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The other point that those young women raised with me—it was their major concern and is why it is so important to draw the distinction between forced and arranged marriages—was the continued negative portrayal of British Asian communities, particularly Muslims, in the British media. It is therefore important that we do not allow forced and arranged marriages to be confused. If that happened, the confusion could be used in the media, which would create divisions within our communities, when we need to do the opposite. We should also be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that forced marriages are an issue only in Asian communities. As the Minister pointed out, the
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victims can come from all racial and religious groups, from all ages and from all parts of the country.

I should like to raise the issue of those victims who are children or who have learning difficulties. There is a problem with those with learning difficulties being forced into marriage, whether it is done to secure a visa or is related to their learning difficulty, in order to create financial security or obtain a full-time carer for them.

Mr. Grieve: I have had direct experience of that. One of the reasons for the practice is simply cultural, on the assumption that all women should be married. There is a school in my constituency for children with learning disabilities. I am afraid that there is a consistent pattern of girls being removed at the age of 16 to be sent to the Indian subcontinent—if that is where they originate from—to be married, even though many of them probably have little understanding of what they are going to do.

Jo Swinson: The hon. Gentleman raises an important and worrying issue. What is welcome in the Bill is that the wishes and feelings of the victims will be considered by the courts in determining whether to issue a forced marriage protection order. However, there is a possible difficulty, in that the participation of people with learning disabilities in court is often hampered by inadequate provision to assist them. Sometimes it is even assumed that they cannot give evidence, when in fact the proper support to enable that can be provided. The use of intermediaries can be one way round for individuals in those circumstances, including children, to ensure that the court can properly understand the victim’s wishes. Other measures are available, under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Incorporating such measures at the discretion of the judge might be helpful in better understanding the wishes of the victim. I should be interested to know the views of the Government on that issue, which could be explored further in Committee. Finding a solution would be welcome and would ensure that all the victims had their views heard adequately.

Before drawing my remarks to a close, I should like briefly to mention Scotland. The legislation will apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only, but the problem clearly affects people throughout the UK. The forced marriage unit deals with cases in Scotland, because that is where the centre of excellence and expertise is. In fact, the consultation in 2005 was run jointly by the UK Government and the Scottish Executive. The highest number of responses were from London and Scotland, so forced marriage is obviously an issue there. Will the Minister discuss the issue with her counterpart in the Scottish Executive? The view was expressed in the debate on the Bill in the other place that in passing the legislation we would be sending a powerful message to countries throughout the world about how the issue can be dealt with and forced marriages prevented, in the hope that other legislatures might adopt similar proposals.

Bridget Prentice: I hope that I can give the hon. Lady some assurance by saying that we will discuss the issue with the Scottish Executive. My understanding is that
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they hope to introduce similar legislation later this year, and we will certainly encourage them to do so.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Minister very much and am pleased greatly by that intervention. I have been discussing the issue with my colleagues, although obviously the Scottish Parliament is in recess at the moment.

Philip Davies: Part-timers.

Jo Swinson: Members of the Scottish Parliament do come back rather earlier—the holiday season is rather different in Scotland. However, it will certainly be helpful if the provisions can be extended north of the border, too. No doubt the experience and expertise of the forced marriage unit will be very welcome in dealing with the legislation in Scotland and in ensuring that Scottish victims are also protected.

In conclusion, the Bill is long overdue. It is urgently needed to tackle a horrific problem. As well as sending out a clear signal about the unacceptability of forced marriages, the Bill will give those at risk of becoming victims access to tools to prevent them from happening, rather than waiting for the crime to be committed, because at that stage the control that is wielded over many victims’ lives makes access to justice all but impossible. It is excellent that the Government have adopted the Bill and it is wonderful that the Conservatives support it. The Liberal Democrats will also give it our wholehearted support.

7.56 pm

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I, too, welcome the Bill, which has unanimous support throughout the House. However, I was extremely worried by the original Bill, which Lord Lester introduced in another place, and vigorously opposed it. I did not do so because forced marriage is not a serious crime—we all acknowledge that it is—but because I know from my constituency case work that to criminalise it in its own right would be to alienate and divide families. The worst thing that we could do to a victim or survivor of a forced marriage would be permanently to separate her—it is more than often a her—from her family and support networks, and that was what the original Bill would have done. That would be incredibly divisive and would leave the survivor of a forced marriage with nowhere to turn and with inadequate support. That is a deeply damaging proposal for anyone in that position.

Mr. Grieve: I hope that the hon. Lady will excuse my intervention but, while I am absolutely satisfied that the Bill has been substantially improved, I can assure her that the original draft, as presented in the House of Lords, did not create a criminal offence.

Margaret Moran: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I am referring to the earliest discussions on the issue of forced marriage, which certainly did refer to criminalisation, to which many of the groups that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) mentioned were also deeply opposed. Indeed, there was quite a consensus
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among Refuge, Southall Black Sisters and others that a criminal offence of forced marriage was simply not necessary.

Another problem was that creating a criminal offence would simply add to the existing list of criminal offences that can be applied in such circumstances. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, action can be taken under the Marriage Act 1994. Action can also be taken against kidnapping, child abduction, false imprisonment, and assault and battery under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, against threats to kill under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, against child cruelty under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, against blackmail, and so on. Happily, the Government have introduced many of those measures since 1997. However, the fact that victims and survivors of forced marriages are not using many of those measures is an indication that they were not totally effective in tackling the issue. Civil action is therefore most welcome.

I commend the Government on the fact that a lot of work has already been done in the Home Office and the Foreign Office, including the establishment of the forced marriage unit and the issuing of extensive guidance to the police, to education and social services professionals and, most recently, to health professionals. That guidance is excellent, but we need to test how well it is known, enforced and monitored. We also need to ensure that it applies across all public services, including housing and the whole range of local government services, as well as the whole of the criminal justice system.

Another reason I believe that the Bill represents a more appropriate approach is that we need to take a more co-ordinated and holistic approach to violence against women. Many of the issues that we are dealing with here are parallel and integral to tackling domestic violence and violence against women across the piece, including rape, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley referred.

The issues involved include power relations, protection—which is very much the aim of the Bill—and prevention. The measures on third-party applications and legal aid, and the provisions to enable courts to issue injunctions to prevent repeat offences are most welcome. We also need to ensure that the other “P”, provision, is dealt with. We must ensure that there are appropriate sources—I stress the word “appropriate”—of support and refuge for the survivors of forced marriage, just as we need better and more adequate protection for those surviving domestic violence. There is a huge gap in that provision at the moment, and I hope that Ministers will look at that as part of the implementation of the Bill.

The Bill will allow survivors to come forward more easily. It will also enable us to help them to address the issue. I know from my casework the absolute despair experienced by forced marriage victims who can find nowhere to turn. The incredible family networks, particularly among the Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities in my constituency, are a source of huge strength, but in circumstances such as these, they are a source of great division and despair because there is almost no one who is unknown to the extended family and friends to whom a victim or survivor can turn in a moment of crisis. We need to
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ensure that we establish appropriate, independent sources of support in these communities. They do not exist at the moment.

I want to refer to a pilot that is one of three UK-wide national pilots on forced marriage. It is being run from my office. How extraordinary is that? I am pleased to say that it is Home Office funded, but it is being run from my office because, despite the size of the Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi communities in my constituency, there was nowhere for survivors of forced marriage to turn for independent advice and support, where they would not be known and where their stories would not be relayed to other members of their community.

I want to thank the Home Office, Equalities Networks—a social enterprise based in my constituency that is helping to run the pilot programme—and particularly Dr. Nazia Khanum, who wrote the reports to which I will refer in a moment. During the pilot programme, forced marriage survivors talked to other victims and survivors of forced marriage. It has been most impressive. However, although it started out as one of three Home Office-funded pilots, ours is the only one still in existence. Sadly, the other two have gone by the wayside, and Ministers need to learn lessons about why that happened. Those pilots were extremely valuable, but, like the pilot that is being run from my office, they had insufficient resources to continue, and we risk losing the lessons that we have learned. We were originally told that the pilots would be evaluated and rolled out across the UK, but it has all gone terribly quiet.

So, while I commend the measures in the Bill, I believe that we must address the serious issue of matching our words and our deeds to ensure that survivors get the support and resources that they need. We must work with the communities that continue, in some cases, to perpetrate this serious crime to ensure that they understand how seriously we take the matter. More importantly, they must also understand that we are working with them to ensure that they have the education and support to break away from the often intense cultural pressures that exist in some communities. We should never underestimate the intense pressures and obligations that some families feel to bring a bride over from Kotli, or from Sylhet in Bangladesh. These families need help to enable them to be strong enough to say that their daughters or sons should not be put through some of the worst instances that we have seen.

The pilot to which I have referred involves producing a research report to examine the extent of the problem. As other Members have said, it is difficult to estimate the extent of the problem, despite the work of the forced marriage unit, or to determine whether we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. A second aspect of the pilot involves a project called Changing Lives, which works to enable young people—men and women—in the communities that might be subject to forced marriage to advocate within their own communities. This means that people will not just be talking to the “usual suspects”, or the so-called community leaders. We are using young people to educate and support other young people. The third phase, which we are coming to at the moment, involves training key actors in the local community—including deliverers of public services such as the local authority, colleges and other educational institutions—who are likely to come into
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contact with forced marriage victims so that they can identify and support them where necessary.

Extensive research was undertaken with not only individual victims and survivors, but voluntary and community groups, and one of the most astonishing things that we learned was that local community groups were receiving more than 300 approaches a year on this issue in my constituency alone. That is an enormous figure when seen in the context of what the forced marriage unit is reporting. Obviously, some duplicate reporting could be involved, as forced marriage survivors are forced to go from one agency or community support organisation to another. It is therefore impossible to gauge the exact extent of the problem, but 300 is still, by any standards, a very large number.

The report found that very few of the individual forced marriage survivors or the agencies coming into contact with them had any knowledge of the forced marriage unit. It also found that they had very little awareness of the good work being done by the Home Office and the Foreign Office, and little or no awareness of where to go for support. There was certainly no knowledge of any counselling provision being available. There is a huge chasm between those who are experiencing the problem and the work, albeit good work, that the Government are doing. We need to bridge that gap urgently.

Another issue that arose was a little more controversial. Many of those involved in the report felt that the definition of “forced marriage” should include false marriages. This takes us into more difficult territory. There were many examples of young men and women being told that they were to marry a certain person, or a certain type of person, only to find that the person they were marrying was wholly different. In one case, someone with severe disabilities—not that that should be an impairment—was falsely represented as the person to whom someone was about to be married. Many of the people referred to in the report felt that being coerced into marriage on the basis of false information was almost as bad as being coerced on the basis of no information at all, so they wanted the definition to be extended. They also felt that there was a need for a victim support network to combat isolation and to share experience and spread awareness of the options available. They wanted a building up of capacity in the community and voluntary sector to provide counselling services and guidance where needed. Also important to them was mentoring or partnering of people who have experienced forced marriages with those in danger of experiencing them or those who fear that their families might push them in that direction.

What are the lessons from the project so far? All I have been able to do in the time available is to provide a taste of the report, which will be published shortly. We learned that there is an urgent need for more preventive measures through early detection. We need to work with our schools and colleges, as well as with GPs to identify where forced marriage is likely to occur. Health visitors, social workers and teachers can also be involved. They need to be able to recognise the signs and ask the appropriate and culturally sensitive
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questions when a young man or woman is in danger of being forced into this situation.

Appropriate training is important so that all those across the public sector and the criminal justice system can understand the issues. I believe that it should be accredited training, as I have already encountered an individual, purporting to be an organisation, claiming to be running forced marriage training, yet there appears to be no substance or understanding behind it. We need to ensure that any training is properly accredited and monitored, while also ensuring that citizenship and English language classes are maintained. In some areas, they have effectively been taken away from some of the women when they do not go ahead with gaining any qualifications. One of the key barriers is language, yet we are depriving some women of the very means of articulating their problem and their desperation. That needs to be looked at again. We need to ensure that we are empowering these women and we need more funding and access to leadership courses for women who are likely to be in this position.

Immigration issues—the hon. Member for Beaconsfield dealt with some of them—are also important. I often see in my constituency surgeries young men and women who have been deprived of permanent residence in this country by their partner’s refusal to sign the appropriate papers. I encounter a whole range of issues where people are forced to sign for permanent residence under the immigration rules under coercion. When that fact is raised with the immigration authorities, the answer is often, “There is nothing we can do about it now, because the person signed the paper”—regardless of the fact that it was done under duress. A whole tranche of immigration issues need to be addressed.

We need a survivor’s network. My project suggested to the Home Office a follow-on project called “Forced Marriage Online”, whereby survivors could give each other advice and support anonymously. More particularly, we could learn more about the circumstances of these victims and survivors in a way that would be safe for them while helping to inform us. We simply do not know enough about the full extent of the problem.

I believe that we should put our money where our mouths are. As I have said, this Bill is excellent, but its implementation and monitoring will be critical. With pilots of the sort that we are running from our office, being told that there is no further funding once the pilot is finished makes a mockery of what we say about tackling forced marriages. What we say and what we do are two very different things. I know that Ministers will take this matter forward and ensure that we put our money where our mouths are. We need more structured consultation and more listening to the survivors so that we can hear their voices more clearly. That has tended to be lacking throughout this entire debate.

8.15 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): It is not often that the House is united in its approach to a Bill. I am delighted that all parties seem to have a common approach to what I believe is a very sensible Bill indeed. Every one of us regards forced marriages as evils. They are quite awful; they are an infringement of human
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rights; they cause utter misery; and they are often accompanied by violence, so anything we can do to put an end to them is to our advantage.

How many forced marriages are there? I do not think we can ever know the truth about that. The forced marriages unit hears of some 200 or 300 a year, but there must be many more where, in truth, the victim—usually a woman—is unable to speak out or unable, largely through fear, to seek help from those who could offer it. Forced marriages are therefore a very bad thing indeed. We occasionally read horrible stories about so-called “honour killings” and we are disgusted by them. The House has a duty to take note of the problem and to see what can sensibly be done about it.

I represent Woking, which has a large and well settled community of Pakistani background. We have the Shah Jahan mosque—the oldest in the country—and this community, mainly based in Maybury and Sheerwater, makes a huge contribution to local life in Woking. We have a harmonious, happy and settled community there. In preparing my contribution to the debate on the Bill tonight, I thought that I would speak to some of those who represent the Pakistani community in Woking on both the borough and county councils in order to find out their views. It will be no surprise, I am sure, to find out that all those to whom I spoke utterly condemned the practice of forced marriages. A leading county councillor, Shamas Tabrez, reminded me in a conversation that forced marriage is condemned at the highest level and is forbidden and illegal in Islam.

We are very fortunate in Woking in having a strong mosque, which provides a spiritual and cultural centre for so many people and whose imam provides so much excellent advice. There are excellent councillors in the Maybury and Sheerwater area and many other bodies offer support to those in the community who need it.

Philip Davies: They have an excellent MP, as well.

Mr. Malins: I am so grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall think of something very nice to say about him at some later stage.

What my friends in Woking told me was that, much as they condemned forced marriages, they believed it important to differentiate them from arranged marriages. There is a world of difference between the two. We must understand that in many cultures, there are arranged marriages that are entered into voluntarily, though in a sense initiated by the families of the parties concerned. I venture to suggest that arranged marriages can often be much more successful than those that are not. The parties may come from families that know each other, so they start out with the absolute advantage of having mutual family support through parents and others who are all together in one big family. That can be essential, particularly in the early years of a marriage. There are many arranged marriages. Providing that they are entered into voluntarily, I say let that habit continue because in many ways they are a force for good in our community.

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