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Is there a problem with forced marriages in Woking? My general view is no, and I shall explain why. What evidence do I have for my proposition? A very important charity, based in the London area, provides safe houses for women who have been forced into
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marriage. It picked up more than 100 cases between March 2006 and February 2007 of women in London and the home counties. Only one case came from Surrey, and that was not, I think, from Woking.

What is it about Woking? What is it about any community—this is the point of my speech—that can help so far as forced marriages are concerned? The first thing is to have an open and caring community, with strong and effective local support through various agencies to the settled community in that area. That is excellent. The importance of good local representation is also vital. As I said, Woking has an excellent mosque with an imam, the Maybury centre and the Asian women’s groups. There is plenty of advice from different organisations for those in the Pakistani community.

We have four excellent local councillors in Shamas Tabrez, Riasat Khan, Mohammed Iqbal and Muzzafar Ali, all of whom are well known to me and serve their community well. When I say to them, “What about forced marriages in the Woking area?”, they respond in these terms: “We are so stuck into our community and involved in it that we try desperately hard to hear of any problems that may crop up so that we can get on top of them, help the constituents and prove to be good advisers and helpers. We have a community where there is a culture of openness and mutual support. People with problems in our community are encouraged to talk to the various agencies that are there for their benefit, including the local councillors.”

There is a lot to be said for strong local communities. If somebody—let us say that it is likely to be a young woman—is frightened and has been put into a forced marriage, she will need to turn to somebody for help. My point is that a strong community, with plenty of avenues to get good help and advice from people who understand the issue and are close to those whom they are helping, is important. We very much have that in Woking.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I very much support what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he accept, however, that for some women the strong open community might feel as though it is open to people other than them? It is relatively easy for those of us in leading positions in society to assume that those structures are open to everyone in the community, but isolated and young women in particular sometimes do not feel that they are open to them. There is an obligation on us to create alternative structures that they might find more accessible.

Mr. Malins: How right the hon. Lady is. I am grateful to her for that intervention. There are those who, despite the good local structures and contact points, still feel alone and frightened. It is up to us to try to help them as much as we can.

On the Bill itself, little has been made of whether it is proper to approach the problem from the point of view of the civil law or the criminal law. In my judgment—I declare an interest as a part-time district judge, practising lawyer and Crown court recorder—what the Government have done is right. We should probably approach the problem from the point of view of civil sanctions. To bring the criminal law into it at the moment would not be appropriate. Apart from
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anything else, we legislate far too much in terms of the criminal law, and it could up the ante a little too much and cause more problems than it would solve. However, as hon. Members have said, forced marriages quite often—in fact, almost always—involve an element of crime, whether it is rape, kidnapping or violence. Many of those serious crimes are deeply connected with forced marriages and should be treated accordingly. The Bill is right to look at the problem from a civil point of view.

I have another point to put to the Solicitor-General. The Bill provides that the procedures for a remedy will go through the family courts, by which I take it to mean the county court, the High Court and so on. Will she dwell a little on the prospect of extending the jurisdiction to the family side of the magistrates courts? They are more in number. An awful lot of places that do not have a county court have a magistrates court. They also have the advantage of speed and cheapness.

I want to raise another issue, which has been touched on. The issues connected with religion and culture, which are quite sensitive, will come before county court and High Court judges. I cannot stress enough the need for relevant training for the judiciary when they are handling such cases. That training was mentioned in an intervention. It could and should be extended to many other people in this general field, if one likes to put it that way, who would benefit from the proper training necessary to equip them adequately to deal with the cultural and religious issues involved. The hon. and learned Lady will know, and will be able to tell me, that the judiciary are obliged to go on regular refresher courses for training purposes and so on, but to add at some stage something specifically on the issue of forced marriages might be a sensible way forward.

I want to touch on some other aspects, which can be examined carefully in Committee. The Bill mentions a forced marriage protection order. First, what is in it and against whom can it be made? Under proposed new section 63B, the contents of the order can be absolutely anything:

as the court thinks appropriate. Against whom can it be made? That is very widely drafted, because such an order can be made against other persons

I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Lady will be able to narrow that down a bit either at this stage or in Committee. At the moment, the order can say anything and can in effect be made against anybody. In proposed new section 63B(2), the word “knowingly” does not come before the word “involved”. One wonders whether in fact orders can be made against people who are, in truth, not culpable and not aware of what we might describe as culpable or guilty participation.

My next question is who will be able to apply for a forced marriage protection order? I appreciate that many Bills nowadays do not tell us the full story. That is generally left for regulation to do later. The Bill tells us that an application can be made by

That is fine as far as it goes, but who is a relevant third party? According to the Bill, it is

Who on earth will that be? It might be helpful if we could be told tonight; otherwise it seems likely that anyone with a tenuous or not tenuous, or close or not close, link with the family concerned will be able to make an application. Surely the Government do not want the definition to be as wide as that.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I should be interested to know why the hon. Gentleman thinks that we need to restrict the definition of those who may apply for the order. The person concerned might have a social worker, or might know of someone in the community, who would be prepared to stand up for him or her and who might not be a particularly close associate.

Mr. Malins: I take the hon. Lady’s point. Indeed, in a sense she has put her finger on the issue, which is that at some stage we shall need a little more definition of the type of person who can make a application. The hon. Lady may agree with me that it might not be appropriate for a family friend or acquaintance to be permitted to make such an application, and that therefore limitations may be necessary.

I have pointed out that a court can make any order that it wishes. I feel that at some point we shall have to discover the likely terms of an order. There is a direct parallel with the legislation on antisocial behaviour orders, which also gave courts power to make whatever orders they wished. As a result, courts all over the country made absurd orders whose terms were so wide as to make them totally unenforceable—for example, “The defendant shall not enter the City of London” or “The defendant shall not commit a crime”. Only case law tightened up the definition of what should be in an ASBO. It now appears that anything can go into a forced marriage protection order. It would be helpful if the Government gave us some idea of what might go into such orders, how wide they might be, and what might be seen as going a step too far.

The provisions on arrest also have powerful implications. A constable may arrest someone who is in breach of an order, but under new section 63J

An interested person is defined as

—so far, so good—

—so far, so good—or

That provision too is very wide, and we may have to have a look at it in Committee.

I think that the Bill is right to provide for a person who is arrested to be brought to court very quickly, but I ask the Minister to confirm that the judge will refer to section 5(1) (a), (b), (c) and (d) of the Bail Act 1976 when considering the granting of bail. Will securities, sureties or other conditions similar to those imposed under that Act be imposed in these circumstances?

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I think we all want a society in which people can live without fear, force or coercion of any kind. I hope to goodness that the Bill will prove slightly helpful in the long run, but I remain worried because whatever else happens—even if the Bill sails into law—we will depend on the victim coming forward, or on someone coming forward on the victim’s behalf. We need to make life straightforward enough to give people the feeling that however badly they have been treated they can come forward, obtain protection and be looked after properly.

I wish the Bill well. Let me end by repeating what I said earlier. Woking is a strong community. We are aware of this issue, but there is no evidence of there being a great problem in Woking. That bears testimony to the quality and strength of its advice bodies and local councillors.

8.35 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The issue of forced marriage can affect anyone. I was privileged to be present at the commemoration of the first anniversary of the forced marriage unit when Baroness Scotland of Asthal reminded us:

However, I am shocked that each year the FMU deals with 5,000 inquiries and takes on some 250 to 300 cases, largely relating to people of south Asian descent.

We must be robust in tackling this abuse of human rights. Many Members have referred to forced marriage in that context. I am proud of the Government’s record on legislating on human rights and I wish to remind Members of specific commitments in international human rights instruments that refer to this issue. Article 16 of the universal declaration of human rights states:

Article 19 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child declares:

Tragically, forced marriage affects a number of children every year.

Unlike some Members, I welcome the decision not to make this a criminal offence. Lord Lester has deployed his legal skills in his usual imaginative and powerful way. Making this a civil offence empowers the victim. In civil cases, the victim has control over the legal proceedings. I have worked too often with victims in criminal proceedings who have felt pushed out as the Crown Prosecution Service takes over the case. In such circumstances, the victim’s worries and concerns—which in cases such as forced marriage are often complex—can be ignored. Making this a civil offence will empower some victims of forced marriage, just as some victims of domestic violence are empowered by the injunction procedure. It will give the victim more
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control over the system, which is welcome. It also recognises a brutal reality. In forced marriage cases, the family is often both the oppressor and, at some point, the supporter. Families are complicated. A person’s family can wickedly bully and harass them into a marriage that they do not feel is right for them, but at a later point that person might think, “I want my mum.” Making this a civil wrong recognises some of the complexities in family relationships.

All Members agree on the issue and I want to remind Members of our record when we all agree. We should think about what happened in respect of the Child Support Agency and the dangerous dogs legislation. It is risky when we all agree. That is especially true of this Bill and I want to alert Ministers and other colleagues to that. It started as a private Member’s Bill and, although we have consulted on whether we should legislate to criminalise forced marriage—and decided not to—this Bill has not been widely consulted on. Because of the nature of the offence that we are trying to address, we need alliances if we are to enforce our ambition effectively. If people are not signed up, on board, engaged or have not been enabled to use their imagination about how to fix the situation, there is a risk that we could end up with a great piece of legislation that does not work. We have, for example, legislation against genital mutilation that has never been deployed.

There is a job to be done in reaching out to people beyond the confines of this place. When I was speaking in my constituency about this Bill, a Sikh woman, who is a member of Slough borough council and a respected member of her community, asked me, “Who have you talked to about this, Fiona?” I mentioned conversations with Southall Black Sisters and others who are enthusiastic about the Bill. I could tell from her contribution that she was anxious that if the Bill was not well constructed, it could inflame the sort of arguments that happen in families and be used as a tool in family disputes to batter each other. There is a risk of that and we need to avoid it. The best way to do so is by engaging with the communities that know best how their families operate about the sensible ways to avoid it and how to engage the resourcefulness of those communities to make a difference.

I feel strongly that during the summer we need to consult as widely as possible with all sorts of people. As I suggested when I intervened on the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I fear that sometimes we can be a bit smug. We all say that we are against forced marriage, but my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) has dealt with more cases of forced marriage than any other Member. We have to stop and ask why that is so. Is it because Keighley is a hotbed of forced marriage? Is it more prevalent there than in Slough? Or is it because victims of forced marriage in my hon. Friend’s constituency know that she is on their side? It is like wearing a red ribbon. She is on their side and she has stood up in mosques and in front of big, nasty bullies who say, “Oh, that is not a problem round here.” She has stuck up for victims. It behoves all of us not to be complacent, but to stick up for victims and engage with all the communities that might be affected by or interested in this Bill. We should ask them what they can do that would make a difference.

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We all know that legislation does make a difference. It creates an important framework of values that can change people’s behaviour. For example, the establishment of the forced marriage unit and the clear lead from this Government on the issue have meant that many religious leaders have said that there is no place for forced marriage in their community and that they oppose it. They are very good at saying that, but slightly less good at acting on those commitments. We need to recognise that legislation has an important role to play, but we need to do more than just pass this Bill. We need to reach beyond it.

Some community leaders who make such statements do not notice the distress of someone who is trying to engage them. They try to pretend that the marriage is not quite false—“It is an arranged marriage with a bit of difficulty” they say, “because she is having a slightly hysterical moment. That’s what happens to teenagers, isn’t it?” I have heard and barged into such conversations. We need to engage with people on that.

I have seen schools turn a blind eye to young women who have spent a lot of time off-roll. They have not bothered to find out what has happened to them when they have gone back to Pakistan, for example. In creating a sort of cultural tolerance, we have sometimes winked at, or not had the determination to march towards, things that should give us pause. We have not challenged habits and practices that, while not being the sort of forced marriages that would be subject to action under the Bill, are on the boundaries of it. We all have a duty to act on that.

Hon. Members have talked about imaginative solutions. If we pass the Bill, we can deliver some of those. A convent of nuns in my constituency—sadly, they have moved to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew)—ran a school that had a place of retreat. I remember Sister Mary Stephen telling me that a young Muslim woman, seeing a female community of people who valued their faith, came to her to see if they could help her in moments of stress. It was striking that that woman wanted to reach outside her community to find like souls, who had some authority and who could provide some refuge for her, because she was fearful. We need to examine whether there are imaginative ways of creating refuge and space for women. First, however, we should give women power over their lives, and this Bill is one of the ways to do that.

We can do other things, and I hope that by passing the Bill we can change the habits of Government Departments, which disempower women in such circumstances. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) pointed out, there are women who have been tricked into marriage, or bullied into signing off the settlement of their husbands, who then perhaps disappear to reunite with wife No. 1, whom wife No. 2 did not know about. The fact that the Home Office says, “It is no business of yours now” is offensive and disempowering for women. We need to think of new ways to solve such problems without interfering with the privacy rights of men and women in such circumstances.

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