Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 39A:

Page 15, line 22, after first ("the") insert ("sole").

The noble Lord said: This is a very small amendment and the purpose behind it is simple. By including the word "sole" we shall ensure that we are dealing only with sham marriages, not other reasons for marriages. I hope that the Minister finds it appropriate to accept the small change in the wording. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: If the Minister objects to the word "sole" he will be saying that the marriage was for the primary purpose. I welcome the Home Office's recent abolition of the primary purpose rule. Rejecting the amendment would mean bringing the rule back in not by the back door, but by the revolving door.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The provision relates to reasonable suppositions about a sham marriage, which is defined as one that is entered into,

This is not the primary purpose rule by the back-door or the revolving door--or indeed by the French doors or the patio swing doors.

The primary purpose rule required applicants to prove that the primary purpose of their marriage was not to obtain admission to the United Kingdom. We thought that that was arbitrary, ineffective and unfair. We abolished the rule on 5th June 1997 and we have no intention of reinstating it. However, there is a legitimate expectation that if an individual seeks to remain in the United Kingdom on the basis of marriage, the marriage must be genuine. The aim of the provision is to tackle abuse by those who are prepared to enter into a sham marriage to secure an immigration advantage. There is a good deal of material to show that that is an abuse. The attention given to Clause 20 is misplaced.

Lord Dholakia: I thank the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 20 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Dholakia: I should like to make four points. The arguments about sham marriages have been well rehearsed.

First, in opposition, the Labour Party made it clear that it was against the primary purpose rules and would abolish them at the first opportunity. The aim of the primary purpose rule was not to dispute whether the marriage was genuine, but to determine whether the purpose of the marriage was that someone was seeking admission to the United Kingdom. We are coming back to the same argument in a different way, saying that a marriage is not genuine and the purpose behind it is to stay in the United Kingdom.

My second argument, which the Minister has dismissed, is about indirect discrimination. I accept that a lot of preliminaries are undertaken before someone marries in a church. But it is clear that a large number of people of different faiths and religions are unable to

12 Jul 1999 : Column 141

marry in church because they have a different faith, a different belief. Therefore, a condition is being imposed which the Commission for Racial Equality described as indirect discrimination. They are conditions and requirements which cannot be justified because the people concerned are unable to meet the conditions which a Christian could meet; that is, getting married in a church. Therefore, there is indirect discrimination because people are allowed to marry in a church with no questions being asked but the registrar has a different role to play.

The third point is the intention of registrars. I listened carefully to the Minister. I wish to stress to him that by trying to catch sham marriages, the Government are putting blame on a large number of ordinary, law-abiding black and brown faces in this country.

I want to give an example which will justify what I am trying to say. Only last week I was returning from Brussels with the members of the European Communities Sub-Committee F. The chairman of that committee, my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was with me. There was no problem when we arrived in Brussels. The immigration officer was satisfied when we waved our passport documents at him. We were allowed through. However, when we arrived at Waterloo, there was a long queue of people. There was a black guy a few feet ahead of him. I said to my noble friend, "You watch. They will take his passport and flick through. I bet you when my turn comes, the same thing will happen". That is precisely what happened.

The point I am trying to make is that there are situations in which people probe much deeper because they do not believe that you are what you say you are. Those beliefs are often held. It is not surprising. I remember when I used to work for the Commission for Racial Equality that registrars used to insist on the production of a passport for proof of identity when there are many other ways in which people can prove their identity; for example, a birth certificate and so on. I believe that by imposing this onus on the registrar, life is being made very difficult for a number of black and brown faces in this country.

The Minister knows that there are ample powers by which to determine whether or not a marriage is a sham. Quite simply, under existing law it is quite feasible to see whether or not the marriage has subsisted for a period of one year. If it has not, there are ample powers by which the individual can be removed from this country. Therefore, why do we need a clause which imposes such an obligation on registrars? They are decent, honest people but, unintentionally, they may take action which could do a lot of harm to good race relations in this country.

11.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: There is a serious point here. In 1628, an unmarried couple in Cannington in Somerset were presented for trial to the church courts accused of fornication because they had been keeping company with suspicious frequency.

It seems to me that that is exactly the type of suspicious mentality which the clause is bound to invite. I hear what the Minister says that the registrar will not

12 Jul 1999 : Column 142

be allowed to question the couple. But if that is so, how will his suspicions arise? The fears of my noble friend Lord Dholakia are well-founded that that will necessarily result in a form of indirect discrimination. That will create a good deal of suspicion and desire to avoid marriage.

Various people inside the Government occasionally express concern at the move from marriage towards cohabitation. I cannot help feeling that if this clause reaches the statute book, among every racial minority and every couple in which one member is of foreign origin the clause would accentuate that tendency. I do not see any decent loving couple wanting to subject themselves to this set of suspicions, the consequences of which, in the light of what we have heard about the employment clause and a great many other clauses, may turn out to be very serious.

I also simply cannot see how this clause can be made to be convention compatible. There has to be discrimination on grounds of national origin, because if both members of the couple are British born they are not subjected to it. So discrimination on grounds of national origin is built into the very warp and woof of the clause.

Discrimination on grounds of religion is again built into the clause. I hear what the Minister says about banns. On the other hand, is he suggesting that every case in which banns have been posted is necessarily, therefore, genuine? There is a vast mass of material in the Record Office of this place which demonstrates otherwise. That really was a slightly unwise suggestion.

Registrars do not normally know much about the people whom they marry. In a large town, in particular, it is a mass operation. If it is not done either by suspicion on grounds of racial origin or by suspicions planted by informers, I do not know how it will be done. However, the reference by my noble friend to information from third parties worried me. It is likely to be a case of hell knows no fury. I think that the Government have opened a very much larger can of worms than they realise. I hope they shut it quickly before all the worms get out.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Perhaps the Minister would be kind enough to set out how this position of the Church of England arises and how it compares with the position of other Christian denominations such as the Church in Wales or the Church of Ireland, which are Anglican, and the Roman Catholic Church, among others. It seems to me that discrimination between the different denominations of Christians is awkward in a Bill of this character. In any case, I am not sure how it arises on the face of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There is no discrimination here. Those who marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales generally proceed by ecclesiastical preliminaries; in other words, banns. In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, we have no evidence of significant abuse of those ecclesiastical preliminaries. The procedures for marriage in the established Church are already more lengthy, as I said earlier, and more involved in civil preliminaries.

12 Jul 1999 : Column 143

Religious marriages other than those in the established Church require civil preliminaries. That is, therefore, the reason they are not exempted from the charge.

I turn to the figures. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, if one has significant evidence of sham marriages, that is an attack on the institution of marriage, an institution which he rightly commends. I shall give a few examples in a moment. However, perhaps we may return to what Clause 20 says. It does not require an inquisition or cross-examination. It simply puts into statutory form the informal arrangements which have existed for a long time. If a registrar has reasonable grounds for suspicion, he or she must report it to the Home Office, as they do now on an informal basis to the Registrars General of Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. I repeat: that is done at the moment.

Currently, if the Registrar General has a report and is satisfied that the registrar's suspicions are well-founded, the report is passed to the Home Office. We are altering that informal system to have a statutory duty to make the reports. I repeat--I hope for the last time-- that that is based on reasonable grounds for suspecting that the marriage will be a sham marriage.

The immigration service team, which has not been operating all that long, has made over 236 arrests for offences connected with sham marriages. Of the foreign nationals arrested, 118 have been charged or cautioned and 42 removed or deported. It is sometimes quite plain to registrars that a marriage is likely to be a sham; for instance, if the couple do not really know each other, if they have to refer to notes to remember their names or if they do not speak the same language. Sometimes registrars see money changing hands. That is not limited to the parties to the marriage; there is significant evidence of rackets going on which involve substantial sums of money.

I will give some examples: a male asylum-seeker who attempted to marry a woman using a false Irish identity, sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for perjury; a British male who married six times but failed to obtain a divorce on one occasion and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for bigamy, perjury and facilitating immigration leave by deception; an Irish away-day bride who attempted to marry an illegal immigrant, arrived for her wedding accompanied by all of her eight children. Those are examples where there was reasonable suspicion and had nothing to do with the colour of people's skin.

I take the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia's, point because he knows that I have reason to know about it and that I sympathise with it. If the examination checks at Waterloo were wrongly carried out, they were immigration checks and nothing to do with marriage.

The registrars have an informal arrangement at the moment and we want to put it on a statutory basis. There is no right in any convention that I know of which incorporates the right to enter into a sham marriage. We are saying that if the registrar, as the appointed agent on a statutory basis, has reasonable suspicions that this is all a sham, he is required to notify the Home Office.

12 Jul 1999 : Column 144

Thereafter, the reasonable suspicions may prove to be wholly unfounded and nothing more needs to be done, but, if they are founded, then people will be prosecuted. It is a mischief. It is an attack on what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, holds up as the model for men and women to live together. It has nothing to do with a decent regard for marriage; it has to do with an abuse of the process on quite a significant scale for cash.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page