Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, focused on issues of arranged marriages and forced marriages. I agree with everything he said. He asked specifically about extra-territorial jurisdiction. The consultation on the criminal offence highlighted the difficulties of the lack of extra-territorial jurisdiction and gathering evidence on marriages overseas. The overwhelming majority felt that families might take advantage of this, taking their children overseas to circumvent laws in the UK. That is an interesting and important issue. The noble Lord also spoke of Scotland and Northern Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said at the beginning, it will be interesting to see what happens with this Bill and what colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland decide to do. I am sure that there will be dialogue on that for the precise reasons the noble Lord mentioned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, talked about being caught between conflicting and irreconcilable values, with someone saying, “I am sorry that I am not what you wanted”. That is an important part of this issue. The Forced Marriage Unit works with families to show them that these young women are precisely what they want, and to recognise and respect the contribution that these children and young people can make.

My noble friend Lady Turner talked about some misogynist attitudes which must be challenged. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, spoke of the experience beginning with “Romeo and Juliet”, which demonstrates how long this has been an issue in all societies, and how much it takes to deal with it effectively.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has spent a huge amount of time supporting the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on this Bill, and has enormous experience in her role as President of the Family Division. She spoke of the NSPCC and the focus on the child—either because the child is the bride or groom or because the child is the child of the bride and groom. The noble and learned Baroness has overseas expertise and recognises the critical importance of legislation, among many other things, sending a message.

My noble friend Lord Desai spoke of a culture frozen in time, or a cultural clash, an important issue demanding far more time than I can give it now. He also talked about interviewing the bride. The Forced Marriage Unit works with reluctant spouses. There is a special team of entry clearance officers in Islamabad, established to deal with these visa applications. When a victim of a forced marriage contacts the Forced Marriage Unit about the visa application, the unit and team in Islamabad are the victim’s voice, working with the victim to produce a statement about what has happened to—usually—her. With that statement, we can prevent the issuing of a visa. It is a long and complex process, requiring trust between the victim and the Forced Marriage Unit. When the victim does not even give their real name, it can often take many months to build up that trust. It also says on my note that we need more

26 Jan 2007 : Column 1364

resources to help women through the process, with three exclamation marks. I put that on the record.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, raised the issue of legal aid, something we shall again need to look at. I pay tribute to her tireless work supporting women over many years, and its importance in developing women’s opportunities, particularly in the economic and employment fields.

My noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield raised issues about Clause 2 on threats and offers. I shall not get into that, but I was immediately drawn to Marlon Brando and being made an offer you cannot refuse. My noble friend raised an important point, however, which will of course need to be discussed.

Having paid tribute to all the amazing speeches that have been made, I want to say where I think we are with the Bill. I do not yet know whether it is the right answer. As it is a civil justice Bill, my noble and learned friend and I have a real interest in it, and we will work closely with my noble friend Lady Scotland to take it forward. There is clearly huge support for it, rightly so, because it is very important.

Let me pick up some of the issues that will need to be thought about in Committee. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Uddin, talked about the importance of consultation and how it should not be only with the obvious places and government. I know the noble Lord would wish to consult many organisations, and that will be an important part of what we do. Resources also need to be thought about. Is this the best use of resources or should they be thought about in a different way? We need to think about the breadth of the provisions and, because this matter has been raised by other organisations, we need to look again at whether the gaps to be filled should be filled in different ways by amending other legislation. Some members of the Family Justice Council diversity committee raised the question of damages, which was also was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and it is an important area to consider.

The Forced Marriage Unit is worried that we should take real care about the consequences. We must not inadvertently put young people at greater risk because of the third-party provision or take control out of the hands of the victims. However, it recognises that it is often third parties who ring them for advice on how to support an individual. We need to think about that very carefully.

The Forced Marriage Unit needs to think about and work carefully through the Bill to consider its implications. Most of the people it deals with want to get back to their families and find a way through. That needs to be recognised and has to be considered in that context.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said reasonably that this should not be window-dressing. This must be something that we believe would work. In that spirit, I am delighted that we will be able to see the Bill through its stages in the Lords and consider it. I cannot commit that the Government will decide that this is the best way, but I can commit to work to ensure that we carefully think through all the issues as the Bill goes through.



26 Jan 2007 : Column 1365

I shall end with a quotation from Aisha, a survivor of forced marriage who was assisted by the Forced Marriage Unit last year:

We need more women like Aisha who can speak of their experience of escaping forced marriages and who can describe the new lives that they are now enjoying. We need to enable them to speak to those who need their support. We need to support the excellent work of the unit, and I commend it to your Lordships’ House. History is littered with forced marriages and it is time to end them. I look forward to working with the noble Lord on the Bill.

2.03 pm

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, this is a remarkable place. Where else in the world would a legislative body have a debate of the kind that we have had on a Friday? Noble Lords were willing to be here to speak in a long, extraordinarily rich and well informed debate, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, Front-Benchers and Back-Benchers alike. It is clear that one positive thing has come out of this debate, which is that we will today form a parliamentary association of black, Asian and grey sisters and brothers within this House to work together in order to turn the Bill into reality. It is also clear in the light of the wisdom expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that when the Bill becomes law in whatever form, it will become known as Juliet’s law, which will avoid stigmatising anybody, except ourselves, perhaps.

I should like to deal with some of the points raised. How lucky we are that it is this Minister, that it is a civil justice Bill and that it is her department that will deal with it in its civil partnership capacity; for that is what it will be, between civil society, ourselves as part of civil society, and the Government. She made a number of really important points and dealt with a good many of the speeches. Therefore, I will be extremely brief. Perhaps I may say one or two things before I turn to the points raised.

In framing the Bill, I have remembered two perfectly obvious things. One was that Rab Butler used to remind us that politics is the art of the possible; the other was that a very wise government lawyer once said, “Razors are made to cut and Bills are made to pass”. The point about this Bill is that it has been made to pass; it is not to be window-dressing and it is to be effective.

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, was the only person who gave the Bill a cautious welcome. She is a cautious person and I respect her caution, but I am very grateful for her support. She was one of many to

26 Jan 2007 : Column 1366

emphasise, perfectly rightly, the need for widespread consultation, a proper infrastructure and resources. Those points are all well taken. She and others have persuaded me that when I sit down in a few minutes I shall not ask for the Bill to be committed to a Committee of the Whole House; it is much more sensible that it goes to the Moses Room so that it will not be dealt with on a Friday all the time and there will be much better scope for consultation in that process. Furthermore, it is possible that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I sit, might decide to take evidence on it as well. It is extremely important that this is regarded as the beginning of this process, which is what it is, and that the views of bodies such as Imkaan, which were particularly important in pressing for more consultation, are taken into account.

While on resources, I should say to the Minister—I hope that she will not be cross with me for doing so—that the table which arrived yesterday shocked me. Under a heading about Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office resources, what it shows in terms of the current personnel is a little depressing.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I interrupt the noble Lord only because I do not want this to become a running dispute between us, and I have the answer. The money looks less because quite a chunk of it was specifically for the publicity campaign last year. Staff levels and budgets have not been cut. The table says that this has come from the unit itself, so the amount decreased because there was a particular slice of money provided for that. The noble Lord need have no fear. The problem with information without context is something he knows that I feel very strongly about.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful. I am sorry but I need to say one or two more words about resources despite that. The chart shows that we have a head of human rights and assistance policy, and under him or her is a Foreign and Commonwealth Office policy officer who does not deal with casework. Then there is a Home Office policy officer dealing with 15 per cent immigration casework and 15 per cent outreach. Below them is a Foreign and Commonwealth Office caseworker, no doubt dealing with the overseas situation, another Foreign and Commonwealth Office caseworker, and one Home Office caseworker described in the chart as doing 100 per cent immigration casework. Staff costs for all those people in 2005-06 came to £160,000, which then became £114,000 in 2006-07. I will not go into any projected figures, but that simply will not do—if what I have got from the office represents the present position. Maybe it does not.

I wholly admire the work of the Forced Marriage Unit; I wholly admire its guidelines. I do not admire the fact that it is non-statutory.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, this is a very complex matter. I am sure the noble Lord’s case is very strong, but would it not be wise to deal with it under his excellent suggestion of the Bill going to a Grand Committee?



26 Jan 2007 : Column 1367

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am sure that that is right. I just wanted to clear up a point that had arisen. Notwithstanding the injunction from my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, to sit down immediately, I shall deal quickly with one or two other points raised in the debate that need to be dealt with now, out of respect for those who have taken part.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, asked whether the Bill would extend beyond England and Wales. Of course it will need to do so. He also asked what happens when someone goes to the subcontinent and the forcing takes place there. There are answers to that, but I can write to him about them, as the Minister would say.

The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, pointed out, and I agree, that no practical alternatives are put forward by those who say that we should do nothing. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, gave judgment. Any wise barrister knows that when the most authoritative family law judge that I know has given judgment, the best thing to do is to say, “I agree”, and I do. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, asked about legal aid and access to justice. One advantage put to me about the Bill was that it will make it much easier to get legal aid if it is under the rubric of forced marriage. That is important.

The noble Lord, Lord Plant, gave a learned and philosophical discourse on the problem of threats, coercion and offers. The answer is, I hope, in the “reasonable” test in Clause 3 and the test of a civil standard of proof, not a criminal one. I was so pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, support the Bill. My old friend Edward Boyle, the late Lord Boyle of Handsworth, would have been so proud to know that the modern Conservative Party was taking that position because he, more than any other friend I had in politics, understood those issues. I miss him very much. The noble Baroness referred to the very sensible guidelines. One practical problem that we will need to deal with is that the guidelines are not enforceable. In schools and local education authorities, for example, they simply do not lead to practical results.

I have not dealt with everything and I am sure that others waiting to speak will be glad if I do not, so I now thank everyone. Neither I nor those who support the Bill will be content with it being rhetorical or kicked into medium-sized or long grass. I hope and believe that all of us can now take the Bill further and ensure that it is put into practice. That must be what we all seek. I need say nothing else because I am not asking for the Bill to go into a Committee of the whole House.

On Question, Bill read a second time.

Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill

2.13 pm

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.



26 Jan 2007 : Column 1368

Business

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Before we move to the next debate, perhaps I ought to remind your Lordships that although neither of the debates to follow is time-limited, the House has a practice of normally rising by about four o'clock on a Friday sitting. Therefore, brevity would assist us in achieving our goal.

Public Demonstrations (Repeals) Bill [HL]

2.14 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill’s purpose is to delete those clauses in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 which condition demonstration. Freedom to demonstrate outside Parliament is one of the most important freedoms of expression that Britain has. This Government changed that fundamental freedom to a conditional one. My Bill would simply return the law to the 2005 position when there were many adequate safeguards against violent or disruptive protests but people were not frightened to demonstrate. People are now afraid that they will get a criminal record for simply holding a placard or even wearing a T-shirt with a slogan on it anywhere near Parliament.

I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is not in her place. I fully understand the reason and I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, for taking this on. But if the noble Baroness were in her place, she might say that she was puzzled why I, who usually speak on environmental matters and did not take part during the passage of the SOCPA, should introduce this Bill. It is because many young people at the start of their careers through to ageing pacifists have said, “Well, I feel like coming up to Parliament and demonstrating, but you just cannot demonstrate there any more like you used to be able to, can you?”. They either think that the right has been lost entirely or they are unsure of how they can be legally able to take part. If an organiser gets it wrong, those taking part are implicated, so people are frightened off. Just being arrested will affect your life for ever. For instance, you lose immediately the right to a visa waiver to the USA, even though you may be innocent of any offence.

The effect of these SOCPA clauses has been to cast a great chill across demonstrating peacefully in the designated zone. As my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby said,

Now, the people have to watch what they wear, hold or shout outside their House or they may be arrested, charged and face a jail sentence of 51 weeks or a fine of £2,500. The situation was foreseen by my noble friend Lord Dholakia when he said:



26 Jan 2007 : Column 1369

The purpose of my Bill is to restate the presumption in favour of the citizen and to ensure that the right to peacefully demonstrate outside their Parliament is not conditional.

I am sure that the Minister will tell us that conditions are not usually imposed. But when the applicant fills in the form to apply for permission, he or she states who they are, how many people will be there and what time the demonstration will take place. They become the conditions unless the police impose additional conditions. In addition, spontaneous protest is illegal because at least 24 hours’ notice must be given. Additional conditions can be imposed on the hoof under Section 135; for example, a vigil could be moved from Parliament to a side street or a 24-hour protest could be suddenly curtailed.

I want to look at why this was introduced. The Government claimed that the powers were needed around Parliament for three reasons: first, increased security because of terrorism; secondly, aesthetics; and, thirdly, undisturbed parliamentary business. I accept totally that the terrorist threat is very real. When the House authorities talked to us about it, they maintained that the highest threat came from the traffic and the road outside remaining open. Yet that road remains open. Of course, there was a remote possibility that a terrorist could hide a device in Mr Haw’s sleeping bag or under his placards, but they also could hide one in the bushes by Victoria Tower or in the vans that deliver vegetables to the kitchens.

The question is whether this legislation was a proportionate response to the terrorist threat posed by Mr Haw’s demonstration. As the order went through, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said from the Conservative Benches:

Noble Lords will rightly have concerns about the security of people in the area around Parliament and I want to emphasise that both for security on demonstrations and security on designated sites around the UK, there are already powerful laws in place to stop violence or obstruction and to address the terrorism issue. Indeed, in the evidence that came out in the Brian Haw court case under the Terrorism Act, the police have powers to stop and search in the designated area, and Superintendent Terry stated in the evidence that between January and July 2006, 714 searches took place within the government security zone around Westminster and Whitehall and a further 4,465 people were spoken to about their activities. I certainly pay tribute to the efforts of the police in protecting the area, but I do not feel this legislation is helping them; rather, I will show later how it is hindering their work. Since 1997, the Minister will be aware of many Acts that have been added to the statute book which lengthen the list of powers available to the police to control situations that pose a threat to the public interest. Those powers could have been used to address the situation in Parliament Square, in addition to civil action.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page