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'the person is seeking to appeal'

and insert—

'the new decision responds to a request or application which the person made'.

No. 230, in page 44, line 30, leave out "has" and insert "had".

No. 231, in page 44, line 30, leave out "seeking to appeal" and insert—

'making the request or application'.

No. 232, in page 45, line 3, leave out subsection (4).

No. 233, in page 45, line 20, at end insert—

'or since a requirement under section 98 was imposed'.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Clause 81

National security, &c.

Amendments made: No. 234, in page 45, line 35, at end insert—

'(2A) An appeal under section 66(1) against an immigration decision may not be brought or continued if the Secretary of State certifies that the decision is or was taken wholly or partly in reliance on information which in his opinion should not be made public—

(a) in the interests of national security,

(b) in the interests of the relationship between the United Kingdom and another country, or

(c) for another reason of a political kind.'.

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No. 235, in page 45, line 36, leave out "subsection (1)(a) and (b)" and insert—

'subsections (1)(a) and (b) and (2A)'.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Clause 82

Other grounds of public good

Amendment made: No. 236, in page 46, line 10, at end insert—

'( ) Subsection (2) does not prevent the bringing of an appeal against an immigration decision of the kind referred to in section 66(2)(a) on the grounds referred to in section 68(1)(g).'.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Clause 85

Appeal to Tribunal

Amendment made: No. 237, in page 46, line 33, at end insert—

'(4) The Lord Chancellor may by order repeal subsections (2) and (3).'—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Clause 94

Regulations, &c.

Amendment made: No. 238, in page 50, line 31, at end insert—

'( ) An order under section 85(4)—

(a) must be made by statutory instrument,

(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament,

(c) may include consequential or transitional provision, and

(d) may include savings.'.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Schedule 6

Immigration and asylum appeals: consequential amendments

Amendments made: No. 245, in page 85, line 23, leave out "81(1)" and insert "81".
No. 246, in page 85, line 26, leave out "81(1)" and insert "81".
No. 244, in page 85, line 39, at end insert—

'(3) A person may bring or continue an appeal under this section while he is in the United Kingdom only if he would be able to bring or continue the appeal while he was in the United Kingdom if it were an appeal under section 66(1) of that Act.'.
No. 247, in page 86, line 33, at end insert—

'15A Paragraph 9 of Schedule 4 to that Act (appeals: procedure: Convention cases) shall be amended as follows—

(a) in sub-paragraph (1)(a), omit "(4), (5)", and

(b) omit sub-paragraphs (4) and (5).'.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]
Bill, as amended in the Standing Committee, to be further considered tomorrow.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 145(3) (Liaison Committee),

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Catherine Meyer

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

10.52 pm

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in the House the case of Catherine Meyer, whose two sons were abducted by her former husband eight years ago, in 1994. This is a tragic case. It is impossible to imagine the pain and suffering that this mother has had to go through over the last few years. It has been described as torture. As the parent of two young children, one the same age as Lady Meyer's children when she last had custody of them, I can only dare to imagine how awful must be her grief. I know that the Minister also has young children, so he will know what I mean when I say this.

Although this debate will focus on one case, it is one case among many—far too many. The House has debated the subject of child abduction before. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) raised the issue on 24 October 2000 when he called for a review of The Hague convention. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) also raised the issue in respect of his constituent Lawrence Horne, on 22 April 1999. The shadow Attorney-General, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), has also talked about child abduction with his usual passion. We can change the names of the children, and the facts, but we seem unable to change the results.

Two Departments have responsibility for these matters: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department; the Home Office also has a remit. This case has also been raised at the highest levels by President Chirac in 1997, President Clinton in 2000, and President Bush in 2001. Lady Meyer's husband is, of course, Her Majesty's ambassador to Washington.

We are also dealing with real gaps in an international convention, the complete failure of the German courts to bring justice to the situation, and the manipulation by their father of the emotions and the psychology of two young children. Dr. Hans Peter Volkmann has behaved appallingly in robbing his own children of their childhood.

This sad story began eight years ago. Catherine Meyer, a British citizen, had a legal separation agreement from her husband, Dr. Volkmann. She had legal custody of the children from the German court by a notarised separation agreement. It was 6 July 1994, and the two boys, Alexander aged nine and Constantine aged seven, were living with their mother in London. They went on a routine access holiday to be with their father in Germany.

On 24 August, four days before the children were due home in London, Dr. Volkmann wrote a 21-page letter telling Lady Meyer that he would not be returning the children to London and that he had applied for custody of the boys. Attempts by their mother to reach them by telephone were thwarted by Dr. Volkmann, who repeatedly said that they were not available. When she eventually spoke to Alexander, he said to her, "I'm German. I have to go to a German school."

There then began a history of court action, which continues to this day. It makes me wonder about the principles that underpin German justice. Dr. Volkmann's application for custody of the children was rejected by a court in Verden on 24 August 1994, but in spite of that

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he decided to keep the children in Germany. He simply ignored the ruling. On 31 August, the High Court in London ruled the retention illegal and ordered the immediate return of the children. It also made them wards of court. A month later, the Verden court upheld the British order and ordered the immediate return of the children to the United Kingdom under the terms of The Hague convention, with help from the court bailiffs if necessary.

The father asked for half an hour to say goodbye to the children, and Lady Meyer's lawyer agreed. Volkmann and his family went to the café where the boys were waiting and threw them into the back seat of a waiting car. The car sped away to the town of Celle, where his family had influence. He immediately lodged an ex-parte application against the Verden decision. Neither Lady Meyer nor her lawyer was informed; they were simply not represented.

In November 1994, the appeal court in Celle reversed the two previous decisions and ruled that the children remain in Germany, as they were suffering in a foreign environment because German was not spoken at home or at school. The judges also deemed that the children, then aged seven and nine, were mature enough to have their views taken into account. By that time, Lady Meyer had not seen them in more than four months and they were under the exclusive control of their father and his family. In March 1995, the German Constitutional Court rejected her appeal.

The Lord Chancellor's Department told Lady Meyer that there was little it could do and that she was now in the hands of the local German courts, to which she should apply for custody and access. Since 1994, Lady Meyer has tried repeatedly, and failed, to find redress in the German courts. Not only were her sons not returned to England, but she has been denied normal access to them for the entire eight years since their illegal retention in Germany.

The boys are now 17 and 15. Since summer 1994, she has been allowed to see her sons for a grand total of 25 hours—only in Germany, usually in her ex-husband's house or on the premises of the Verden youth authority and on only three occasions without a member of the father's family or a German bureaucrat present.

The last visit was in early 1999, and the situation has gone from bad to worse. Lady Meyer is now forbidden to see her children until 2003. Then, she will no longer be able to apply for access under German law as her sons will be over 16. The handling of her case by the German courts and the youth authority has comprised a mix of bias, incompetence and malice, but the heart of the problem has been the creation of facts by the German courts, which justify subsequent decisions favouring her ex-husband. Central to that has been delay.

From the very beginning, the slowness of court proceedings has given her ex-husband ample opportunity to manipulate the children against her. It has taken up to a year to make a decision on access applications—not custody applications, but applications for access. Statements are extracted from the children, saying that they do not wish to see her. These are taken at face value by the German courts, which seem unable to understand that the will of the children is in fact the will of the father.

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Dr. Volkmann is therefore able arrogantly to tear up access agreements and force Lady Meyer to keep making these applications. For her, this has meant 20 fruitless trips to Germany over the last eight years, more than 30 applications and the expenditure of more than £200,000 in legal fees and travel costs.

The more time that elapses without her seeing her children, the more the courts and the youth authority resort to the argument that it would be too traumatic for the children to visit her. The German courts refused to fine Dr. Volkmann for disobeying access arrangements. In August 2000, a psychologist made a report after extensive interviews of all parties. His conclusion was that the children were being negatively influenced against their mother and that access to the mother should be resumed immediately in the mother's home. This led to the first positive decision.

However, Dr. Volkmann immediately appealed against the decision. A new psychologist was appointed; the mother was not even interviewed. The latest decision, scrapping all her access rights until 2003, is based on this very one-sided report.

The situation is not unique. There are many parents who find themselves in a similar predicament. These cases closely follow an established pattern. The court registers an agreed programme of access rights; the abducting parent refuses to abide by it; the court refuses to enforce it. The victim parent is required to begin again with new hearings. With the passage of time, the court relies increasingly on the child's will and the arguments of trauma of reunion with the left-behind parent. In too many cases, the victim parent cannot continue, emotionally and financially trapped in this vicious cycle. A few find release in suicide.

I have been alarmed at the number of children who go missing and are abducted every year. More than 100 children go missing every day in the United Kingdom. Although most are found or returned within a few hours, last year in England and Wales 1,300 children were still missing two weeks after they disappeared. Of these, 750 were from the Metropolitan police area. Some 546 had been abducted; 40 per cent. were victims of parental abduction. Reunite, whose work I want to commend, informs us that there was a 58 per cent. jump in the recorded number of children abducted from Britain between 1995 and the end of last year. The true figure could be far higher.

The US State Department estimates that at least 1,000 children are taken from the United States each year by a non-American parent without the consent of the other parent. In a parliamentary reply, the Lord Chancellor's Department informed us that, in respect of signatories to The Hague convention, there were 1,314 cases of abduction reported and 668 of these had been returned—a 51 per cent. success rate. It came as no surprise to me that Germany had 80 cases of abduction and a success rate of only 35 per cent., one of the worst figures of any country.

What now can be done to resolve the situation? First, I want ministerial action at the highest levels between Britain and Germany on the issue. I shall be writing to the Prime Minister today to ask him to raise this case directly with Chancellor Schroder. Germany is an EU member, a signatory to the convention and a close ally of Britain. We know that the courts are independent of

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Government, but they are supposed to exist in order to ensure that justice is done, not that national interests are served. There was rightly a lot of Government anger over the detaining of the British planespotters in Greece. I would like to see some ministerial anger over this. I will ask again before the summer recess what action has been taken to follow it up.

Secondly, I want the Lord Chancellor's Department to do much more. I know that Ministers in the Department treat the issue very seriously indeed. The area of justice and home affairs is ripe for co-operation, and no issues of sovereignty are at stake. Let us have some positive judicial co-operation. I know that the German Justice Ministry has been reformed in its dealing with Hague cases, and that is thanks to the campaigning of Catherine Meyer and others.

Surely the courts and judges in the two countries can talk to one another about the issue and produce some positive results. Perhaps we can offer some judicial training in child care law to those in the German courts who would like it. We need to learn from the administrative mistakes that have been made. It would be helpful if the Lord Chancellor's Department could ask the German authorities to review the conduct of the German courts in this case. I shall write to the German Chancellor to ask him to raise the matter directly with the German chief justice.

Thirdly, this must be seen as a human rights issue. What advice can the Government give to Lady Meyer on pursuing the matter in the European Court of Human Rights, and what are we to do about The Hague convention? It is a pointless exercise to sign, as Germany has done, without any inclination to ensure that the articles are actually followed.

Fourthly, I would like the Minister to agree to a meeting between the Foreign Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and Lady Meyer. Let us have some joined-up action.

Finally, I would like the Government to support much more actively the work of non-profit-making organisations. In particular, I commend the work of PACT, the organisation founded by Catherine Meyer as a result of her terrible ordeal. She is a courageous woman who has dedicated the past eight years of her life to her beloved sons. PACT stands for Parents and Abducted Children Together, and its website is at It exists to give information and advice to those who suffer the horror of having their children abducted and seeks to raise the profile of cases and of the subject generally in a positive and constructive way. Lady Meyer may not be able to help herself, but she intends to help others.

Lady Meyer wrote a book entitled "Two Children Behind a Wall", chronicling her attempts to be reunited with her sons. Her love for her children is of course never-ending. She ends her book with a moving message to her young sons:

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I urge the Minister not to abandon this mother, and the Government to do what they can to help her and thousands of others who suffer because of the cruelty and spite of people such as Hans Peter Volkmann and the administrative failures of the German court system.

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