My Lords, forced marriage is a terrible form of abuse and this Government are committed to tackling it. Where a suspected victim is made to sponsor a visa application, UKVI works with the joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Forced Marriage Unit to ensure that it is investigated further and, if appropriate, refused. The Home Secretary will reply to the Home Affairs Select Committee on the cases reported in the Times. I will ensure that the noble Lord receives a copy and that a copy is placed in the Library.
My Lords, far too many young women are tricked into leaving this country, forced into marriage in a number of countries in the Middle East and south Asia, repeatedly raped until they are pregnant, brought back to the United Kingdom to have the baby, and are then involved in the corrupt practice of applying for a visa for their forced husband. Last year, 88 of those women or their representatives made representations to stop the husband they had been forced to marry from entering this country and in 42 of those cases, the Home Office granted a visa. Surely it is time to either use the laws that we have at the moment to ensure that these men do not receive visas and these women are granted anonymity, or we change those laws to make sure that these women are properly protected.
I cannot disagree with much of what the noble Lord has said other than to say that a large majority of the 42 visas issued were referred to the Forced Marriage Unit by UKVI, rather than being the result of a reluctant sponsor. I thought that I should just correct that information which appeared in the Times. On the noble Lord’s other point about what more can be done to protect these women—it is so harrowing to see these cases; and I was very surprised to learn that half the cases involved men who have had to enter into a forced marriage—the Home Secretary is acutely aware of the issue and is looking at ways of exploring what more can be done to protect these very vulnerable people.
My Lords, I am pleased to hear that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is looking into this matter. Could he specifically look at this issue of where the rules effectively do not relate to the real-life circumstances that we are faced with? We have reluctant sponsors in this country who are not prepared to openly say that they are reluctant and, because they are not prepared to do so, the rules are not responsive enough to stop the husband coming in. Secondly, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage are criminalised in many countries around the world. How are the rules responding to applications from same-sex individuals in same-sex relationships who apply to come to join their partners in the United Kingdom? The Government need to ensure that the rules are responsive to the real-life situations that these individuals face.
My noble friend makes a very good point on same-sex relationships, particularly when the applicants come from certain countries. On her first point about reluctant sponsors, I think that some applicants are reluctant because they have been put in such a vulnerable position. Therefore, other reasons for the visa refusal will be given if they are available and “reluctant sponsor” will be given as a last resort. She has raised a really pertinent question on same-sex partnerships and I will raise it with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
My Lords, we have heard about evidence of the Home Office failing to protect victims who say they are at risk of forced marriage, for fear of being accused of racism, as in some of the examples we have been hearing about. But at the same time the Home Office was very happy to deport the Windrush generation, who were legally here, singling them out in a racist way. It has devastated people’s lives on either side of the argument. I ask the Minister: when is the Home Office going to get a grip and ensure that it implements the proper lawful procedures to protect individuals?
I hope that in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, I clarified the position on what appeared in the newspaper. In fact, it was the other way round: in the majority of cases it was proactive referral by UKVI to the Forced Marriage Unit, which looked at them as part of its safeguarding work, as opposed to visas being granted where there was a reluctant sponsor. To conflate the issue with Windrush is quite wrong because we are talking about two entirely different things. We discussed Windrush yesterday. Successive Governments have been to blame—if blame is the right word—for what went wrong with the Windrush generation. As the Home Secretary has repeatedly said, he wants to work with other parties to put right the wrongs that happened over decades.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the large number of girls involved who are under 18? Will the Government review the fact that parents can give consent when girls are aged 16 to 18 and therefore can be part of this situation? Will the Government look at this and see whether it ought to continue?
I take what the noble and learned Baroness says. In cases where there has been an objection, I understand that both the applicant and the sponsor were over 18. The noble and learned Baroness may have seen in some of the articles just how the system is played to ensure that they are not acting contrary to the law when they try to ensure that a forced marriage takes place. But I will certainly bring that point back. The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely right to be concerned about it.
“Even when officials know it’s a forced marriage, they see tradition, culture or religion and they’re reticent to deal with it. They are turning a blind eye”.
My Lords, I take what the noble Baroness says but I dispute that the Home Office was actually turning a blind eye to something that the now Prime Minister, formerly the Home Secretary, has given such focus and effort to in her tenure in both posts—and, of course, legislation has come into place to back that up.