Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Rooker: My Lords, when I replied to my noble friend last week I sought to answer most of the issues that he raised. I want to respond in detail to Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 25 because they are specific and targeted. There is also the following group of amendments, which seeks to remove six or seven clauses, in which different issues are raised. I want to be able to reply to every point raised because I want to lead the debate so that everyone is happy and clear about what we intend, but it would be easier for me to answer first Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 25 and then answer the principle issue in the second debate.

Amendment No. 16 would mean that we explicitly state in Clause 19 that each party must attend the designated registration centre to give notice of their marriage. That is unnecessary because the requirement is already set out in the marriage legislation. Specifically, Section 27 of the Marriage Act 1949 requires that each of the parties to a marriage gives notice in the prescribed form to the superintendent registrar. Section 28 of that Act requires that the notice is accompanied by a declaration in writing, made and signed at the time of giving notice by the person giving the notice.
28 Jun 2004 : Column 54

Section 28(2) specifically requires that any such declaration must be signed by the person giving the notice in the presence of the superintendent registrar to whom the notice is given. Therefore the effect of those provisions taken together is that each party to the marriage is required to attend the office of the superintendent registrar at the time of giving notice of the marriage.

However, we believe that the noble Baroness's intention was to have both parties attend the designated centre together. I can confirm that although the tabled amendment does not meet the policy end, Immigration and Nationality Department officials are currently considering introducing such a clause. I shall return to the issue and I shall return anyway to report back on the results of the consideration.

Amendment No. 17 would have the effect that regulations specifying the categories of person to be exempted under subsection (3)(c) would themselves justify the exemptions. As I am sure noble Lords will agree, that would be an odd measure to adopt.

Regulations are designed to set out what the law is and not why it is. I can assure the noble Baroness that, in accordance with existing parliamentary process, we will produce a memorandum for scrutiny—as for the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the House of Lords Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments—justifying our regulation, as is the usual practice. That will be done. The process already provides a requirement for the Government to justify the terms of their regulations and allows for scrutiny of those reasons in the committees.

Amendment No. 25 would require the Immigration and Nationality Department to produce an annual report of the operations of Sections 19 to 25. I can assure all noble Lords that the Government accept it is important that the operation of these new powers is properly reported to Parliament. It is absolutely crucial that people outside the country and abroad fully understand what is happening with these powers. However, there are certain details within these amendments which would render them impractical in our view. Under subsections (2)(a), (2)(b) and (2)(c) the report would include a record of the number of notifications accepted and refused by registrars and the reasons for those refusals.

The details the amendment would require to be collected in the first three categories do not appreciate how marriage law operates. A person who wishes to marry does not apply for the notice to be entered in the marriage notice book, entered on a marriage schedule or for the registrar to act. If a person meets the statutory criteria, he can give his notice of marriage and these procedures follow automatically. If not, then notice of marriage cannot be given in the first place.

In other words, there is no refusal as such. That is why it would be difficult to collect the statistics. If a registrar is not satisfied that the criteria have been met, he cannot act. Registrars and the registrars general receive many inquiries about the criteria that have to be met in order for a notice to be given and give advice accordingly. They will often be unaware of whether the
28 Jun 2004 : Column 55
person who wishes to marry meets the criteria and would, therefore, be unable to record whether a person failed to meet the requirements we are introducing or, indeed, any of the other criteria, because it is just a general inquiry.

The collection of this information and the recording of all inquiries, which is what the amendment would require, would add considerably to the work of registrars, certainly increase the cost of the service and serve no purpose in countering sham marriages. This reply is not wholly negative. I give your Lordships forewarning of that.

Subsections (2)(d) and (2)(e) require the report to include the number of applications for entry clearance for the purpose of marriage, for permission to marry from the Home Office, and the number of applications approved and those refused and the reasons for any refusals.

The Immigration and Nationality Department and UK Visas are to produce management information of the numbers of successful and unsuccessful applications they process and consideration is being given to how best to publish the figures for entry clearance and Home Office permission. As I said earlier, we consider such reporting to be very important. However, the reasons for those refusals are not recorded in a format which is easy to report on and this information would not be recorded in the reports.

At subsection (2)(f) the amendment calls for information on the number of notices that involve a person who is subject to immigration control and who is exempted in regulations made by the Home Secretary. That information would have to be obtained from registrars. They could provide the overall numbers of non-EEA nationals who give notice of marriage, but a breakdown of the different categories to give the number of those who fall within this category would have to be done clerically as a separate procedure. That too would prove to be a time-consuming task and certainly increase the cost of the service.

Under subsection (2)(g) we are asked to include in any report the amounts charged and received in fees under Section 25. As I said, the fee will be levied according to Treasury guidelines on a cost recovery only basis and will be set out in secondary legislation, allowing Members of the House an opportunity to debate it if they feel that it is unreasonable.

A memorandum trading account will be drawn up for sight by Immigration and Nationality Department officials and the Treasury. This is not a public document, but a summary of it will appear in the published resource accounts of the Home Office. It will show full income, full costs and overheads and any surplus or deficit. The Government feel that these documents will provide sufficient scrutiny of the charges. Therefore, we do not believe that it is necessary to include this information in a separate document; it will come out in one in the normal course of events.
28 Jun 2004 : Column 56

I hope, therefore, that those comments meet the spirit of the annual report requirement; that the information I have given regarding some of the details is accepted as practical arguments against going down that route, but nevertheless being open about it; and that the reply I have given to Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 is acceptable. I shall save the rest—otherwise I will just repeat myself—for the more important debate, when I can also reply to my noble friend Lord Ahmed.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he said in relation to my noble friend's Amendment No. 16 that he would be looking at the attendance by both people at the superintendent registrars at the presentation of the notice. If so, would he also look at Clause 21 of the Scottish provisions, which is differently drafted but which as far as I can see has the same requirement? If a change were to be made, it would need to be made in both.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I had assumed by the way the group of clauses is drafted, that if there were such a change of substance it would, where necessary, flow over to Northern Ireland and Scotland. I am not saying that it would be automatically exactly the same, but that there would be the consequential changes.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I intended that this group of amendments should stand separate from the debate on the principal clause, so I am grateful for the way he approached his answer.

With regard to Amendment No. 25, which talked about annual reports, my noble friend is right; it is the habit of oppositions to ask for annual reports and the habit of governments to find them quite inconvenient. The Minister tried to point out, somewhat effectively, the difficulty of obtaining some of the information I sought in my own amendment, but pointing out what information might be available and how it might be presented.

I shall look very carefully at what the Minister said, but I certainly think on first reflection that it is acceptable to me. Certainly, my intention is not to try to seek some information trawl which is not cost-effective and which does not form the basis for proper development of policy later; quite the reverse. The difficulty has been that perhaps some of the information on which proper government policy on these issues should be based has not been available and therefore it leads people to suspect that the Government's intentions are not necessarily properly founded. There could be some uneasiness in some parts of our community about why the Government are proceeding on this particular tack.

It is all very easy for governments to react to government, I mean newspaper headlines—sometimes they are government headlines anyway; they spin so well. But I mean that they might react to newspaper headlines on alleged bogus marriages. Certainly the Written Answer that my honourable friend Humfrey Malins received in another place last week shows that there perhaps was a significant increase in alleged bogus marriages over the past year or two, but we need
28 Jun 2004 : Column 57
Parliament to be able to act properly on verified information. That is all I seek to achieve in Amendment No. 25.

I refer briefly to Amendment No. 16. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that this issue is being considered. He was right: I am looking specifically at the importance of both parties attending at the new specialist register office. The Minister has made it clear that this is the first stage in a series of policy issues trying to prevent the use of sham marriages as a way of getting residency here, without in any way encroaching upon people's right to enter into marriage for different reasons at different times. It is not looking at different cultural approaches to marriage. It is important that the superintendent registrars are given the opportunity to use the expertise that they will build up over the years in a very effective way. If they do not have both people there, I do not see how on earth they are going to be able to divine properly, on real grounds, whether or not there is more information That they can elicit before they refuse to enter a marriage in the marriage book.I am grateful to the noble Lord for his indication on Amendment No. 16. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page