want to be taken throughout all those authorities and public bodies is certainly not uniform or adequate. We can look, for example, at the evidence that Karma Nirvana and the Southall Black Sisters gave during Committee in the Commons. Karma Nirvana’s evidence showed that little had changed in schools since 2008, and that schools were often reluctant to participate in the charity’s work on forced marriage, for example. Other evidence confirms that schools do very little to ensure that pupils are informed about forced marriage and to offer them the necessary support if they need it. There was even evidence that some schools were putting students at risk by contacting family members when children had consulted teachers in confidence.

Southall Black Sisters said in its evidence:

“Our experience shows that the education system has been the slowest to respond to the need to address forced marriage. There needs to be considerable attention on increasing awareness and creating monitoring mechanisms for all forms of gender-related violence and equality issues in schools … We are of the view that heads of secondary schools and further education colleges have an obligation to provide clear and well publicised information on a range of gender-related violence issues”,

which includes forced marriage,

“and Ofsted has an important role to play in monitoring how these issues are addressed”.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some information that will help to reassure us that this will happen and that it will have teeth. However, in addition to that evidence, in 2011 the Home Affairs Select Committee wrote to the Secretary of State for Education to express its concerns about this matter. I am sorry to say that the Secretary of State rejected its views and said that he did not believe that his department should be directive or prescriptive to schools on this matter. Does the Minister think that that is satisfactory, on a matter of child protection that lies at the heart of forced marriage for young people?

There have now been two Select Committee inquiries and the Forced Marriage Unit report, and still the Department of Education does not treat forced marriage as a child protection issue in many schools—a reason why this amendment is so important. We have to recognise that the voluntary sector is doing an excellent job in trying to remedy this situation. I know that were he here, my noble friend Lord Harris would tell us about the organisation he chairs, the Freedom Charity, which first and foremost wants to protect the lives of children and young people by raising awareness of forced marriage in the UK and the associated problems of dishonour-based violence, giving young people the tools and confidence to deal with the problem. The charity plays a vital role in spreading the word and helping to prevent forced marriage, and runs the country’s first 24-hour, seven-days-a-week helpline to raise awareness and prevent abuse. It should be commended for the work it does. However, we have to accept that it is almost certainly not enough.

My second point, which I will raise very briefly with the Minister on this matter, is on whether and how legal aid will be available to victims of forced marriage when they come forward. Again, many of the organisations that deal with forced marriage have raised that as a concern. Statutory agencies have a legal duty to ensure that safeguarding policies and practices are implemented, and that is what lies at the heart of this amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I, too, have added my name to this amendment. I wish to make just a few comments as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has covered most of what I would have liked to say about this amendment. I come to this issue with personal experience of some of the problems that I encountered as a young teenager living in my community. I like to think that we have moved on considerably in the intervening 35 years or so, but this is still a real issue. Too many young women are still exposed to this problem and are victims of it. We need to do far more to tackle it than is currently the case.

The guidance needs to be uniform and all the agencies that come into contact with potential victims need to be very clear about what they can do to support these young people who come forward needing help. I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on schools. There are huge concerns about schools because they follow their own principles and guidelines. In addition, we now have far more free schools, whose practice in this regard may not be in line with that of local authority schools. I would like assurance that the role of schools, which are pivotal in this regard, will be looked at very closely.

I have had conversations with survivors and some of the organisations working in the front line of forced marriages, particularly Jasvinder Sanghera of Karma Nirvana, who is very supportive. As most noble Lords who have worked in this field know, Jasvinder is herself a survivor of forced marriage and has set up the organisation to support other women in this situation. I was struck by the advice that Karma Nirvana gives girls who are forced to travel overseas to marry; namely, to conceal a spoon or fork, for example, about their person so that an alarm will be set off when they go through the airport X-ray machine. Then the airport security staff will have to take them aside to speak to them, thus giving them the opportunity to speak privately with security staff and try to enlist their support. It is sad that this advice still has to be given to young women and some young men. If everything worked effectively, presumably they would not need to resort to such tactics. Is my noble friend the Minister confident that there is consistency across the country regarding the guidance and support given by airport security staff to young girls who are being forced out of the country and who follow the advice to activate an alarm, or is it just up to individual staff to decide what support to give? The amendment is important to ensure that there is uniformity in this regard.

Young people in this situation who are accompanied by their families also need to be listened to. I know that schools contact the families of pupils who have raised this issue. If schools or other authorities contact the families of victims, it is important that the young person is taken aside and is spoken to privately to enable them to explain their situation rather than relying on family members to speak on their behalf.

My Lords, I support both amendments in this group, not least because guidance in this area is critical. Noble Lords will know that the previous Government produced stringent guidance. However, it is not just a question of producing guidance but of implementing and monitoring it to ensure that it is effective in raising standards and offering greater protection for the victims and survivors of this most pernicious form of abuse. What assessment has been carried out of the current guidance and of any implementation strategy that the Government are minded to put in place if this amendment is accepted, which I hope the noble Lord is about to tell us he energetically supports?

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of a forced marriage commission which is currently hearing evidence. An interesting aspect of that is that we went to visit the Karma Nirvana organisation just outside Leeds and the victims to whom we spoke were all very anxious that forced marriage should be criminalised. I have had my doubts about that. I took part, with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in the original initiative on this issue, which led, I am very glad to say, to a government Bill being produced some years ago under the previous Government. I know that the noble Lord is very opposed to the criminalisation of forced marriage. However, there is no doubt that all the victims to whom members of the commission spoke considered that this was an essential next step, which I thought was very interesting.

I am very concerned about how the immigration authorities, or emigration authorities, can cope with this problem. I talked to an immigration official at Gatwick and asked him what he did about girls going out to Pakistan with their parents and those coming back, or a young man coming into this country, where a girl is waiting with her parents to welcome him as her intended husband. The official told me that he had spoken to these girls on many occasions. One such girl was waiting for an intended husband to come through the airport and the official took her aside and asked her whether she wanted to marry that man. She replied, “No, I do not”. When he asked her whether it was a forced marriage, she replied, “Yes, it is”. He said that he could stop the forced marriage by preventing the young man entering the country but that the girl would have to declare publicly that she was being forced into a marriage. The girl replied, “I cannot do so in front of my parents”. This is a major problem. We know that a lot of girls and some young men, many of whom are under 18, are being forced into marriage in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India and, indeed, other places. This is by no means only a Muslim problem. It is also a Sikh problem and occasionally a Jewish problem, but it is a problem across the world. One of the major problems in this regard I have been told about concerns disabled young people, particularly those with learning difficulties, as the parents think they are doing the young woman concerned a favour by marrying her off as she will be protected for the rest of her life. Nevertheless, she does not want the marriage and this is a very real problem.

I very much support Amendment 5, particularly because I think it is time that everyone, from the Government through to the Department for Education and schools in particular, should do as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, suggests and treat this as a child protection issue. If you force a girl or boy to marry under the age of 18, particularly under 16, when they do not want to marry, this is a very real child protection issue. However, another extremely worrying issue arises. These girls—it affects particularly the girls—are being married in other parts of the world with an Islamic ceremony. That ceremony is not registered overseas and it is not registered in this country. Therefore, the girl is not married according to English law. The husband can divorce her under Islamic law and she can obtain no redress in this country for herself. She does not have to be married to get financial help for her children but she gets no financial help whatever for herself because she is not married according to English law. Interestingly, there is a law that gives the second wife in a polygamous marriage some financial assistance.

I have not tabled an amendment in relation to forced marriages that are not considered valid marriages, but I hope that the Government will look at that as there is no shortage of women in this country and abroad who are not considered married according to English law although their marriage ceremonies are considered perfectly adequate in some communities. I particularly underline what the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said about child protection. I am not at all sure whether Amendments 5A and 6 are entirely necessary, although the Government should certainly look at them, but Amendment 5 is vital.

My noble friend Lady Berridge is not in her place at the moment, but I know, from a very short conversation I had with her yesterday, that her Amendment 11 is intended to address the second problem to which the noble and learned Baroness referred. When I first read it, I thought it was simply about annulment but she tells me that it is, in fact, about property.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece for tabling the amendment. The noble and learned Baroness made a point about forced marriages. As I said when we moved on to this part of the Bill, there is evidence to suggest that this is a reality and we have to deal with it. I can assure her that the Government take this very seriously. The issue of unregistered marriages which take place abroad or even on home soil, and which do not provide the protections afforded by the rule of law, is one that must be looked at and the Government are looking at how this can be done. An example of good practice within Muslim communities is where the nikah—one aspect of Islamic marriages—is not performed by the imam until a registration certificate is provided. Many Muslim communities adhere to that principle and we should be encouraging that kind of practice across the board.

I turn to the amendments which concern the publication of guidance for front-line professionals working in this area. We know how important guidance is if the new legislation is to work effectively. I join other noble Lords in saying that this must not just be issued but, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said, adhered to as well. I align myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on the Forced Marriage Unit and pay tribute to the work done in this field, over many years, by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland.

First, I will explain the existing statutory provisions in relation to guidance. These are contained in Section 63Q of the Family Law Act 1996, which was inserted into the 1996 Act by the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. I join noble friends in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill whose Private Member’s Bill resulted in the 2007 Act and provided a widely used civil remedy for victims and potential victims of forced marriage. Subsection (1) of Section 63Q of the 1996 Act provides that the Secretary of State may, from time to time, prepare and publish guidance to such descriptions of persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate about, first, the effect of Part 4A of the Family Law Act 1996, and, secondly, about other matters relating to forced marriages.

Clause 107 amends Part 4A to make the breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offence, so the preparation of guidance about the new breach offence is already covered by the power to issue guidance provided for in Section 63Q. Clause 108 creates a new offence of forced marriage which is undoubtedly a matter relating to forced marriages, so the preparation of guidance about the offence in Clause 108 is also already covered by Section 63Q.

I recognise that, unlike other amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the existing statutory provision does not place a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish guidance. However, as the Minister explained when the same amendments were debated in Committee in the House of Commons, the fact remains that two editions of the multi-agency statutory guidance for those dealing with forced marriage have been published, in accordance with Section 63Q of the 1996 Act, since the provisions of Part 4A came into force in 2008. The guidance will be further revised to reflect the creation of the new offences before they come into force.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, has already spoken about the importance of adherence to guidance. Subsection (2) of Section 63Q provides that a person exercising public functions, to whom guidance is given under this section, must have regard to it in the exercise of those functions. Therefore, agencies are already under a statutory duty to have regard to the multi-agency when they exercise their functions and they could be subject to a legal challenge by way of judicial review, for breach of statutory duty, if they fail to do so.

I turn to a few of the issues raised during the debate. My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece related, very eloquently, a poignant, factual story about a young girl who turned up at an airport and the desperation she felt. We have taken these issues on board and the Forced Marriage Unit has delivered awareness training to staff in airports across the country, including Heathrow, Stansted and Birmingham. I agree that this problem does exist and that we need to look at the practicalities within the family environment.

I come back to my central point about education within the community. This is not a one-off: it is not about passing legislation or criminalising a particular activity; it is about how it is applied in practice. This will require a community effort involving training, education, doctors’ surgeries and practitioners on the ground. It will mean going into the communities, into all places of worship and all community centres, to ensure that the routes are available to people. This is not about targeting one community or another. I am sure all noble Lords share that sentiment. It is about ensuring that no young girl or boy—boys are also forced into this—has to endure pressure or fear of social ostracism if they take a step to say no to forced marriage. The relevant support and guidance must be provided. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, also raised the issue of guidelines. A review of guidelines was published in 2012 and we will be revising statutory guidelines, in the light of criminalisation, next year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, made a point about the Department for Education. I have also raised this matter with officials and asked them what currently happens in schools. Schools have a duty, as I am sure we are all aware, to safeguard and protect the welfare of all their pupils and teachers should be trusted to decide how best to discuss this issue. I am assured that if a school requires the Forced Marriage Unit to provide guidance it is always ready to do so. Forced marriage is totally unacceptable and schools should be part of the process by ensuring that intervention or support is provided where they feel it is necessary. In 2009, the previous Government provided multi-agency practice guidelines on handling cases of forced marriage. They include a chapter for schools in how to take appropriate—

I am grateful to the Minister for giving this detail, but can he clarify whether the Department for Education regards forced marriage as a safeguarding issue?

Safeguarding and the protection of people in schools or elsewhere are central to every department of government. The Department for Education takes that responsibility very seriously. As I have already said, schools work very closely with the Forced Marriage Unit and children’s services at a local level. It is right that decisions are taken with the full consultation and engagement of schools, and intervention will be available to them if they require it.

Perhaps I may address the other points that were raised. The noble Baroness mentioned legal aid, a subject that has occupied your Lordships’ House at various levels over the past few years, but there was a reality to address. I am conscious that my noble friend Lord McNally is sitting to my left but I will not ask him to take over the Dispatch Box; he has answered many a question on this issue. However, there was a reality and a challenge that needed to be faced. However, I assure the noble Baroness that we have retained legal aid in key areas impacting on women—in particular, in relation to injunctions to protect victims from domestic abuse and in private family law cases in which domestic violence is a feature. Legal aid is also available for victims of forced marriage, who can seek a forced marriage protection order.

Finally, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee pointed out, given that we will come on to discuss elements of a later amendment that relate to forced marriage—a subject raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss—I hope that, given my explanation, the Committee is assured that there is appropriate provision for guidance and that the Government are fully committed to addressing and tackling this issue. We are looking to update existing guidance to support professionals in the field. This is not just about passing laws but about applying them too. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw her amendment.

I thank the Minister for that detailed and comprehensive answer. I also thank my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for her support.

This has been a useful discussion because this issue is important. I had a look at the guidance, which, as my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland pointed out, is comprehensive and impressive. Were it to be implemented in the way that is intended, it would be extremely effective. It is detailed and tells all public officials how they should deal with this issue and what they should say. The guidance is very impressive but implementation is the point. I also agreed with the noble Lord when he told the House that this is also about cultural change, changes in community and so on.

I might say to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that I come from a community in Bradford, have links across West Yorkshire and have spoken about this issue to many different groups of women in those areas. I have to say that the enthusiasm for criminalisation, which we will come on to talk about, is not by any means uniform among the groups, including, for example, a group of Somali women in Halifax with whom I had conversations only in the past year. Criminalisation of breaches of the Forced Marriage Act is important, as I think everyone would agree. However, the discussion that we are going to come on to is slightly more nuanced.

I should be grateful if the Minister could answer the question mentioned by his noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece about free schools. He does not need to answer now; a letter would be sufficient. Do the rules relating to this issue apply also to the new free schools? I should like to read what the noble Lord has said about the Department for Education’s role in this and about the safeguarding issue. We may need to have discussions and return to it at a later stage. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Clause 107 agreed.

Clause 108: Offence of forced marriage: England and Wales

Amendment 5A

Moved by

5A: Clause 108, page 78, line 41, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

“(1) Where a person commits an offence under the law of England and Wales, it shall be considered an aggravating feature if he or she—

(a) uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, or(b) believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.(2) Where a person commits an offence under the law of England and Wales, it shall be considered an aggravating feature if he or she—

(a) practices any form of deception with the intention of causing another person to leave the United Kingdom, and(b) intends the other person to be subjected to conduct outside the United Kingdom that is an aggravating feature under subsection (1), or would be an aggravating feature if that person were in England and Wales.(2A) In subsections (1) and (2), “a person” refers to any individual who commits an offence for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage.”

My Lords, I should make it clear right from the beginning that this is a probing amendment at this stage. I seek to amend the proposed criminalisation of the offence in order that forced marriage becomes an aggravating feature that a court will be minded to consider and have to take into account.

Perhaps I may explain to the Committee my concern in relation to the current government proposals. In doing so, I immediately endorse and commend the Government for caring about this issue, for seeking to address it and for understanding the sensitivity that surrounds it in relation to all communities, because, regrettably, forced marriage happens in all communities. Whether it involves an Irish farmer, someone in this country from a strict Christian denomination, Jewish communities or various forms of Asian communities, forced marriage happens in all our families. It is wrong and it is an infringement of human rights. I therefore do not hesitate to say that the Government are right to care about this, to work on it and to commit themselves to its eradication. All that is correct.

The question that I raise through this amendment is: is criminalisation the right course? Noble Lords will know from my noble friend Lady Thornton that we worked very hard on this matter and during that time we learnt a number of lessons. During the whole of my legal career—from 1977 to date, which is not very long—I have had the privilege of working with families in which both boys and girls have been subjected to forced marriage. During that time, my experience in the Foreign Office caused me to seek to create the Forced Marriage Unit and then to pursue the issue with vigour through each of the departments in which I was privileged to be a Minister. Lastly, as noble Lords will know, as Attorney-General I had the opportunity to assist victims of domestic violence, of which forced marriage is part. The prosecution of those who unlawfully seek to coerce others into a marriage to which they do not consent is something which all of us, no matter which party, pursued with vigour. The question for all of us is how best that should be done.

I looked with interest at the Government’s response to the consultation. I want to ask the Minister a number of questions in relation to the notice, if any, which was taken of some of the answers given—particularly in relation to Imkaan, which the noble Lord will know submitted a response from 48 organisations. I shall mention a few: Jewish Women’s Aid, Latin American Women’s Aid, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, various professors, the Newham Asian Women’s Project, Race on the Agenda, Rape Crisis (England and Wales), Respect, Rights of Women, Scottish Women’s Aid, Solace Women’s Aid, the Southall Black Sisters, Welsh Women’s Aid, Women and Girls Network, and Women’s Aid, England. These front-line organisations have been dealing with this matter for a very long time—indeed, as far back as I can remember.

To the Government’s question:

“Do you believe that the current civil remedies and criminal sanctions are being used … effectively?”,

those organisations answered no. In answer to the question:

“Do you think a criminal offence should be created for the act of forcing someone to marry against their will?”,

the answer was no. In answer to the question:

“What issues should be considered to ensure that a new offence does not deter people from reporting the crime?”,

the answer was:

“The creation of a specific offence on forced marriage would in itself create a significant barrier to reporting. As highlighted earlier, women and girls will not always prioritise prosecution. Women and girls want the choice to reconcile, where appropriate, with family members and often prefer to access support services before making any other decision”.

In answer to the question:

“Do you think there should be an offence of luring someone abroad”,

the answer was no. In answer to the question:

“Do you think that the creation of a new criminal offence would make the law clearer?”,

the answer was no. Then, in answer to the question:

“Do you think the creation of a new criminal offence would make it easier for professionals to tackle the problem?”,

once again, the answer was no. That made me pause because here were the most significant front-line services in our country, which have been dealing with these issues for many years, saying no.

I then looked at the other indications that we have had, and there is a concern. I shall explain why that is. At the moment we have a plethora of criminal offences. Just as with domestic violence, forced marriage comes in many forms and will be used and perpetrated by a number of individuals in different ways. You may have cases that involve the victim of a forced marriage being subjected to common assault, actual body harm or Section 18 or Section 20 grievous bodily harm. You may have cases that involve false imprisonment, attempts to murder or threats to kill. Each of those offences carries a different penalty. False imprisonment, rape and conspiracy to rape all carry life imprisonment, not seven years’ imprisonment.

Therefore, I ask the Minister how this particular offence will be prosecuted. How will we differentiate between this offence and cases where someone may have been kidnapped or falsely imprisoned, for which the punishment could potentially be up to life imprisonment? How will prosecutors and others implementing this new offence differentiate between those more serious offences and the offence of forced marriage, where the activity used to try to coerce or oblige the individual to enter into a marriage will be one of those offences? I am concerned that we might downgrade the offence if it involves a forced marriage. The effect would be that if you kidnap someone simpliciter, you may be subject to a potential penalty of life imprisonment, but if you kidnap someone for the purpose of forcing them into a marriage and you are then prosecuted for the offence of so doing, under this legislation you will be subject to the lesser penalty. I am very concerned about what we may be saying to the public if we do that.

Would not the answer to the dilemma that the noble and learned Baroness quite rightly identifies be for the prosecuting authorities to have different counts on indictments so that they include, for example, Section 18 or Section 20 and the offence of forced marriage?

My Lords, that, of course, is the way forward. However, the question that I pose is this: how are the prosecutor and the police officer to decide which offence to go for? Criminal prosecutions, as the noble Lord will know, will be carried out on the basis of proving things beyond reasonable doubt. If you look at the forced marriage provision, you have to identify a course of behaviour that is coercive. In so doing, the prosecutor will have to identify what criminal act was alleged against the defendant. For example, is it alleged that the accused hit the person or that they threatened the person? It seems to me that in order to prove the forced marriage provision, you have to identify a substantive criminal act which it is asserted that person committed. If one then has a jury, what will we say to the jury? How do we differentiate the forced marriage allegation from the substantive allegation made in relation to the other offence? I am asking this probing question to understand how the Government expect this to be done, because you cannot have an alternative in the way that we have just debated unless there is clarity about what the prosecutor is seeking to establish. In the case of a kidnapping, in order to satisfy the jury that a forced marriage offence was committed, how do you differentiate between those two if the accused is found not guilty of the kidnapping but guilty of the forced marriage based on the kidnapping? There is an inherent difficulty.

The only element of this offence that seems not to be currently covered is coercion on an emotional basis. I take as an example a devout Jewish family which discovers that one of its children wishes to marry outside the faith. A matchmaker has arranged a marriage within the community and the child rejects the suggestion made by the parent. The parent then says, “If you do not do this, I will rend my garments, I will sit shiva for you”—which means, in effect, “I will treat you as if you were dead”—“and you will break my heart”. That is coercion inasmuch as it is emotional blackmail, perpetuated for the sole purpose of making the child change their mind, but it is genuinely felt by the parent, who believes that to refuse will be detrimental to the child’s long-term being. Looking at this offence, it seems to me that it would be possible to prosecute such a parent under this legislation. I want to be clear as to whether the Government believe that such a prosecution would be merited and is what they wish to achieve.

The whole question of forced marriage is a very delicate and difficult issue. If emotional blackmail, which is not yet on the statute book, is the only offence, do the Government intend this provision to apply to parents who use it? Emotional blackmail can be devastating; if you think your mother is going to kill herself, that the family are going to be shamed, that your father will never again be able to raise his head and that you will be thrown out of your community, that is very powerful coercion, directed specifically to cause the child to comply with the request. It seems to me, looking at the offence created, that that behaviour could be caught by this provision. I would very much like to know from the Minister whether that is the Government’s intent. Let us be clear. If a loving parent disagrees with a child and seeks to persuade them to do something, which the child does not want to do but which the parent believes to be right—no matter how wrong that parent is and if they do it lovingly—they could find themselves in difficulties. I need to understand from the Minister whether that is indeed his intent.

The other issue is to see how the legislation is currently working. From the evidence that I have been able to cull, the forced marriage protection orders appear to be a very effective tool. Between November 2008 and the end of 2010 there were 257 applications for forced marriage protection orders, of which 181 had power of arrest attached. By June 2011 339 orders were recorded. A study carried out in 2011 at Roehampton University shows that of the 74 written responses received from a range of groups, including local authorities, organisations concerned with domestic violence, faith groups, police and lawyers, 50% of respondents thought it should not be criminal, 38% were in favour, 13% were unsure, 57% thought it would be more difficult for criminals to come forward, and 64% thought that the existing legislation was enough. So 64% thought that what we have now is enough. The real issue that came forward strongly was the enforcement of the forced marriage protection orders.

Before we step into an area where there may be unforeseen consequences, I should like to hear from the Minister how it is proposed that this offence will operate and what guidance the enforcement agencies—the police and the CPS—should be given. If, however, as my amendment proposes, the Government were minded to make it an “aggravating feature”, that would be a very useful tool for the courts. Forced marriage involves a breach of trust. It is not just that you kidnap, falsely imprison or assault someone you are supposed to love, it is that you do so to force them to enter into a relationship that will have lasting impacts on their lives, and maybe negatively so.

Just as we punish more severely those who breach our trust if they steal from us as an employer, it is equally important to say that if you commit any of these substantive offences which are grievous and egregious in their own right, and you do so for the express purpose of forcing someone for whom you have responsibility directly or indirectly into a marriage or otherwise, you deserve more trenchant punishment than if you did it to a stranger—somebody that you did not know. We would be able to keep all the substantive offences, punish them appropriately in accordance with the gravity of what was done, using the legislation that is already there, but we could do so more trenchantly because they did it in the framework of forcing someone into marriage. We would do what the Government want, which is to make it very clear that it is a criminal offence, will be taken seriously and needs to be punished, but we may be able to do it within a context that will not bring about some of the unforeseen consequences that some of us foresee now.

My Lords, coming back to what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said earlier on forced marriage, I, too, am glad that the Government are taking this seriously and are trying to do something about this awful practice involving many victims whose lives are made miserable. At the same time I, too, wonder whether the measures that the Government are trying to take will be helpful or counterproductive, as I said at an earlier stage. As has been suggested by other noble Lords, I fear that by making forced marriage a criminal act, a lot of young people will not come forward to report it, so it could be pushed more under the carpet, rather than being dealt with.

Will the Minister shed some light on the background from which forced marriage comes? I share the view that it is not an issue from one particular community or faith. However, many noble Lords will know that most cases registered with the Forced Marriage Unit of the Home Office come from the Pakistani Muslim community. I speak from that community, as I belong to it and know what is happening. Does the Minister understand that one of the major factors in forced marriages is the clan system? The tribe system strongly exists within the Pakistani community in the UK, although we have been settled here for 40 or 50 years. In the tribes, sects, brathries, clans or castes—whatever name we use—people are divided into those groups and many of them do not want their sons or daughters to marry out of their clans, brathries or castes. This is where many forced marriages are taking place.

Does the Minister recognise that and what will the Government do about educating people to come out of the brathries system? I get invited to many community meetings and have spoken many times about this. I have written in the Urdu language, which I am able to do, in newspapers against this practice. For example, 15 years ago in my home town of Luton, there was a big community meeting where we discussed community issues. There were a couple of hundred people there, and I spoke on this issue. By the time I had finished, every leader of every clan or caste gave me a dirty look, as if to say, “How dare you?”. That is how strongly the caste system is built into some of these cultures. We need to educate them not only through the normal education channels but through the ethnic media, which has hardly been mentioned but which can play a positive role in educating people.

Then there is the film industry. I was watching a film on one of the satellite channels; many Pakistani-origin people watch dramas and films on these channels. In this film, a female was to be married to someone out of her caste. Another female tells her, “My dear, you will have to give up this idea”, and points to the cemetery outside their house, saying, “It is full of virgins”. They are the virgins who were not allowed to get married outside the caste. This is how strongly this is practised outside the UK and these films, when they are shown, have an impact on people’s lives and behaviour. We need to understand that as well, and maybe we need to educate our own people in how to look into it.

On the particular issue of the media, DfID is giving millions of pounds to media outlets operating in the UK and in Pakistan. I hope that some of that money will be used for programmes to educate on forced marriages by the media that are supported financially by DfID. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how he thinks he can prevent the criminalisation of forced marriage discouraging reporting. I strongly feel that that may happen and we need to look at it very carefully. I hope that he can satisfy us.

My Lords, I stand somewhat hesitantly and ask for the House’s leniency, as I did not take part at Second Reading. I hope that the House will indulge me for a few minutes, as someone who chaired the initial work on forced marriage in 1998, alongside the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, instructed by the then Home Secretary. I was inspired by the comprehensive understanding of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. I have no words of expertise to be able to relay the issues she laid before the House. I was also deeply inspired by the noble Lord, Lord Hussain. All those years ago, in 1998, such a speech would have been unthinkable from a Member of the House of Lords coming from the Pakistani community. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, also comes from the Pakistani community and, although he took a little pulling in on my sisterly part to bring him along to the discussions, when he did, he did so with vigour. We are standing on the shoulders of giants regarding much of the work that was done across the country.

We went across the country for 18 months, talking to various sections of the community: we left very few stones unturned, whether it was the Jewish community, the Irish community, the Scottish borders or the Welsh community. We did not leave any of the women’s organisations out of the debate. Out of it came the Forced Marriage Unit, which is very laudable, and the work it has subsequently done. I support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, because it is critical. All those years ago, women really wanted some protection and their consensus, which was right across the board, led to forced marriage protection orders. However, our report made it very clear that we proposed that this should have been done under the protection of domestic violence legislation and child protection legislation. Whether it is kidnapping or murder, we wanted to mainstream the issue of forced marriage into the criminal legislation. That did not happen at that point.

The women’s organisations listed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, have played a critical part in leading to the changes that have occurred and we have to acknowledge how much change there has been, led by community organisations, faith organisations and the women’s organisations themselves. If they are now saying that criminalisation will impact on the numbers of women and young people reporting, I suggest to the Committee that we take that very seriously. I have attended a number of meetings with these organisations, both here in the House and outside, and they have consistently asked that the Government recognise their work and expertise. They are saying that criminalisation will make it very difficult for them to work because, whatever we say about the amount of resources available outside, we have done very little since 1998 to empower those marginalised women economically and to address their welfare needs and their education. Women, in particular, will not be confident to come forward, whether it is to report violence against them or to report rape or forced marriage, unless we address the issue of their economic well being. I suggest that this added burden of criminalisation will be a very deep-seated aggravation, compounding the levels of pressure women face within the community. I hope that we will listen to some of the women’s organisations. I think that the amendment moved by the noble and learned Baroness is the right way to go about it and I hope that the Government will concede.

My Lords, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which looked at this issue, as with other issues in the Bill, and realised that there was a great deal of knowledge and experience in your Lordships’ House, some of which we have heard today. We came to the conclusion that we cautiously accepted the Government’s reasoning for the criminalisation of forced marriage, but we recommended, among other things, that the Crown Prosecution Service should develop a strategy on prosecutions over forced marriage and that, in developing such a strategy, there should be consultation with the relevant stakeholders. It was very much a cautious acceptance of the Government’s reasoning.

I appreciate that the noble and learned Baroness has put this down as a probing amendment rather than anything more and I accept it in that spirit. I counsel some caution, however, about having an offence which one commits if there is an aggravating feature in relation to another offence. It causes difficulties in sentencing in other cases in which this form of offence has been introduced. It seems to me, as I suggested in a brief intervention on the noble and learned Baroness, that it would be perfectly possible to have an offence of forced marriage and to have an offence if the context required it—a further offence, perhaps, in Section 20 or Section 18—of whatever other offence had been committed. However, I understand the spirit of the amendment and I look forward with interest to what the Minister has to say.

Did the human rights committee consider the proposal that has been put forward by my noble and learned friend? If it did not, does it think it would be a good idea if it did now do so, if there is time?

I do not, of course, speak for the committee, as I am only one member. This particular amendment was not considered; I can certainly take it back to the committee and ask that we consider it.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble and learned Lady, Baroness Scotland, for all the work she has done in setting up the Forced Marriage Unit and for her commitment and dedication over many years on this issue, as well as on domestic violence and related issues. She speaks with great authority. My concern is that we need a clear message, a deterrent, to go out to many of these communities and my fear is that some of the messages we are hearing in the debate today are not as distinct as they could be.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hussain that education is needed and that far more should be done within all the various communities. We are talking about a range of communities; it is not just one or two. Moreover, we are seeing people coming here from the first generation, particularly from certain African countries, who are still bringing these sorts of customs with them. They do not always understand what is and is not acceptable in the United Kingdom in the 21st century.

As I said in my earlier contribution, I have some personal experience of this. I know what it is like to be threatened with being ostracised from your family and to have to leave home. No child wants to feel the pressure of being ostracised and losing contact with their family. They cannot be in touch with their extended family. For many of us, our communities and families, particularly the immediate family, are very important to us. It is our whole world. Let us make no mistake, this is a terrible thing to happen. It is not always done with violence, but certainly with intimidation.

I want something that will work. Whatever we agree to, it has to be able to prevent this happening to young women. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that although we have made a lot of progress, this is still happening to far too many young women and, as my noble friend said earlier, to boys as well. Many young people are at risk and are being affected by this. The figure must still be in the thousands and that cannot be right. We have to do something about it.

On prevention, I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, said about the voluntary organisations. The vast majority of community organisations that are working with their respective communities do not want to see the people who are in their communities being criminalised. No one would want that. The idea is that this would prevent people doing these things and entering into this sort of behaviour. It would prevent criminalisation.

Does the noble Baroness accept that organisations such as the Newham Asian Women’s Project and Southall Black Sisters have a long and honourable history of campaigning against such violence? There is no way that they would want to associate themselves with what she is suggesting; that is, that they just want to see more education or protection because they want to save their communities from such allegations. They are very clear about this issue and that comes from their experience, which has been acquired from more than 30 years of protecting women.

I accept what the noble Baroness says. I have worked in the past with Southall Black Sisters on domestic violence issues in the Turkish and Kurdish communities when I was setting up a women’s refuge for them. Indeed, I worked very closely with them; I know the work the women do and I pay tribute to them. However, I think that we need some sanctions in order to prevent this. I am sure that the same arguments were deployed in the debates on the proposal to criminalise FGM. Perhaps that is not a good example because there have been no convictions, but it is illegal. Whatever we may think about it—which is obviously for another debate—that sends out the message that FGM is wrong. If something is wrong, it should be against the law. I have listened carefully to the debate and I have thought long and hard about the issue. I have not come to this view over the past few days. It is something that I have considered for many years, and of course there needs to be far more education.

Let us look at the facts. No religion supports forced marriage and it is not a religious requirement. It is also a barrier to integration. These girls, when they behave in what is perceived to be too pro-western a fashion and perhaps are friendly with members of the opposite sex, are considered to have lax morals. The barriers then come up and the pressure starts. I go into schools and talk to girls whose families do not want them to move on into further education. They do not want them to go into further education because they then start to lose control. They think, “Oh, they will have boyfriends and get into relationships where they have sex before marriage”. That is when the oppression starts. It is a barrier to integration and goes against the opportunity for girls to reach their full potential. That is something I feel very strongly about. Moreover, it is a form of slavery and rape. I will be clear on this because that is what happens in many cases. It is about being held against your will in a marriage, which is slavery and rape, and I have no other form of words to describe it.

At the moment, many families feel that their young girls, particularly those under the age of 18, are their property. They belong to the family and the honour of the family rests on them, so the family feels that it has the right to impose its will. I shall quote what I think I might have said, and what one young girl who is a survivor and very much in favour of this legislation said to me: “I wish I had been able to say to my parents at the age of 14, ‘You can’t do this to me because it is illegal’”.

My Lords, I am at the cautious end of the spectrum as well. Being cautious, I noticed in the fact sheet on this issue published by the Home Office the lines:

“Victims of forced marriage, their families, and society may feel better served by a specific criminal offence. There may also be a deterrent effect”.

I read into the second sentence that that might also cover a reluctance to approach the health and other authorities simply because they are authorities.

I share the concern that has been expressed about stigmatising one’s own family and the ostracism of not just the family, but of the whole community. However, as I have said already today, I am not yet convinced that this would be answered by there being a choice between civil and criminal proceedings. Indeed, the fact sheet also makes it clear that choice is a key message of engagement. That is because there is still the dilemma of how one’s family and community will react to either type of proceedings. I then asked myself whether, conversely, it could produce the reaction of, “Well, they are civil proceedings, not pursuing the criminal route, so it is not that serious”. That worries me as well. I have said to my noble friend that I am concerned about training in this issue for the police and prosecution authorities, although that probably goes to the guidance: how will they put to those who are victims in this situation the choice they have and yet not put pressure on them?

Finally—at this point at any rate—my noble friend said that female genital mutilation is not a good example. I think that it is a good example because the criminal route has not been chosen. I am not sure what we have learnt from that; I have not picked up that we have learnt anything.

My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate and I thank my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland for introducing what is a very serious and important issue to our discussions. I want to make a point about the legislation on female genital mutilation. The reason we had to create an offence was because our law was silent on the matter of female genital mutilation at the time. We created an offence because it was the only thing we could do.

We should not be in any doubt at all that forced marriage is an offence. We need to be clear about that, and I do not think that my noble and learned friend’s—

My Lords, I want just to clarify a point. Perhaps I did not make myself clear, but what I meant was that in the debates around FGM at the time, it was argued that criminalisation would force the practice underground. There is an area of comparison because the point about this issue is that it is underground already.

The noble Baroness makes a very fair point. What we are being presented with here, as the result of the proposal of my noble and learned friend, is a choice about how to deal with the crime of forced marriage: which is the best way to deal with it? At Second Reading I think I indicated to the Minister that the Government would have to make a good case for going down the road they are proposing. They need to have a robust justification for criminalisation. As yet, the Government have not produced the evidence that would be the justification for doing so.

My noble and learned friend has done the Committee a great favour here, because she has said that there are two ways of achieving this. This side of the House is very keen to strengthen the law on forced marriage; indeed, my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper and my honourable friend Gloria De Piero—my new boss, the shadow Equalities Minister—have both said that we are keen to do so.

I would like to ask a couple of questions, because I know that some of us are quite keen to have our lunch. In what way did the Government examine this as an alternative route to the criminalisation that is on the face of the Bill? What was the discussion? Where did it take place? In particular, was this discussed with the CPS and police and what were their views on the most effective route to take? If the Minister thinks it is appropriate, we may need to have further discussion about this.

My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in a very detailed and expert debate on this issue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has already said. On a lighter note, I will address a point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who knows I have a deep respect for her professionally and personally. She talked about how parents would react to children who said no to them. I can assure noble Lords that as a father of two myself, that is a regular occurrence in the Ahmad household. A firm line—more from mother than father—normally does the trick. However, we are on a serious subject and it is important that we have had this detailed debate.

I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, for all the work that she has undertaken both in and out of government to end forced marriage. We have different perspectives on this. Let me also assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who is not in her place at the moment, that this Government are building on what has been done already. I am sure that I speak for all in the Committee and in your Lordships’ House when I say that we are at one in trying to get the best solution on this most important issue. I am therefore very grateful to the noble and learned Baroness for raising her important points and I welcome the opportunity to explain to the Committee how we have considered these points fully in the development of the Bill and will continue to take them into account as we move forward on the issue of forced marriage.

Let us be absolutely clear: we all agree that forced marriage is a fundamental abuse of human rights and needs to be tackled. We are as one on that. In criminalising forced marriage it is the Government’s intention to prevent this appalling abuse, to protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. By criminalising forced marriage, we are sending a very strong message that this abuse will simply not be tolerated and we are empowering the victims, who are at the centre of what we are proposing, to come forward in the knowledge that this issue is being and will be taken seriously, and perpetrators will be punished.

The proposal is to replace the new offences of forced marriage in England, Wales and Scotland with provisions that would make the same conduct an aggravating factor when sentencing a person found guilty of another offence. I would like to reassure the noble Baroness that the Government have considered making false marriage an aggravating factor for sentencing. However, in England and Wales, the courts already have an overarching guideline on the principles of seriousness which they are required by law to follow. Within this guideline, abuse of power, position, trust and the deliberate targeting of vulnerable victims already apply, as supplemented by a guideline on domestic violence issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which courts are required by law to follow. The guideline uses the current definition of domestic violence which covers forced marriage. It is therefore difficult to see how the amendments of the noble and learned Baroness would make any difference to the way in which the courts currently sentence forced marriage—the behaviours often associated with it are already aggravating factors.

Of course I recognise there are concerns relating to criminalisation. That is why the Government want to be absolutely certain that any changes that are made are in the best interests of the victims. To this end, the Government launched a consultation. We talked to people and considered their opinions. We considered all the evidence afresh. The majority view expressed was that forced marriage should be criminalised.

The noble and learned Baroness quoted the Government consultation. I will share the summary of the responses with the Committee this afternoon. The Government conducted a full consultation on criminalising forced marriage and overall 54% of those who responded to the forced marriage consultation were in favour of criminalisation; 37% were against the creation of a new offence; and 9% of respondents were undecided.

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the Minister but can he tell me whether Imkaan’s submission was counted as one or 48?

I shall come to that. I will ask the officials to look into that and respond accordingly. Some 297 responses were received in total. People who looked at this issue are on the front line and deal with these issues day to day. Aneeta Prem from Freedom says:

“One of the arguments is that, if you criminalise forced marriage, you will drive it underground. Well, it already is underground. Nobody advertises that they are forcing their son, daughter or anybody else into a marriage. It could not be further underground than it is already. People are using that as an excuse”.

Jasvinder Sanghera from Karma Nirvana writes:

“Criminalising forced marriage will give the police more effective, formal powers, but it would also send out a very strong message that it is child and public protection”.

I recognise that there is a fear that criminalisation could serve as a deterrent to victims. Tragically, as I have already said in a previous debate on this subject, it is already there, it is happening—it is underground, it is tragic, it is real. The question is what we are going to do about it. Forced marriage is already a hidden underground practice. While we take these concerns very seriously, I do not believe the answer is to avoid criminalising forced marriage.

In drafting this Bill, we have sought to provide the best possible protection for victims. That is why we have made provision to establish jurisdiction over new forced marriage offences where they are committed overseas by or against a UK national or where they are committed by or against someone who is habitually resident in England and Wales. The amendments would then result in these provisions not being available for the protection of the victims at the centre.

In answer to the question raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Imkaan’s submission was counted as one response. However, Karma Nirvana submitted 3,000 responses in the same vein in favour of the Government’s proposals and we also considered those 3,000 responses as one.

The question is one which, of course, taxes—

I am sorry to press the noble Lord further but I want to make it plain to him why I am concerned. I am sure he will want to deal with this. My worry is that the list of 48 covers the national front-line agencies that have been dealing with this issue for a very long time. Women’s Aid operates throughout our country and represents thousands and thousands of women, as do the Jewish societies and Refuge. I estimate that all those organisations counted in the 48 would account for millions of voices as opposed to thousands. I would be very grateful if the noble Lord would look with a greater degree of acuity as to the quality of the list of the 48.

As I always assure the noble and learned Baroness, I listen attentively when she speaks. I take on board what she has said and will write to her about it.

To those who say that this is going underground, and in respect of the cultural pressures that exist, I would say that young women and, indeed, young men may not take the issue forward because of the fear of being ostracised in their community and for fear of shopping their parents or close relatives. I say that with some understanding of the cultural challenges faced by some communities across Britain. Although I do not claim any expertise in the field, I certainly travel quite widely, along with other noble Lords, and I hear about and deal with some of these cases directly.

Irrespective of whether it goes down a criminal or a civil route, the step forward is a difficult one. That is the focus and the emotion that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, spoke about with such eloquence. It is the first step. We are leaving the civil route open but, equally, we need to ensure that the deterrent of this being a criminal offence is also available for the victim. I defer to the noble and learned Baroness’s expertise in this field but the difficult part for anyone involved is taking that first step of reporting this kind of coercion or abuse, irrespective of what route is available. That is what we need to overcome. We need, as a responsible Government, to address that issue. As I am sure the noble and learned Baroness will acknowledge, I have listened to her words quite carefully. I reassure noble Lords that, in drafting the Bill, we have sought to provide the best possible protection for victims. That is why we have made provision to establish jurisdiction over the new forced marriage offences, whether they are committed overseas or against a UK national.

The noble and learned Baroness raised several other questions, which I shall address briefly. In respect of the emotional element in decision-making, Clause 108(1)(a) covers any other form of coercion, which includes emotional coercion or emotional blackmail. That forms part of the mischief that we are seeking to address via criminalisation. However, in practice, the CPS will prosecute in cases only where it is in the public interest to do so. That will also involve an analysis of all the facts of the case, including the gravity of the offending behaviour and the harm caused. The definition of force in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 already addresses coercion by other psychological means, which could encompass emotional coercion and emotional blackmail. This is not a new proposition but something that Parliament has already endorsed. The inclusion of emotional coercion is also consistent with the non-statutory cross-government definition of domestic violence.

The CPS has existing guidelines on the selection of charges in cases where a number of different offences have potentially been committed, and our expectation is that the CPS will apply that existing guidance. We will, of course, consider carefully with the CPS whether any additional bespoke guidance is required in this context to deal with the new forced marriage offence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked whom we discussed this with outside of the general consultation that I and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, have referred to. Discussions were held with ACPO, the CPS and the Attorney-General’s Office about how this offence could work in practical terms. The Government considered the option of making it an aggravating factor, but we took the view that this was already adequately covered by the guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council, to which I have already referred.

The noble and learned Baroness’s amendments to Clause 109 would make identical provision for Scotland. This is a devolved matter and Clause 109 has been included in the Bill at the request of the Scottish Government. I cannot, as noble Lords will appreciate, comment on behalf of the Scottish Government. The noble and learned Baroness is, of course, also aware of the convention that the UK Parliament does not legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

As I said in responding to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, to complement the legislation, the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit is rolling out a nationwide engagement programme to support practitioners such as those that the noble and learned Baroness highlighted in tackling forced marriage. The unit also continues to give direct assistance to victims and potential victims. Last year, for example, the unit provided advice or related support in almost 1,500 possible forced marriage cases.

My noble friend Lord Hussain talked about education and about Pakistani dramas and Bollywood. I certainly did not expect that element but nothing surprises me in your Lordships’ House. He is right, but I would ask how many of these families watch these films and dramas, watch this man fall in love with a woman who is the wrong caste or even religion and say, “Oh, it’s tragic isn’t it?”. Yet what do they practise themselves? Why do they not have the same emotions as when they watch what are often fictional accounts? That is the education that needs to be given to the community—to realise that, whether this is about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity or humanism, what should prevail above all else is the rule of law, which prohibits coercion in marriage. That is what the Government are seeking to address through their proposals.

I pay full respect to the experience of the noble and learned Baroness and, once again, acknowledge the hard work that she has undoubtedly, historically and over many years, put into the area of forced marriage. I know that she will continue to share her expertise in the field, and I hope that, based on the explanations I have given, she will be minded to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive response. I very much value his commitment, sensitivity and understanding in relation to these matters. I reiterate that I absolutely accept that the Government are committed to doing what they believe to be right to support victims of forced marriage.

I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord said but cannot promise him that I will not bring this back, not least because I would very much like a full answer on how these issues are going to be prosecuted. One of the delights I had for three years was being in the position where that burden was mine. I therefore hope that the House will forgive me if I look at this role that is going to be foisted on my successor, Dominic Grieve, and worry a little about what he is going to do with it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, asked about the plea made by a young girl who said, “I wish I could say you cannot do this to me because it is illegal”. The answer is that she can. Today, in our country, forcing someone into marriage is illegal. Someone will commit that offence by doing a number of the things that we went through in the debate. I urge the Government to make it clear that it is illegal today, because that is what people need to hear. I also invite the noble Lord to consider how we are going to differentiate between domestic violence and forced marriage, which is a feature, an aspect or a species of domestic violence.

At the moment we do not have an offence of domestic violence, because domestic violence can be committed in a plethora of ways. I should like the Government to consider again, a little more deeply, the fissure that might be created by this disparity in the way in which we treat these offences. Everyone in this short debate has made it clear that prevention is the most important element. I ask that the Government consider very carefully whether the current system, with strong implementation, is not the better course.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, regarding the sentencing guidance, the current amendment has been framed in such a way as to enable us to have this debate. Obviously, if the Government were minded to follow the suggestions that we have raised, it could be done by strengthening the sentencing guidelines together with creating, with ACPO and the CPS, appropriate strengthened guidance to make sure that we prosecute more of these cases and that we do so successfully by enabling those victims to have the courage not only to come forward but to stay forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but I will be back.

Amendment 5A withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 3.01 pm.

NHS: Urgent and Emergency Care Review


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question tabled earlier today in another place on the subject of urgent and emergency care. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, in January this year the board of NHS England launched a review of urgent and emergency care in England. Urgent and emergency care covers a range of areas, including A&E departments, NHS 111 centres and other emergency telephone services, ambulances, minor injury units and urgent care centres. The review is being led by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director. A report on phase 1 of the review is being published tomorrow and it is embargoed until then.

This is an NHS England report. NHS England is an independent body accountable to me through the mandate. The report being published tomorrow is a preliminary one setting out initial thinking. The final version will be published in the new year. Sir Bruce has said that he will outline initial proposals and recommendations for the future of urgent and emergency care services in England. These have been formed by an engagement exercise that took place between June and August this year. These proposals will be further consulted upon through a number of channels, including commissioning guidance and demonstrator sites. Spring 2014 will see another progress report.

Decisions on changing services are taken at a local level by commissioners and providers in consultation with all interested parties. That is exactly as it should be, as only then can the system be responsive to local needs. It is vital to ensure that both urgent and emergency care and the wider healthcare system remain sustainable and readily understandable for patients.

A&E performance levels largely have been maintained thanks to the expertise and dedication of NHS staff. A&E departments see 95% of patients within four hours and this figure has not dropped below the 95% target since the end of April. However, urgent and emergency care is falling behind the public’s needs and expectations. The number of people going to A&E departments has risen historically, not least because of an ageing population; 1 million more people are coming through the doors than in 2010. Winter inevitably further challenges the system, which is why we are supporting the A&Es that are under most pressure with £250 million. Planning has started earlier than ever before this year, and the NHS has been extremely focused on preparing for additional pressure.

We will look at Sir Bruce’s report extremely carefully. Reform of the urgent and emergency care system may take years to complete but that does not mean that it is not achievable. We are exceptionally fortunate in this country to have in the NHS one of the world’s great institutions. NHS staff are working tirelessly to ensure that the care that people need will continue to be available for them wherever and whenever they need it”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Earl Howe, for repeating the Answer. I declare my interests as chair of an NHS foundation trust, president of GS1 and a consultant trainer with Cumberlege Connections.

There is no question that A&E services are under pressure—in crisis, according to the College of Emergency Medicine. Earlier this year, the Health Secretary announced that Professor Sir Bruce Keogh would lead a major review of emergency care in the NHS. It is clearly a significant piece of work, which is why I would have expected the Government to come before your Lordships’ House and the other place to make a Statement. I object very strongly to this being briefed to journalists this morning, yet Ministers were not prepared to come to the House until the Speaker granted an Urgent Question in the other place.

The noble Lord has said, quite remarkably, that because this is to be published by NHS England, it is not appropriate for Ministers to come to Parliament. He says that the NHS is independent. He must be the only person who believes that the NHS is independent. It is a wholly owned subsidiary and quango of the department. Why does a Secretary of State insist on seeing the leader of NHS England on a weekly basis if it is an independent body? I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on that. The Government should have brought this to your Lordships’ House with a proper Statement.

When the Bruce Keogh report was commissioned, the Secretary of State said that it was intended that we would learn lessons for this winter. What are those lessons? What immediate actions are now being taken ahead of winter? Weekend briefings and leaks suggest that Sir Bruce emphasises alternatives to A&E, such as walk-in centres and the 111 service, yet we have had a report from Monitor saying that NHS England has overseen the closure of walk-in centres. He cannot pass that on to clinical commissioning groups as it is well known that NHS England put pressure on clinical commissioning groups to close those walk-in centres. Will that closure programme stop now? Will he put nurses back on the 111 helpline in order to make amends for the debacle of the launch of that inadequate service months ago? What will he do about the recruitment crisis in A&E?

Bearing in mind the Birmingham health system, can he assure me that the £250 million allocated to A&E hospitals under the most pressure will be spent to alleviate the pressure on those hospitals and not be filleted away for other purposes?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions. To start where he did, NHS England, as he knows full well, is legally and constitutionally an independent body. It is, however, accountable to the Secretary of State through the mandate, as it is accountable in a number of other ways, including regular meetings. I do not think that there is anything wrong about those meetings; indeed, noble Lords would be surprised if the Secretary of State took a detached view of what NHS England did. There is a balance to be struck. We believe that the direction of travel of NHS England is one for Ministers to set through the mandate and through the outcomes frameworks, in particular, but it is then for NHS England to adopt a clinically led approach to how it configures itself and how it oversees commissioning in the system. That is the balance that we have struck through the legislation that the House is familiar with.

It is not unusual to have an embargoed press conference the day before a major announcement. I see nothing wrong with NHS England having done that. It would not be appropriate for Ministers to come to the House the day before such an announcement when this piece of work has not been led by Ministers or the department.

The noble Lord asked what actions the Government had taken. Because this is not a normal Statement—we have 10 minutes in all—I shall be very brief. The work that is now in train is not just about A&E. We have recognised, as has NHS England, that joining up health and care services is a big factor. We have the 10 pioneer pilot schemes. We have launched the biggest ever commitment to making co-ordinated care a reality by 2018. We are looking at how we improve services for frail older people. We are developing a vulnerable older people’s plan. There is £250 million going into the system over the winter to ease the pressures on the hospitals that are struggling the most. In the longer term, we will have the solutions laid out by Sir Bruce in his report, which is published tomorrow.

Anyone who knows the history of walk-in centres will be aware that this was an initiative begun by the previous Government with the very best of intentions but as a top-down exercise, which in many cases resulted in the duplication of services and not the best use of NHS funds. Even under the previous Government we saw the closure of some of these services. We expect clinical commissioning groups to take a holistic view of the needs of patients in their area and to configure services cost-effectively. Sometimes that does mean closing walk-in centres that do not provide value for money.

NHS 111 is now available in more than 90% of England. Despite the problems that the noble Lord is familiar with in some sites that launched around Easter, performance has stabilised significantly. NHS 111 is now the principal entry route for access to the urgent care system.

On recruitment to emergency medicine, the point that the noble Lord rightly raised was the reason we set up the Emergency Medicine Taskforce in December 2011 to address workforce issues in emergency medicine. That group published an initial report last year, making a number of recommendations. Those recommendations are being pursued. The £250 million that I referred to is being distributed to 53 trusts, as the noble Lord will be aware. I have a breakdown here of how the money is to be deployed but, in the interests of other noble Lords who may wish to intervene, I shall not read it out.

My Lords, given the urgency of this crisis, what are the Government doing to meet the request from the College of Emergency Medicine that the exit block be urgently addressed, so that other disciplines support emergency medicine consultants in moving patients on from A&E departments out into the community or into in-patient beds if they are not fit enough to be discharged?

We have been clear with Health Education England that this is not just about A&E consultants; it is about the entire workforce in A&E, including all relevant disciplines—nursing and others. We have tasked Health Education England with putting even greater emphasis on the need to recruit A&E consultants from medical students over the coming years.

I know that my noble friend the Minister cannot comment on Sir Bruce Keogh’s review but I wondered, separately, if there was evidence in areas that have already reorganised their urgent and emergency care—such as the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which reorganised in 2009—that services are performing well or indeed better than under the old arrangements.

My Lords, I do not have that evidence in front of me but, where there is a case for change, the local NHS has to agree a number of measures to be effective before any changes to services take place. That will include ensuring additional capacity at neighbouring hospitals, where that is appropriate, or in the community, where that is appropriate. If CCGs can properly satisfy themselves that a case for change can provide safe, effective and sustainable services, that is a legitimate justification for moving forward with local proposals.

My Lords, what light can the Minister throw on the recent report in the Financial Times that the Prime Minister has put the private hospital sector on standby for capacity over this winter? Is that true and is that part of the Government’s preparation for winter pressures? What impact do the Government assess has been made on the capacity of A&E departments by the 12% cut in the tariff paid by NHS England?

I am aware that the tariff has been the subject of active discussion on the part of NHS England and Monitor; in particular, the 70% of the emergency care tariff that has been withheld under the arrangements put in place a number of years ago, and how that money should be used.

As regards the independent sector, the noble Lord is correct: discussions have been taking place with representatives of the independent sector to see whether and to what extent there is capacity to absorb elective care patients over the winter when needed. I see everything to be gained by that. It was something that the previous Government did and we think it is right that the independent sector, where appropriate, should play its part in relieving the burden from the NHS.

Schools: Non-attending Pupils

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what the relevant bodies are doing to ensure that pupils who have not been formally excluded but are not attending school are provided with a full-time education.

My Lords, the subject of this debate may affect only a small number of pupils in terms of the total school population—some thousands of children a year—but their education is put at risk either by a lack of co-ordination by their school when they are out of school and getting help elsewhere or, I am afraid, the complete absence of any support.

The statutory guidance, Ensuring a Good Education for Children Who Cannot Attend School Because of Health Needs, which was reissued this May, is helpful but sadly not followed by all schools. The main categories of children that I have met or heard from recently are those with medical conditions, children who are so severely bullied that they cannot face going to school, or those who have been excluded informally by the school and pressured by the parent.

Perhaps we can tackle that last one first. Over recent years there have been anecdotes about children with emotional and behavioural difficulties not being quite difficult enough to be excluded, and this is worsened when the school does not want them on the premises during an Ofsted inspection. I had hoped that this habit had died down, but recently I heard from the National Deaf Children’s Society about two very different cases from different parts of the country.

In the first, a parent was repeatedly called to her deaf child’s school from work during lunchtime and told to take her son home because of “social disruptions” caused by his learning difficulty. The repeated phone calls acted informally to exclude the student from school and to burden the parent, and very few formal steps were taken by the school to remedy the problem. In the second case, the support assistant of a deaf student was called to jury duty for 12 weeks and the school failed to provide any supplementary support for the student. An Ofsted inspection was taking place and the mother was pressured into not sending her child into school so that the inspector would not see the problem.

Schools are also very anxious about recording authorised and unauthorised absences. One student received multiple “unauthorised absences” from school because he had to attend his medical appointments. His parents had informed the school of the medical needs but the school still held him accountable and required the parents to meet officials to discuss the absences. The parents said that they felt under pressure to avoid their child going to necessary medical appointments so as to improve the school’s attendance figures.

I ask the Minister whether there are robust systems in place to ensure that schools are being held to account for these informal exclusions. How will Ofsted be made aware that they are happening? Who can parents report things to if they are worried that the school is not listening or behaving properly? This is true especially for academies and free schools, where there is no recourse to a local authority for help.

Last month I had the privilege of meeting, here in the Palace of Westminster, a number of pupils and students from the Alliance of Healthcare Conditions. Some of their stories are also worrying. I met an 18-year-old girl who, at 14, had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had a tumour removed. This meant she was out of school, either in hospital or at home, for the best part of a year just as she was starting her GCSE courses options. Her maths teacher, who was also the deputy head of the school, called every other week to check in and offer her support for maths, which the girl then passed very well at age 16, having returned to school. But there was absolutely no co-ordination between the school, other staff, and the hospital school or her home tutor provided by the local authority when she was at home.

I talked last week to Dr Clarissa Pilkington, a pediatric rheumatology consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital, who confirmed that this problem is widespread among hospital schools. She said that hospital schools would welcome more contact with children’s schools, not least because they can target support at the right level of learning, especially for students working towards exams or qualifications. The statutory guidance I mentioned earlier talks about liaising with a school when the child is going back to school, but it does not talk much, if at all, about the school liasing as the child goes out of school and into alternative support.

Dr. Pilkington also commented that appropriate learning and short bursts of concentration can help her patients manage their pain and other symptoms, so learning is useful to the medical process too. Will the Minister please say whether there is a requirement for such co-ordination in cases where it is obvious that children will be out of school for an extended period? Who checks the level of support that a pupil or student gets at home if they are out of school for a period, and are the local authority and the relevant home tutor given access to staff at the local school so that they can set the appropriate level of work?

I know that my next example is an independent school, but the Telegraph recently reported that the parents of a student attending an independent boys’ school were pressured, by threats of exclusion, into removing him. The student, who was eventually diagnosed with severe ADHD, had passed his entrance exams with high marks, tested well, participated in athletics, but struggled with homework and long tasks due to difficulty concentrating. That is not uncommon with ADHD. He also struggled with sleeping. Eventually a meeting was called at the school. The deputy head promised to provide details of an educational psychologist but failed to do so and recommended a school counsellor instead. His parents were eventually told he would be excluded if he continued to behave in that way. They felt compelled to remove him before he was excluded. Following his formal diagnosis by a pediatric neurologist, he now attends a new school with smaller classes and full-time SEN staff. The pupil was very distressed by the behaviour of his former school. I raise this example to say the problem is not confined to the maintained sector.

I now move to children so severely bullied that they cannot go to school. The Minister and I have talked about alternative provision for these children, but that is not the focus of this debate, even though much more of it is needed across England and Wales. I want to know what happens to the pupils defined as school refusers but still on the school roll, often because the school will not accept that bullying is happening in the school. Last week I heard of a young man who was the victim of homophobic bullying, who was last in his school two years ago. He cannot get to alternative provision elsewhere because the school insists that he must return to the specialist support unit inside the school, as the school believes it can handle the problem. It has failed, however, to take into account that he is still taunted and bullied on his walk to and from the school and inside the school on his way to the unit. He is now 17. He is approaching the end of his school career with no qualifications, clinical depression, and despair about the whole education system. Can the Minister say what a student and their parents should do when a school behaves in this way?

Admissions is another issue for children with medical conditions. An 11-year-old girl I met has very serious allergies, causing life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Because of her allergies, the hospital consultant has said she should not travel on public transport. Her mother applied for her to go to the local school. Her appeal to go there was refused because the school said it was not a medical condition despite the intervention from her consultant. Worse, the staff at the school said they would refuse to use the EpiPen if she went into shock, so she could not attend the new school from the beginning of term. When I last talked to her mother 10 days ago, she was still out of school. Are schools allowed to decide what is and is not a medical condition? Medical need for admission has always been prioritised. It is shameful that some schools are running away from their responsibilities. I know that the Government are being very helpful in the Children and Families Bill on the issue of staff giving emergency medication, but refusing a child a place in school is patently ridiculous.

To conclude, there are too many pupils out of school for extended periods who are invisible to the system. I ask the Minister whether there is any record of the level of educational attainment for these young people out of school for a long time. Is there an opportunity to disaggregate the data from the whole-school figures to show those on the roll but not currently attending, and, perhaps more importantly, is this something Ofsted should be asking schools to account for? Most importantly, what are the Government going to do to ensure that this very vulnerable group of pupils gets access to the education that it deserves and is entitled to?

My Lords, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for ensuring that this important issue is debated today. I should also like to pay tribute to the tremendous efforts made by schools and teachers up and down the country, who work tirelessly to educate our children, often despite the efforts of many ill disciplined and disruptive students to put them off.

Every child matters, yet there are times when exclusions become necessary. The child, however, must not then be deprived of education. We on this side of the House understand the critical importance of discipline. It provides a bedrock for sound learning. We also understand that there are times when there is a need, for the sake of discipline, to exclude pupils from school. The vast majority of teachers do everything they can to ensure that pupils get the best start possible. I particularly applaud the efforts of teachers and head teachers on the reduction in the number of children who have been officially excluded from school over the past few years.

We are, however, concerned by the increasing number of children who have been informally excluded—or, to put it another way, illegally excluded—from school. I say “illegally” because the rules on informal exclusions are absolutely clear. The rules state that if a child is excluded from school in any way at any time, this should be formally recorded. A due process has to be followed, which includes a referral to the board of governors. A child can be legally excluded only for disciplinary reasons. Head teachers must tell parents and carers formally, in writing, why their child has been excluded and for how long.

Guidelines have also been set for what kind of activity would lead to exclusion. It states clearly that a school cannot exclude children because it feels it does not have the resources to deal with them or because it believes a child needs time to cool off. The guidelines specify that any exclusion of a pupil, even for a short period, must be made and recorded formally. Are the rules being followed? The answer to this, according to the Children’s Commissioner for England, which published a report on this issue in April, and according to the charity Contact a Family, which published a separate report in February, is a resounding no. The Children’s Commissioner for England has found evidence to suggest that one in 10 secondary schools is forcing pupils to stay away from lessons but failing to record the punishment formally in the register.

The problem seems to be that many head teachers simply do not realise that asking parents to collect a child at lunchtime to cool off, or to keep them at home for a few days, counts as exclusion. There is increasing evidence to suggest that head teachers use this as a method to exclude children for minor misdemeanours, such as larking around in the classroom, breaking uniform policy or a bad haircut. Some academies are attempting to avoid scrutiny of their exclusions by external independent appeals panels and are refusing to hear appeals from parents. That right has been removed. Part of the problem is that we cannot be sure of the scale of the problem. Is the Department for Education collecting figures or monitoring local authorities’ and academies’ performance on this issue?

According to the Children’s Commissioner, the scale of illegal exclusions is enormous. Who is affected by this? As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned, children with special educational needs, disabled and bullied children and poor children feel the brunt of these exclusions. According to the charity Contact a Family, 22% of disabled children are illegally excluded at least once a week and 15% are illegally excluded every day for part of the day. Pupils with special educational needs are eight times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers. Pupils with SEN statements are seven times more likely to be excluded while those without statements are nine times more likely to be excluded. More than two-thirds of all permanently excluded children have some form of identified SEN. It is clear that informal exclusions now follow the same pattern.

Of course, it is not just the children who are affected. Parents also suffer as they often feel constantly on call. Many have to drop everything to pick up their children. That means it is impossible for them to hold down a job, forcing them into further poverty, according to the Children’s Society. Parents are often afraid to take on the school and challenge illegal exclusions because of the impact that might have on their child’s school record.

If we know this is happening, why is nothing being done about it? Who is responsible for enforcing these rules? Ofsted is the lead body responsible for policing these policies but its sanctions on the issue are mixed in with an assessment of the school as a whole. It would seem highly unlikely under the present system that this one issue would have a dramatic impact on the overall assessment of the school. It is very difficult for Ofsted even to know that these temporary exclusions are happening as they are not recorded. Local authorities have a duty to provide full-time education to children, but in the face of tremendous budget cuts imposed by the coalition Government, the resources that local authorities have to police this problem and to track these cases are being put under increasing pressure. There is a responsibility to educate but the follow-up of excluded children is sporadic at best. If the issue is as large as the Children’s Commissioner suggests, and if we know that these actions are illegal, how does the Minister intend to tackle this issue? Currently, it seems as if there are very few sanctions for illegal exclusions.

It is right to dwell on the consequences of illegal exclusions on children. Informal exclusion means that children are more likely to fall through the education net. If local authorities are not informed, children are unlikely to be given the statutory schooling that they have a right to receive. Once children fall behind, it is very hard for them to catch up and they are likely to become even more disruptive. Their chances of finding a job are diminished and they are forced on to the state and the taxpayer for support. Fixing this problem early is therefore an economic imperative for the country.

Could the Minister answer the following questions? Does he agree that head teachers and teachers should be given training and guidance on the rules, so that they are aware that informal exclusions are in fact illegal? Part of the reason for unofficial exclusions from school is the lack of the teachers’ ability to instil discipline and manage behaviour. These skills are taught to teachers with teaching qualifications but we are deeply worried that the Government are allowing unqualified teachers into schools on a permanent basis who have not had this training. Does the Minister believe that we should look to best practice and encourage schools to ensure the professional development of school leaders, teachers and trainees, including formal teaching qualifications that teach strategies to create a good learning environment and prevent exclusions?

Will the Government reinstate the independent appeals panel for illegal exclusions? The Education Act 2011 removed the right of parents to appeal to an independent appeals panel against permanent exclusion. That has been replaced by an independent review panel with reduced powers that cannot require a school to reinstate a pupil it judges to have been unfairly excluded. Will the Government issue further, more specific guidance on the principles of exclusion thresholds? For example: “Exclusions should happen only to protect the health and safety of pupils and prevent disruption of learning”. This would stop schools excluding children for having a bad haircut or for other trivial reasons. That is happening today in our society.

As I mentioned at the start, schools should be congratulated on the reduction in the number of formal exclusions over recent years but there is a danger that the problem is simply being displaced to children being informally excluded from schools. The Government need to nip this issue in the bud and save these children from a life of disruption and exclusion. That will not happen unless there is a sanction against those who transgress the rules.

I thank my noble friend Lady Brinton for securing this important debate and for her eloquent speech. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her excellent contribution. I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Brinton in championing the cause of children who are excluded, particularly those who have been subject to bullying. I am also aware that Ofsted intends to publish next week a report on children who are not receiving full-time education, which will highlight weaknesses in the system and make recommendations for improvement, with examples of good practice. I hope noble Lords will find that helpful. I welcome this opportunity to set out the other actions the Government are taking to help ensure that pupils outside mainstream schools receive the good quality education they deserve.

I hope that the instances to which my noble friend referred will be helped by the managing medicines amendments we have tabled to the Children and Families Bill. She raised a question about ensuring co-operation between hospitals and mainstream schools. Where a pupil attends hospital while at school, the local authority retains its duty to ensure that they receive suitable education. We enforced in statutory guidance the role of the local authority in promoting co-operation between schools and children who cannot attend because of health needs.

On omissions, while there is a clear omissions appeal procedure, I will look at the particular point that my noble friend made about who can decide what a medical condition is and will write to her about that. On the point about who records the educational attainment of these pupils, if they are permanently excluded the AP provider would retain that and Ofsted would report on it. The results would show that. If they are not permanently excluded, the school would continue to hold those results.

She raised briefly the subject of bullying. In this Government’s view, bullying is completely unacceptable. Every school must have a behaviour policy which includes specifically what it does about bullying, including homophobic bullying. Ofsted will inspect against that. We have provided considerable support to a number of organisations to help schools in that regard. Where a child has been permanently excluded, it is the responsibility of the local authority to organise full-time education through an alternative provision provider. Where the child is temporarily excluded under a fixed-term exclusion, it is the school’s responsibility to make other arrangements.

On unlawful exclusion, there is no excuse for a school to exclude unlawfully any pupil. As I have said, the Government have given schools greater powers to manage behaviour. We are also addressing the underlying causes of disengagement, for example by reforming SEN and identification, particularly in relation to early identification. Ofsted is fully aware of this issue and we have toughened up the Ofsted inspection regime. Should evidence that exclusion has been used unlawfully come to light during an inspection, this will be taken very seriously. Unlawful exclusion would raise serious questions that may be linked to leadership, management, school safeguarding procedures, governance, behaviour and safety.

If a parent thought that their child had been unlawfully excluded, their first right of redress would be to the school governing body. If it is a maintained school, it would be to the local authority, or, if it is an academy or a maintained school, they could complain directly to the Department for Education. We would take a dim view of any school that we thought was gaming the system in this way. Certainly, the academy sponsors that we are supporting to turn around schools that have been left to languish in failure for years up and down the county are passionately committed to inclusion and are completely against the concept of exclusion, as I am. In five years at my school, we have permanently excluded only two children, in those cases reluctantly.

As the noble Baroness states, statutory guidance on exclusions is clear: exclusions must follow the legal process. The Children’s Commissioner report made clear that the majority of schools follow that process. In the past, some schools might have taken an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to alternative provision. That is why, since last September, school inspection has included a specific focus on the education, health and safety of pupils in off-site alternative provision. It is important to note that an increasing number of schools are making excellent use of such provision. The Government are also currently trialling, in 11 local authorities, the benefits of schools taking greater responsibility for permanently excluded children. The lessons learnt from that trial will be available to be rolled out across the country.

There are examples of excellent provision. Sawston Village College in Cambridgeshire, of which my noble friend may be aware, uses funding devolved from the department to provide an excellent on-site centre for children in need of short-term respite, including any pupils who have experienced bullying. The centre provides one-to-one support, maintaining a rigorous focus on education and successful reintegration. It also works with a local charity, Centre 33, to provide counselling for those children, including pupils guilty of bullying. A similar approach is used by St Benedict Catholic voluntary academy in Derby. It has a sanctuary to nurture the emotional needs of pupils who may have been bullied. The school has also had a number of pupils trained as anti-bullying ambassadors by the Diana Award, funded by the department.

Revised guidance sets out a clear expectation that pupils in alternative provision should receive an education on a par with that provided in mainstream schools. That is something that the Government are determined to see happen. This came into force only in January and it will take time to have an impact, but it has been widely welcomed and I am grateful for comments from noble Lords during the passage of the Children and Families Bill in support of this. Local authorities are provided with funding for alternative provision, at £8,000 per pupil, and they are free to top this up.

Our focus on alternative provision was highlighted in Charlie Taylor’s report and we have followed all his recommendations. Ofsted is conducting a detailed three-year thematic survey of schools’ use of alternative provision. It is in its second year and early indications are that overall schools’ use of this provision has improved. The final report will make recommendations to supplement better practice. Ofsted has also increased its focus on local authorities’ use of alternative provision. Under the revised framework for integrating looked-after children and safeguarding inspections, published in September of this year, inspectors will now ask local authorities to report on school-age children for whom they are responsible, but who are not in receipt of full-time education. The first inspections under this new framework are expected later this month. Increasingly, local authorities and school partnerships are developing robust quality-assurance frameworks for alternative provision. A framework developed by Waltham Forest, for example, has formed the basis for a more co-ordinated approach to commissioning across 10 other local authorities.

Alternative provision is not solely for pupils with behavioural needs. While it is not possible to identify precise numbers, our best estimate is that around half of pupils in alternative provision are there for reasons other than behaviour. Many so-called pupil referral units, for example, are expressly set up for the purpose of educating pupils with health needs. Among this excellent provision is Hawkswood therapeutic school in Waltham Forest, which caters specifically for pupils unable to attend a mainstream school because of complex emotional reasons. Ofsted noted favourably the success rate in this school.

Despite the examples of good alternative provision, we recognise that the overall quality and range of providers have not always been sufficient. We have already taken steps to raise standards by increasing the role of maintained schools in PRU management committees, for example, and allowing trainee teachers to undertake placements specifically in alternative provision providers. Eight PRUs took up this opportunity in the first year and their experience has formed the basis of a toolkit to support others to do the same. We are also allowing PRUs to benefit from the freedom of academy status. Eighteen have converted already, such as the outstanding Bridge AP Academy in Hammersmith and Fulham. We are also supporting new, high-quality providers to enter the market and 18 AP free schools have opened already, with a further 16 scheduled to open in September 2014.

Noble Lords have spoken with great passion and insight on this issue. The Government are committed to the plight of all children and will not tolerate schools gaming the system in the ways that have been suggested, and we will do everything that we can to ensure that this does not take place. I hope that I have provided some reassurance that we are taking effective steps to ensure that children who are not attending school are provided with the high-quality, full-time education that they deserve. I appreciate the noble Baroness’s commitment to this cause and I am always happy to meet her to discuss any further concerns.

Sitting suspended.

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Amendment 6

Moved by

6: Clause 108, page 78, line 43, leave out “violence, threats or any other form of coercion” and insert “coercion by means including violence and threats or other psychological means”

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 9. I thought that after the previous debate on the Bill I would be faced with saying, “Follow that”, but lunch overtook us. However, it is in fact a question of “Follow that”.

Amendment 6 would alter the definition of “force” in the new provision. Noble Lords might wonder why I am worrying about that. In fact, I propose that the definition be the same as the definition in Section 63A(6) of the Family Law Act 1996—in other words, the definition for the forced marriage protection order. I had wondered why different definitions were used in the Bill and existing legislation.

I wonder that even more after the previous debate on the Bill. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, referred to psychological means of coercion which are not referred to in the Bill but are referred to in the 1996 statute. She talked about emotional blackmail which might be exerted by members of the very observant part of the Jewish community.

My noble friend Lord Ahmad certainly used the term “psychology”. If there are intentional differences between the grounds for the two different offences—as we are calling both of them—then the Committee ought to be clear that that is intended. If it is not intended that there are differences, then, again, the Committee should be clear that that is the case.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, talked about “emotional blackmail”; I would include that with the term “psychological coercion”. There may be quite porous demarcation lines in attitudes and the way in which one deals with one’s children. However, trying to stand back and look at it objectively, given the emotional blackmail which she described, from what we have heard from other noble Lords and what we know from our own experience, psychological means should not simply be left aside without noble Lords addressing their minds to them.

My Amendment 9 is much more straightforward. Its purpose is merely to obtain confirmation that a habitual residence—“habitually” is the term used in the Bill—is as it is understood under the Hague convention and the case law which has developed from that. It is obviously not defined within the Bill. I believe that it is used elsewhere in legislation, although I have not been able to find it myself—although I found myself going down different byways of reading, looking at reports of cases on the internet. However, if my noble friend could confirm that, I would be grateful. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for explaining her Amendments 6 and 9 to Clause 108. It is important that we get the definitions of the new offences right and I welcome this opportunity to explore them in more detail.

Amendment 6 would amend the definition of a forced marriage. Clause 108 defines it as including the use of,

“violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage”.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee proposes that this should be replaced with alternative wording that, as she explains, would mirror the language used in the Family Law Act 1996 in relation to forced marriage protection orders.

The main difference between the two formulations is that the amendment refers to “psychological means”, while Clause 108 refers to,

“any other form of coercion”.

This is intended to make it very clear that the offence recognises the different types of pressure that can be put on victims. Victims are continually faced with different types of pressure in the course of being forced into marriage, including physical, emotional, financial and sexual pressures. It is therefore right that the definition of the offence should fully cover all of the behaviours that could be employed by the perpetrators of this absolutely horrendous practice. That is what Clause 108 does. On that basis, therefore, I do not believe my noble friend’s Amendment 6 to be necessary.

My noble friend’s Amendment 9, as she has explained, is designed to probe the meaning of the word “habitually” as used in Clause 108(5)(b). The clause provides that an offence is committed outside the United Kingdom if either the victim or perpetrator is a UK national or “habitually resident” in England or Wales. This means that the new law will apply, for example, in a situation where someone who lives in England or Wales is taken abroad in order to be forced into a marriage.

The term “habitual residence” simply means the ordinary residence of a person. As my noble friend alluded to, in fact, the term was introduced into English law from the conventions under the Hague Conference on Private International Law, where it was developed due to the perceived problems with establishing the domicile of some persons, in particular children. The term is commonly used in legislation without further definition and I am satisfied that that is the correct approach to adopt here. Based on those clarifications and explanations, I hope that my noble friend will be minded to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I will probe the first one a little further. Of course I agree with my noble friend that we have to cover every situation, or as he said, “every type of pressure”. However, as regards the definition, is there a distinction between the provision in the Bill and the provision in the 1996 Act? If there are differences, can we know them? He has not addressed that point. If they are the same, can we know that?

My Lords, as I said about the language to which my noble friend alluded, Clause 108 has been drafted to ensure that it clearly covers the wider range of factual scenarios that exist in forced marriage cases. That addresses why there is a difference between Clause 108 and Section 63A. Clause 108 is intended to be all-encompassing.

My Lords, that begs the question of whether the 1996 Act is not all encompassing. I do not want to make life more uncomfortable this afternoon—I stress this afternoon—for my noble friend, but would he be able to write to me about that, following today’s Committee proceedings? This looks like a lawyer’s point, but it is a very real one. We have already talked today and will continue to talk about the choice between the two routes. Of course, one of the factors in the choice will be if the definitions are different, and therefore if the criteria for choosing one route are not the same as the criteria for choosing the other. I gave notice to my noble friend—although probably not directly to him—of the points that I wanted to raise on these two amendments. I will not tease him about the fact that he has not told us which other legislation the term “habitually resident” is in. However, that is probably enough from me for now, and I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: Clause 108, page 79, line 2, at end insert—

“( ) A person also commits an offence under the law of England and Wales if he or she causes another person to enter into a marriage and that other person lacks the capacity to consent to that marriage.”

My Lords, this amendment, in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Smith and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, seeks to test whether the Bill adequately covers the issue of capacity; in other words, the capacity of a vulnerable adult who may be forced into a marriage. Almost by definition, they are very often not in a position to give free or full consent to a marriage, or otherwise. We are looking at Clause 108(1)(a) and (b). Paragraph (a) says,

“A person commits an offence … if he or she … uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and”,

paragraph (b) continues,

“believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent”.

Both those points assume that the person has capacity either to resist or to consent to a marriage. Of course, we know that a proportion of the cases dealt with by the Forced Marriage Unit concern people who have not given consent to a marriage. An article published in the Guardian in August which quoted the Forced Marriage Unit said that,

“The government dealt with 114 cases of forced marriage last year that involved mentally disabled people”.

However, the Forced Marriage Unit recognises and admits that that is probably only the tip of an iceberg and does not reflect the full scale of the abuse. I think that everybody would agree that we should be concerned that disabled or mentally disabled people are protected in this legislation and do not suffer forced marriage.

My second question, which is linked to but is not only about capacity, is: how can marriages be voided in these circumstances? When is a forced marriage voidable? How does it go forward and, in particular, if there is no capacity to agree to the marriage, how can it be ended? In recent times there was a judgment in which the courts decided not to end the forced marriage of somebody who they admitted lacked capacity. That has troubled many people who are concerned about this area. That is the issue we would like to probe, and I would like to know whether the Government have taken that into consideration. I beg to move.

My Lords, I also put my name to this amendment because this is a matter that needs clarification and warrants a bit of debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, there have been a number of these cases. I read the same article that she quoted, on the 114 cases that the Government had dealt with, with some concern. In August there was the case of a woman from a Sikh background who was married to a man who had mental disabilities. He did not annul the marriage because she pleaded that that would cause her stigma. It seems that the interests of the man—who was the victim in that case—were not taken into full consideration, and that needs to be looked at. If this amendment were agreed, would that mean that these sorts of cases could be declared void because people did not have the capacity to enter into marriage?

There was an article in the Times last week about another case concerning a girl of 14. Could we argue that that girl, who was forced into a marriage at gunpoint in Pakistan, had the capacity to enter into that marriage, given that it was forced? The local authority, which has now taken her and her child into her care,

“applied to the family court to have the marriage declared void”.

However, Mr Justice Holman said that he could not do that. He accepted that the marriage was,

“‘on the balance of probability void’ under English law. However, he said that he was prevented from making a solemn declaration to that effect by a section of the Family Law Act 1986”.

I am not a lawyer but, as I read it, it does not make sense that in these types of forced marriages where people either do not have capacity because they have a mental disability or they are under age, or whatever the reason may be, they find themselves at a disadvantage when they try to get the marriage annulled and voided. We have to consider that loophole, and it must be taken into consideration.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Freedom charity. I apologise to the Committee for not being present for the earlier part of our discussions on these topics due to a commitment at the Department of Health.

This is an important principle. If the Minister is planning to respond by saying that the issue is adequately covered either in the clauses we have before us or elsewhere in legislation, I urge him to think again before giving the Committee that response. It needs to be made absolutely explicit that a forced marriage is not valid where there is any question at all that the person being coerced into marriage and who has entered into it does not have capacity. That capacity may be related to age—elsewhere in our legislation there has been all sorts of discussion about capacity and age, and some of the girls concerned are of a very young age—or it may be related to learning difficulties of various sorts. We therefore need to make it absolutely explicit in the legislation that this is intended to cover those circumstances where the individual concerned does not have capacity.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her amendment. I also thank my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece and the noble Lord for their contributions. The noble Lord alluded to the Freedom charity, which carries out notable work in this field, and I acknowledge his work and engagement in that arena.

Marriage without consent or the capacity to consent is totally unacceptable. Clause 108 specifies that an offence is committed if the perpetrator uses coercion and believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that their conduct may cause another person to enter the marriage without free and full consent. A person who lacks capacity to enter into marriage is incapable of providing free and full consent to marriage. In the cases that have come to the attention of the Forced Marriage Unit, some form of coercion has invariably been involved in forcing a person who lacks capacity to consent to a marriage. The new offences would therefore cover this behaviour.

Although I totally understand the noble Baroness’s concerns and those of other noble Lords, the definition of the new offences in Clause 108 already captures in practice the types of cases intended to be covered by this amendment. I take on board the point that the noble Lord made about looking specifically at this issue. Certainly, between Committee and Report we will look at the issue once again in the context of Clause 108. However, I assure noble Lords that Clause 108 is intended to capture that particular element. Marriage is voidable under Section 12(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 on the grounds that,

“either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, whether in consequence of duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise”.

The issue was also raised of a vulnerable person getting a decree of nullity. The procedure to do so is available and a person can apply for a decree of nullity by filing a petition at any time after the marriage ceremony. If the application is not opposed, there is unlikely to be a court hearing and the person will not have to attend court. Following the petition, the court will issue a decree nisi and, following this, the applicant can apply for a decree absolute. The Family Procedure Rules make provision to ensure that these matters are straightforward for unrepresented applicants. However, having said all that, I fully acknowledge the points made by noble Lords about the special circumstances that they have mentioned. Having explained the scope of Clause 108, I hope that the noble Baroness is minded to withdraw her amendment.

I thank the noble Lord for that explanation, which was a good attempt to describe the position. However, I am not convinced that capacity is covered in the Bill. Therefore, I will ask a lawyer what they think. Depending on what they think, and perhaps after further discussions with the Bill team, we shall see whether we need to return to this at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Clause 108, page 79, line 9, at end insert—

“( ) A person commits an offence under the law of England and Wales if he or she—

(a) is the parent or guardian of a child, and(b) gives consent for that child to marry before the age of 18.”

My Lords, I am moving this amendment because the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is in Addis Ababa attending a conference on women’s health in Africa. I wish to speak also to Amendment 12, which would apply the relevant law to Scotland. Amendments 8 and 12 in this group are small and in some ways run parallel to the amendments on forced marriage we have discussed. However, if accepted, they could transform the lives of many vulnerable 16 and 17 year-old girls.

These amendments arise from the findings of a report published last year entitled A Childhood Lost by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is chair and I am a committee member. The report looks into the effects of child marriage in the UK and overseas and is based on a parliamentary hearing held to gather evidence on child marriage—its causes, consequences and ways to reduce or combat it.

Evidence came from a range of experts, including survivors of child marriage, representatives from UN and government agencies, academics, doctors and NGOs. Our witnesses testified that child marriage had many undesirable consequences. I will not run through the whole gamut but will give a few examples of those. It is associated with violence, rape and sexual abuse, resulting in emotional and psychological problems, desertion and divorce. It takes away opportunities for education—that is perhaps the most important consequence—undermines self-confidence and reaffirms gender stereotypes. It is associated with, and helps perpetuate, harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation and contributes to infant mortality and poor child development. There are more consequences. UNICEF says in its report The State of the World’s Children that an infant born to a mother under the age of 18 is 60% more likely to die in its first year of life than one born to a mother over the age of 19. Research from the International Centre for Research on Women found that girls who marry before the age of 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and depression than those who marry later.

As many noble Lords have said, child marriage is a major problem in the developing world and we are increasingly seeing it here. In England and Wales, marriage under 16 is illegal, but between 16 and 18 it is permitted, providing there is parental consent, which is not required in Scotland. In some cultures, child marriage is virtually the norm and parents are likely not only to give consent, but to force marriage on girls who may not wish to marry yet go along with it. We heard earlier, from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about emotional blackmail. A major problem which has not been mentioned is that, as with female genital mutilation, girls are taken outside the UK to get married. This amendment does not cover extraterritorial marriage but, as with FGM, we hope that a way can be found to make this illegal.

I would be grateful if the noble Lord could put his mind to this. We would be grateful if the amendment could be adapted, before Report, to include extraterritorial child marriage or if the Government brought something forward. I will not press the amendment at this stage, but would welcome discussions with the Minister about this issue between now and Report. Meanwhile, I beg to move.

My Lords, I have every respect for my noble friend and appreciate the genuineness of his concerns, but I am not persuaded—and neither is the Opposition—that it is appropriate to change the age at which people can be married from the current age of 16, with the condition, to which my noble friend has already referred, of parental consent. We have to recognise that 16 year-olds and above are increasingly sexually active. They can serve in the Armed Forces. Many people, including me, feel that they should have the vote at 16; indeed, they will do so in the Scottish referendum next year.

I accept the legitimacy of the concerns cited by my noble friend. However, the number who might be involved in marriage from 16 to 18 is not clear—or, at least, the evidence is not before us—let alone the number who are adversely affected in the way that my noble friend described. It is a large step to alter, on the basis of what we have heard, what has been the law for some considerable time. This is quite different from matters such as female genital mutilation and the forced marriage issues which we have discussed fully today. The Opposition will not, therefore, support this amendment if it is brought forward again on Report.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Tonge and for explaining that the rationale for it is, in effect, to raise the age of marriage to 18 years. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for his comments. This is one of those occasions when the two Front Benches are at one which people sometimes smile about.

I shall merely rise to reply, not rise to the challenge.

As noble Lords know, in England and Wales it is possible to marry from the age of 16, with parental consent, and from 18 without consent. The consequence of Amendment 8 would therefore be to make it impossible for a 16 or 17-year old to marry. While I understand my noble friend’s concerns, I do not believe this amendment is necessary because the law already provides adequate safeguards for children entering into marriages.

In England and Wales the provisions for the age at which a child can marry are contained in the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Section 2 of the Marriage Act 1949 and Section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 provide that any marriage, whether civil or religious, conducted in England and Wales, where either party is under the age of 16, would not be a valid marriage. If a marriage is solemnized and either or both of the parties is under the age of 16 that marriage will be void. For a child aged 16 or 17 to marry, the law requires the consent of the child’s parents or guardians, unless the child is a widow or a widower. These provisions recognise that, while children of this age may have the maturity to enter into marriages, it is still necessary to ensure that they are afforded some level of protection in doing so.

The Government believe that the current provisions provide appropriate safeguards for children entering into marriages. We therefore do not consider it necessary to amend the age at which people can enter into a marriage. The noble Lord has referred to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but the convention does not address the issue of marriage. Accordingly the law relating to marriage, including the age at which a person can consent to marriage and can marry, is a matter for determination by the national law of those states, including the United Kingdom, that are a party to the convention.

My noble friend Lady Tonge is also understandably concerned, as we all are, about forced marriages. While I share her desire to do more to stamp out this abuse, the amendments as tabled are not the best way of doing this. We have just debated provisions to strengthen the law in respect of forced marriage, thereby making it a criminal offence to breach a forced marriage protection order and making it an offence to seek to force someone to marry. This is combined with a significant nationwide engagement programme and the work done by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit to give direct support to victims and potential victims.

Amendment 12 to Clause 109 seeks to make identical provision in the case of Scotland. Marriage law is a devolved issue and Scotland has its own marriage laws. I therefore cannot comment on behalf of the Scottish Government. The noble Lord will be aware of the convention that the United Kingdom Parliament does not legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

I take on board the noble Lord’s point about further discussions between stages of the Bill. I am always open to discussions on all these matters. As I said earlier, this is an important matter and this is about getting it right. If the noble Lord or my noble friend wishes to meet me I shall be delighted to do so. Based on that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

I thank the noble Lord for that full reply, especially as it is perfectly clear that he does not agree with the amendment. He gave it a lot of time and consideration and I had always intended to withdraw. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendments 8A to 10 not moved.

Amendment 11

Moved by

11: Clause 108, page 79, line 35, at end insert—

“( ) If an offence has been committed under subsection (1) or (2) in relation to any marriage (as defined in subsection (3) and whether conducted in England and Wales or elsewhere), then that marriage shall be treated for the purposes of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 as if the marriage was valid but annulled on the date that the offender was first charged with the offence.”

My Lords, this amendment relates to Clause 108. For the purposes of the new criminal offence of forced marriage, the Bill has adopted the definition of marriage found in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, which states that.

“‘marriage’” means any religious or civil ceremony of marriage (whether or not legally binding)”.

At first glance this seems to be a sensible definition as it is clear that some marriages, although not valid in our law, have such community, cultural or religious significance that the couple behave as if they are legally married. Forcing someone into such a de facto marriage should also be a criminal offence. Consenting to such a marriage is fine; forcing someone is not.

No one underestimates the variety and complexity of situations that lead people to find themselves in forced marriages. A cursory glance at the case law reveals that children are sometimes subjected to such marriages by their parents, and the law needs to be flexible in its remedies. Under Clause 108(3), let us imagine that a woman takes a brave step to come forward to complain about a forced marriage in a religious ceremony which is not, as the Bill envisages, valid in UK law. She may take that step after many years of marriage and it will take enormous courage. She will almost certainly have to testify in court against her so-called husband and perhaps other community or religious leaders. This may affect her acceptance within her community. Her husband and others may be convicted and sent to prison.

Of course, this woman may need supporting financially and there may be family assets such as a car, a pension, a business, inherited wealth and most probably a home. However, they could all be in the legal name of the husband, who is in prison. Ordinarily the woman seeks a divorce or an annulment, and in both types of proceedings the courts have wide-ranging powers to transfer or split the family assets—but herein lies the problem: this forced religious marriage cannot be annulled and cannot be the subject of divorce proceedings. It is not viewed in law by the family courts as a marriage; it has been inelegantly described as a “non-marriage”. Without the legal means to get an annulment or divorce, the woman cannot put in a proper claim for the family assets. In those circumstances she will most likely be making a claim for benefits, supported by the UK taxpayer instead of by any family assets. I also shudder to think of what she may feel like if after a few years in prison her so-called husband comes back to the community and waltzes back into the family home with all the assets. I very much doubt whether any other women will come forward and take such risks if, on top of everything else, by doing so they make themselves financially destitute, with recourse only to the benefits system. Without giving her the remedy of an annulment, which is what the amendment gives her, there may be a grave injustice.

Conversely, if a person is forced into a marriage that is valid under UK law the marriage is void and can be annulled, and the family assets divided up. The Bill therefore currently gives rise to the different treatment of women forced into a marriage that is not recognised in our law, as opposed to women forced into what would otherwise be a valid marriage. There is extensive human rights case law on such differential treatment. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister can outline, if he does not accept the amendment, what reasonable and objective justification the Government have for such differential treatment of women in analogous situations. In the absence of any such justification, the law should be amended to give women the option of petitioning for an annulment. A woman will not be required to do so, and there may be cases where it is not appropriate, but the law should give her the option. This legal definition of marriage has not previously been an issue under the civil protection order regime, as that was aimed at preventing such a marriage, as the name indicates. As the law is now dealing with criminalising a forced marriage that has occurred, obviously the remedies when that marriage ends—namely, divorce or annulment—have now become relevant. If religious marriage is recognised for the purpose of a civil protection order regime and now criminal law, should it not be recognised for the purpose of family law?

This amendment has been drafted narrowly, but we will need to ensure that it does not inadvertently give financial remedies to cohabitees. I was made aware of the general issue of religious marriages during the presentation of evidence from excellent women’s rights groups to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which said that many women, even when they consent to the marriage, are not aware that the ceremony is not valid in UK law. In some cases they discover this only when, after many years of marriage, the husband says three times that he divorces them and walks out. Literally, the first person to explain the situation to her is a divorce solicitor, who says that he cannot help her as she is in a non-marriage. Coincidentally, I was visited this morning by Dr Siddiqui, from the British Muslims for Secular Democracy organisation, who said that the situation that there may be family assets after many years of marriage can, indeed, occur.

I would be grateful to know the Government’s view on this amendment, which I believe solves an obvious injustice, and whether the Government are going to grasp the issue of non-legally binding marriages, which is causing so much harm, and look at the matter comprehensively. The Government need to take a step back. Once a different definition of marriage has crept into our law, there can be many inadvertent consequences. They need to consider different solutions, such as making the provision of a civil marriage certificate a requirement before any person conducts a religious ceremony. Such an inquiry could also look at whether the basic legal requirements of how to be married under UK law need to be part of citizenship teaching, especially given the popular trend of travelling to sunnier climes for wedding ceremonies. I fear this is not common enough knowledge; your Lordships may remember that Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall had to get an annulment as they were not married under UK law. I beg to move.

My Lords, before I speak to Amendment 13, grouped with this amendment, I apologise for missing Second Reading as I was in South Sudan, where it was rather difficult to engage with parliamentary business here. I understand that a primary goal of the forced marriage provisions of the Bill is to increase the protection of victims of honour-based abuse while bringing perpetrators to justice. As noble Lords may be aware, this is also the primary concern of my Private Member’s Bill, the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which seeks to ensure that all citizens resident under the jurisdiction of England and Wales have equal access to the law, and to increase protection for those who suffer abuse and gender discrimination. One of the concerns underlying the reason for that Bill could be addressed by this amendment, which would make it an offence to solemnise a marriage in England and Wales according to the rites of any religion or belief in circumstances where the marriage is not also solemnised as a legal marriage under the terms of the Marriage Act 1949 if either or both parties to the marriage wrongly believe that they are married according to the law simply because they have been through a religious ceremony.

The amendment would tackle the problem that arises in some communities where those getting married, particularly women who are not familiar with English law or the customs of this country, undergo a religious marriage without understanding that they are not married according to English law. They are therefore unaware that they are without any legal protection. I think there are parallels here with the amendment just moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge.

In most cases, religious celebrants would not need to be concerned about committing the offence created by the amendment. They would not need to act any differently. Most marriages solemnised by religious celebrants are in registered buildings under the terms of the Marriage Act 1949. They are legal marriages. Under the Marriage Act 1949, a couple who have already entered into a civil marriage may go through a religious marriage ceremony after giving notice to a minister of religion, and on the production of a certificate of their marriage before the superintendent registrar.

Therefore, in circumstances when no certificate is provided, ministers of religion should already be on notice that a couple may not be married legally. In those situations when they are not sure that the parties properly understand the status of a religious ceremony, they may choose to say something about this publicly during the religious ceremony to ensure that there is no doubt, or they could choose to obtain a written declaration of understanding from the couple before proceeding with a marriage service. How they go about that procedure is a matter for them and the amendment does not seek to prescribe any particular means. What matters is that when there is some doubt as to the understanding of the parties, my amendment would effectively require celebrants to ensure that the couple they are marrying only according to religious rites are fully aware of the status of the ceremony and its implications.

Honour-based abuse is a form of domestic violence where the perceived honour of the family or wider community is used as a justification for abuse. In an attempt to control the victim, abusers may use a particular interpretation—or misinterpretation—of religion and culture to coerce the victim. This practice is not confined to any one religious or cultural group. Over recent years, I and my colleagues have met victims of honour-based abuse. We have heard harrowing real-life stories of suffering which should not be allowed in this country today. On Second Reading of my Bill in October 2012, the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, pointed out that in terms of our attempts to eradicate this form of abuse we are 20 years behind our progress on general domestic violence.

Much is being done now to tackle the problem and I warmly welcome the Government’s initiatives to criminalise forced marriage. Yet I, other colleagues within this House, members of the legal profession, and several non-governmental organisations—particularly women’s organisations—believe that more can and should be done. Many vulnerable women have described how they have celebrated a religious marriage without an accompanying civil marriage, without realising the implications. If there is a subsequent breakdown of the marriage, because their marriage is not legally recognised, these women are unable to access any legal redress. Many have told me that had they known this before entering into the religious marriage, they would have ensured that a civil marriage ceremony as well as the religious ceremony was conducted. Others have described how they have faced intense pressure from those directly involved with the marriage not to accept the provisions of a legally recognised marriage but to be content with a religious marriage only.

Although many women who find themselves in such circumstances are not victims of abuse, those who do suffer abuse face particular hardship as they are likely to find that they have no choice but to remain in an abusive relationship to avoid potential destitution. Others find that the lack of an available civil remedy forces them to have the dispute resolved by members of the community who may have sympathy for the abuser or who have no understanding of how to deal with cases of domestic violence in this country.

Leaving an abusive relationship is immensely difficult for victims and the emotional strain as well the practicalities associated with the lack of any effective legal redress, including financial provision, may prevent them from so doing. Therefore, they remain in abusive relationships.

Another problem relates to the pressure often imposed by close-knit communities on individuals if they are deemed to be bringing shame on the community. Many women have explained to me how they have been intimidated about seeking help from professional personnel or other citizens outside their own community as they are told that it would defile the honour of their family or community. This pressure may involve the threat, or indeed the practice, of violence.

I must emphasise that the provisions do not interfere with the fundamental freedom of religious communities to solemnise religious marriages which are not recognised in law, provided that both parties to the marriage are aware that the religious ceremony itself does not confer any legal status. This is a probing amendment to address some of the really serious problems and suffering encountered by many women in our country today, and I look forward to some reassurance from the Minister.

My Lords, I had not intended to say anything about this amendment, but two points occurred to me in listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, which I mention in case they might be of any assistance to the Minister in looking into the matter. First, I should have thought that it would be plain that if the individual is not capable of entering into a marriage at all, because he or she was underage or simply did not have the mental capacity to agree, one could not treat that as a valid marriage for the time being until it was annulled. There may be something to be said for some categories which are not in that very stark situation; where there was initially the capacity to marry, but there has been enforcement or something like that which has persuaded the individual to enter into it. It is rather as in the law of contract: there are some contracts which are void ab initio and some which are voidable. There may be room for that distinction: no doubt the Minister will wish to research that further.

Secondly, when I was at the Bar in my junior days I used to do cases in Scotland which were described as “nullity of marriage cases”. The ground of nullity in those cases was lack of capacity to consummate the marriage. An individual who found that the husband or wife could not consummate the marriage was entitled to come to court and if that fact could be proved—it was very often not disputed, which was just as well—the marriage would be set aside. I do not know how the law is in England, but there must be a similar process where the marriage cannot be consummated. It may be that those cases are precisely in the category that Amendment 11 is talking about, where somebody has a choice. An individual who finds that the marriage cannot be consummated may feel that the marriage should go ahead for other reasons—simply because they enjoy living with each other. Nobody forces them to apply to the court to have the marriage set aside. It may be that there is an analogy there which can be drawn upon, to follow up the point that the noble Baroness is making.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Cox, have raised very valid but different points. The issues to do with property and assets and differential treatment are very valid indeed, particularly with regard to Amendment 11. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say because these issues need to be addressed.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for raising these important issues, which I shall address in turn. As both noble Baronesses will know, I take this issue very seriously: it needs to be addressed and the issues that have been raised are perfectly valid, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has said. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his contribution. He has raised one or two matters which I shall certainly take back to officials to discuss further.

As my noble friend has explained, it is crucial for victims of forced marriage to be able to ensure that the marriage that they have been forced into is subsequently rendered void as a matter of law. While I agree that this is important, especially to the victims of this crime who rightly want clarity on where the marriage stands in the eyes of the law, there are reasons why the Government feel that this amendment is unnecessary. Under the current law, if a forced marriage takes place, victims can apply to the court to end the marriage by divorce or annulment. If a victim wishes to apply for an annulment, it must be shown that the marriage was either void or voidable. The grounds on which a marriage is void or voidable are set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

A forced marriage is voidable by virtue of Section 12(c) of the 1973 Act, which provides that a marriage will be voidable on the grounds,

“that either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, whether in consequence of duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise”.

If a victim wishes to apply to the court for an annulment on these grounds, and the court grants the decree of nullity, the annulment will take effect on the date on which the decree of nullity is issued. This amendment would mean that if a conviction for an offence of forced marriage occurred, the court would be required to issue a decree of nullity. The date on which that decree of nullity would take effect would be the date on which the perpetrator was first charged with the offence. I understand totally the sentiments behind the amendment tabled by my noble friend, but I do not agree that the process by which a victim can seek to end a forced marriage, and the date on which that marriage ends, should be determined by reference to whether a conviction for forced marriage has taken place. Such an approach provides no flexibility for victims whose perpetrators are convicted of an offence of forced marriage to choose how they wish to end their marriage. It would also be unfair to those victims whose perpetrators are not found guilty of the offence of forced marriage, and who would have to continue to rely on the current law to end their marriage.

Victims of forced marriage experience a range of specific extenuating factors, as a consequence of which they may wish to have a divorce rather than an annulment. For example, there may be children involved, as my noble friend pointed out, and property rights to consider. As a result, they may prefer a specific legal route to end their marriage. Preserving a victim’s choice is the intention behind the Government’s proposals. We are seeking to provide flexibility to victims who, on seeking legal advice, can end their marriage as and when they see fit. I hope that, having heard this explanation, my noble friend is reassured about where the Government currently stand on this issue.

Perhaps I may now turn to religious marriages, the issue focused on by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I pay tribute to her because I know that she represents women’s interests very widely and that this is an issue on which she does not seek to target any particular faith or community. However, she recognises fully that many, if not all faiths, protect such marriages. Unfortunately, it is the case that some of the practices do not live up to the theology. As the noble Baroness has explained, the purpose of her proposed new clause is to create a new criminal offence, under Section 75 of the Marriage Act 1949, of solemnising a marriage according to any religion so that the couple getting married believe they are validly married when in fact the marriage is not valid under that Act. This proposed new offence clearly arises from a desire to help couples who have a religious marriage ceremony that they think is perfectly valid, but which has no legal status because the requirements of the law in England and Wales have not been complied with.

The legal position in respect of religious marriages in England and Wales is that anyone who wishes to contract a religious marriage and acquire a legal marital status has two options. They can either have a religious marriage and a separate secular civil ceremony or they can choose to solemnise their religious marriage in a place of worship registered to conduct marriages, thus removing the need for a separate civil ceremony. Where a marriage is invalid for want of the appropriate formalities or other elements, this does not necessarily leave the parties without any remedies. If the marriage purports to be in accordance with the provisions of the Marriage Act but does not fully comply with those provisions, it may be void under Section 11(a) of Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. This section enables a party to the marriage to apply to the court for a decree of nullity and the court is able to make orders in respect of children and the division of property in the same way as on divorce. We believe that this will provide protection for some of the couples whom the noble Baroness seeks to protect with her amendment.

The Government accept that there will be some religious marriages to which Section 11(a) will not apply. In such cases, the courts may be able to view the marriage as being valid in principle and, as such, susceptible to a decree of nullity. The court will determine such issues on a case by case basis and will consider issues such as whether the ceremony or event set out or purported to be a lawful marriage, whether it bore all or enough of the hallmarks of a marriage, and whether the parties acted in good faith. If the court is not able to make such a finding, again, that does not mean that the spouse will be left without any form of redress. For example, it would still be possible for the court to make an order for financial relief in respect of any children under Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989. While the Government are keen to ensure that any person who enters into a purported religious marriage in good faith has adequate protection before the law, we do not consider that making the solemnisation of purported religious marriages a criminal offence is the correct way forward. This would, in our view, involve unjustified interference in people’s private and religious lives.

However, the Government take these matters, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, very seriously. Even though we may differ in how best to deal with it, the sentiments are certainly much the same. We want to ensure that couples seeking a religious marriage are aware of the need to have a civil marriage as well. If this is to be achieved, it must be with the support of religious leaders and must not be seen as an attempt to dictate to them or undermine them.

However, options are available to the communities, which the Government have highlighted. For example, on religious marriage ceremonies, there are cases of invalid marriages in a number of religions, although statistics show that the largest numbers are currently likely to occur in the Muslim community, partly because it represents one of the largest minority groups in the UK. I can assure the noble Baroness that the Prime Minister has raised concerns about the vulnerability of Muslim women in marriages that are not valid under the law in England and Wales, and the Government are currently undertaking work directly with the Muslim community to encourage mosques to register places of worship where marriages can be solemnised and to raise awareness of the requirements to be met for a marriage to be equally legally valid in England and Wales.

As I said earlier in response to a question raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on this matter, the other option is something that some Muslim communities already practise, which is to be encouraged. It is certainly something which, through work being done at the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Communities and Local Government, is being encouraged. Communities, imams or other religious priests who perform religious marriages are asked in advance of performing that marriage to ask the couple to produce a certificate of registration constituting a civil marriage. These are some of the initiatives and I merely outline them to underline the seriousness that the Government attach to the work in this area.

We are working with members of different communities, including the Muslim community, to encourage the registration of religious buildings and we encourage other religious groups to register their buildings as well.

I have listened with great care to the issues raised by my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. On the basis of my explanation, I hope they are both minded to withdraw their amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his outline in relation to this matter, but I believe I should join the club opened by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and take yet more legal advice, having consulted, of course, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, before raising this matter. I will specifically check the section outlined in the Matrimonial Causes Act, which I think applies only to marriages already valid under UK law. With that in mind, we may be back on Report to look at this matter further. I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Clause 108 agreed.

Clause 109: Offence of forced marriage: Scotland

Amendments 11A to 12B not moved.

Clause 109 agreed.

Amendment 13 not moved.

Amendment 14

Moved by

14: After Clause 109, insert the following new Clause—

“Report to Parliament

The Secretary of State shall report to Parliament annually on the effectiveness of the criminalisation of forced marriage under Part 9 of this Act.”

My Lords, I should start by saying that I am very sorry that I was not able to speak at Second Reading. However, as I am keen to make a contribution, I hope that the Committee will excuse and indulge a new girl. My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who has added his name to this amendment, has asked me to apologise for his being out of the country.

My noble friend Lord Lester was, of course, the author of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which has been such a huge success in using the family courts in a sensitive way to address a serious and complicated problem that particularly affects young British Asian girls, women and boys. I pay tribute to him and other noble Lords who have worked so hard on this issue over the years.

Amendment 14 comes from the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill. It requires the Secretary of State to report annually on the effectiveness of the criminalisation of forced marriage. This is only right if we are to ensure that the law has been effective and to aid transparency.

Along with the JCHR, I understand the Government’s reasons for criminalising forced marriage but am concerned about whether criminalisation is a step too far and whether this is the most effective method for dealing with this issue. One needs only to look at the case of female genital mutilation to see that criminalisation is not always sufficient. As the JCHR report points out, there has not been a successful prosecution for female genital mutilation in 28 years—although I take my noble friend Lady Hamwee’s point and am not quite sure what that shows. Can the Minister explain why the Government believe that the criminalisation of forced marriage will be different?

It is very important that nothing is done to undermine the effectiveness of the 2007 Act in enabling the victim to apply to the family courts to obtain a forced marriage protection order. I am concerned that if a young child knows that her parents may be criminalised as a result of such protection, she will be alarmed by the involvement of the police and the criminal courts, as well as by the publicity and the dishonour to her family that the stigma of a criminal offence will bring. Invariably, it will affect, in negative ways, not only the victim but other siblings and family members not party to the forced marriage decision. I hope the Minister can assure the Committee that the civil protection route will remain the preferred way forward and that clear guidance will be given to the CPS and the police that everything should be done to use the family courts for civil protection first and that the criminal process will be used only as a last resort.

Even if the Minister can reassure me on both those points—he has already gone a long way in this discussion to show the Government’s commitment—I believe there remains a real need to monitor the effect of criminalisation to ensure that we can evaluate the progress being made. If the Minister is minded to accept my proposal, the annual report should include, for example, the number of cases going to the family court, to allow benchmarking, the age, sex and ethnic origin of the victims, the number of cases sent to the CPS, the number of people convicted, and what financial or other aid has been given to the victim, including accommodation and legal aid to support individuals through the criminal court process. I also look forward to seeing the Government develop these ideas in their response to the JCHR. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain what steps the department will take, if it is unable to accept the proposals in my amendment for an annual report, to ensure that the effect of criminalisation is kept under review so that, if there are unintended consequences, they are identified quickly and can be dealt with.

Finally, I believe that it is important that we also look at other approaches, including working internationally, and do not just focus on criminalising the practice as the only way forward. As the Forced Marriage Unit knows well, victims can be taken to Pakistan, India or Bangladesh and coerced into so-called marriages. They may be victims of rape and bodily injury; if they do not comply, they may be victims of what are disgracefully called honour killings or of forced suicides. Tackling these issues through working with international partners is, in many ways, more important than criminalisation here in the UK, as we already have laws in place in relation to this heinous crime. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that criminalisation will form only part of our approach to tackling forced marriage, and that Ministers will continue to work internationally to put an end to the practice across the world and ensure a more joined-up approach to the criminal justice system in the UK on this issue. I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, has put forward an interesting amendment. The principle behind it, that Governments ought to report to Parliament regularly on the effectiveness of pieces of legislation, is one that I am sure that we would all wish to see more widely spread. However, I have a reservation about the terms in which the amendment has been put.

The noble Baroness said that she has reservations over whether criminalisation will have the desired effect. She implied, and I believe that all of your Lordships would agree, that criminalisation is not a panacea as far as this problem is concerned; it will not solve all the issues. Therefore, I would hope that if we were to receive a report to Parliament, it would look at not just the effectiveness of criminalisation but also at the effectiveness of the totality of policies on forced marriage.

My noble friend Lady Thornton moved an amendment earlier that would have broadened the scope of this and placed obligations on various public authorities in terms of the actions that they should take. I hope that the report requested by the noble Baroness would look not just at whether criminalisation makes a difference for good or ill, but also at whether all the other activities that the Government and public agencies undertake to try to eliminate forced marriage are effective. I think that that would be very valuable in terms of taking these matters forward.

My Lords, I have little to add to what my noble friend Lady Manzoor said so expertly in moving this amendment. As a member of the JCHR, this was one of the recommendations that we made in our report.

I very much endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said. I hope that the reporting to Parliament would not just be a dry recitation of the effect of criminalisation in terms of statistics, but would go wider. I am sure that the Minister will reassure us on that. This should not be simply a formality. We are stepping into an acutely sensitive area and, although we said that we approved cautiously of the decision to criminalise forced marriage, it is a matter that must be looked at very carefully for fear that more harm may come than good.

My Lords, I, too, support the noble Baroness in her amendment. I saw her nodding at the suggestion that any reporting back should be more comprehensive than simply reporting on the criminal aspects. There should be many other opportunities taken up by Government to press for the changes that underpin what the Government are seeking in criminalising forced marriage.

One factor that I would press upon the Government is that there should be greater discussion in families, for example about marrying close relatives, such as cousins. I used to chair the Human Genetics Commission and there was considerable sensitivity about this kind of discussion and about the implications of marriage within certain boundaries and how it perhaps increased risks for future generations. I think that when people are well informed that often changes social practices.

I also think that imams should be well informed about the ways in which the women in their congregation are disadvantaged by not having the cover of civil marriage so that they have rights that can be enforced in the courts. My clients have sometimes invoked Sharia law as being generous towards women at the ending of marriages or after death. Although that might have been the case in the past, nowadays women are more advantaged by what is available to them through the civil courts in the United Kingdom. I think that such pieces of information should be much more widely disseminated to communities where these issues arise.

My Lords, in the Government’s response to the JCHR, they reject the proposal for an annual report but say that they will be,

“happy to update Parliament on the progress of our work in this area in due course, including as part of the normal post-legislative scrutiny of the Act”.

That is a shame. To many parliamentarians, “in due course” means something rather longer than it does in normal language—but maybe I am too cynical.

Like other noble Lords, I think it is important that what is kept under review—that is another phrase I should avoid because it also has connotations—is far more than the narrow impact of the legislation. I have written down “prevention strategy”, “safeguarding”, “professional training”, “update on CPS strategy and outcomes”, “continuing work with stakeholders”—the list could continue. As I have said before today, I am concerned at the overreliance on girls coming forward for help. Another thing that I am sure stakeholders are very aware of is the impact on the whole family, with other family members, siblings of the child in question, being at risk if they do not support the parents’ decision. There is a range of victims as well as perpetrators in this situation, and that is another thing that we need to keep an eye on.

I hope that, having had the advocacy of a number of very effective Members of this House, the Minister can be a little more encouraging than the Government were in their response to the committee.

My Lords, earlier today we had an interesting and worthwhile debate on whether it was better to deal with forced marriages by criminal or civil sanctions. In the light of that, there is a need for reporting on the effect of this legislation. I support the intention of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, although the precise wording may need to be widened.

My Lords, I added my name to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, on this amendment because we think that if we end up criminalising forced marriage, we need to look very carefully at how that works out. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Harris that this should be about the totality of the work of the Forced Marriage Unit. How the Government decide to do it is not the point. It is important that these things are monitored regularly, so I think that “in due course” is probably not a satisfactory answer on this occasion.

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lady Manzoor for her amendment. I welcome her to what I think is her first contribution to legislation in this Parliament. As has been demonstrated today and in her maiden speech, her contributions are always welcome and based on her great expertise and experience, of this issue in particular.

The proposed new clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament annually on the effectiveness of the criminalisation of forced marriage under Part 10 of this Act. The Government are indeed happy to update Parliament on the progress of our work in this area. I hope that the various exchanges and discussions we have had, which I have certainly found very valuable, as I am sure all members of the Government and, I hope, the House have, underline the Government’s commitment to look at this issue very seriously.

Noble Lords are correct: this is not about coming back “in due course”. I say to my noble friend Lady Hamwee that I will not be saying that. What I will say is that the Government are concerned that this issue is addressed and dealt with appropriately and that the appropriate debates, discussions and questions take place as and when, but the issue remains one of Parliament. Parliament has open access here. Questions and debates can be tabled as appropriate. I do not, however, believe for a moment that an issue as important as this will be left, for us to return to at some future point. I am sure that the Government will be seeking to update Parliament regularly on work in this important area.

I will allude briefly to the issue of female genital mutilation. I accept that although a law has been enacted, prosecutions have not followed, but let me again reassure my noble friend, the Committee and the wider House that the Government take this seriously. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made this a personal priority. I will talk about it in a moment.

Once this piece of legislation receives Royal Assent, there is a period of three to five years for post-legislative scrutiny. As I have indicated, the Government accept that, on an important issue such as this, we will be returning to it earlier than that. In the case of the forced marriage provisions, the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit, through its direct work in assisting victims and those at risk of forced marriage, has the capacity and function to monitor the difference that legislation will make to victims of forced marriage. The unit, as many noble Lords will know, runs a helpline providing confidential advice and support to victims and to practitioners charged with the responsibility for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, ensuring they are fully informed on how to handle such cases. The number of reports to the helpline has steadily increased since the unit was established in 2005. In 2012 the Forced Marriage Unit provided advice and support in almost 1,500 cases. It will regularly update Ministers on any issues identified with the new laws and make recommendations on any necessary policy changes.

My noble friend Lady Manzoor referred to the lack of prosecutions for FGM and asked whether forced marriage will be different. I would like to reassure my noble friend that we will also monitor the number of prosecutions brought, and we will want to understand the reasons why cases are either not referred to the CPS or not proceeded with by the CPS if that should prove to be the case. That said, it is important to remember that the Government’s priority in criminalising forced marriage is prevention, a sentiment I know is shared across the House. This legislation has been designed to send the clear message that forced marriage is unacceptable, it is a breach of human rights, and perpetrators will be punished.

My noble friend talked about options. We know that legislation alone is not enough to address issues, and we will endeavour to work with partners across government, with non-government organisations and other experts in the field to ensure that victims and potential victims of forced marriage are aware of the support and options available to them. As I said to my noble friend Lady Hamwee in an earlier debate, it is important that a civil remedy remains available to victims. This means that victims could choose to take a civil route or go to the police, as they can now. I reassure my noble friend that, in respect to FGM, the Government will do everything in their power to ensure that victims can come forward and their abusers face the full force of the law.

The Department of Health is working to improve the information collected by the NHS on FGM. The Home Office has recently announced it will help fund a new study into the prevalence of FGM in England and Wales. The Department for International Development has established a £35 million programme to address FGM in Africa and beyond, with the ambition to end FGM in one generation. The level of international co-operation to which my noble friend alluded is certainly working well there.

The Government have also joined forces this year with the NSPCC and the Metropolitan Police to establish a dedicated FGM helpline. But as we know, there is much more that needs to be done, which is why the Home Office is working closely with the CPS to ensure that the Government are doing everything they can to help secure a prosecution. I am greatly encouraged by the assessment of the Director of Public Prosecutions that it is only a matter of time before a perpetrator is brought to justice.

I will just pick up on one or two other issues that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and my noble friend Lord Faulks mentioned the importance of coming back to Parliament on this. As I have already said, the Government take this issue seriously. I hope that has come across in today’s debates. I also acknowledge the very important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that education must be a major component of how we start to address some of these issues of marriages, particularly those that take place in certain communities. As for marrying into families and that continuing, my noble friend Lord Hussain talked about how clans and tribes work. He used the word “brathries”—I am not sure Hansard needs a translation, but it generally means within a brotherhood. I hope that clarifies that for the Hansard writers.

This is the last amendment in the group on forced marriage. I share my noble friend’s desire—and that of all noble Lords—to ensure that new legislation is effective. I will be happy to update the House on the progress of our work in this area. The Government would of course expect to be held to account through the usual parliamentary oversight channels.

Before I ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment, I just say this: forced marriage is a terrible act; it is a heinous crime. Coercion in marriage has no place in our or any society. The Government seek ultimately to strengthen a victim’s access to justice. I know that is a sentiment we all subscribe to. Our country is an incredible place, one that encompasses all people, all communities and all faiths, but we must hold those who commit these crimes to account and help those who suffer as victims to ensure that they have the opportunity to take to task those who commit these crimes. On that basis, and with the explanation I have given on this issue, I hope that my noble friend will be minded to withdraw her amendment.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his considered response. I know his personal commitment to this issue. I also thank the many noble Lords who took part in this debate. They have been both passionate and certainly much more eloquent than I have. I entirely agree with the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and my noble friend Lord Faulks—noble Lords will have to forgive me as I am just getting to terms with knowing everyone’s names. I am very pleased by the Minister’s response but when he says that he will come back and report to Parliament, how often is that likely to be?

All I will say to my noble friend is that, as I have already indicated, the Government will be held to account. That is something that will be discussed through the usual channels, but my noble friend has an opportunity, as a Member of your Lordships’ House, to raise a Parliamentary Question or debate. As I said, the Government take this issue seriously. Once this becomes legislation and passes into law, as I hope it will, it is certainly an issue that the Government will return to, not least because we believe it is important to update the House. It would not be appropriate for me at this time to give a specific target date: that would be presumptuous. Nevertheless, as I said, the option is even open to my noble friend to hold the Government to account.