Catherine Meyer

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:09 pm on 11th June 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 11:09 pm, 11th June 2002

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office stands ready to work with Lady Meyer on the next steps of her case and looks forward to discussing that with her. I shall convey my hon. Friend's suggestion to my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign Office with direct responsibility for the matter, because it would be a sensible way to take matters forward.

Lady Meyer has clearly been active and energetic in pursuing contact rights to her sons. We will continue to provide assistance to Lady Meyer wherever possible and whenever she requests it. It is extraordinarily sad that Lady Meyer has been unable to secure substantial contact rights to see her sons. It is hard to accept that in a democratic, tolerant Europe that respects the rule of law this case has to be brought to the attention of the public authorities in such a way.

Lady Meyer's case is, in the experience of the Lord Chancellor's Department, atypical. There are currently—thankfully—no other cases in which British parents are suffering the same level of difficulties as Catherine Meyer, though parents of other nationalities are. While there have in the past been administrative difficulties concerning Hague convention cases in Germany, Germany has overhauled the court system that deals with Hague convention cases. The German Ministry of Justice recently reduced the number of courts dealing with cases under The Hague convention from 600 to 24 on the basis that fewer judges will lead to greater expertise. Those changes are welcome and they have come about not least because of the work done bilaterally by the Lord Chancellor's Department. But they are long overdue and it is a matter of deep regret that they are too late to help Catherine Meyer and other, non-British, parents in their predicament. We hope nevertheless that they will ensure that parents in future will not suffer what Catherine has suffered.

The answer lies in a common European system. That requires a decision, agreed by all EU member states, that the rules of unanimity mean that just one country—in this case, Germany—can exercise its veto to prevent a fair and just system from coming into operation. Those hon. Members who always insist on national rules and systems, and the right of veto uber alles, so to speak, may reflect on what happens when national egoism prevails over a greater need for justice.

As my hon. Friend has stated, Lady Meyer has tried to use her difficult experience to help others. She has been the driving force behind the establishment of the charity Parents and Abducted Children TogetherPACT. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Lady Meyer's work with PACT and to welcome the presence on the Front Bench of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who, while Foreign Secretary, gave his strong personal support to Lady Meyer's case.

Returning to Lady Meyer's case, I am confident that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has provided Lady Meyer with appropriate advice and consular assistance. My noble Friend Baroness Scotland, when she was a Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, showed an active interest in Lady Meyer's case, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East when he was Minister for Europe. I will ensure that my noble Friend Baroness Amos, who now has responsibility for this issue, sees a transcript of tonight's important debate. I hope that the other interventions by my hon. Friend, which he mentioned earlier, will help to assist the case.

Staff at our embassy in Berlin and our consulate-general in Hamburg have also devoted a good deal of time to assisting Lady Meyer. We will continue to do what we can to provide Lady Meyer with support and assistance, and to take a close interest in her case. It is utterly irrelevant that she is the wife of one our ambassadors. She speaks as a mother denied the right to be a mother to her children. That is a crime against motherhood, and the German legal system and those who have denied her right to be a mother should be thoroughly ashamed of it. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office stands beside her, as we stand behind every mother who wants to be a parent to her sons.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Eleven o'clock.