With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 12, in clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
‘(3A) In determining the person’s wishes and feelings in pursuance of subsection (2), the court may direct that the examination of a witness must take place in the presence of a person approved by the court for the purposes of this section (“an intermediary”).
(3B) In this section “intermediary” has the meaning set out in section 29 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (c. 23).’.
No. 25, in clause 1, page 3, line 2, leave out from ‘protected’ to end of line 6.
No. 1, in clause 1, page 3, line 35, at end insert—
‘(9) In any proceedings the court may make such orders or directions in regard to the giving of evidence by vulnerable witnesses as it thinks appropriate.’.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood. I should like the Minister to be aware that the amendments to which I shall speak today are purely probing amendments. I shall speak briefly, and there is no question of my forcing any Opposition amendment to a Division, no matter how much I am provoked—I am in that sort of relaxed mood. I seek only to find out more about the relevant clauses.
Amendment No. 1 seems to me to be more important than the lead amendment. It deals with the giving of evidence by witnesses, particularly by vulnerable witnesses. We are all aware that, in recent years, the present Government in particular have introduced measures to assist vulnerable witnesses in court cases. When sitting in the Crown court and the stipendiary court, I have on many occasions heard applications by the defence that a witness should be given extra protection. Witnesses have quite often given evidence from behind a screen or in some other way that allowed them not to have to face the other party. That is especially important in certain cases, such as domestic violence cases.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that some very vulnerable people will give evidence about sensitive issues during applications for forced marriage protection orders, which I imagine will be take place in the county court or the High Court. There might be an element of fear, and I hope that she will agree that each of the protections that are currently available in the criminal courts should be available in the civil courts, too. That is all I have to say about this little group of amendments. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
May I, too, say how delighted I am to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr. Hood? I suspect that amendment No. 12 was tabled with a similar intent to that underlying the other amendments in the group. The issue dealt with by the amendment is one that I raised on Second Reading, so I hope that the Minister has since had time to consider it.
Amendment No. 12 would ensure that, in deciding whether to make an order against forced marriage, courts had regard to the wishes and feelings of the person to be protected. It would insert two new subsections. Proposed new subsection (3A) would allow the court to direct that the examination of a person to be protected should take place in the presence of an intermediary. As many hon. Members are aware, intermediaries ensure that the wishes and feelings of vulnerable people are given sufficient consideration throughout the process of giving evidence in court, even if traditional court proceedings would make it very difficult for such people’s wishes to be heard.
Proposed new subsection (3B) would merely reiterate the definition of an intermediary as set down in section 29 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
The job of an intermediary will be to help communicate questions to the witness and then communicate answers given by that witness back to the person who asked the questions. They should also provide any necessary explanation of the questions or answers to aid understanding.
Forced marriages often involve children or people with learning disabilities. Those people can be forced into marriage through a whole host of sources, such as trickery, assault, kidnapping or blackmail. The motives for that, as set out on Second Reading, can include efforts by the family to find a full-time carer for an individual with learning disabilities or to obtain a visa.
I shall give an example. Rani is a young woman with mental health needs and mild learning disabilities. She was living at home with her mother and sister. Her mother was put under pressure by the local community for Rani to marry a young man from India who needed to marry a British citizen to remain in this country. Rani’s mother believed that that would be a good match, because she felt that nobody else would marry Rani due to her disability.
After Rani had been married for a year, it became clear that her husband had been taking all of her social security benefits and sending the money to his family in India. Rani had been assaulted regularly and had suffered a miscarriage, which made her husband even more aggressive towards her. Although she had asked for help, her mother said that she had to stay with her husband for the sake of the family’s honour. That is just one telling example of the problem that we are trying to solve.
It is essential for us to ensure that people with learning disabilities, or children who are vulnerable to the prospect of forced marriage, can give evidence adequately. Intermediaries are one way to help that to happen. It is true that they are often used in criminal cases. Technically, judges have the power to order the use of an intermediary within a civil case to help witnesses in giving evidence. However, evidence suggests that that power has been underused and judges seem reluctant to suggest the process. Perhaps they view intermediaries for use solely in criminal justice cases and see them as not appropriate within a civil setting. Whether or not the amendment is accepted, it is important that guidance is issued alongside the legislation to encourage and explicitly say to judges that the use of special measures, such as intermediaries, would help to ensure that justice is available for everybody at risk of forced marriage.
In addition to the support that the amendment has received from the anti-abuse and learning disability charities, Respond, the Ann Craft Trust and Voice UK, the Disability Rights Commission has also indicated its support, as it has concerns about the issue. I welcome any reassurance that the Minister can give about how people in such vulnerable situations will be well served by the Bill.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hood, and I hope that, although the Committee will proceed quickly, it will nevertheless consider one or two rather important issues.
Amendment No. 12, tabled by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire, is sensible. I have tabled a new clause, but I do not see it identified on the selection list. I was conscious when I tabled it that it might pose certain procedural problems in relation to the scope of the Bill. However, I hope that I may be allowed to allude to it, as it touches on a similar point, and now may be a good time to raise the matter.
The key issue is the protection of the vulnerable, particularly those who might not be able to express their wishes and feelings with the facility that others may have. During the debate on Second Reading and during the proceedings in the other place, there was a general assumption that we were dealing with forced marriages in the context of people who were of reasonable intellect and sound mind. However, a lot of evidence suggests that forced marriages occur in circumstances where that is not the case.
In my constituency, or just on the edge of it, there is a special school that I visit from time to time. It is in fact just over the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), but we both take an interest and have visited it because it is linked to the local settlement in my constituency. It is an outstanding school for girls with a high number of Asian pupils. On my visit, the head teacher told me something that I was shocked to learn. She said that it is absolutely standard for girls, on reaching the age of 16, to be taken out of the school and sent to the Indian subcontinent to be married. Most of the girls have moderate learning disabilities, and it is questionable whether the concept of marriage or the issues surrounding it are within their knowledge. That is a matter of particular concern on which we must focus.
From the information that I was given on that visit, it struck me that forced marriage is not just an occasional occurrence, but that there is something fairly systematic about it. That was of considerable concern to the head teacher, but there was nothing much that she could do about it. One of the issues raised by the hon. Lady in amendment No. 12 is that it would provide a mechanism for ensuring that a person in that position could better give evidence or make representations to the courts. I am wholly in favour of that. If I have a question mark, it is that such an amendment is unnecessary, because the rules of court might already enable such representations to happen, but the Minister will doubtless be able to help us on that.
In new clause 1, I suggest that one possible avenue might be a system not of registering foreign marriages after they have taken place, as the Minister thought that I argued on Second Reading, but of requiring British nationals resident in Britain who intend to contract a marriage abroad to register the names and addresses of the parties before that marriage takes place. The merit of such a system would be that, if a marriage was to be contracted between a person with learning disabilities who was resident in this country and a person abroad, when the resident turned up to carry out the registration, it would be apparent to the registrar that a forced marriage might be taking place.
The failure or the refusal to register such a marriage would mean that the marriage could not be regarded as valid in this country, which might provide a powerful inhibition to those who seek to use the system for whatever convenience it might provide, whether in respect of immigration, family relationships or whatever. Registration would make forced marriage harder and would deter people from seeking to carry it out. It is the difference between unravelling something after it has happened and preventing it from taking place.
I am conscious that I am straying a little, and I apologise. I may get another opportunity to come back to this at a later stage, but I fear that I may not, because my new clause does not feature on the selection list, for reasons that I understand in the context of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will take the suggestion on board, because it will be regrettable if we lose the opportunity of looking at a device that in my view would be simple and go a long way towards preventing forced marriages from happening in the first place. One of the things that might happen as a result of such a measure is that, if the registrar feared that a forced marriage was taking place, he could make a precise reference to the court. Amendment No. 12, tabled by the hon. Lady, would then enable a careful examination of the matter.
At the moment, I simply wish to tease out the issue, but it seems that this is probably the only substantive debate that we are likely to have on the Bill. It is a key issue, and we need to look at whether we can improve the Bill. As I think the Minister knows, most of my other amendments are of a probing nature, so that we can come to understand what the Government have put in the Bill. As far as I can see, the Bill has been extremely well drafted, or re-drafted, in the other place.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr. Hood. I wonder whether I could mention a few facts that may help the Committee to understand what is going on. Owing to the practice of consanguinity—the marriage of first cousins—there is a large population of Mirpuri people among my disabled constituents. Those in the Mirpuri community with disabilities are over-represented within Keighley as a result of the transmission of genetic disorders. I am sorry; I am not explaining things too well. I did not realise that we would be talking about such matters.
Over the years, I have been involved in some very upsetting interviews with families putting pressure on me to allow their son or daughter to bring in a spouse from the subcontinent. They said that they wanted the spouse to take care of their son or daughter. I can understand their problems, but to meet the young boy or girl who clearly did not know what was going on was upsetting, so I should welcome anything that can help young people in such situations.
I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hood. I hope that you will already have seen the Committee as one in which co-operation and cross-party agreement are much to the fore.
In a way, the set of amendments result in a clause stand part debate as they go to the heart of the Bill, which is about the protection of individuals forced into a marriage that they have no wish to enter and who sometimes have no full understanding of what is happening. It is absolutely essential that the court has regard to the victim’s wishes and feelings. That is the aim of the Bill. In so far as it is possible, it is also essential that the victim has the ability to retain some control over her circumstances. I shall use “her” throughout my contributions to the debate, although such matters also apply to men as it is reckoned that about 15 per cent. of forced marriages involve boys or young men. However, for simplicity, I shall use female terminology.
One of the results of forced marriages is that they take away the victim’s power of control over their own lives. Everyone believes that the Bill is necessary and everyone supports it. It is important that we do not further disempower people, but engage them in the process. A forced marriage is one that victims are entered into without their free and full consent, so it is essential for the court to be able to determine the wishes and feelings of those who are to be protected.
When the victim herself applies for a protection order, obviously the court will hear her wishes and feelings, and determine what is best to give her protection and to avoid the complete breakdown of her relationship with her family. On Second Reading, several hon. Members were concerned that we ensure that that does not happen. It is particularly important that the court can understand and protect the wishes and feelings of a vulnerable person. In the case of young victims who have not reached the age of majority, there are several ways in which their wishes and feelings can be known. For example, a function of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service is to safeguard and to support the welfare of children. It can give advice to the court about an application made within family proceedings. It can also make provision for the child to be represented and provide support when necessary.
In the cases of adults who might not have litigation capacity or the capacity to marry, the Official Solicitor can be appointed as a next friend or guardian ad litem to investigate the issue of capacity. In that context, he would be able to help the court to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the adults.
Steps can also be taken to ascertain the wishes and feelings of a vulnerable adult who is out of the jurisdiction. That point was raised by the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire. In the case of SK in 2005, the High Court used its inherent jurisdiction to direct that an adult victim who was thought to be at risk of being forced into marriage was seen by an official at the high commission Dhaka in Bangladesh for the purposes of establishing her true wishes. Again, such powers could be used under the Bill.
There is already law allowing for measures akin to the special measures available in criminal proceedings under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 to be used in family matters. Forced marriage protection orders will fall under family law, so those measures are available under the inherent power of the court to control the evidence before it. Intermediaries have been used in family proceedings when that power has been activated, so it is not unusual for intermediaries to be brought before the court to act as protection and support for the vulnerable victim.
The Minister’s information may be more up to date than mine, but Voice UK, which is a charity campaigning on the issue, said that it was only aware of two instances of intermediaries being used in family courts. Although I appreciate that there are provisions available allowing intermediaries to be used, the concern is that they are not necessarily being used in appropriate circumstances. What steps does she intend to take to ensure that their use is encouraged?
I do not have the exact figures on how many intermediaries have been used, but I want to mention what else we can do to encourage the courts to use intermediaries, the officials lists, or other appropriate people. I will come to that in a moment.
The court can use other measures. They include screening victims, video links and giving evidence in private. It can ensure that a young or vulnerable victim has proper breaks during the proceedings and is helped and protected in that way. Of course, family proceedings are generally held in private, which is quite controversial among some of our colleagues. However, the court has important discretion to allow, or not to allow, other people in. Those special measures are used in many of the 30,000 or so domestic violence injunctions that are processed every year.
In addition, we will consider, with the Courts Service, the provision of interpreters for women and men in forced marriage cases. In any application made by a third party, it is vital to ensure that the wishes and feelings of the victim are taken into account to ensure that well-meaning people do not make unwanted applications. Enabling third parties to apply for orders is an essential provision that offers protection to those who are not able to make applications themselves owing, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, to fear or intimidation. Alternatively, the victim may have been imprisoned against their will.
Allowing a third party to make the application removes the burden from the victim, who not surprisingly may feel inhibited and may not feel confident enough to ask the court for help themselves. An important element of that is that it removes a victim’s sense of blame about raising such an issue when applying for an order that may affect other members of their own family. There are many ways in which that can be done so that the court is able to satisfy itself that it is hearing properly what the wishes and feelings of the victim are. For example, the victim can write a supporting statement or letter, and various other things can be done.
The hon. Lady is right that it is important that we encourage the courts to use the powers that are available. The forced marriage unit is drafting guidelines for social workers dealing with vulnerable adults, in consultation with professionals and the professional bodies, and guidelines for social workers dealing with children and young people are being developed. I will certainly discuss with the president of the family division, Sir Mark Potter—who will, I know, be very supportive of what we are doing—whether it would be appropriate for him to issue a practice direction promoting the use of intermediaries for vulnerable people in appropriate cases. I hope that that goes some way towards reassuring the hon. Lady and the organisations that have raised that important issue.
Finally, on registration, one of my fears is that we could be in danger of being disproportionate. Many marriages abroad of British nationals are perfectly legitimate and are entered into willingly. We would not want to over-burden people who are in that situation. We also have to be careful that we do not send out a message that only English registrars are capable of deciding whether a marriage is entered into willingly.
I take the Minister’s point. That is why I approach these matters with some diffidence. It would not be very onerous to have such a pre-registration system, but that might not be possible within this Bill. If a person intends to marry somebody abroad, whoever it might be, and goes to the register office, registers the intention and gives the names of the parties and the date on which the marriage is expected to take place, then it is done; there is no more to it than that. It simply means that there is a mechanism by which the registrar in this country is alerted if there are any circumstances in which a marriage abroad might be a marriage made without consent. It seems to me to be a simple device, but I appreciate that, because of the way in which the Bill is worded, it might be difficult to put it in. However, I would ask the Minister to bear it in mind; I really do not think that it is discriminatory.
On that point, would it be advisable to issue instructions for entry clearance officers to use when assessing applications from people who are known to have a learning disability of some nature? If that is the case, whether or not there has been third-party engagement with the social services or representation by a community organisation, they could have discussions with the family and the applicant on that basis.
My hon. Friend is ahead of me. I hope that what he says and what I am about to say will give some reassurance to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. The Home Office is working on a consultation paper about immigration policy on marriage to partners overseas. That will be centred on immigration routes to the United Kingdom for which being married is the only basis. One aspect of that consultation will concern those who are pressured into sponsoring a marriage visa, and what steps can be taken. As the hon. Gentleman said, this Bill might not be the appropriate legislation to deal with the point that he raised. However, that consultation might be the avenue down which we should go to tackle the problem. I understand that it is to be published before the end of July for responses in the autumn, so that part of the debate will continue for some time.
I hope that I have given hon. Members sufficient reassurance that the courts have the powers to give protection to the victim through intermediaries or others in the form of the Official Solicitor. I hope that they will, therefore, not press the amendments.
This is a simple, probing amendment about the contents of proposed new section 63B, which states:
“A forced marriage protection order may contain...prohibitions, restrictions or requirements”.
It would be helpful if the Minister could outline how the proposal will work.
I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hood. We appreciate that this is a probing amendment, but we do not support it as it would prevent forced marriage protection orders from requiring action from those subject to them. The amendment would therefore weaken the measure and is therefore unnecessary. However, we look forward to the Minister’s further elaboration of its effect on the clause.
The amendment would remove the court’s powers to require a person to do something—the most obvious example being to require them to produce their passport. Recent orders in the High Court in forced marriage cases have adopted that approach and the Bill’s intention is to put on a statutory footing the power to make orders to protect victims of forced marriages under the inherent wardship jurisdictions of the High Court, and to extend that power to the county court.
The reasoning behind this part of the clause is that in many cases of forced marriages victims are taken abroad on the pretext of going on holiday. The option of requiring the person to do something such as producing their passport can be a useful tool in preventing the forced marriage from taking place. The clause is in the Bill as a preventative measure and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied that that is a good reason to withdraw his amendment.
Again, I reassure the hon. Member for Solihull that these are probing amendments. I have no intention of pressing them to a Division, unless the Minister says something extraordinary in response to my questions.
I would like some clarification of new section 63B(2)(b), which is slightly convoluted—I had to read it through two or three times to understand it. It states that
“respondents who are, or may become, involved in other respects as well as (or instead of) respondents who force or attempt to force, or may force or attempt to force, a person to enter into a marriage”.
It is a bit of a mouthful and the phrase in brackets—“or instead of”—slightly mystified me. I hope that the Minister can make it clear why the paragraph was drafted in such a catch-all way.
I shall speak briefly to amendments Nos. 9 and 10, which, essentially, are probing amendments. We are dealing with the contents of a forced marriage order which, under proposed new section 63B(2), could relate to persons
“who are, or may become” knowingly
“involved in other respects as well as...respondents” of any kind. That is a wide phrasing, and I am seeking some explanation from the Minister. I am most grateful for the letter that she sent to me two days ago, which I read with some interest. To some extent, she dealt with the issue, which I also raised on Second Reading. She reminded me that the power was introduced
“at the suggestion of the High Court judiciary” and went on to say:
“The reality of forced marriage is that the people involved rarely work alone and it may be appropriate in certain circumstances to provide wide ranging orders addressed to the categories of person such as the family of the perpetrator if the alleged victim is to benefit from adequate protection.”
That is all well and good, but a more careful look at the measure would reveal that it suggests that a wider group might be affected by an order. I am not being flippant when I say that there could be persons or respondents affected by an order who are in no way culpable or morally to blame.
It is right that family members who are on the inside track, so to speak, and who act deplorably, may be affected by an order. However, I wonder how far the measure goes because so many other people might be loosely connected to a marriage. It is not flippant to suggest that such people might include members of the clergy or florists and the like—[Interruption.] It is a serious point, and I may press the matter to a Division—the Minister takes the point seriously.
There are people on the fringes who one might think are not in any way involved in such coercion, and indeed might be horrified by it. That is why amendment No. 10 would insert the word “knowingly”. It is no more or less than a probing amendment to get a little more explanation from the Minister and an assurance that it is not her intention that the persons to whom I referred—people who are very remote from proceedings—are not involved in orders. If one is in receipt of a civil injunction or order, it is an affront if one is an entirely innocent party.
I wish to make a couple of comments. I accept the spirit in which amendment No. 23 was tabled—it is a probing amendment. I would not agree, however, with amendment No. 9 because it would remove the scope for orders to apply to
“other persons who are, or may become, involved in other respects as well as respondents of any kind.”
“It will be for the court to decide in each individual case whether it is necessary to extend an order to the third category of un-named persons. That would be likely to be in circumstances where there was evidence that members of the extended family or the wider community might be involved in forcing a marriage, meaning that it was not possible to identify all the possible respondents.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 June 2007; Vol. 692, c. 1755.]
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I would not wish to give the impression that I am critical of the absolute right and duty of all hon. Members to probe legislation.
I should add that there are powers of arrest, but they are subject to safeguards that, once arrested, a person must come before a court within 24 hours, and it is for the court decide on the evidence available whether a person comes within the remit of the order. Although I take on board the concern of the hon. Member for Woking about the possibility of wrongful arrest, there are quite a lot of safeguards in place.
This part of the Bill is important because it allows the same discretion and flexibility that are already enjoyed by the family courts and other courts and that work well in the context of family law. The Government have it right in that respect.
May I just mention that, when young people come to me for help to put a halt to their family bringing in a person from the subcontinent, they are clear who is involved and who has forced them into that marriage? In the same way, in respect of the Bill, I am sure that the woman concerned would know precisely who had forced her or who was going to force her into a marriage. I do not think that she would have any problems with that. Frequently, it is not even the mum and dad, but the brother who does the forcing.
May I just pick up on the comments made by my hon. Friend and take this opportunity to say how delighted I am that she is on this Committee? She has been at the forefront of these issues for a very long time, raising them long before others realised the importance of the work that she was doing. She was spoken very highly of during Second Reading. We all understood why she was not able to be present then and we are delighted that she is able to participate in Committee.
The hon. Member for Solihull is right about the way that the family courts work. That is why I resist the amendments. Proposed new section 63B(2)(b) provides for orders to be directed at named respondents in a primary role forcing or attempting to force a person into marriage, or at other named respondents in a secondary role who are aiding and abetting. That provision is essential so that there is protection that will relate both to those directly forcing the person into marriage and to those who facilitate or assist in other ways.
The Minister will understand that there is a difference between a respondent—a person—who becomes involved and a person who becomes knowingly involved. I am trying to tease out in this debate the difference between the innocent and the guilty. At the moment, the Bill is widely drawn.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the references to “respondents” in this part of the Bill reflect normal procedural practice. It is necessary to specify who the respondent will be in respect of any order or notice made against that respondent.
In passing, I sympathise with the hon. Member for Beaconsfield about the wording of proposed new section 63B(2)(c). One day, I hope that we will be able to draft Bills in normal English that we can all understand on first reading without going over them several times, but that may be some time off. Proposed new section 63B(2)(c) was added, as he rightly says, because the High Court judges suggested that it was necessary so that the order might be addressed at any person, or indeed a category of persons such as a family or even a wider community group that are, or may become involved, in other respects in relation to the forced marriage. It must be for the purposes of protection as specified in proposed new section 63A(1). Involvement in other respects includes actions such as aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring or encouraging another person to force or to attempt to force somebody into a marriage.
Allowing orders to be directed only at named respondents would be too restrictive. The Bill provides that third parties who are not named in an order but who undermine the effect of an order by taking action to force a marriage on behalf of others are subject to the power of arrest.
However, senior members of the judiciary have suggested that that might not be sufficiently clear either to deter would-be perpetrators—the Bill is about not just protection but deterrence—or to ensure that police officers always arrest them when necessary. The amendment could cause that part of the Bill to be ineffective.
There are likely to be many cases in which an order will be made urgently, and it might not be possible to name all the respondents. There are precedents for that approach, particularly in relation to injunctions aimed at animal rights protestors.
On amendment No. 10, proposed new section 63B(2)(c) provides that the forced marriage protection order can also be directed at a third category of unnamed persons who are, or may become, involved in other respects. The provision will allow orders to be addressed to any person or category of person, such as a member of a family or community group, who might become involved.
The Minister is giving the answer that I rather expected. I am slightly puzzled by the distinction between respondents and other persons. Surely, if one gives an order against another person, one turns him into a respondent. Is there a distinction that I have not understood? My understanding of basic legal rules is that one might be an innocent respondent. For example, if I serve an order on a bank relating to a third party—an account that is held at that bank—the bank becomes a respondent to the proceedings. That is why I find sub-paragraphs (b) and (c ) a bit complicated. They seem to be over-categorising. However, the Minister may be able to help me. Perhaps I have missed something, and the drafters know exactly what they are doing.
Far be it from me to see into the minds of the drafters of any piece of legislation. The hon. Gentleman is asking me to go down a route that will lead to a blank wall. He has, however, hit on an important point. This part of the Bill does make the third party a kind of respondent. In the ordinary language of the rest of us, that is what will happen. However, it is worth highlighting the fact that the Bill does not amend the existing law of contempt. If a person is committed for contempt, the court must be satisfied that the person was aware of the terms of the order. The respondent is a party to the proceedings. For the purpose of protection, the order can be directed generally towards any person, so the other third parties are not parties to the proceedings in the same way as the named respondent.
I think that the Minister has, by continuing, answered my question. If I understand her correctly, therefore, the respondents mentioned in proposed new section 63B(2)(b) are individuals who would be maintained as parties to the proceedings throughout, so the distinction is made to ensure that the category can be widened to include, as well as the obvious respondents whom one might expect, community groups, religious groups and any other group that might get involved with the proceedings, and the Minister wants to keep a clear differentiation between that and third party orders. Perhaps she will reassure me on one matter: I assume that third party orders are still covered by the contempt proceedings that might attach if they breach the order. I see that the Minister’s advisers are nodding, so I suspect that she will be able to reply in short order.
The hon. Gentleman has encapsulated exactly what the rather convoluted language used in the Bill is intended to mean. The respondents in paragraph (2)(b) are party to proceedings if the others are adjuncts to it. He is right: as far as contempt is concerned, that is, and remains, exactly the case. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 11, in clause 1, page 3, line 31, leave out from ‘means’ to end of line 33 and insert ‘a blood relation’.
No. 2, in clause 1, page 4, line 38, leave out from ‘order)’ to end of line 39.
No. 6, in clause 1, page 6, line 32, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—
‘(c) any person specified or falling within a description of persons specified by order of the Lord Chancellor’.
The amendment provides an opportunity to ask the Minister to explain in more detail than was possible on Second Reading how the “relevant third party” will work in the context of the Bill. It will be a very important mechanism, as the Bill envisages not only the possibility of the person affected making the application, but a wide range of relevant third parties also being able to come forward and alert the court to what is going on. It thought it would be helpful to discuss that proposal before the Bill goes on to the statute book; I had no intention of removing the relevant third party as a person who could make such an application.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s clarification that his intention is not to remove the right of third parties to make an application for a forced marriage order, as the amendment proposes. I hope that all members of the Committee agree that this is a crucial part of the Bill, which must remain, because victims, or potential victims, are often unable to make the application themselves. The right of third parties to do so is therefore vital. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be useful to have more information about how the proposal will work.
I shall refer briefly to amendments Nos. 11, 2 and 6, which are entirely probing amendments and on all fours with what was said a moment ago. Of course, I do not want to remove the relevant third party; I want merely to find out who a relevant third party is. The Minister was kind enough to refer to that in her letter, but I want to go a little further, as the Bill plainly states:
“An application may be made by...a relevant third party.”
Although I understand why it does so, it is a little disappointing that the Bill defines a
“relevant third party” only as
“a person specified...by order of the Lord Chancellor.”
Will the Lord Chancellor issue details of who the relevant third parties can be? Will it be an exhaustive list, or not? It is completely understood that social services and the like should be able to be involved and to make an appropriate application, but I wonder whether the proposal goes wider than that. Is the Lord Chancellor likely to say that a blood relation, for example, or a friend could make the application? I should like some further information about that from the Minister.
Amendment No. 2 relates to the group that can apply for discharge or variation, which in the Bill includes any person affected by the order, and I should like the Minister to say a bit more about that issue. If, at any stage, it will be the case that a person who is not morally culpable is affected by the order, or is a possible respondent to it, can I assume that such people will have the right to apply to vary the order? It is an important matter and one that I raised earlier, but it has not been dealt with fully.
Likewise, amendment No. 6 relates to who can apply to a judge for the issue of an arrest warrant. Unless I have misunderstood, proposed new section 63J states plainly:
“An interested party may apply to the relevant judge for the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person if the interested party considers that the person has failed to comply with the order”.
What is an interested party? The answer is anyone—subsection (4)(c) refers to “any other person”. Should an individual not need to have a greater connection with the matter under discussion than simply being any other person? The current drafting of the Bill implies that anyone can make an application, notwithstanding the fact that they have no link with the case. These are probing amendments, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm whether my understanding of the matter is correct? Over the past two or three years, various Departments have sent out guidelines on forced marriage to police forces, social services departments, schools and, more recently, health professionals. I therefore assume that someone from any of those organisations in receipt of the forced marriage guidelines could go to court on behalf of a young lady or man and apply for an injunction. Let us suppose, for example, that a girl approaches a teacher saying, “My mum and dad are going to take me to Pakistan next week, and they are going to force me to get married. Can you do anything about it?” Presumably, a teacher could now say “Yes, we can”, and proceed accordingly.
In immediate response to my hon. Friend—yes, that is exactly the effect that the Bill will have. Teachers will be able to do something about that situation.
In response to other hon. Members’ concerns, I should like to take a short while to explain the provisions in some detail. This is a very important part of the Bill because, as we all know, if action were left purely to the victims themselves, there would be many cases in which, through fear and intimidation, they would be unable or unwilling to go to court. It is therefore a crucial measure to ensure that our protection in forced marriage cases works.
The provision will allow an application to be made not just by the victim, but by a relevant third party who will be a person, or category of persons, specified by the Lord Chancellor. That category of persons is likely to include the forced marriage unit run by the Home Office and the Foreign Office. It is essential that, when a victim approaches a reputable organisation such as the FMU, that organisation can provide the required help. Many people who request help already feel intimidated and afraid and are unable to make the application. The FMU, or a similar organisation, must take that burden from them.
Third party applications are appropriate, because the person needing protection may not be able to make the application—they might have already been removed from the country, or prevented from doing so in some other way. Third party application might be the only option available to them.
Hon. Members may be aware that currently, under the inherent jurisdiction and wardship jurisdictions, those with a genuine connection or interest in the person to be protected can already make an application on their behalf. The provision in the Bill reflects that existing practice.
Another benefit of third party applications is that they might facilitate reconciliation between the victim and the family, because the victim will not be directly involved in the court process. That is important, because the consultation indicated that one of the big issues for victims is not to break all links with their families as a result of the process.
At the start of our proceedings, I dealt with registration, and I want to go back to the point that I made in connection with that. Head teachers might well make the application in the cases that I cited and in the situations referred to by the hon. Member for Keighley. I make that point because I think that it ties in closely with the guidance that we shall have to look at later.
Yes, that might well be the case, and I shall come to it in more detail later. It reflects the point made by the hon. Member for Woking about whether individuals or organisations could make an application in one case. The answer is that they would indeed have to make the application to the Lord Chancellor, but he would be able to validate the application in individual cases.
Let me remind hon. Members that, even when the application is made by a third party, the court must still consider the wishes and feelings of the victim. One harmful result of forced marriage is that it takes away the victim’s power of control over their own life, so it is important not to undermine that any further.
The hon. Member for Woking asked whether the list is exhaustive. It is not. I understand that the amendments have been tabled in a clever way, to raise the issue and so that the intention behind the relevant provisions can be put on record. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment suggests that the relevant third party should be a blood relative. Sadly, however, and as we all know, it is very often a blood relative who is complicit in a forced marriage—sometimes the whole family are—so some applications almost certainly should not be made by a blood relative. The involvement of an entirely independent organisation, specified by the Lord Chancellor, will enable an unconnected individual to step in and assist the victim if she feels unable to make the application herself. If a victim wanted to rely on a blood relative for assistance, they would of course be free to do so. However, rather like a school, the relative would require leave from the court to apply.
On amendment No. 2, proposed new section 63G provides that orders and undertakings can be varied and discharged on application by the victim, any party to the proceedings or any party affected by the proceedings. The amendment would remove the ability of those affected by the proceedings to apply. The proposed new section provides for the widest range of circumstances. Every case of forced marriage is different and the circumstances therefore vary in each case. For that reason, we have been careful not to prescribe the form that an order must take.
Provided that their purpose is to protect the victim, orders will have the scope to be very wide-ranging and to be made against a wide range of respondents, both named and unnamed, as we discussed earlier. They will be able to protect victims and, additionally, prevent the use of force against other parties.
Given the breadth of the possible circumstances, it is necessary to allow a broad range of people to apply for variation or discharge. However, the provision does not go too wide; it restricts applicants to those who are directly concerned with, or who are affected by, the order. If an application is made by someone who is not closely affected, it will be discarded by the court.
Under proposed new section 63J, if a person fails to comply with a forced marriage protection order to which a power of arrest is not attached, an interested party may apply for a warrant for their arrest. The proposed new section provides that “an interested party” is a
“person being protected by the order” or a third party who has applied for the order on another’s behalf or, with leave of the court, “any other person”. Amendment No. 6 would remove that final category and replace it with a person or group specified by the Lord Chancellor.
The provision was included following consultation with High Court judges, who hear such cases. They identified that a change in legislation was necessary to extend the category of persons who may apply for an arrest warrant, so that if a third party had applied for the order but was not available to apply for an arrest warrant, the victim would not have to make an application.
The important thing is that, in some cases, people close to the victim—it could be a friend or colleague—might be in the best position to go to the court to apply for a warrant. That is why the measure is widely defined. To give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance on preventing nuisance applications, the other party must seek leave of the court before it is possible to make an application. Requiring the leave of the court means that the court must be satisfied that a person has sufficient interest in the case for their application to proceed. I hope that that will prevent the whole world from feeling that they are able simply to turn up at the court to make an application willy-nilly.
Finally, as I said, the person who applied for the original order might not be available to apply for a warrant, so the flexibility in proposed new section 63J will allow someone else to make an application on their behalf. I hope that that clarifies what proposed new section 63J is about and the importance of a provision for third party applications. I used the example of the forced marriage unit, but other bodies will become involved through time.
Going back to what I said earlier, quite specific guidelines have gone out in the past two years from Departments to police forces, social services departments, schools and health professionals. Members of those professions could help a girl to take a case to court, so will the guidelines that have already gone out be amended to explain to those professionals their new capacity to help a girl in such circumstances?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend an assurance on that. She rightly raises the fact that those professionals are in a position to help a young victim and the guidelines will reflect that. Training is going on at the moment; for example, the forced marriage unit goes to around 70 or 80 events a year to explain its work and the powers that are available. It will become more proactive as a result of the legislation, and it will take the message to professional organisations that they have the power to act on behalf of a victim. I am pleased that my hon. Friend raised the matter, because it is important that the Government make it clear that those such as the police, schools or social workers will now have the power to act on behalf of victims, and they ought to be encouraged to use it.
I am grateful to the Minister for her remarks. I have tabled probing amendments on guidance provisions later in the Bill, precisely because I want to initiate a debate. It may be that, to give her some anticipation, it is not just a question of what should be done, but of providing some guidance on how it should be done. It is likely that some groups of people will come into the firing line and be in a position to help, but unless they know what they are supposed to do, and to whom they are supposed to refer and how to go about it, they will freeze and not know what they should do next, as often happens in the legal system. As a result, in an emergency, things could happen by default. I highlight that issue for the Minister because it may be something to which we return. I am grateful to her for full response and for the opportunity to understand more fully how the Bill will work in practice, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
This is a probing amendment, but perhaps I ought to say a little more than that to initiate the debate. Proposed new section 63D on ex parte orders states:
“In deciding whether to exercise its powers under subsection (1), the court must have regard to all the circumstances including...any risk of significant harm to the person to be protected or another person if the order is not made immediately”.
The Bill’s background might lead one to envisage that one of the problems of forced marriage is that coercion might sometimes involve threats against other members of the family and people other than the person most directly affected.
By moving the amendment, I hope that the Committee might be able to discuss the interplay between the provisions and the criminal law. I am aware that it is made clear later in the Bill that nothing in it will oust the normal criminal law, but the reality is that when we are dealing with possible threats against another person, particularly someone other than the victim, we are squarely within the field of criminal law. If somebody is told that, unless they go immediately to another country and marry somebody, or marry somebody in this country, something terrible will happen to their younger brother, that is as clear a case of blackmail as one can envisage; it may involve threats to kill.
One of the purposes behind the Bill and a reason why the jurisdiction has been kept to civil jurisdiction is the view, which I think the Government are right about, that we will not get cases into court if people feel that, on issues of coercion and forced marriage, criminal sanctions will be visited on relatives. I am completely comfortable with that, because I did enough family work in the past to know that these are grey areas and keeping within the civil law is very useful.
However, the move from possible criminal offences against a person who is being coerced into marriage to threats of physical violence or wrong-doing against third parties raises difficult issues about the point at which the system that we are putting in place might interfere with the operation of the criminal law. If a person is told that they must go and marry somebody, otherwise their younger brother will be killed, I would be anxious if there was no criminal prosecution in respect of such a threat at the end of the process. It is a difficult issue, but this is as good a place as any to raise it. I hope that the Minister understands the distinction that I am trying to make.
In cases of moral or slight physical coercion against a person who is being told, “You will go and marry somebody who you don’t want to marry”, keeping matters within the civil structure does not cause me any problem. However, when that coercion starts to involve threats against third parties, I have an underlying anxiety about whether we are creating a system in which there might be insufficient use of the criminal law, although criminal sanctions are required. This is a probing amendment to tease out from the Minister how the Government see the measure operating in practice.
Clearly, the unfortunate reality is that forced marriage is often accompanied by threats of violence against not only the victim but others, such as close relatives and friends, as the hon. Gentleman said. In some cases, the threat is from the perpetrator saying, “If you do not marry person X, I will harm myself.” It is important that the Bill responds effectively and quickly to the particular and sometimes unique nature of forced marriage cases. A court must be able to consider the threat of harm to another person when considering whether to make an ex parte order. That is an important aspect of our approach to tackling forced marriage. An ex parte order is made when the respondent has been given no prior notice of the proceedings. That is important.
Proposed new section 63D(1), which is modelled on section 45 of the Family Law Act 1996, provides that a court may make an ex parte order only if it is
“just and convenient to do so”.
Ex parte orders will be used in cases of urgency in which a person must be protected very quickly. All too often, cases of forced marriage involve removing someone from the jurisdiction, and extreme violence is often carried out if things are left unchecked. Giving advance notice to the respondent would undermine that protection, and it is important that we do not do that.
We have been trying, with everyone’s agreement, to keep this a civil matter, because that is the right place for it, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that threats to inflict violence on the victim or others transgress into the criminal side of things. It will be for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to investigate and prosecute such cases. I emphasise that the criminal law will continue to function and operate in this area. Forced marriage protection orders will be made only to protect individuals in the same way as in domestic violence proceedings. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue, but the criminal law will not be undermined or set aside as a result of the Bill. Indeed, criminal law should be followed by the police and CPS if there is blackmail or there are threats of violence or to kill.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentions those matters, but, as far as I am aware, the CPS has not made a single case, under criminal legislation, against a person who has used measures such as false imprisonment, rape or assault to perpetrate a forced marriage. I hope therefore that the Bill will not undermine the present criminal position, because nothing is happening at the moment.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I have two suspicions. First, the victim might not have wanted criminal proceedings to go ahead and, secondly, there is no statutory provision. By putting the Bill on the statute book, we shall send a clear message to the police, as well as the CPS, that they should be following through such issues.
The Minister is right. One of the consequences of the Bill—if it works—is that facts will undoubtedly emerge during the civil jurisdiction proceedings under discussion that may clearly disclose the commission of serious criminal offences. I raise such an issue because, if it becomes clear that the consequence of such civil proceedings is in the number of cases that lead to prosecution, it might start to prevent people from coming forward to use the civil proceeding. I just wanted to explore the matter because, although the proposal is highly well intentioned, there is potential for it to lead to more criminal prosecutions, which might have the unintended consequence of undermining the Government’s approach.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid and important point. We want to get the balance right. The thrust of the Bill rests on the initial deterrent factor, which will make a big difference.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley will return to the fact that those who have the power to do something, whether social workers or the police, and those who have the power to influence, whether community groups or churches, must get the message through that serious action will be taken first in the civil courts and that criminal proceedings might act as a deterrent. The hon. Gentleman’s valid argument is that we do not want to undermine the Bill by making people frightened to come forward, because of criminal prosecutions that could result down the line.
I understand that the CPS is training specialist prosecutors to handle both forced marriage cases and honour crime cases, so I hope that the prosecutors will gain a proper understanding of when it is appropriate to take up such cases effectively.
‘and in any event within seven days’.
The amendment would put a seven-day time limit for the return date on an ex parte injunction. In my experience, return dates for ex parte injunctions are almost invariably within seven days, but that is not specified in the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister can enlighten us. It may just be that the words “just and convenient” reflect the current rules. However, when drafting the amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Woking had in mind exploring what period was thought to be just and convenient. As the Minister will appreciate, it is clearly important in respect of ex parte orders that there should be an opportunity of an inter partes hearing as quickly as possible.
I certainly have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman about it being desirable to have such a hearing shortly after the date when the initial order was made. However, we are trying to keep the Bill in tune with the Family Law Act 1996, and such wording is used there. I suspect that it would sensible to maintain its consistency and clarity, rather than inserting time limits in one piece of legislation and not another, but we should bear in mind the importance of holding hearings as soon as possible or, in legal-speak, “as soon as just and convenient”.
I understand the reasons behind this probing amendment, but when ex parte orders are made in emergencies, it is important to do so without notifying the respondent of proceedings. In such cases, the court will take into account the risk of significant harm to the victim or to a third party if the order is not made straight away. We have to ensure that there is a balance between protecting someone in need of immediate help and providing access to justice for the respondent.
I appreciate that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is trying to protect access to justice by prescribing that cases should be heard within seven days. As he rightly says, the vast majority of cases will be heard within that time. However, on one or two occasions, that will not be possible or practical, perhaps because the parties cannot get together within seven days, or even because the respondent needs longer than that to prepare his or her case. To protect his or her access to justice, it is important to provide that opportunity.
The provision will ensure that the respondent is heard in a timely manner. It is based on section 45 of the Family Law Act 1996, which deals with domestic violence cases. That has worked perfectly well in practice, and the Bill is worded as it is on that basis.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The question that is addressed by this amendment is whether an outer limit on the duration of orders should be made. I am sure that the Minister’s reply will again be that this measure mirrors the Family Law Act 1996. I am familiar with that piece of legislation, and it is what the Family Law Act says. However, it raises an issue. I was surprised to note that the Family Law Act does not specify an outer limit for an order. On the whole, courts are reluctant to make indeterminate or indefinite orders—in fact, it might be that they never, or very rarely, do so. Has the Minister any comment?
“A non-molestation order may be made for a specified period or until further order”,
and I understand that that regime has worked well. Family courts are used to determining an appropriate period for a non-molestation order based on the facts of a case. Such orders are mostly granted for three to 12 months, as it is hoped that the behaviour will stop. In the interests of clarity and legal certainty, it is desirable that the Bill should be in keeping with the Family Law Act, so we feel that orders should be made for the appropriate time, based on the facts of each case. Therefore, although we appreciate that this is a probing amendment, we do not support it.
I was going to say that the proposal reflects part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996, but everyone else has said that, so I need not do so. As the hon. Member for Solihull rightly said, the proposition has worked very well in that legislation, and it is important that it is included in the Bill for consistency.
I shall explain why no time limit is specified. Sadly, in many cases, the victim is only 11 or 12 years old, so an order lasting for 10 years might not give them sufficient protection to ensure that they are not later forced into a marriage. A longer period is therefore needed to protect the victim adequately. This part of the Bill will also give the court the flexibility to deal with the particular circumstances of each case and it can vary or discharge the order if the circumstances change. An application to change the order can always be made to the court.
The Committee should remember that, in many of these situations, the breach of honour that is attached to a marriage that is forced upon someone remains for life, so to limit the protection would not protect the individual for a sufficient time. For those reasons, no time limit is specified, although the court can vary or discharge the order, if appropriate, after a period of time if it is satisfied that the victim needs no further protection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking raised the matter of the conditions in which the attachment of powers of arrest would apply. Again, I am conscious that the provision follows the Family Law Act 1996 word for word, but my hon. Friend’s concern was whether it should be wider than the previous use of violence or the threat of violence—for example, if an assessment before a court was that the psychological condition of an individual was such that it could reasonably infer that the use of violence was very likely, even if there had not been a threat or, indeed, if there was no past record of violence having been used. This probing amendment was tabled to inquire whether the scope of the Family Law Act could be widened or whether it had been found to be adequate.
As we have said repeatedly, it is an unfortunate and sad reality that forced marriages often involve an element of violence. For that reason, the court would rightly be under a duty to attach a power of arrest to an order where the respondent has used, or has threatened, violence. That is part of the protective package that a forced marriage protection order can give to the victim. In cases where there is a risk of injury to a person, there should be swift enforcement using the power of arrest.
The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the proposition is on all fours with section 47(2) of the Family Law Act. In practice, under the test in that Act, where there is evidence of threats or the use of violence, the court can attach a power of arrest to the order. The order may prohibit future threats of violence, and the power of arrest allows a police constable to arrest the person who breaches the order.
Obviously, this is a probing amendment, and it would not add any value if it were accepted. When assessing whether a person might use violence, it is important to have evidence that there has been at least a threat of violence in the past, otherwise how can the court determine that? We could all, potentially, threaten to use violence on someone. Given that the test seems to work well with occupation orders, we see no reason to depart from it.
The provisions on arrest are broad, as they must be. Proposed new section 63I sets out exactly the circumstances in which a constable may arrest someone. Subsection (2) states that a constable may arrest a person if he or she has “reasonable cause for suspecting” that they are in breach of a provision to which a power of arrest has been attached, or if they are
“otherwise in contempt...in relation to the order.”
If someone frustrates an order, a constable may arrest them and bring them back to court within 24 hours. The court may then consider whether to exercise its powers on contempt.
The Bill will not amend the law on contempt, but it will give the court the opportunity to apply those laws effectively. For example, if an uncle takes his niece to the airport, when a court has ordered her parents not to remove her from the jurisdiction, that could amount to contempt, and the court could determine that. This part of the Bill is sufficiently wide to allow a constable to make an arrest when an order has been attached, and it will give the court the opportunity to determine whether there is contempt if it feels that an individual’s actions might be an attempt to undermine an order.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response and particularly for the fact that she covered proposed new section 63I in her answer. I need not move amendment No. 15, because she has precisely covered the points that I had hoped she would elucidate. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 18, in clause 1, page 7, leave out lines 9 to 28.
No. 17, in clause 1, page 7, leave out lines 30 to 43.
No. 13, in clause 1, page 8, leave out lines 1 to 14.
No. 19, in clause 1, page 8, leave out lines 15 to 19.
When I tabled my amendments to the Bill, I was concerned that the normal procedure for clause stand part debates would become rather difficult, because clause 1 encompasses virtually the entire Bill and we would be required to consider it all together. With that in mind, I hoped that the Minister would talk us through the relevant measures, to which I would not have otherwise tabled amendments, and have the opportunity of drawing our attention to any relevant issue. However, I am conscious that, because the Bill follows existing legislation so closely, nothing of any great significance might apply, but I did not want the Minister to be left having to do a clause 1 stand-part debate that would be meaningless if she wanted to bring something to the Committee’s attention.
You can see, Mr. Hood, just how co-operative all parties have been on the Bill: we even have amendments that allow me to say anything that I have not otherwise said, and I shall attempt to do that now.
The provisions for forced marriage protection orders take the form of a new part 4A to the Family Law Act, thus embedding them even more firmly in the family jurisdiction, as Lord Lester particularly asked us to do. That sends out important signals about the way in which the Bill should be approached. It places forced marriages robustly in the wider context of violence against women. Many of the problems facing those confronted with forced marriage are similar to those facing the victims of domestic violence. The Government and the voluntary sector want forced marriage to be mainstreamed into domestic violence, not dealt with as a separate issue. As a result, forced marriage will enjoy—if that is the right word—a central role in the Government’s national domestic violence delivery plan.
There is also a clear practical advantage in that approach, given the links with other legislation. In dealing with cases of forced marriage involving children, the courts will be able to make use of powers under the Children Act 1989. For example, if the court is concerned about the welfare of a child, it can make an interim care order or interim supervision order and instruct the local authority to investigate the situation. Where there is domestic violence, the courts will be able to take into account the relevant provisions of the Family Law Act, to provide adequate protection for the victim.
The provisions that relate to remand under proposed new section 63K, too, are modelled on the Family Law Act and will provide that an arrested person may be remanded if the matter is not dealt with when he is initially brought before the court. If no such remand provisions were available, the court would have no power to ensure that an arrested person was brought back before the court. Clearly, that would severely curtail the effectiveness of forced marriage protection orders and could put victims at risk.
A person may be arrested either under a power of arrest, and brought to the court within 24 hours, or by virtue of a warrant of arrest. When he is before the court, the court may either deal with him straight away or remand him using the power in proposed new section 63K. Schedule 5 to the 1996 Act provides that a person may either be remanded in custody or remanded on bail. If on bail, a recognizance is taken—usually a surety—and at the end of the of the remand period, the person may be further remanded.
Schedule 5 of the 1996 Act provides that a person shall not be remanded for a period of longer than eight days except if the court remands him on bail and both parties consent to a longer period of remand and if the court adjourns for a medical report. Rules of court—rule 3.10 of the family proceedings rules 1991—set out what information must be included in such an application for bail. That works well in domestic violence cases, and I hope that it will also work well in relation to the Bill.
The provisions that relate to the time limits for remand and access to a medical examination at proposed new section 63L are again modelled on the Family Law Act 1996 and provide for a medical examination and report if there is reason to consider that a medical report is required. There is also a power in proposed new section 63N to extend jurisdiction to magistrates courts family proceedings courts by affirmative order. Family proceedings courts already have jurisdiction to deal with domestic violence cases, although in practice most such cases are dealt with by county courts. There is no reason why magistrates cannot deal with more of those cases, particularly given that they deal daily with criminal proceedings involving domestic violence.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way because that was just one matter on which I had a query. What is the Government’s reasoning? Is it their intention that magistrates courts will get that jurisdiction and it is a matter of allowing time for training or other things before they do? Alternatively, have the relevant provisions of the Bill been included merely on the basis that they will be convenient in the event that the Government change their mind about magistrates not currently having jurisdiction? It would be helpful to understand the Government’s reasoning.
The Government certainly intend that magistrates will be able to take on this work at a suitable time. As I said, the vast majority of domestic violence cases are currently dealt with in the county court, and I envisage that that will remain the position in the immediate future for cases concerning forced marriage. That is partly because there has been a build-up in the expertise of county court judges in such issues, so that they are well placed to deal with them speedily and effectively. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, magistrates will need further training and resources, which will be an important consideration to take into account before an affirmative order is made.
We certainly intend that the High Court and the county courts deal with the early cases. After that we will be in a much better position to know how the legislation is working, and once one or two leading cases have been decided we will be able to give much better guidance to the lower courts. That too will need to be taken into account should an affirmative order be made.
We intend to roll out the legislation to the county courts and the High Court, where the expertise is concentrated, and to allow case law to be developed by those courts before extending the legislation further. That will give us the opportunity to prepare for the single family court, the strategy for whose creation we have already published. Magistrates and district judges will constitute the first tier in that new court. It is right to indicate now that family magistrates will have jurisdiction in future over forced marriage cases.
The provisions relating to contempt set out who can exercise the applicable powers when a person fails to comply with a forced marriage protection order. In those circumstances, the courts’ powers to deal with contempt will be exercised by the relevant judge, defined in proposed new section 63S. For a High Court order it will be the High Court judge and for a county court order it will be a judge or district judge of the relevant county court or any other county court. That means in practice that a person in breach of an order who is arrested under a power of arrest will be brought back to court, and that any judge of that court will be able to deal with the contempt, with the result that the contempt will be dealt with quickly. That is a practical measure, which means that there will be no need to wait for contempt to be dealt with by the judge who made the original order—a procedure that those of us who have experience of the court system know to be one that often causes considerable delays. The new section will be important too in the event that the protected person moves to another part of the jurisdiction and there is a breach of the order there. It will allow local enforcement by the county court.
Given the way in which the legislation has been drafted, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to make certain points that might not have been made had there not been such a good stand part debate. On that basis I suspect that he might want to withdraw the amendment.
I realise that it might just be drafting practice, but is it not the case that if jurisdiction is extended to the magistrates court it will be absolutely essential to have a mechanism for an appeal procedure? So “must” is preferable to “may”, even though I am sure that if “may” is used it will still happen. I raised this matter with the Minister because there cannot be a process—if we were to extend the provision to the magistrates court—without a mechanism of appeal.
The amendment requires the Lord Chancellor, in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, to set out the circumstances in which an appeal can be made against decisions in connection with the transfer or proposed transfer of forced marriage proceedings. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that rule is modelled in section 61(5) of the Family Law Act, which does not require the Lord Chancellor to make an order setting out the circumstances in which a decision to transfer may be appealed.
Orders made under the Bill, excluding decisions regarding transfer, will be subject to the provisions regarding appeal that apply to family proceedings generally. As far as appealing orders generally is concerned, section 77(1) of the County Courts Act 1984 and section 16 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 enable parties to bring appeals. The rules of court set out procedures. Those regimes enable parties to appeal decisions made under the Bill, apart from decisions to transfer proceedings.
The power in the Bill only relates to specifying circumstances when it is possible to appeal decisions regarding transfer. The Lord Chancellor may decide not to use that power. He has not so far used the power in the Family Law Act 1996. I suspect that the chances are that, as we are following the Family Law Act in every other respect, we will follow it in this respect, too. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
The Minister may have said as much as she feels the need to say on guidance. I mentioned earlier that the guidance issue would be critical in respect of whether the Bill, when enacted, operated successfully in practice, particularly because for it to work properly the active co-operation of a number of people exercising public functions would be needed. Those people may not be familiar at all with the working of the court systems and they will need to be fairly proactive in their approach if they are to intervene successfully in the way in which the Government and those who proposed the Bill intend. With that in mind, if the Minister feels that there is anything that she can usefully add on how the guidance is being put together, or the progress that is being made on producing it at the moment, it might be interesting to know a bit more about it.
On amendment No. 21, we have already touched on the main issue of concern to me, which was the relationship between the Bill and continuing criminal liability and how that would operate in practice. If the Minister feels that she has answered fully on that—I suspect she has—we need not go into it any further.
This is a welcome amendment that touches on guidance, which was mentioned briefly earlier in the debate. The hon. Member for Keighley made the excellent point that teachers will need to have clear instructions to be able to make representations, often on short time scales, given what we are dealing with.
The legislation will be successful only if it is widely publicised. Although specific legal guidance may need to be issued, I urge the Minister to ensure that there are some simple, easily understood leaflets so that anybody, regardless of their legal background, is able to use the legislation. Presumably, it would also make sense to make the guidance available in a range of languages and online, and to disseminate it widely to a range of bodies and individuals.
The forced marriage unit will be the first port of call in many cases, but social services, teachers, who have been mentioned, youth group leaders, religious and community groups, and various helplines, children’s groups and charities may have a stake in the measures and may be able to intervene, but they might be blissfully unaware of the legislation, even though it might be able to help them. A high-profile campaign to ensure that more people are aware of the legislation and how it may be used will help to get information to potential victims, which might in turn encourage people to come forward.
The whole point of the legislation is that offences will be civil rather than criminal, which will mean that victims have another route, but unfortunately, if people are not aware of such a route, and if they believe that they might end up criminalising family members, they might not have, say, a conversation about a forced marriage with their teacher or a member of a social services team.
On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) urged us against complacency. The consensus in the House on this issue is welcome, and the Committee has been constructive and consensual, in stark contrast to some other Committees on which I have served, but we should not allow that to lull us into a false sense of security that would involve believing that the matter is done with once the legislation is on the statute book. Delivering the measures and ensuring that they work is crucial; guidance is an important part of that, and I am sure that the Minister will have had some interesting thoughts on how it can be made most effective.
The hon. Lady has highlighted a number of agencies that will need to be kept informed as to what our proceedings mean for them and the people whom they support and represent. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield tabled this group of amendments because it has given us the opportunity to talk about the importance of the guidance that we will provide.
The Secretary of State will provide guidance to public bodies on how to deal with cases of forced marriage. It is essential—absolutely crucial—that agencies work together on the matter, and the guidance is key to ensuring that that happens. The forced marriage unit issued guidance on 4 June to help doctors, nurses and dentists to identify victims of forced marriage. Last year, the unit issued guidance to other health professionals and to registrars, although that was not formal guidance; rather, it was a letter that raised the issue. The unit has also updated the guidance to police and teachers, but it will need to go further. It is currently drafting guidance in consultation with practitioners and relevant professional bodies. Stakeholders in the voluntary sector, such as academics, women’s groups, charities and so on, will be asked to be involved in drawing up the guidance.
I do not wish to put a dampener on what has been a positive debate, but the dissemination of the guidance, for example, might well be dependent on budget. I hope that the guidance will be distributed at outreach events, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. The FMU goes to around 70 or 80 outreach events a year. The unit was invited to those events, but it will now be more proactive and will hold its own conferences and workshops. Copies of the guidance will be freely available to anyone who asks.
For example, I wish to involve organisations such as one whose representatives I met at people’s day in my constituency on Saturday. Victim Support in Lewisham has a section run by and for young people. They see some 1,500 cases a term concerning everything from bullying to stealing mobile phones to other abuses. We do not have a forced marriage problem in Lewisham, but an organisation such as a young Victim Support would be the ideal agency to raise the profile of this Bill with young people. If there are such organisations elsewhere in the country, they are the ones that we should target, in order to ensure that they understand what the Bill is about so that they can direct young people to the appropriate agencies if necessary. As always, guidance is available on the website.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the timetable. The revised guidelines for social workers are due out before the end of the year. The original guidance was in one volume, and the revised guidance will be in two—one for social workers dealing with children and young people, and one for those dealing with vulnerable adults. We hope also to publish a legal handbook by the end of October. That will contain chapters on the legal situation on forced marriage in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, as well as on legal and non-legal remedies available here. Legal briefing sessions will be conducted by legal experts. We do not want the Bill, excellent as it is, to be lost because people are not aware of its provisions. For the Bill to work, it is essential to ensure that those who are in a position to make it work and to protect the victims of forced marriage are aware of their powers and those of the court. We are as one with the Committee in wanting to send this message out as forcefully—if I can use that word in these circumstances—as possible, and I appreciate the comments that have been made.
I am grateful to the Minister for her words and the information on the guidance that has been produced, although her description made it sound rather technical. That is perfectly appropriate for social workers, but it is key for the Bill that that information is provided to a wide range of other people. The Minister knows well that if, as a Member of Parliament, she is sent a 100-page tome, she is unlikely to look at it, whereas two sheets of A4 can often be very helpful. If the legislation is to work, the guidance and information must not be only of the type that social workers have to read and inwardly digest as part of their professional calling. We also have to provide a lot of information to people who need to use it in their daily lives: teachers, particularly, health care workers and others. The Minister has something in front of her that might even correspond to what I hope to see. With that in mind, and in the hope that there will be a range of information that enables people to know about their responsibilities—
If we do not get such information, in the simplest possible terms, through to the young girls and boys who will be able to take advantage of it, we will have wasted our time this morning.
I agree entirely. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will be active in badgering the Minister to ensure that that is produced. That is my concern as well. There is no point in enacting legislation unless it is workable and people know exactly what they have to do to make it work.
The hon. Gentleman is right, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. Some documents have already been produced, and I shall make them available to the Committee. I think that the font size used in one of them is a little small, but let us not go into technical details. It is essential that we send out guidance to professionals, but we must also ensure that simple, basic information goes to people who could be victims, or the friends of victims, so that they know that there are people who have the power to do something. That means using not the language of legislation, but clear, simple English, so that people can read a small leaflet and know that they have a telephone number or a contact name that gives them information. What the hon. Gentleman says in that regard is spot on.
We have been forewarned by my hon. Friend the Member for Slough that we should not be complacent because there has been such all-party support for the Bill. She is right, and I hope that every member of the Committee, and others, will keep a close eye on us in government to ensure that we carry out the promises that we have made with regard to the principles of the Bill.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Mr. Hood, for the way in which you have conducted proceedings. You have allowed us to have a full debate on the major issues and ensured that those who have listened to us have a better understanding of the matter. I also thank the Hansard writers and the Clerks for their help and support, as well as the members of my Bill team. Although I met them for only the first time a couple of weeks ago, they have been excellent and expert in giving me good advice.
I thank all members of the Committee, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley and for Birmingham, Perry Barr, for their contributions. As everyone in the Committee and the House knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley has played a leading role in addressing the horrible issues that arise out of forced marriages. She has been expert and splendid in ensuring that the Bill has been taken forward.
I also thank the hon. Members for Beaconsfield, for Woking, for East Dunbartonshire and for Solihull for their contributions, which have added to our understanding of how to deal with this terrible situation. In particular, I thank the Whip on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting. His expert advice in organising how we should proceed with the Bill has clearly been followed—we have finished not only one day early, but one and a half days and 20 minutes earlier than expected. On that basis Mr. Hood, I again say thank you very much.
Mr. Hood, I join the Minister in thanking you, all members of the Bill team, the Clerks and the Hansard writers for the help that we have received in Committee. I also thank all the other members of the Committee who have attended and participated in our debate.
This has been a short debate, and the truth is—I have always taken this view—that the Bill was very well drafted at the outset. The Government stepped in to help Lord Lester translate a well-intended piece of legislation into something that worked well, particularly by incorporating its provisions into the Family Law Act. They thus left us with little work to do. None the less, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to look at it in Committee, which has certainly been of assistance to me. I shall doubtless go away and see whether I can think of anything else that would be needed to improve the Bill before we return to it on Report.
I express my thanks for the Bill. The Minister was kind enough to say that we had made time available for Second Reading, and we very happy to do so. This is an extremely important piece of legislation, and we hope that it works in practice.
On behalf of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, I want briefly to thank you, Mr. Hood, for your chairmanship of the Committee. I also thank the officials and everyone who has been involved in the Committee and in drafting the Bill.
Obviously, this is an important piece of legislation. Sometimes, when we are knocking on doors, someone says, “What’s the point of voting? Politics is all but pointless.” The Bill is a good example of something that will enable us to say, “Actually, you can make a difference in politics.”
I also give our thanks to Lord Lester, who introduced the Bill in the other place. Once it has passed all its stages, as I hope it will, we will have managed to make a good contribution to the statute book. As the Minister said, we will have to keep an eye on progress to make sure that the Bill is implemented.