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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I am well aware of the considerable consultation he has undertaken. However, there is still a difference of opinion on this matter. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, on this matter. Although I shall study carefully the effect of the code of practice that the Minister said will be issued, the end product of all this, however, is that a large number of people are still being subjected to inconvenience and are suspected of being illegal immigrants during “fishing raids". There are often big headlines in the newspapers about such “fishing raids" leading to the arrest of illegal

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immigrant workers although the actual numbers involved are rarely the same as those reported originally as having been arrested. That creates an unhealthy situation. I am grateful for the Minister's comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 [Restrictions on employment: code of practice]:

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Clause 20 [Duty to report suspicious marriages]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 14, leave out lines 41 and 42 and insert (“without delay and in such form and manner").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 20, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 21, 22, 23 and 24. This group of amendments relates to Clause 20 which makes provision for registrars to report suspicious marriages to the Home Office. It had originally been intended that regulations would require registrars to make reports within two working days if, when they take a notice of marriage, or before, during or after the ceremony, they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the marriage will be, or is, a sham.

It is essential that registrars prepare and send reports while the facts of each case, and their reasonable suspicions, are fresh in their minds. Amendment No. 20, which requires registrars to make reports “without delay", will ensure that this occurs and will achieve the necessary degree of flexibility.

A commitment was made in Committee to bring forward this amendment. It also seeks to satisfy the concerns of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. On reflection, Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 would be too restrictive and may cause practical difficulties for some registrars, particularly those who work only a few days each week. Conversely, registrars in larger districts would be expected to make reports as soon as possible. The wording of Amendment No. 20 is preferable in our view because it requires registrars to make returns “without delay". This recognises the need for a flexible approach to the reporting arrangements to reflect the practicalities of delivering the local registration service. I hope that, in the light of this, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will agree to withdraw Amendments Nos. 21 and 22. I therefore commend Amendment No. 20 to the House.

Regulations provided for in the Bill set out the form and manner of reports which registrars will make to the Home Office. It is proposed that these include details of the couple's name, age, address, details of any documents produced, the date and place of marriage, and the registrar's reasons for suspecting the marriage to be a sham. It is also intended that information about the duty to report sham marriages will be made available at registry offices.

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I believe that there would be obvious disadvantages in informing the couple that a report has been made which would be the effect of the Opposition's Amendment No. 23. Almost certainly, registrars would feel constrained in setting out their reasonable suspicions; and there might be a reluctance to comply with the duty to report, with a likely consequential under-reporting of suspected sham marriages. It must also be recognised that the duty to be placed on registrars is to report their reasonable suspicions. It will be for the Home Office to investigate individual cases in the light of those suspicions and the full facts of the case. In some instances no action may be taken following the receipt of a report. I am sure that other reports will reveal the existence of sham marriage rackets that the Home Office will wish to investigate. Giving couples and racketeers advance notice of such an investigation would negate the underlying purpose of the making of reports by registrars. For that reason, we cannot accept those amendments.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 24. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, tabled a similar amendment at the Committee stage which, after discussion, was withdrawn. As I understand it, his concern is to ensure that the duty to report sham marriages does not reintroduce the “primary purpose" rule in another guise.

The primary purpose rule, which required applicants to prove that the primary purpose of their marriage was not to obtain admission to the United Kingdom, was widely considered to be arbitrary, ineffective and unfair as it caught genuine couples. In line with our manifesto commitment, we abolished the rule on 5th June 1997. We have no intention of reinstating it by another route. However, there is a legitimate expectation that where an individual seeks to remain in the United Kingdom on the basis of marriage, that marriage must be genuine. The aim of this provision of the Bill is to tackle abuse by those who are prepared to enter into a sham marriage in order to secure an immigration advantage.

The purpose of Clause 20 is to impose a duty on registrars to report all marriages where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they are being contracted for immigration purposes. Registrars will be provided with detailed guidance in this regard and will take into account only factors obtained by direct observation or questioning related to the preliminaries of the marriage. They will not make immigration-related inquiries, nor will they question couples about the motives for their marriage.

Registrars therefore will not be in a position to make an assessment as to whether a marriage might be entered into solely for the purpose of securing an immigration advantage; nor would we wish them to do so. This is a consideration rightly reserved for immigration officials.

Once a registrar has reported the grounds for his or her suspicions, it will be for the Immigration Service to consider the report in conjunction with all the other facts relating to an individual's circumstances. Where an application is made for leave to remain in the

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United Kingdom on the basis of a marriage which has been reported as suspicious, consideration will be given to all the facts of the case, including evidence of the subsisting nature of the marriage. I appreciate the noble Lord's reason for raising this point, but I ask the House to reject his amendment. I beg to move Amendment No. 20.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux): My Lords, I must advise the House that if Amendment No. 20 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 21.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the amendment shows how difficult it is to help the Government. In Committee, I moved an amendment to this clause which suggested that the registrar of marriages should have five days to deliver up this information. The noble and learned Lord Williams--he was not learned at that point; he has become learned since--said that the Government thought two days was the correct period of time. I thought that I would try and help and put down two days for the Report stage, which I did. It turns out that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has changed his mind or the Government have changed their mind. Now we have “without delay" instead. I do not consider that quite as satisfactory as imposing a limit. However, I accept that there are some part-time registrars--there were some in my constituency when I was a Member of another place--and it is perhaps better therefore to say “without delay". I shall not pursue the amendment standing in my name.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I wish to speak to the amendment, particularly in relation to the very small amendment I have tabled. My amendment is to ensure that only serious allegations about sham marriages are made to the Home Office.

The amendment is slightly different to the one I proposed in Committee. I accept that there is no intention on the part of the Government to introduce the primary purpose rule through other means. That is not in dispute. However, there are always a variety of reasons for a marriage. For instance, when one of the parties is in the UK subject to immigration control and the couple want to be together, that party may not qualify for further permission to stay--because a course of study has come to an end, for example--and they may decide to marry sooner rather than later. This may be in breach of the immigration regulations but by no stretch of the imagination would that marriage be a sham. One of its purposes might be to avoid the effect of the immigration rule which requires a student to leave at the end of a particular course.

The Government still have not answered the question I raised at the Committee stage. They have failed to address in this clause the issue of discrimination contrary to the ECHR in that it does not apply to marriage in the Church of England and the Church in Wales. The Minister's argument at that time was that there was no evidence of abuse in such marriages. But the only evidence is the report of registrars to the Home Office. Anglican ministers are

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not asked to report. The argument therefore is entirely circular and illogical. I hope that we will talk solely about sham marriages rather than marriages which are suspected of being sham without any substance whatever.

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