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Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 16:


"( ) may only be given if each party to the marriage attends the office of the superintendent registrar at the time of the presentation of the notice under section 27 of the Marriage Act 1949,"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 16 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 17 and 25. I made clear in Committee that as far as we are concerned, the trade in sham marriages for the purposes of obtaining residence in the UK is obnoxious. However, we recognise that there are sensitive issues here which must be considered when one is restricting the right of people to marry. We recognise that we must not discriminate against people who arrange their marriages for different reasons in
 
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different ways. However, it is not acceptable for people to use marriage merely to obtain residence in this country.

In Committee I referred to the press release that was issued by the Government on 22 April. That states that both parties would need to attend one of the specialist register offices in person to obtain authorisation. My problem, when looking at the drafting of the clause, was that I could not see that specific requirement. I asked the Minister if he could point me to the provision and did not receive an answer on that occasion so I simply tabled Amendment No. 16 to ask him for an explanation today. My amendment would require both parties to attend the specialist register office.

I turn to Amendment No. 17. Subsection (3)(c) provides the Secretary of State with the power to specify which other people will be permitted to marry. The purpose of my amendment is simply to ask the Government what will be their reasons for exempting any person or class of person from the operation of this subsection.

In Committee, the Minister gave some indication of when permission to marry would be refused. He stated:

As ILPA point out in its briefing, the meaning of that is not altogether clear, particularly to which group of people the "reasonable to return" test may apply, although the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, stated later in the debate at col. 698 that those with valid leave to remain of over six months would be allowed to marry.

The problem throughout the debate was that we were not given a clear indication of which categories of people would benefit under subsection (3)(c). I received today from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, a letter dated 25 June—I will not say "post-haste" because the post was slow; perhaps it was "post-slow"—in which the noble Baroness seeks to address this issue in further detail. Is the Minister able to confirm on the record today the point that was put to me? I believe the letter was sent also to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who momentarily is not in his place, but it will not have been seen by outside bodies. The letter states:

I have heard that before—

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I would be grateful if the Minister could place on the record from the Dispatch Box that that is his understanding of how the subsection would operate.

I turn to Amendment No. 25, which returns to a matter I raised in Committee on 15 June at col. 690 of Hansard. I argued that it was important that there should be some effective system of reporting to Parliament on the clause's operation. It is the first stage of what we hope may be an effective policy to deter those who trade in sham marriages.

We need to know more fully the nature and scale of the abuse so that we can properly assess the effectiveness of the provision in tackling it. In response to my amendment at that stage, the Minister agreed that it was important to keep Parliament informed about the way in which the powers are used and he undertook to review with ministerial colleagues what might be the most appropriate form of a reporting mechanism.

My amendment is intended to encourage the Minister to tell the House what further consideration the Government have given the matter. It would require the reporting system to give the following information as a starting point, although of course other information could be valuable: how many applications have been made and refused in cases where subsection (3) is in effect in England with similar requirements for the provision's operation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It is right that the Government should provide information about why applications are refused. If we do not know that, how can we judge whether the refusals are in cases where people simply fail to bring the right evidence with them even though they possess it? We want to be able to see the size of the problem where people are making fraudulent applications. We also need to be given information about the costs involved for those who make applications for marriage within the rules imposed by the new clauses. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, my noble friend has done the House a service in asking the Minister to consider those points. They are all important. It was obvious in Committee that the Government had not considered carefully enough a number of matters.

Reading the Committee debate in Hansard, I was impressed by the enormously tolerant, patient and statesmanlike speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. Listening to him when he spoke I took in only part of what he said, but reading his speech I saw that it was carefully crafted and put in careful terms so as not in any way to stir up problems for the Government on the matter: there were issues to which he sincerely believed the provisions did not attend.

The Minister overreacted a little. He may have been, as I was, unable to take in fully the tone of the speech and its contents when he listened to it. I had not
 
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realised its nature as I listened. The noble Lord asked valid questions, some of which are related to what my noble friend said in moving her amendment.

When the Opposition calls for annual reports it is often a matter of form to ask for such a provision and a matter of form that the request is refused. But in this case something has to be done to ensure that Parliament can take account of what happens as a result of the provisions. There are definite causes for anxiety for residents of this country who legitimately want someone to enter the country to marry them and who may find that there are difficulties because it is suspected that such people are coming in for the wrong reasons—reasons of obtaining residence when there is not a proper wish to marry.

I hope that the Minister and indeed the Home Secretary will pay attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said. I respect what he said very much and I am sure that other Members of the House will too if they have taken the time to read his speech. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response to my noble friend because the points she made are important.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for supporting some of the issues I raised last week. Will the certificates of approval apply also to marriages that take place in Church of England churches and chapels or do they apply only to registrars? When the special registrar gives permission and the couple are required to write to the Home Secretary for approval, how long does the Minister think it will take for the Home Office to reply and which documents will be required for permission to be given?

I was in my place last week and I will be interested also to hear what the Minister has to say tonight.


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