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If you are forcing someone into marriage, some of the offences you could be prosecuted for are: Kidnap, Threats to kill, Rape, False imprisonment, Blackmail, Child Abduction, Harassment.
That is quite a list. However, despite the fact that the forced marriage unit, West Yorkshire police, my office and others have all seen an increasing number of cases, there has not been, as far as I am aware, a single prosecution by the CPS under current criminal legislation against such criminal activity being used to enforce marriage. It is therefore imperative that this Bill does not suffer the same fate by going unused and that it is not seen as a soft option. Its success in addressing the matter will depend on political will and ensuring that it is widely known, understood and used.
We now have guidelines for the police, social workers, schools and health professionals to stop forced marriages. As useful and necessary as those guidelines are, I remain to be convinced that they have managed to filter through to the front line. Indeed, recently officers from one constabulary told me that the guidelines were filed somewhere in the chief constables office. Unless the guidelines are publicised among the professionals who encounter forced marriages and training is offered, then the well-being or even the life of a young girl could be in jeopardy.
I am pleased that the Minister has suggested that all such guidelines will be updated to include information regarding the possible actions that this Bill will enable. The Bill must not simply be filed in a desk somewhere. It must be supported by a programme of publicity and education that reaches every school, mosque and community centre in the country. The same drip feed of information that is proving so successful in tackling the wider issue of domestic violence needs to be adopted for forced marriages.
I have some sympathy with the comments made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in Committee and tonight regarding the introduction of a
pre-marriage register. That would not only add another tier of protection from a forced marriage, but, as we discussed in Committee, give greater protection to disabled people, who might not be wholly aware of the marriage.
Although I am delighted that we are debating the Bill, there is more that can and should be done. Young girls are still disappearing from schools at the age of 14 or 15, their education interrupted or ended, returned to the country of their parents, married, and returned here only when they are able to support an application for the husband to come to the UK. We cannot allow young women to be used as a vehicle to get round immigration rules in order to assist economic migration. We cannot allow the lives of young people to be disrupted, and in some cases destroyed, for the sake of satisfying mediaeval cultural practices. To be denied the right to an education in such circumstances is discriminatory and unacceptable.
An increase in the age limit from the current 18 for migration to the UK must be introduced for applicants and sponsors. I have asked for it to be increased to 21. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) argued for 23 or 24, in line with the Danish regulations. Whatever the age, it must be sufficient to allow young people to go to school, and plan to go to university if they so choose, without the fear of being used, instead, as a tool to strengthen a biraderi or as a vehicle for economic migration to improve the economic well-being of families thousands of miles away. It is better by far that that should be achieved from general taxation through the Department for International Development. Denmarks Integration Minister recently argued that the Danish immigration policy
works exactly as it is intended. Weve gotten a handle on immigration and broken the pattern where generations of young people primarily found their spouses abroad.
There is a completely different tendency now amongst younger groups of immigrants and their children to instead look for a partner here in Denmark or Europe.
The time has come to abolish the whole concept of indefinite leave to remain after being in the UK for two years. Migrants should, upon arrival, aspire to and work towards citizenship. Only British citizens should be allowed to act as a sponsor for the purposes of immigration through marriage. That would not only address the incidence of forced marriage but increase the move towards greater integration and cohesion.
Decisions and legislation designed to curb the excesses of a culture that are based on a lack of understanding of that culture are unlikely to succeed. Had the Americans bothered to attempt to understand the Vietnamese, they would have realised that theirs was a war they could never have won and should never have foughtsimilarly with Iraq. Likewise, to challenge criminal, inhumane practices from a position of weaknessthat is, a lack of understanding as to why it occurs in the first placewill, history suggests, lead to failure.
The Danes and the Dutch are getting there. The Bill, based as it is on our principles of tolerance and accommodation, may satisfy our understanding of the problem, but does it reflect any understanding of the
perpetrators of the crime and their behaviour? I therefore have to say to the families concerned that if this measure, together with changes in immigration regulations, does not stop the enforcement of marriage, I, for one, will seek the introduction of a specific criminal offence, because we simply cannot go on like thisour British-born young Asian women deserve better.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I welcome this Third Reading debate, which follows a productive and consensual Second Reading and Committee stage. The Minister adeptly outlined many of the issues surrounding the Bill, so I will keep my remarks fairly brief, but there are a few points that I would like to put on the record on behalf of my party.
My first point follows on from the comments of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) about the offence being a civil, rather than a criminal, one. She made a good case for looking again at that issue, if the legislation does not provide the tools and armoury we hope for to tackle this insidious activity. The arguments in favour of a civil offence are very strong, and we want to ensure that we encourage potential victims of forced marriage to come forward without fear or concern that their loved ones will be criminalised as a result. Although sending out a strong message by making something a crime is superficially attractive, I suspect that we want the approach that works, and one that is more pragmatic is more likely to achieve results. That is not to say, however, that we should not monitor that approach carefully and ensure that it does achieve results.
I welcome the Ministers correspondence with Committee members. I welcome the fact that she has taken up two particular points that I raised in Committee. The first concerned ensuring that vulnerable victims of forced marriage, such as children or those with learning disabilities, are adequately considered in the proceedings, and that provision is made to ensure that their voices are heard, with whatever special measures are appropriate. In Committee, and in the House today, the Minister said that she would take that up with the president of the family division with regard to the issuing of practice direction, which is welcome. I hope that it ensures that everyone can benefit from the legislation, particularly the most vulnerable.
With the passage of the Forced Marriage Bill into law, the FMUs Guidelines for Professionals (including Guidance For The Police, Social Workers, Teachers And Health Professionals) will be put onto a statutory footing. This will require the FMU to issue revised editions of these Guidelines and the new versions will include advice on how professionals can best make use of the new provisions contained within the Forced Marriage Bill.
That is welcome, but the problem outlined by the hon. Member for Keighley remainsguidance can sometimes end up in a filing cabinet somewhere. As well as formal legal guidance, which must be issued, I reiterate what I said in Committee: it is vital that clear, easy-to-understand information is made easily available, such as a simple leaflet that can be distributed more widely than what is issued to professionals.
The Minister mentioned the budget. She said in Committee that how well something is publicised depends on funds being available. We live in the real world; there are always constraints. I argue that the costs associated with this are not necessarily huge. What is important is not that huge amounts of money are spentalthough the more, the better, to ensure that information reaches the maximum number of peoplebut that the Bill is distilled into plain English so that people can understand it. I suspect it will need not only to be in plain English but to be made plain in other languages, too. The hon. Member for Keighley made a point about the legislation not remaining unused, and clear guidance will be essential to ensure that it is used.
The outreach programme from the forced marriage unit, which the Minister outlined, is important and greatly welcome, and I also welcome her point that devolved Governments will be involved in the process. People are victims of this situation throughout the United Kingdom, and we must ensure that the expertise of the FMU is put to good use.
In conclusion, the FMU deals with 300 cases a year of people in the most desperate situations, who are often subject to an horrific catalogue of crimes, from violence to kidnap and rape. Those 300 cases could be just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, prevention is much better than cure, and if the legislation ensures a route out before such marriages take place, victims will be provided with another option. I very much hope that that will be the case.
All the organisations that were consulted about and involved in shaping the Bill and all the people who campaigned on the issue for many years, including the hon. Member for Keighley, deserve the thanks of the House. I also thank my noble Friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill for introducing the measure in another place, the Government for adopting it to ensure that it had a fighting chance of making it to the statute bookthat is much appreciatedand, of course, the Conservatives for making sure that parliamentary time was made available. Getting the Bill on to the statute book has therefore taken an effort of the whole House, and I am delighted to add Liberal Democrat support to its Third Reading.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am glad of the opportunity to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) to say a few words from a constituency perspective and from my experience. I have been unable to participate in the debates so far in the short time that the Bill has been before the House, but I am glad that it is here.
I join hon. Members tributes not only to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) but to Alice Mahon, whom she mentioned. Such people ensure that we do not run away from the difficult issue that we are considering. My hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire rightly paid tribute to my noble Friend Lord Lester. As a human rights lawyer, he understood the importance of the issue in many communities. I want to share my experience to show how important it is not only to accept the Bill, but to perceive it as unfinished work.
Last year I attended a wedding of some friends, a young couple who are Indian Hindus. Their marriage was contracted willingly, but in the context of an arranged family get-together. That is common; it is fine, and it works. I attended a similar marriage between cousins of theirs some years ago. That marriage has been successful. The family live near me and I see them almost every day; they have lovely children and everything is going well.
However, one night some years ago I was asked to respond to a Green Card from Central Lobby. A young man had been referred to me because his family were trying to drive him into a marriage and he could not stand it any longer. He ran away from home. I was not his Member of Parliament, but he had been given my name as somebody who might be helpful, and I worked with his Member of Parliament, who was in a different party, to support the young man.
In the past couple of weeks I learnedsadly, too lateof some acquaintances, a boy and a girl, who have both been forced to be married. In their case, the violence was not physical but psychological, and there were huge other pressures. The girl is only 20 and wants to study. She does not want to get married at the moment. The boy wants to go on being single for the foreseeable future. However, they have given in. In their case, the arrangement was made on a trip to Pakistan, where the engagement happened. The marriage took place here.
Many young peopleboys as well as girls, men as well as womenare in the position that I described. The Bill covers people who are forced into marriage without their free and full consentthe words are clear and simple. It clearly provides that it does not matter where the conduct is directed, and that it includes coercion by threats or other psychological means. We must send a clear and strong signal about what that means.
Sometimes young women do not simply not want to get married to a specific person, they do not want to get married at all at that stage in their lives. They may want to remain single; indeed, they may never want to get married, for various reasons. That is a choice. The same applies to young men. When cultural pressures are huge, people are often assumed to be ready to settle down, get married and have children young when they do not want to do that. That applies to people who are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, those who do not know their sexuality and those have not determined the lifestyle that they want to adopt. They are often driven to comply with the norms and expectations of their families, and the pressures are enormous.
The 300 cases of forced marriage are the tip of the iceberg. I am absolutely clear that we are not talking about thousands of people in this country, but about tens of thousands of people who are married, but who would chose not to be married if they had their free will. I am not saying that in the end people do not make a go of it, or that sometimes people do not accept that, but that is not the society that we should encourage or support. We should allow people to make their own choices. Of course we try to encourage people to settle down into relationships. None the less, we should require that people get married only when they are clear what they are doing, and when they enter into marriage freely and willingly.
I want to make my two final points, one of which I made in my intervention on the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). Instinctively, I am against the creation of lots of legislation, and particularly lots of new offences, as the Minister knows. Therefore it is right to start with a civil procedure rather than further criminal law, because there are already relevant laws on the statute book. However, I am also clear that we need to address the linked questions of how we register marriages both here and abroad, and how we recognise marriages here that are made abroad, some of which are made by custom and practice and are barely marriages at all. Sometimes people have come to my surgery and said, Im married. How were you married? I have asked. The answer is that they were married when one person was in this country and the other in another. The marriage was contracted without those involved being in the same place. Let us face up to these things.
It is not so easy to do this now, but there has been a sad tradition, for all the reasons that we know, of people forcing others to get married or using their marriages to get all the other advantagesnormally citizenship, residency or leave to remain. We should examine that. I invite the Minister to give us an opportunity to examineperhaps with her colleagues, who I know are very sympatheticthe broader issue that the hon. Member for Keighley has often raised, of ensuring that the systems are not abused, and of how we can, as it were, turn people away from the doors of the registry office, the registrar, the temple, the gurdwara, the mosque or the church, when one or both of them do not want to be there, or the marriage is a contrivance.
My final point is about education. The Minister represents a similar sort of constituency to mine, while the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has significant links with many of our minority communities and my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire has done work on behalf of women in our party and beyond. We all know the reality: education starts at an early age. One needs to establish, at the beginning of secondary school, the basis of how this country works, and expects people to get married. That should be done not just through formal education but through informal education, including youth clubs and other organisations. There are some really good charities that help peoplethe Minister referred to some voluntary organisations with good practiceas well as womens organisations, youth organisations and so on. I hope that we will continue to encourage those organisations, to ensure that we get the message out earlyin all the appropriate languages, as my hon. Friend saidand that we give support.
That is particularly important in single-faith schools, where the cultural pressures are greater. In mixed-community schools, where people come from all faiths and none, the chances of having a friend who does not come from the same cultural background in whom one can confide are much greater. A young person who goes to an all-Muslim, all-Sikh or all-Hindu school is in much greater difficulty. I have had to counsel people who have had nobody in whom they could confide, because they just did not trust those around themthe uncle, aunt or equivalent of the godparentbecause they were not sure whether, in the end, they would
come down on their side or the side of the parents and the cousins. Sadly, on one occasion I have seen the family come and kidnap somebody, in order to take them home to do their will as a family.
That is the sort of society that we still have, so the Bill, which is the result of a worthwhile private Members initiative, is timely. However, legislating is the beginning of the process, not the end. Education needs to follow, and to reach the parts that other education has not reached. Beyond that, I hope that we can have a further debate about how to stop people from being driven into marriages that they do not want to enter into, because that way lies huge unhappiness, often domestic violence, mental illness and psychological upset, and extremely unhappy lives. If we can spare tens of thousands of people that, we will be doing a lot of people a good service.
That the draft Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (Amendment) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 21st May, be approved.
That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.
That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Investigation of Protected Electronic Information: Code of Practice) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.
That the draft Verification of Information Passport Applications Etc. (Specified Persons) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 29th June, be approved.
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