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I shared in the Israel independence day celebrations at Sinclair housean excellent facility in my constituencyand I hope to do so again in a few days' time. I have visited it on many occasions since my time as a local councillor and mayor of the borough in 1994. At Sinclair house last September, I spoke at the annual meeting of Jewish Women's Aid. Many women present asked me about the Bill's progress and were anxious about it, and they told me how important it is to get the Bill through this time. Indeed, Jewish women constituents have come to me with problems arising from their inability to obtain a get.
I feel strongly that the issue involves not just religion, but human rightsequal rights between men and women who have entered the partnership of marriage. In the week in which I have celebrated my 30th wedding anniversary, I count myself most fortunate that my husband and I have enjoyed a long and happy marriage. I can only imagine the misery and despair of people trapped in a failing
I feel particularly strongly about Jewish women being stigmatised in a way that Jewish men are nota point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentionedin that a divorcee who has a child in a new relationship is branded an adulteress and her child illegitimate. I especially welcome the support of all the agencies to which he referred, such as the Board of Deputies and all the synagogue bodies in Anglo-Jewry.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon on introducing the Bill. He has already earned the praise of the Jewish community in his successful campaign to establish holocaust memorial day in this county, and his Bill deserves to pass into statute. He is one of many of us who give the lie to those who believe that Back Benchers cannot make a difference. I hope that the House gives the measure its full support.
Mr. Jim Murphy: I take great pleasure in supporting the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who is one of the most assiduous Back Benchers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) said, he has already achieved recognition throughout the country for holocaust memorial day and I hope that he achieves the important, but perhaps less high profile, objective of securing support for this private Member's Bill.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, it is highly unusual for a ten-minute Bill to clear all the hurdles that are placed before it and garner support across the parties and throughout the country. On that, I congratulate him. The only problem is that my local Jewish community has asked, "How come he has managed to secure two substantial changes in Government policy and attitudes when you have achieved none?". That is an issue for the electorate come the election. Nevertheless, I support the proposals before the House, not only because the Bill is important in protecting Jewish women, but because it deals with human rights.
From my perspective, marriage is a meeting of equals and an equal partnership. Unfortunately, as Jewish law currently stipulates, when a marriage breaks up, for whatever reason, it ceases to be an arrangement of equals. There appears to be an inbuilt discrimination against the woman.
The Bill represents a learning experience for me, as I do not practise the Jewish faith. I am a Roman Catholic. When a marriage in the Jewish faith breaks up, the man has to go to a Beth Din court, either in person or by proxy, and the ethos of the Jewish faith dictates that the woman becomes an agunah, or chained, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said.
Children of the wife born in any future relationship are discriminated against and considered to be illegitimate, so the Bill is welcome not only for the women who are chained in marriages that no longer exist and which they no longer wish to be in, but for the children of such women. It will remove the stigma of illegitimacy. It is also necessary, even though Anglo-Jewry and the synagogue bodies have done all they can to mitigate the worst excesses of religious rulings and Jewish law.
I do not wish to make a habit of doing so, but may I correct my hon. Friend on one point? He is right to say that Jewish marriage and divorce laws are biblical and can be affected only by a Sanhedrin, the assembly of rabbis, and the temple of Jerusalem. He said that the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, but my reading suggests that it was destroyed in 74 AD. That is not a reason for me to fall out with him or to fail to support his Bill, but simply my attempt to inform my Jewish constituents that my hon. Friend is not always right.
Mr. Dismore: I thought that 74 AD was the right date, but I received several letters correcting me, saying that it is 70 AD. Last night, I checked the history books, and my researcher said that it is 70 AD. I suspect that, in those days, the calendar was probably flexible.
I have a number of other points to make about the Bill and the Minister's thoughtful response to the amendments. In particular, I welcome the comments in respect of the Muslim faith and other faiths. I have the good fortune to represent a significant Muslim community and I welcome the commitment that the Lord Chancellor will ascertain whether there is widespread support in any other faith and among leaders of any other faith before any aspects of this or future Bills in any way affect or apply to any other recognised faith.
In respect of Roman Catholicism and divorce, it is my strong view that there are many good and practising Roman Catholics who are separated, divorced or remarried. That is my perspective on my faith, and I think no less of those who have had to face that tough choice as Catholics. Nevertheless, I am certain that the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and the Minister will reassure the Catholic Church and Catholic agencies that their religious laws and our religious beliefs are not indirectly or unintentionally affected by the Bill, particularly in the absence of any serious or considerable consultation. The comments made this morning will be welcomed by the leaders of my faith.
The issue of Scotland has already attracted attention in the debate. I do not wish to chastise my hon. Friend for calling this the English Parliament; he is in good company. I hope I am not straying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the BBC unfortunately often calls this the English Parliament. I wish to put that marker down for my hon. Friend and others.
As has been said, there have been discussions about the position in Scotland. As my constituency contains approximately 80 per cent. of Scotland's entire Jewish community, there has been considerable discussion there. I have spoken to my Member of the Scottish Parliament, who is keen for similar legislation to apply in Scotland.
Although this aspect of family law has already been devolved to Scotland, the opportunities represented by Bills of this kind are broadly welcomed across the political divide. They can easily be amended to apply to Scotland. A relatively new procedure known as the Sewel motion, named after Lord Sewel, would simply require the insertion of the word "Scotland". Indeed, we were recently able to do that with the Proceeds of Crime Bill. If this Bill attracts the consensus in Scotland that it has attracted so far in the rest of the United Kingdom, perhaps such an arrangement could be considered in the other place. I see no reason, relating to law, religion or the level of support, for this welcome measure not to apply throughout the United Kingdom. All Jewish women and their future children could then enjoy the same rights and the same legal and religious protection.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), whose constituency is next to mine, has made many people in Hendon pleased that he has made such good progress with the Bill. Many people in Finchley and Golders Green feel the same.
My hon. Friend thanked a number of people for their assistance. He has spent an enormous amount of time on research, and I congratulate him sincerely on the way in which he has pushed the Bill through.