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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am interested that the Liberal Democrats have introduced what seems to me to be a wrecking amendment for this part of the Bill. Presumably, Clauses 21 and 22 are agreed by the Scottish Executive although immigration and asylum are matters reserved to Westminster. Many of the aspects of this part of the Bill have to be implemented under matters that are devolved to Scotland including the marriage laws and so forth. That is why there are specific Scottish amendments.
 
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The Liberal Democrats are trying to wreck two clauses which, as I understand it, the Scottish Executive wishes to be implemented. I can understand why it wants it because it is also very worried about sham marriages as we are here. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in his very interesting and, as ever, very well informed speech, said that he considered the clauses now under discussion unnecessary and why that is so. I shall listen with great interest to what the Minister has to say about it. So far I do not believe that we have heard an answer to what the noble Lord said.

If the clauses are unnecessary that partially solves my problem. However, I still believe that the political effect of the Liberal Democrats at Westminster trying to blow up two clauses of their political colleagues who are part of the partnership in the Scots Parliament, is slightly strange. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, can justify that because I am interested as a Scot who follows very closely what the Scots Parliament does. I have not had the opportunity to discuss this matter with any of his colleagues, but it will be interesting to hear what he has to say about it. I am sure that the Liberal Democrats have had discussions. I shall listen with great interest to what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, when he said in moving the amendment that he wanted a system which was effective, proportionate and met the requirements of the ECHR. So do we on these Benches. But by striking out these clauses I do not believe that he will achieve that effect. If he were minded to put the matter to a Division I would not be able to support him.

I find difficulty in that the Government have still not given all the information which we need to determine whether the method proposed is going to be effective. The question put by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, was very refreshing. She asked whether we were starting in the wrong place and whether there are other proposals that could be more effective in attacking what I may call real sham marriages. I believe that noble Lords will know what I mean.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was right when he referred to the Home Office letter which sets out what was given in a Written Answer last week about the number of alleged sham marriages over the past year or two. I call them alleged sham marriages because the noble Lord is right that they have not all been proved to be sham yet. We are told that there are reports of them being suspicious or sham, but we have not got a hold on the level of the problem. That is why this debate is very useful in trying to take us further forward. I do not believe we have reached the stage where we really know how the Government are going to tackle the problem or the scale of it.

I have already had my chance to ask detailed questions on my own amendments. However, I would be grateful if the Minister could give us a picture of what would happen if I, for example, were a superintendent registrar and people came before me. What would be the process, so that he can reassure the House that it will be effective, proportionate and meet with the requirements of the ECHR? For example, what kind of evidence is a
 
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specialist registrar going to be allowed to ask for and to use as a basis for a decision on whether to enter the marriage in the marriage book?

For example, it has been alleged that some registrars under the current system have seen the same person come back time and time again. A familiar face appears wanting to be married yet again. Under the new system, if the specialist registrar sees the same person turn up to get married, perhaps eight times in a row, do they have the right to ask something as simple as proof that a divorce has been obtained since the last time the person asked to get married?

What kind of authority will superintendent registrars have? We do not want them to end up being a tool of the Immigration Service. It is up to the Immigration Service to do its job. Registrars should be looking at the validity of the marriage and the ability of those appearing in front of them to marry lawfully under the laws of this country.

Although I could not support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, if he were minded to take this to a Division, I still think that the Government have a long way to go before they are able to justify the provisions of these clauses as they stand. On these Benches, we want them to be able to do so. We want to get there, but we have not arrived yet.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I first apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for not answering the specific question that she asked me on the last group of amendments, which was to confirm the quotation that she read out from the letter from my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal. I can confirm that she read word for word from the letter. I hope that she has had two copies of the letter. I left another one at the back of the Chamber here today just in case, given the little run-in that I had last week about distribution of post in this place. I apologise for that, but I can confirm that she was quoting from the letter. I am sure that in accordance with normal convention, these letters will end up in the Library.

We are dealing here with a narrow area, which we discussed in Committee. If I have any criticism of any of the speeches, and it applies to more than one, it is that there has been some loose language. The phrase "the right to marry", as in "the Home Secretary needs to give you permission to exercise the right to marry", as though it applied to everyone in all circumstances, gives the impression that anyone, no matter what nationality, needs some new barriers or new hoops to go through. That is not the case. That kind of loose language could give the wrong impression to people outside this House and in other countries. This is not a general requirement regarding the right to marry.

I shall separate out my points, and I shall come to some statistics. I freely admit that I do not have all the necessary statistics. First, I will answer from my notes some of the questions that have been raised, because it will set things in context. Three or four major points have been raised.
 
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I shall address the alleged breach of Articles 12 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. So far as Article 12 is concerned, I understand that the right to marry is subject to national laws governing the exercise of the right. The Commission has not been inclined to regard the right to marry a chosen partner in a contracting state as one that overrides national immigration laws. That is because the parties may marry elsewhere. If this is impossible in a particular case, Clause 19(3)(b) will ensure that the Secretary of State can consider whether it is reasonable to require the person to leave the UK, and if not, he can give them the permission to marry here, ensuring that Article 12 is complied with.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that he has used the expression "right to marry" twice in what he has just said?

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, because it was in context. I am answering specific points. I can pick up in Hansard tomorrow which noble Lords used the phrase in the flow of the narrative of the language relating to the powers of the Home Secretary and needing to give permission to marry. I do not think that the noble Lord was one of them.

That is not the case, because it would apply in general to everyone. We are talking here about a narrow, specific group of people. It is perfectly possible to marry whoever you want. We do not want to stop that. It is perfectly possible to enter this country solely and only for the purpose of marriage: thousands of people do that. They go through a process. They come here with the right to marry; they have entry clearance for the purpose of marriage. We are not interfering with that at all. To listen to some noble Lords, a certain impression is being given.

I hope that I got my paragraph about Article 12 on the record. Article 14 does not prohibit differential treatment to different categories if there is a reasonable and objective justification for the differences. We think that it is clear that such a justification exists here.

A question was asked about registrars needing to see evidence of nationality. I understand that nationality must be stated in a notice of marriage now. Registrars are already given specific guidance on documentation. The new provisions do not change this position. Section 24 reports, let us say when false details are given, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—


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