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Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister comment on what the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said about fraud in the art market, and in particular the haemorrhaging of VAT when works of art are illegally exported out of the European Union?

Dr. Howells: It is interesting that the music industry has decided to employ its own police and investigators to track down piracy across the globe. Some romance attaches to computer piracy, but it is thieving--it is stealing other people's creativity and invention--and there is no doubt that the same is true in the art world.

It has been said that the industry could be driven underground. That would be the worst outcome. We cannot afford to do that. It is important that beautiful paintings, ceramics and other objects can be seen by the public and that we do not have a sub-culture of gangsterism, which could very well arise from the measure. I give the House an undertaking to continue the good work that was done by the previous Government in trying by all means to prevent that.

Mr. Tyrie: Since the European Commission continues to refuse to publish its report, will the Government publish their own estimate of the effects of the introduction of VAT and of droit de suite, and give it the widest possible publicity?

Dr. Howells: I certainly want us to present coherently the arguments that right hon. and hon. Members have made today, and the argument that we will put to the Internal Market Council on 25 February. As we speak, the matter is being discussed by the Committee of Permanent Representatives; it is that urgent. I hope that the messages that have come to me this morning will have some impact on the deliberations in Brussels, and I once again thank the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

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Human Rights (Women)

10.59 am

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): I thank Madam Speaker for allocating time for a debate on an extremely important issue previously, I believe, unmentioned in this place, probably due to a form of political correctitude. The debate concerns mainly the treatment of Asian Muslim women by their families. I pay tribute to, and thank, my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) for giving me a great deal of support over the past 22 months on this subject and for encouraging me to call for this debate.

A few months ago, I met a couple called Jack and Zena Briggs. They had committed the unforgivable crime of falling in love and ultimately marrying. They are from Bradford, and their story has been told many times. Zena's fate had been sealed virtually from birth when her parents promised her to a first cousin in Pakistan, a young man whom she despised and regarded as arrogant, who had no English and who treated women as beneath contempt.

On the fateful day six years ago when Jack and Zena decided to run away and marry, they knew that there would be problems but hoped that, eventually, her family would accept Jack, as his family accepted her. That was not to be. To this day, a death sentence hangs over the couple, and, over the years, the otherwise decent Bradford Asian family has employed private detectives, bounty hunters and hit men to seek out their once much-loved daughter for the purpose of killing her and her husband, even stooping to punishing them by terrifying Jack's elderly mother who was dying of cancer.

Speaking of their present predicament, Zena said:

John McCarthy, who well understands the effects of spending years on a form of death row, wrote the introduction to their book "Jack and Zena". To put their tragedy into context, I can do no better than quote him:

    "It is very hard to believe that this is happening in Britain today. But it is, and the story raises important questions about how we move on as a multiracial society. How can a family be free to plan to kill a daughter and the man she loves while the establishment appears unable or unwilling to work for a resolution? It is too simple to say that her family must just be made to drop their threats. Their actions come out of a cultural tradition that needs to be understood before it can be reformed. Reformed it must be for the sake of many other youngsters who wish to take up the personal opportunities of living in a multicultural society. It is vital for us to learn from this story to be better equipped to fight against racism. It is a tragic irony that it is Jack and Zena, the victims of this awful culture clash, who are the shining light of race relations in this situation."

On the day that I met Zena, I also met Asiya, although that is not her real name. At the age of 15, she was forced into a marriage with a much older man. After a few days of appalling treatment by him, she waited for her strength

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to return and, when sure that he was soundly asleep, made her escape. She phoned her mum, told her harrowing story, and asked if she could return to the family home. Her mother was completely unmoved, demanded that Asiya should go back to her husband and threatened that if she returned home, she would be killed. Asiya, now 16, is still on the run. Those two lovely, lively girls asked me to raise their tragic stories, whenever and however I could. I am unable to give any background to Asiya's story, save for the fact that she had a west Yorkshire--possibly Bradford--accent, and was too scared to give any details either to me or anyone else.

Having talked to many people in the Keighley and Bradford areas, and to female Muslim social and community workers in London, including a woman from the Muslim Parliament, I have formed the view that the increasing incidence of forced marriages, or attempted forced marriages, has little to do with religion. The question that I have asked myself and others so often over the past two years is why families are prepared to go to such lengths to force their daughters into such unsuitable marriages. The answer is often that it is their culture and that outsiders such as myself should not interfere with what are essentially community and family matters.

I cannot accept that view, nor did my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) who rescued two girls from a dreadful situation in Pakistan, which had been inflicted on them by their father. His brave, decisive actions effectively put his head on the political chopping block, a fate that I trust will not befall me and my hon. Friends who will raise similar issues this morning.

When, in 1983, I found myself unemployed for 12 months, I volunteered to become an unqualified teacher of English as a second language to young Asian women in their homes, mainly in the Highfield area of Keighley. I took on three women--Asiya, Ruqia and Ghanimat Jan--and spent every Wednesday morning with them for four years, learning a great deal more from them than they ever learned from me and, of course, getting involved--probably too involved--with family problems, disputes and celebrations. They all came here as young brides and, in common with young women entering the United Kingdom today in similar circumstances, had little, if any, English. They therefore had no knowledge of their civil or human rights. Worst of all, they had no immediate family to turn to if their in-laws were giving them a hard time.

To give an idea of what it was like for the women we were to help, we were given "Finding a voice" by Amrit Wilson, which was reprinted in 1981. One of the hundreds of quotes from Asian women sums up quite well their unhappiness at being taken to and abandoned in this very strange, cold, hostile country:

I find the plight of those women, and their vulnerability, a greater worry than the plight of our UK Asian women. Many Bradford and Keighley women from both of those groups have good reason to be grateful to

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Philip Balmforth, a retired policeman who helps Asian women escape, go into hiding and live with some degree of security. Working alongside West Yorkshire police and Bradford social services department, he helps women fleeing domestic violence who are referred to him by doctors, nurses and social workers. He also helps the growing number of younger women who approach him for help to avoid unwanted marriages or who, having gone through the marriage--unwillingly--wish to leave. Many of those women are eventually helped by the very well-regarded Manningham housing association in Bradford.

The number of referrals to Philip has gone up from 168 in 1996 to 283 in 1998. Some are Sikh, but they are mainly Muslim; and the increase is mainly among young UK women avoiding marriages. My only explanation for this growth is that there is an ever-increasing number of women reaching maturity who regard themselves as of a cross culture, with different aspirations to their mothers. Many will have much more in common with girls from the indigenous population than with male cousins in Pakistan who have no English, who have lived their lives in tiny Mirpur villages and who know only rural life and agricultural work. Yet our young women are expected to marry those men.

Since I started preparing this speech, an article in last Sunday's edition of The Observer has been drawn to my attention. It is so very relevant that I shall quote from it, as much of it ties up with the type of situations that I hear about in Keighley and Bradford. I do not know where the woman mentioned in the article comes from, nor do I know where the three girls she talks about live. The article, by Carol Sarler, is entitled "The silence of the imams . . . while another child dies". It states:

We find that that happens all the time. Neither Sarler nor her daughter ever saw the girl again. The article goes on:

    "The second girl was only 14 when her own family beat her, kidnapped her and imprisoned her--all designed to knock the Western stuffing out of her--and then began to plan her wedding. She escaped but was almost murdered in the process and now lives as a teenage exile far from all she ever knew.

    The third was a neighbour. A darling little thing, perhaps 16, with a sweet, shy smile and a puppy dog eagerness to please the husband who had been found for her. For his part, she was there to work and breed, and she most certainly wasn't allowed to mix with anyone else. So I didn't get to know her well at all. Still I was sorry when, one lonely day, she hanged herself."

I wish to make it absolutely clear that I do not oppose arranged marriages as such. My assistant in Keighley, Shamim, has just gone through such a marriage, and is perfectly happy with the situation. My appeal to the Asian Muslim parents of Keighley--and beyond--is that they should discuss with their daughters the plans that they have for their future. If the daughters do not like their parents' choice and would prefer to marry a man from their own cultural background, then their parents only have to look around to discover that there are many eligible Muslim bachelors in West Yorkshire. Those men will also have the advantage of being able to get work and will therefore not be a drain on the daughters' families.

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My other appeal is to the leaders of the Asian Muslim community. I hope that they will encourage their people to put their daughters' happiness, welfare and human rights first. If they do, their community will progress and prosper, in line with the Sikh and Hindu communities.

Because my own daughter-in-law is from an Asian family, I am not blind to the many benefits of belonging to such a family, whose members are more supportive of each other than is the rule in the west. We must also recognise that Asian women must not seek help outside their community or even family, as that is regarded as a betrayal. Therefore, the cries for help that we hear may be just the tip of the iceberg and we must remember that Members of Parliament--especially those of us who are women--are here to listen and support without being judgmental. Our Asian women constituents are perfectly entitled to expect the same human rights as are afforded to us and to our daughters. They are also entitled to expect us to help them to enjoy those human rights.

Finally, I want to touch briefly on the plight of another group of women whose every human right has been removed since the Taliban took over most of Afghanistan. That vast country, in which there are thousands of widows after years of internal and external wars, is now ruled by men who have reduced the role of women to that of child bearers. They are barred from education, medical care or any means of earning a living, which means that the children of widows are reduced to begging and scavenging for food. As and when the money is available, the widows cannot even go out to shop without being escorted by a close male member of their family: if they do not have such a relative, they leave their homes risking a severe beating.

The United States of America in particular--and this country to a lesser extent--fed the Afghan war machine over many years. It is thought that American dollars are still being used to support the Taliban. I hope and trust that that does not have even the tacit support of our Government, and that we will do all in our power to rescue Afghanistan and its women from the Taliban's culture of cruelty and human degradation.

I should also like to mention that, at a meeting in Paris about a year ago of the Western European Union, a report was presented on the situation in Afghanistan. The rapporteur was a French socialist, and he claimed that many of the Madrasas had young men from just inside Pakistan who join the Taliban forces, and were supported by money from the Central Intelligence Agency. I do not know whether that is true, and the report was disappointing in that it failed to mention the plight of Afghanistan's women. That had to be put right by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), who did a great job in that regard.

Finally, I wish to thank the Council of Europe Equal Opportunities Committee, of which I am a member, for raising internationally, at a conference in December, the tragedy that continues to be Afghanistan. I also thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, for giving his time to reply to this debate.

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