Forced Marriages

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:56 pm on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:56 pm, 4th December 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3011, in the name of Stewart Maxwell, on forced marriages.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 3:30 pm, 4th December 2008

In debating the issues that affect our country, it is not often that we approach a subject with consensus in the chamber. I thank all the parties and their spokespeople for the constructive discussions that we have had in reaching—I hope—an agreed position on the resolution today.

I know that all members in the chamber agree that we want a Scotland where everyone can make vital life choices without threat of intimidation or coercion, or psychological or physical abuse. Whether to marry and who to marry should be decisions that are entered into freely. Forced marriage is a violation of human rights, an infringement of liberty and an abhorrent practice that has no place in Scotland.

To be clear, we are not talking about arranged marriage, which is a legitimate, common and successful practice in a variety of communities. Today's debate is about people who are forced to marry against their will, by coercion or threat, or through fear or manipulation.

Forced marriage has for too long been below the radar. It impacts on young girls and boys and on women and men across a range of communities—often vulnerable young people who are under the control of individuals or families and beholden to their elders with few means at their disposal to take alternative action.

We know from the experiences of those who have been forced into marriage how helpless, lonely and unsupported they feel, and—for those who have to leave their home environment, and sometimes their country—how traumatic it can be. The consequences of forced marriage are devastating to those involved. Many become estranged from their families and wider communities, lose out on educational opportunities and suffer domestic abuse, and there are high rates of self-harm and suicide.

One story that highlights the level of trauma involved concerns a young woman who suffered years of emotional pressure and abuse. It began when she was taken overseas at 17 under the pretext of attending a family wedding. When she arrived, she was told she was to become engaged to her cousin. She agreed when it was made clear that that would be the only way that she would be allowed to attend university. She completed her degree while living under that threat, after which her family took her abroad, again under the pretext of visiting family. This time, she was told that she was to be married at once and would not be allowed to return to the United Kingdom until she had signed the marriage documents.

The young woman did her best to make her parents see her point of view: that she and her cousin had nothing in common, and that the marriage would be damaging for her. That emotional battle went on for five weeks and eventually, when the girl was exhausted and tired of being cursed by her family as a cause of dishonour and disgrace, she agreed to sign the marriage documents, but only if she was allowed to return to the UK. Thankfully, she was supported by Hemat Gryffe Women's Aid and is now seeking a divorce.

Sometimes those behind a forced marriage are motivated by a belief that the marriage will uphold family honour, realise long-standing family commitments or control the young people's behaviour and sexuality. They might believe that it will protect cultural and religious ideals or prevent what are regarded as unsuitable relationships. Whatever the motivation, there is no justification for forced marriage, and we will not and should not tolerate it.

Information on the numbers involved and the extent of the problem in Scotland is limited. The statistics from the forced marriage unit, which deals with approximately 300 to 400 cases a year, indicate that 85 per cent of victims are female, and that 30 per cent of all victims are minors. In January this year, the unit began to break down the origin of incidents that were reported to them. From January 2008 to September 2008, 40 reports came from Scotland.

One way in which we are exploring the extent of the problem is by jointly funding, with the UK Government, a confidential telephone survey. The survey will run for the period of the consultation—between December and March next year—and should add to our understanding of forced marriage in Scotland.

In 2007, the UK Government decided to introduce civil legislation in the form of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which came into force last week. Civil court remedies are a devolved matter and those legislative changes will apply only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, the Scottish Government's consultation, "Forced Marriage: A Civil Remedy?", which is being launched today, gives us the opportunity to explore whether the introduction of new civil remedies would add to the protection that is available to those who are affected by forced marriage in Scotland.

Those who are affected by forced marriage tell us, poignantly, that many do not want to close the door permanently on contact with their family and the wider community, despite what they have gone through. Many would not want to pursue criminal proceedings but would find civil court remedies helpful. In addition to questions on legal remedies, we will be using the consultation to ask what non-legislative work needs to be in place to ensure both that all those affected can access the support they need and that communities can contribute to preventing forced marriage.

Although forced marriage predominantly affects women, we know that men are also victims. The consultation expects to gather views on how best to support men and women who are affected by forced marriage. Key to progressing that support work and to contributing to the Government's thinking on the issue is the forced marriage network. The network's membership is made up of key partners from the statutory and voluntary sectors and includes the police, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre, the national health service, Scottish Women's Aid, Victim Support Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland. I thank network members, some of whom are here today, for their invaluable contribution to the agenda. Their expertise is vital to the success of the consultation and to our wider work on the issue in Scotland. We hope that during the consultation the network will, with support from Government, bring as many people as possible together to discuss the issues involved and to let us know what should be done in the area. We need to hear the voices of those who are affected and those who understand the issues.

Among the victims of forced marriage are women who, for immigration reasons, have no recourse to public funds. That is a prime example of how our hands are tied by issues that are reserved to Westminster. I fully sympathise with the plight of those women but due to the Scotland Act 1998 the Government cannot provide funding or extend the remit of the Home Office scheme. I understand that the new system of support will be put in place in the new year. However, I am disappointed at the time taken to find a way forward. I will be keeping a close eye on the situation and I plan to write to the Home Office in the new year with the views expressed by the Parliament and by those who took part in the demonstration outside the Parliament earlier today.

Forced marriage is part of the broader violence against women agenda. Like every other member, I am clear that violence against women has no place here. No one should live with the fear of abuse or be stripped of dignity or self-esteem. That is why we support the international 16 days of action to eliminate violence against women campaign. However, the Government's work in the area is not limited to the period of the annual campaign. It is an on-going priority for us all. Therefore, the Government has committed more than £44 million over the next three years to tackling violence against women and children, including domestic abuse. That more than doubles the funding from the previous three years.

In recognition of the needs of minority ethnic groups and the specific barriers to support that women face, we fund a number of projects under the violence against women funding stream, all of which focus on the wider issues of violence and its impacts on women from black and minority ethnic communities. They include the Amina prevention, protection and provision project and other projects with Shakti Women's Aid, Hemat Gryffe Women's Aid, the British Red Cross and the Legal Services Agency.

It is not possible to prevent forced marriage without tackling the inequality and continuum of violence that women in Scotland continue to face. Trafficking is an area in which there have been some recent developments. As a Government, we are committed to tackling that abhorrent and vile crime, through partnerships with the UK Government, the UK human trafficking centre, the police and local agencies. We want to ensure that effective measures are taken to combat that form of serious organised crime.

On 2 July, to coincide with the release of the results of operation pentameter 2, we updated the joint UK action plan, which sets out the actions we are taking. During that operation, in Scotland alone 56 premises were visited, 35 arrests were made and 15 victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation were recovered. On 25 September, we announced our intention to legislate to provide the police with specific powers to close premises that are associated with human trafficking or child sexual exploitation. Those measures are intended for the forthcoming criminal justice and licensing bill, which will be introduced in the Scottish Parliament in 2009.

I am pleased to be opening the debate and, by launching our consultation, to be opening what is, in effect, the wider debate on forced marriage in Scotland. I hope that members agree that we have to take action on the issue. We have to change attitudes, increase understanding and awareness, and provide the support and protection that are needed by some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I urge all who have views on this very serious issue to make them known during the consultation. This Government is determined to listen to what communities, organisations and—most important—individuals have to say, and then to act.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the right of every person to choose whom to marry without fear of physical, emotional or psychological abuse; recognises that forced marriage is a violation of internationally recognised human rights and a form of violence against women and has no place in Scotland; makes a clear distinction between arranged marriages to which both parties have freely consented, and which are an established and accepted practice, and forced marriage; welcomes the Scottish Government's consultation that asks whether forced marriage civil legislation is required and provides an opportunity to consider what more can be done to help those affected in Scotland and to ensure our communities are safer, stronger and fairer places for all; acknowledges the work of the Forced Marriage Network in tackling this issue, and supports continued efforts to assist those affected, raise awareness of the impact of forced marriage and to end this terrible practice.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 3:39 pm, 4th December 2008

Presiding Officer, please use your power to take some time away from my summing-up speech if that will help you to juggle times later on and means that you will be able to fit in other speakers. I would not dare to tell you what to do, but I know that a number of members will want to contribute to this important debate.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on forced marriages, and I welcome the consultation document that has been issued today. The minister has outlined why the consultation will be important.

Just last week, the first forced marriage civil protection order was issued in England. If for no reason other than the fact that the protection offered in other parts of the United Kingdom should be offered in Scotland too, it is essential that we get the consultation right and act accordingly.

I welcome the minister's decision to hold this debate during the 16 days of action against violence against women, thus placing the issue in the broader context of the position of women across the world and the prevalence of violence against women in its many forms. I always feel rather ambivalent about the Scottish Parliament debate at this time of year, during the 16 days of events. However, it is of course encouraging to acknowledge that we have made progress, and it is right that we take the time to highlight the positive aspects. I believe that doing so reflects acceptance—across the chamber and beyond—of the continuing seriousness of the issue, and acceptance of the impact that violence against women has on the life chances, health and wellbeing of, and opportunities for, women and their families.

It is always refreshing to meet people who have been so resilient in their campaigning. Such people have gathered here today on the issue of there being no recourse to public funds. I hear what the minister said in that regard, and I urge the Scottish Government and the UK Government to work together to see how creatively they can solve the problem. Local Women's Aid organisations ought not to be picking up the tab, and it may be that the Scottish Government can offer emergency resources to take the burden off local organisations while work on the bigger picture is sorted out. The vulnerable women at the centre of these issues must be the focus of our actions.

Such debates always highlight just how much remains to be done to tackle violence against women in its many forms. There is always a danger that we might be overwhelmed by the challenge and by the ways in which that violence is expressed, including domestic abuse, rape, the trafficking and enslavement of women, prostitution and forced marriage. Those examples are experienced globally, but progress will be made through local action—step by determined step—to support individual women, families and communities. The consultation on forced marriage should be placed in that context.

In discussing forced marriage, we continue to bear down on the broader issue of violence against women. Forced marriage is a distinct problem and it must be challenged, but it is a problem that is shaped by the same attitudes that still mean that—although women can smash all sorts of glass ceilings and can redefine their roles and expectations—even the most talented and pioneering women can be inhibited and controlled.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Does the member acknowledge that 38 per cent of the victims in forced marriages are male?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I absolutely accept that forced marriage is an issue that is not simply for women—although, because of defined roles in communities, it affects more women than men. However, I do not in any way dismiss the suffering of some young men in such circumstances.

No matter how talented individual women are, they can be scared in their own homes, and threatened and intimidated outside, too.

Experience tells us that—with forced marriage as with other issues—caring is not enough. Feeling for the survivors will not address the problems. We need to understand the causes; resource the people who know how to keep women safe; and tackle the causes through education, provision and legislative action.

There is an added dimension to the debate on forced marriage—the fear of causing some kind of cultural offence. However, as one young Asian Scot said to me, any right-thinking person must believe that it is absolutely unacceptable to force someone into marriage. [Interruption.] Even if it happens to only one person, that is one too many.

We welcome the consultation, because it is critical to get it right—to act to protect and support women, but without the unintended consequence of forced marriage being driven underground. However, we hope that whatever action is taken will be kept under close examination, to ensure that it is having the desired effect. We must not close the door on any options, and we must ensure that protection is afforded to people facing the problem across the whole United Kingdom.

It is essential to have a proper understanding of the pressures on young people who may be forced into marriage—to know how difficult it is to resist forced marriage and how isolated and vulnerable a person can feel. There is an irony in the fact that young people are sometimes forced into marriage precisely because they are challenging the roles that are expected of them. In any provision that we make, we must understand the need to protect the individual and give them both the confidence that they will continue to be protected and the knowledge that, if they have the courage to resist, we will support them in doing that. We must be able to offer safety, advice, the time that is needed and support in the future.

Young people in such situations need trusted intermediaries—people who understand the families' cultural and community sensitivities and who are able to rebut and resist some of the arguments that are put to the young people. I ask the minister to reflect on how we can consult the most powerful voices—the voices of those who can talk to their own experience, which are often silenced because they do not have the confidence to come forward. He may wish to think further about how private consultation can be undertaken with some of those who have survived and are living with their experiences.

There is also the question of education in communities that still believe that forced marriage is reasonable. It is not an issue of religious belief; it is something that can be challenged inside communities. People can be supported to do that important work.

There is an issue with resources. Scottish Women's Aid's analysis of single outcome agreements shows that only seven local authorities make any mention of domestic abuse or violence against women as a local outcome. What reassurance can the minister give that he will act to prevent those issues from being de-prioritised at a local level? I am not sure whether he is consulting COSLA on that analysis, and I do not think that he is consulting community planning partnerships. That might be a useful starting point for some of the discussions around the resource implications and the education and support side as well as around the broader legal matters.

When will the advice on equality impact assessments and equality responsibilities in relation to single outcome agreements be issued? We were promised that advice, but it has not yet appeared. What has been the role of the national group on violence against women in shaping the consultation? The group is a powerful forum for such discussions, but I do not know whether it has discussed the issue, and if so when, or whether it plans to discuss it. That information would be useful to us in forming our view of the consultation. [Interruption.] What is the group's role in assessing, monitoring and considering the implications of single outcome agreements?

I welcome the debate and recognise the progress that has been made. I welcome the consultation although, as ever, I regret that it is necessary. Finally, I congratulate all those in the Parliament and far beyond who ensure that the issues facing survivors of domestic abuse and violence against women and those who are coping with forced marriages are kept in the public eye so that action can be taken. I urge the minister to sustain the focus on all fronts.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I remind members to ensure that their mobile phones and BlackBerrys are switched off.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 3:48 pm, 4th December 2008

I apologise to Johann Lamont. The figure of 38 per cent that I cited for male victims was incorrect—the true figure is 15 per cent, which is still highly significant.

The Scottish Conservatives welcome today's debate and the launch of the consultation on this important issue. Following the passage of the United Kingdom Government's Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, it is right for Scotland to consider whether legislative measures are required here to tackle the problem and, if so, what the most appropriate measures might be. Politicians here must be measured and take a gradual approach in coming to judgments on this extremely sensitive and complex issue.

The Scottish Conservatives agree strongly with the distinction that the motion makes between forced marriage—in which one or both members of the marriage are forced to marry against their free will, and which often involves abduction, abuse or imprisonment—and arranged marriages, to which both parties give their free consent. We recognise and respect the fact that arranged marriages have played and continue to play a significant role in the culture of some of our religious and ethnic minority communities. We support strongly the right of people in those communities, for whom arranged marriages are a cultural norm, to continue to use that model, which we recognise has operated successfully for families and individuals for many generations.

As I said, our judgments must be measured. The Scottish Parliament can send a strong and unified message today that forced marriage violates basic human rights. Any British citizen should be able to look to their legislators and Government to protect them against such fundamental infringements of their human rights.

When doing research for my speech, I found it difficult to discover hard statistical information on the extent of forced marriages in Scotland. Since its establishment a few years ago, the Foreign Office's dedicated forced marriage unit has tended to deal with about 300 cases a year in the UK. I am aware of alarming evidence that suggests that that number has risen significantly in the past year, but I do not know the reason for that.

I share the opinion of many campaigners that forced marriage is likely to be massively underreported, as many people are too scared or are unable to report it to the authorities. The research that the Council of British Pakistanis (Scotland) did in 2004 for its incompatible marriages project suggests that the incidence of forced marriage is much higher and that it accounts for half the marriages that involve an Asian who lives in Scotland and a partner from outside the UK.

It is clear that forced marriage affects children, teenagers and adults from all races and religions, including Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. We all need to make it clear that although the problem is significant in the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, it is not just a problem for our Asian communities. Every year, cases in the UK involve the middle east, the western Balkans and Africa, as well as other places. About 90 per cent of forced marriages that involve a UK citizen take place abroad.

Many who look at the issue from the outside see it as a problem that affects women, but it affects men, too. The Foreign Office's forced marriage unit calculates that about 15 per cent of the cases that it deals with involve reports by male victims. The Council of British Pakistanis (Scotland) suggested in 2004 that no less than 38 per cent of victims were male—that is where I got the figure that I cited to Johann Lamont. We need to bear in mind that factor at all times and to ensure that the solutions that are offered suit women and men. I suspect that underreporting by men is even greater, because of stigma and fear among male victims.

Awareness raising is important, not least so that victims—who often have little formal education and might have no English or poor English—know their rights and what help is available. In 2006, the UK Government ran the you have a right to choose campaign, which used a series of radio and press adverts, television fillers and posters. It usefully involved two well-known Asian actors—Meera Syal and Ameet Chana. We need to be imaginative about communicating most effectively on this sensitive subject and to take different approaches that are tailored to different communities' needs.

I commend the BBC documentary producers who created this week's excellent "This World" programme, entitled "Forced to Marry". It brought vividly to the screen the human misery that is involved, which we must all work to eradicate. For anyone who did not see it, it is available on the BBC iPlayer, and I recommend it.

The Scottish Conservatives acknowledge the good work of the forced marriage network, which the previous Scottish Executive established, in bringing people together. We pay tribute to the charities and individuals who campaign to raise awareness of forced marriage and to support victims. We hope that the forced marriage network will continue to play a positive role throughout the consultation and beyond.

The Scottish Conservatives are pleased to contribute to the debate. We are happy to support the Government's motion, as it is right to deal with this difficult subject on a cross-party basis. We look forward to many individuals and organisations taking part in the consultation and to the consultation's results. If, after taking account of the UK Government's Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, the Scottish Government decides that legislation is required, we will of course seek to work constructively to ensure that the legislation is as effective as possible, in the interests of all victims and potential victims of forced marriage.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 3:54 pm, 4th December 2008

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and to put forward the Liberal Democrats' thoughts on forced marriage. We welcome the opportunity that the consultation document offers to clarify the views on forced marriage in Scotland of many stakeholders. I pay tribute to the work of MSPs in previous sessions of the Parliament, including that of Christine Grahame and Cathy Peattie, both of whom contributed to keeping the issue on the agenda. They should be congratulated on that important work.

I am pleased that, in reply to a parliamentary question that I lodged, Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, confirmed that the Government would be engaging in the consultation.

As the minister and other members have said, the issue is complex. Members have rightly pointed out that there is a difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. Indeed, not that long ago, there was a place in Scottish culture for the marriage broker. That said, that was more than 100 years ago—

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

No, I do not.

Huge cultural pressure can be placed on young people. Prior to being elected to the Parliament, I had first-hand experience of that, as I have heard people recount their experience of such pressure. When two cultural entities come together by way of marriage, the situation can be challenging: what is acceptable behaviour to one party may not be acceptable to the other.

Forced marriage is only one part of the wider issue of honour killing. If we address the matter correctly through the powers of the Scottish Parliament, we can begin to address some of the wider issues, too. Cultural and religious traditions are very strong, particularly in our ethnic communities, and that is something that is much to be admired. Nonetheless, those traditions cannot be used as a cloak to hide the degradation and mistreatment of individuals, a substantial number of whom are women, as Johann Lamont said.

The Liberal Democrats are supportive of the way forward. If my memory serves me well, the Lib Dem peer, Lord Lester, introduced a private member's bill in the House of Lords back in November 2006. That bill became the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, to which other members have referred. Interestingly, the act defines forced marriage as a civil wrong and not as a criminal offence. In so doing, it lessens the pressure on young people, who may not want to see their parents or other family members criminalised for doing something that is regarded as culturally acceptable in their community. Our focus has to be on ensuring that we educate people to see that such behaviour is unacceptable, culturally or otherwise. The advantage of putting such cases before the civil courts is that people do not go to jail.

The 2007 act includes legal guidance and provision for young people who may be put under pressure not to give evidence in court. If, as a result of the consultation in Scotland, legislation is introduced, we need to ensure that we take account of sensitive issues of that nature.

As far as I am aware, thus far, no other country has used the civil law as a means of attacking the issue of forced marriage. The approach that was taken by the UK Government is unique. I am pleased that the Liberal Democrats were instrumental in taking forward the proposal.

I recognise that being too firmly convinced that legislation is the best way forward is a dangerous step to take. To use the cliché, hard cases often make bad law. However, whichever method we use, we need to send out a strong message. Although making forced marriage a criminal offence is superficially attractive, we want to take an approach that works, which I suggest is the civil wrong route. I hope that the consultation responses will lead the Government to approach the matter in that way.

As Jamie McGrigor said, we tend to forget that forced marriage is a threat not just to the female population; it also affects males, for whom the stigma and pressures are different. It is not only Asian communities that suffer, as a wider range of communities are affected by forced marriage.

The work of Amina, which several members have mentioned, is critical. I seek an assurance from the minister that the resources that are available to organisations such as Amina will be protected, because this morning people outside the Parliament seemed to suggest that not all local authorities are taking the same approach.

Liberal Democrats welcome the consultation document, but the Government must not shrink from introducing legislation if that is the consultation's decisive finding.

Photo of Bashir Ahmad Bashir Ahmad Scottish National Party 4:00 pm, 4th December 2008

I welcome today's debate on an extremely serious and important issue. The term "forced marriages" is used a lot by the media, politicians and community organisations, but I am often surprised to discover how many people still do not know the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage. It is important that we make that distinction, as we do not want to stigmatise any community. The important distinction between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage is that an arranged marriage takes place with the full consent of both parties. It often involves parents suggesting partners for their sons or daughters. If the girl or boy concerned is unhappy with the suggestion, the two parties do not take things further. The faces of those who do not know the difference between forced and arranged marriages are a picture when I tell them that my marriage was arranged.

A forced marriage is one in which one or both parties do not consent to being married. Often they are physically or emotionally abused to make them take part and stay in the marriage; needless to say, the union is not a happy one. Forced marriages take many forms, but one thing is clear—they are all vile and must be tackled.

Unfortunately, forced marriages are often portrayed as a religious practice, but that could not be further from the truth. Forced marriages are a cultural practice, not a religious one. In Islam, the religion that is often wrongly associated with forced marriages, they are completely condemned. In addition, victims of forced marriages do not come from only one community. I have met people of different cultures and races who have been victims of forced marriages.

Although we condemn forced marriages whole-heartedly, it is important to stress that reported cases are few in number. Last year, statistics from the UK Government's forced marriage unit showed that 400 cases had been reported. No doubt the real figure is higher, with perhaps hundreds of cases a year going unreported. Although they might not be rife in Scotland, it is important to put across the message that one forced marriage is one too many. That is why I have been campaigning on the issue both in the Parliament and outwith it.

Having met a number of women's aid organisations, religious institutions and community groups, it is clear to me that a failure to act on the issue is not an option. If we go down the route of making participation in a forced marriage a criminal offence, we might prevent people from coming forward to report it. Many of those people would not want their mother, father or other close relatives to face possible time in jail if they had been involved in forcing a marriage.

Last year, the provisions of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 were enshrined in law in England and Wales, and the act took effect just last week. The authorities in England and Wales can now issue a forced marriage protection order to prevent a forced marriage from taking place. We in Scotland must follow suit. Civil legislation on the matter will be a positive step forward in tackling the problem. However, consultation is necessary because many different opinions from experts must be taken into account.

In my discussions on the matter with the Scottish Government, I have been pleased to note its willingness to address the problem. I hope that the Parliament will whole-heartedly support the Government's motion and work collectively to prevent anyone else from becoming a victim of this evil practice.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 4:08 pm, 4th December 2008

As we know, there is no offence of forced marriage in Scotland. Civil and criminal law in Scotland offers some protection to victims who are forced to marry against their will, but there is no effective law to address the wholly unacceptable wrong that is forced marriage. That is why I support and welcome the launch of the Government's consultation to explore whether civil legislation on forced marriages is required. I come to the matter with my mind made up, but I hope that I will be open and listen to all the points that are made.

Although improved education and awareness raising are essential, only civil legislation can fully protect the shocking number of victims in Scotland who are compelled into a forced marriage. Unlike arranged marriage, forced marriage is not a respected cultural tradition. It is not a religious tradition, nor is it a matter of honour. Rather than a union between two consenting adults, a forced marriage is an abuse of human rights.

The significant differences in family law mean that consideration is needed to find a Scottish version of the provisions in the UK Government's Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. The Scottish Government should follow the Labour Party's path and introduce civil legislation to ban forced marriage and give the courts wide-ranging powers to protect victims.

As the consultation document points out, when the previous Scottish Executive consulted on this horrific problem, it rejected the criminalisation of forced marriage. I agree with that view for the same reasons that other members have set out. People are understandably reluctant to instigate criminal proceedings against a person who in many cases will be a close family member, and one can only imagine the competing emotions a person involved in such a situation must feel.

That said, the introduction of civil legislation to bring Scotland into line with the UK will send a clear message that forced marriage will not be tolerated for any racial or religious group, for any age or for anyone in any part of the country. Such legislation is—and must be—a preventive measure that, instead of seeking to prosecute perpetrators, seeks to protect individuals, to prevent forced marriages from happening in the first place and to act as a deterrent.

However, in seeking to protect victims of forced marriage, the Scottish Government must as part of the consultation recognise how forced marriage can trigger other crimes which, as Johann Lamont pointed out in her speech, can include physical, psychological and sexual abuse and other honour-based violence. The BBC programme that was screened this week, which Jamie McGrigor mentioned, brought home to those who watched it not only how being involved in a marriage without consent affects individuals but how it can lead to the breakdown of the wider family. That cannot be good for any community and certainly cannot help to hold communities together. Legislation that protects victims of forced marriage might go some way towards tackling the cycle of abuse and violence that too often affects generation after generation.

I will conclude, Presiding Officer, because I know that you are stuck for time. I welcome the consultation as another step towards the elimination of forced marriage from Scottish society. Given that we must improve awareness of this horrific problem, it is right that we debate it again in Parliament. However, education is not enough; only by introducing civil legislation that brings us into line with the rest of the UK can we fully protect people not only from forced marriage but from the other crimes that it can trigger.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative 4:13 pm, 4th December 2008

Although forced marriage is thankfully very rare in Britain and in Scotland, it can have a devastating effect on its victims. I therefore welcome the debate, as it provides an important opportunity for the Parliament to send a strong message that the practice is unacceptable in modern Scotland.

Like Jamie McGrigor and other members, I am pleased that the Government's motion draws a clear distinction between forced and arranged marriages. The crucial point is about consent—or, in the case of forced marriages, the lack of consent that makes them so objectionable. A study by the Home Office's working group on forced marriages clearly illustrated the devastating consequences for individuals who are forced into marriage. Many young women in such a situation become estranged from their families and suffer years of domestic violence. Even more frightening, some evidence has suggested a link between forced marriage and the particularly high self-harm and suicide rates for Asian women. I find it disturbing that something as archaic as forced marriage still infiltrates today's society and I hope that, through the efforts of our Parliament, we can move a step closer to a world without such a practice.

Understanding the position of Scots law on marriage is the first crucial step in beginning our fight against forced marriage. Fortunately, Scots law states clearly the requirements for marriage and leaves no room for marriages that fail to satisfy them. The minimum age at which a person can marry is 16—parental consent is not required. It is important to note the requirement for both parties to understand the nature of a marriage ceremony and to consent to marrying. In Scotland, a marriage is deemed void if either party was forced to marry against their will. Marriage as a result of duress, force or fear does not satisfy the requirement of consent by both parties. If a marriage is deemed void, it is regarded as never having taken place. However, a decree of nullity may be required from the Court of Session in order for the marriage to be treated as void. An important characteristic of Scots law is that a Scottish court can take jurisdiction to decide whether a marriage is void on the basis of lack of consent regardless of where the marriage was performed. Thus, Scots law is well prepared to aid individuals who are victims of forced marriage, even if it occurred in a foreign country.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I acknowledge what the member says; he is quite correct in what he says about the law as it stands. However, does he accept that what he has just explained clearly is the position after the forced marriage has taken effect? Part of the civil remedy in England is about trying to prevent such marriages in the first place.

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I agree with the minister entirely. I have set out what Scots law currently allows for. We are trying to prevent forced marriages, rather than dealing with them after they have occurred.

It is important to recognise the progress that has been made in the UK in recent years to begin to address the problem and provide support for those who have become the victims of forced marriages. The forced marriage unit, which was set up by the UK Government in 2005, does a great deal of work in helping people to escape from forced marriages, as well as gathering information that is vital for gaining an understanding of the extent of the problem and the issues involved in forced marriages.

In May 2007, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office launched a two-year strategy to combat forced marriage. The approach suggested several activities relating to three crucial objectives: to increase education in order to raise awareness about forced marriage; to engage in more joined-up work with statutory agencies to ensure that best practice is shared effectively; and to work with the police and criminal justice system to ensure that existing legislation is used effectively in cases of forced marriage.

At UK level, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which has been mentioned already, was passed by Westminster last year. The act sets out ways to help those who face the prospect of forced marriage, as well as those who have already become the victim of a forced marriage. It aims to provide civil remedies for those who face forced marriage, but it does not create any criminal offence of forced marriage.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

Will the member confirm that David Cameron initially proposed criminalising—in a non-civil way—forced marriage when the UK bill was introduced in 2006?

Photo of John Lamont John Lamont Conservative

I am not aware of that proposal. My understanding is that we as a party supported the bill when it went through the Westminster Parliament. The Scottish Conservatives were, and still are, very supportive of the legislation and we welcome the Scottish Government's consultation to investigate the possibility of similar legislation for Scotland.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:18 pm, 4th December 2008

At this stage in the debate, it is inevitable that much has already been said. I might occasionally tread where others have been and repeat what they have said.

Consent is the essence of any contract and marriage is, of itself, a contract—a very special one. A contract requires the consent of both parties. The parties must have the capacity to consent and consent must be informed and given freely without coercion—physical, emotional, psychological or otherwise. As others have said, a forced marriage is one where consent of one party, or indeed both parties, did not exist. I do not think that anybody has mentioned this yet, but 30 per cent of cases involve minors.

The problem is complex indeed, as was demonstrated by the recent television programme, and cultural influences have a substantial impact on parents in the choice of a marriage partner for their children. The girl or boy who is party to a forced marriage often faces the worst of all dilemmas: by freeing themselves from the forced marriage, whether here or abroad, they are at the same time most likely in danger of alienating themselves from their immediate and extended family, even for life.

We need education, prevention and, in some cases, repatriation, but do we need legislation? I am not persuaded.

As other members have said, the matter of education requires to be handled delicately, because it crosses several generations and cultures. The majority of known forced marriages—there might be many more—concern Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. It is a matter of educating not just parents but grandparents, aunts and uncles. I am pleased that the Asian community is taking the lead on the matter, which is very welcome.

Prevention could flow from the education process in the widest sense, but prevention can, and sometimes must, require determination, and it can even be dramatic. In cases where the young girl or boy does not turn up for school, the teachers and the headteacher should not presume that they have moved elsewhere, even if their carers or parents avow that that is the case. Discreet inquiries must be made.

In the same television programme that I mentioned, one girl described how she had been kept prisoner in her own room, hoping that someone would come knocking on the door of the family home to rescue her. None came. I believe that her school had been told that she had gone on holiday to Pakistan. It was, of course, no holiday. Not only was she marrying someone for whom she had no affection and who beat her; she had moved from English suburbia to a remote mountain village with very basic facilities, surrounded by her husband's kinsfolk while hers were back in England. That was a terrifying and isolating experience.

Repatriation is not an easy matter. A girl or boy might risk everything, sometimes even their lives, to free themselves from what is a slavish existence. There are safe havens, both abroad and here, but taking that step is a sign of not just courage but desperation on the part of the few who do so. I applaud those who assist them on that path.

I turn to the issue of legislation. To criminalise forced marriages per se is bad—it would be counterproductive. Much has been said about that already. However, criminal acts could take place in a forced marriage. Kidnapping prior to the marriage is a criminal act, and so is rape. It is not that there are no criminal acts that might take place, but the criminal law should not apply to the service itself.

I note the English legislation, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, to which John Lamont referred. However, it is pre-emptive, so I cannot see how it is much better than our law under the Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001. That act, which came from a committee bill, allows for interdict and interdict ad interim, and a power of arrest is attached. Much of what has been done in the 2007 English legislation is encased in the Scottish 2001 act. I am pleased that the Minister for Community Safety, with his legal background, will be responding to the debate, because I have some further questions.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

As far as I understand it, one of the big differences is that, in other parts of the United Kingdom, a third party can apply for an order. That is particularly important given the silencing and fear of those who are at the centre of the matter.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

That is a very fair point, which I hope will be developed by the minister. Johann Lamont might have caught me on that point, but that is fine—it is what a debate is for.

I refer to the situation of a forced marriage that takes place in Scotland. John Lamont is quite right that such marriages could be set aside in Scots law. Section 5(4)(d) of the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 says:

"there is a legal impediment to a marriage where ... one or both of the parties is or are incapable of understanding the nature of a marriage ceremony or of consenting to marriage".

A difficulty arises with regard to forced marriages beyond Scotland's jurisdiction, for which this Parliament cannot legislate, of course—the Parliament cannot legislate beyond its own constitutional walls. There are procedures for the recognition or otherwise of marriages abroad. How would legislation in Scotland change that? That is perhaps the hardest thing to crack. I look forward to hearing the minister's comments when he sums up.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour 4:24 pm, 4th December 2008

We have heard some details about what forced marriages are, and we recognise the differences between a forced, or coerced, marriage and an arranged marriage that is freely entered into by both parties. Family law in Scotland already makes a marriage void if consent to it is given under duress, but making a marriage void after the fact is not sufficient protection for young men and women, nor is it a sufficient deterrent for those who may believe that they are preserving cultural or religious traditions.

As has been said, there is legislation for offences such as threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, imprisonment and rape. I believe that we need to follow the UK example of having specific legislation against forced marriages. There is a need to send out a message.

Under the UK act, there will be forced marriage protection orders—court orders that require individuals to hand over passports, stop intimidation and violence and reveal the whereabouts of a person, and to stop someone being taken abroad. Failure to comply with an order could lead to imprisonment.

Experience shows that there are five situations when dealing with cases of forced marriage: a young person who fears they may be forced to marry in the UK or overseas; a report by a third party of a young person being taken abroad for the purpose of a forced marriage; a young person who has already been forced to marry; a young person being repatriated to the UK from overseas; and a spouse who has come to the UK from overseas. We must take each of those into consideration and ensure that resources are available to protect and support those involved.

I am the Equal Opportunities Committee's race reporter and I have a special interest in all subjects that touch on the peoples and customs of all races who live here in Scotland and beyond. Our aim in Scotland is to give everyone a fair chance in life regardless of their circumstances, gender, race, sexuality, age, disability, religion or belief. However, multicultural sensitivity is not an excuse for moral blindness. I know that we are working to counter such problems, but we must acknowledge that in communities throughout Scotland there are massive problems of prejudice, including serious violence against women—forced marriage can be seen to lie at the extreme end of that spectrum of violence. I appreciate the minister's acknowledgement of those problems. I also appreciate—I hope that it is recognised throughout the chamber—that forced marriage is used to control the sexuality of young girls and young boys; the situation of young gay and bisexual men cannot be ignored when we consider the issue.

I am following with interest the Justice Committee's deliberations on the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill. It is scrutinising the details of the proposed new definition of rape, which is that sexual intercourse without consent or free agreement is rape. It is also considering the situations in which there can be no free agreement to sexual intercourse. In that context, it seems irrefutable that the consummation of a forced marriage is rape, so it should be included in the bill. I would be interested to hear the minister's response to that point.

Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights, as reflected in the United Nations declarations—I welcome the recognition of that throughout the chamber.

I would like to draw a parallel with the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005, which the Equal Opportunities Committee scrutinised when the bill passed through Parliament during the previous session. That act makes it illegal to assist or arrange FGM, even if the crime of FGM takes place abroad. That is relevant to our consideration of how to deter forced marriages. If the 2005 act deters only one case of mutilation, it is worth the effort. Similarly, if new legislation on forced marriage stops one young person—a girl or a boy—from being coerced or forced into marriage, we are obliged to legislate.

I remind members that when it comes to such sensitive matters we should always be wary of taking evidence only from what we tend to call the usual suspects—who are often the gatekeepers of groups of unrepresented people. To balance that bias, Elaine Smith, as the Equal Opportunities Committee's gender reporter, took evidence on FGM in private from groups who would not be expected to respond to open public consultations. I commend that approach.

I welcome the reconvening of the forced marriage network meetings and look forward to the results of the consultation that has been launched today—and to the proposed confidential telephone surgery, which is a good idea.

I emphasise that the fact that there are few reported incidents does not mean that forced marriages do not happen—the figures that are quoted must be regarded as the tip of the iceberg. We need guidelines and training for social workers and other public sector workers so that they can be more aware of the risk factors and spot the early warning signs of young people who may be in danger of being forced to marry. Challenging forced marriage is everyone's responsibility.

I look forward to the minister outlining the Government's commitments on the issue and explaining how the UK practice guidelines will be replicated for Scotland.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 4:29 pm, 4th December 2008

I appreciate the opportunity to speak.

On 25 November, new laws came into force in the rest of the UK to prevent forced marriages and to protect those who have already fallen victim. Under the new legislation, victims, a friend or the police can apply for a forced marriage protection order—a court-assisted injunction that forbids actions such as taking people abroad for marriage, seizing passports or intimidating victims. It would also force family members to reveal a person's whereabouts. Penalties for breaching an order include up to two years' imprisonment.

The "Gender Equality Scheme: Annual Report 2008" noted that the Scottish Government was drafting a consultation paper on whether there is a need for additional civil legislation in Scotland. The Government said:

"We intend to publish the consultation in spring/summer 2008 and will re-establish the Forced Marriage Network to support the consultation and assist the development of the Government's future work on this issue."

I welcome the re-establishment of the forced marriage network, the Scottish Government's consideration of the issues and the possible introduction of similar measures, even though the timetable has clearly suffered from some slippage.

I appreciate that differences in family law in Scotland may mean that our approach needs to be different from that in other parts of the UK and that some legal protection already exists. My colleagues and I take the issue very seriously as part of the violence against women agenda, and I stress the importance of maintaining a comprehensive and coherent policy and strategy in addressing gender violence and abuse.

I am aware that some people would like a criminal law response but that others say that many victims would be reluctant to instigate criminal prosecutions. I remind members that the argument against the prosecution of domestic abuse was that women would not come forward, and that that turned out not to be true.

It should go without saying that the Scottish Government has an important role to play in the issue. We do not know how widespread the problem is, but it is safe to assume that it extends well beyond the cases that are recorded in the official statistics. The forced marriage unit, Shakti Women's Aid and other women's aid organisations carry statistics; one study showed that only one in 10 cases is reported.

As well as considering legislation, we must ensure that the work of women's aid groups is properly recognised and supported. To tackle forced marriage effectively, the Government should consider more funding for refuges and increase education. I too draw members' attention to today's demonstration by Scottish Women's Aid and Amnesty International regarding the no-recourse-to-public-funds rules, which make it difficult for victims of forced marriages to act.

I hope that the forced marriage network will play an important role in the consideration of Scottish Government action and that the consultation will be inclusive and widely publicised. I agree with Marlyn Glen that forced marriage is everyone's issue and that we all need to work hard to end it.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 4:33 pm, 4th December 2008

This has been an important debate about a sensitive issue. Bashir Ahmad was right to say that one forced marriage is one too many.

I thank all those who have assisted people who are affected by forced marriage, whether through the voluntary sector, the FCO's forced marriage unit or the Scottish Government's forced marriage network, which was set up by the previous Executive. Hugh O'Donnell and many other members have rightly called on the Government to consider the impact of potential funding difficulties on some of the groups in the sector because of the importance of their work in our communities.

We welcome the Scottish Government's announcement of further consultation on forced marriage as there has been a significant change since the previous consultation. Legislation elsewhere in the United Kingdom—the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007—targets forced marriages and creates a range of civil offences that cover not only those who force someone into a forced marriage but those who aid or abet the practice. Crucially, as we have heard, the act allows third parties to apply for court orders. That is an important feature.

I pay tribute to my Liberal Democrat colleague in the House of Lords, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who introduced the proposal to Parliament as a private member's bill and managed to persuade the UK Government to support it to become law. It was a good move on the Government's part to take the bill on and make the change happen.

I have my own views on the need for legislation, although I understand that we must listen to what emerges from the consultation. The 2007 act is important legislation; it provides victims with a range of civil remedies, which include injunctions, and compensation. The civil route could answer some of the concerns that respondents to previous consultations have expressed: that by making forced marriage a criminal offence we would be expecting somebody to give evidence against family members, which could result in their going to prison; and that it would force the practice to go even further underground. I have some sympathy with Cathy Peattie's point that similar arguments were made about domestic violence and sexual abuse in families. It is a dangerous line to take. I would far prefer to take a pragmatic approach and ask whether legislation or another approach is more likely to stamp out this abhorrent practice. That is the key question.

Forced marriage is undoubtedly a complex legal matter, as Marlyn Glen and others have made clear. We must ask whether separate legislation is required or whether existing common law, legislation on protection from abuse or family law—or, indeed, proposed legislation on sexual offences—might cover it adequately. John Lamont made interesting points about voiding marriages, but it is fundamental that any legislation or any further action that we take be focused on preventing forced marriages rather than ensuring that we are able to do something about a forced marriage after the fact.

An element of the debate is reminiscent of some of the arguments that were used during the discussion of the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill. It was argued that emergency workers who are assaulted can be protected by common law, but there was also a genuine feeling that the people who protect us require specific legislative protection from us and that, in introducing that legislation, the Parliament would highlight the problem, raise awareness and make clear its utter contempt for those who perpetrate such attacks. Similar arguments can be made for legislating on forced marriage.

Many members, including Bashir Ahmad and the minister, have made clear the difference between forced marriages and arranged marriages. Arranged marriages are an integral and acceptable part of the culture of many of our fellow citizens. It is essential that we make it clear that an arranged marriage in which both parties give their full and free consent is different from a forced marriage, in which an individual is coerced to marry. It is every person's human right to be allowed to choose whom they marry and when—or, indeed, not to marry. Forced marriage is a gross abuse of the individual's human rights and cannot and must not be condoned or apologised for in any way.

As Johann Lamont and Christine Grahame said, living in a forced marriage is deeply distressing and many who do so suffer serious depression as a result. Those who decide to leave a forced marriage find it incredibly difficult to come to terms with the situation, and it takes a huge amount of courage. They are compelled to cut family ties and start out alone. For many people, there are other aspects to the abuse: research has shown that an element of domestic abuse is involved in about 25 per cent of forced marriages.

I understand that the debate is being held partly as an aspect of our recognition of the 16 days of action on violence against women. Although it is true that the vast majority of victims of forced marriage are women, many are young men. Often, forced marriages are used as a means of controlling sexuality, including homosexuality. Many individuals are compelled into marriage in the belief that it will stop them pursuing relationships that are considered unsuitable. There is no standard victim of forced marriage.

The sad fact is that we do not know the extent of the problem. The Council of British Pakistanis Scotland believes that one Asian woman in 10 in Scotland was forced to marry. A great deal of work is being done to help those who are subjected to the practice, such as the good work of the forced marriage unit. We need to take a pragmatic approach to doing whatever will best tackle the problem and support the people who need our help. We need an approach that not only encourages people to speak out and can prevent forced marriages from taking place but provides assistance to those who have been forced into marriage and need to get out. The safety and welfare of the victims of forced marriage must be the primary concern.


The secret family court Cafcass mediator tried to force me into a relationship with the man who raped me and made me pregnant.

Is there any chance that the Government will do anything to protect the victims of rape? It's not good to be treated in such an appalling way.

Submitted by barbara richards

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 4:39 pm, 4th December 2008

The Conservative group will support the Government motion at decision time.

There is contradictory evidence, as we have heard in the debate, about the number of cases of forced marriage, but it cannot be denied that one case is one too many, as Bashir Ahmad said, and requires us to respond. In the interests of fairness I should say that the Westminster Government has come up with a praiseworthy response to the problem.

In taking action, we should be aware that a number of difficulties might arise. There is no doubt that most allegations relate to events furth of our shores. Quite frequently, young girls have been persuaded or deceived into going to a foreign country—usually Pakistan or Bangladesh, given the evidence—where they have been forced into marriage. If, after the consultation exercise, the Government decides to legislate on the matter, there might be evidential difficulties in subsequent proceedings. However, that does not mean that we should not consider legislating.

The Home Office working group on forced marriage, which was set up a number of years ago, collected a great deal of evidence. Some is of only historical import, but some remains relevant. There is evidence that the problem, however big it is, is increasing, and it seems that unscrupulous individuals are using forced marriages to get by immigration and visa rules.

It is quite clear that no one can say that forced marriages are part of a particular group's culture or religious belief. During the Justice Committee's consideration of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, the term "free will" has generated interest and concern. It cannot be argued that the kinds of marriages that we are discussing involve even the narrowest concept of free will or are acceptable. I have been unable to find evidence of any religion, whether we are talking about Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Hinduism or Judaism, in which the term "free will" would not apply to a marriage. A marriage can take place only on the basis of the free will of the two parties; it must be consensual. Therefore, people who are involved in forced marriages cannot claim the protection of religious belief or cultural habit in their country of origin. That makes such marriages all the more unacceptable.

This is not a debate on violence against women, but it would be naive to suggest that violence is not an element in a great many forced marriages. Women who enter into such marriages, who are usually of tender years, can find themselves in a physically abusive relationship, and many instances of extreme violence have been catalogued.

What are the motives behind forced marriages? Sometimes they are to do with family honour or a long-standing family commitment. Sometimes the issue is controlling behaviour. A parent might not want their daughter to be with a person of whom they do not approve—many parents in quite normal circumstances have experienced those feelings from time to time, and I include myself in that category—but there is no justification for controlling behaviour that results in a forced marriage, which some people use to circumvent this country's quite proper regulations in respect of immigration and visa procedures.

Members have eloquently described the consequences of forced marriages, which can be extremely severe—physical violence, emotional pressure and deep depression and unhappiness has in many cases culminated in the suicide of the victim.

It is early days yet; the consultation process has hardly begun. I know that the Government will look closely at the results of the consultation. If it is felt that there is a need to legislate, there will be a degree of sympathy throughout Parliament for that. It is not a route that is without problems and pitfalls, but it might be the way in which we have to go in order to right a very real wrong.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 4:45 pm, 4th December 2008

It is a reflection on how far we have come that there is consensus that this matter is serious and appropriate for public debate and political action. We have come a long way from the time when agencies regarded such matters as being purely domestic, private and nothing to do with them. The irony in saying that forced marriage involves a violation of human rights is that there are at the heart of the matter people who have no awareness that they have a human right to say no, and no capacity to resist something that they see as being expected of them. It is a comfort to us that we are now able at least to recognise that it is a subject for public concern and action, and that many people in our communities would support such action.

At the heart of much of the work that we do, we must place ways of supporting people by reaching out to individuals and speaking to them about the issues that affect their families in language that they understand, rather than by putting up posters on the walls of places where they might go to seek help.

On domestic abuse, it makes me shudder to think that, when I was in the public services, we needed to help a woman who was fleeing violence by getting her a mobile telephone number that would not show up on a telephone bill. That shows just how frightened people must get. We have to think about factors like that when we are shaping services.

We do not know the number of people about whom we are talking. As happened with domestic abuse, when we start to talk about the issue and give people confidence, the figures will go up. That, perhaps, is a matter that we must reflect on.

I welcome the consultation, because it is my instinct to support legislation. Indeed, when consultation was being undertaken at UK level, I was surprised at the consultation responses that expressed the view that forced marriage should not be criminalised, and called for civil legislation. I respected those arguments, which were made by people whom I trusted and who feared what would happen if forced marriage were criminalised. However, I stress that we should not close the door fully on legislation, because it might be that we realise in time that civil measures are not sufficient.

I ask the minister to reflect on the points that Marlyn Glen made about the implications of our approach to this issue for legislation that is currently going through Parliament or with which we might deal in the future.

I want to reinforce the points that were made about the distinction between arranged marriage and forced marriage. We should not overstate the prevalence of forced marriage and we should not afford certain people the opportunity to stigmatise whole communities by focusing on a practice that is anathema to most people in those communities. Although I would obviously commend the Labour Government for the action that it took, I recognise the work of others in this field, and I acknowledge how powerful it is when people such as Mohammed Sarwar and Bashir Ahmad speak up on these issues, because their doing so refutes the argument that whole communities are at fault, rather than a small section of those communities.

There is a debate about whether we should rely on education or legislation, but our approach cannot involve only one or the other; it must involve everything. We must use the legislative route to provide protection, but we must also work with communities and young people to give them confidence to resist.

Earlier, I made the point that it is not enough just to aspire and that we must will the means to deliver. We have to have resources for specialist groups who can speak within those communities, but we also have to train teachers and youth workers in the main stream who can listen and act to support young people in particular who are vulnerable and who need to be reassured that they are able to resist their families' wishes.

I urge the minister to consider the questions that I asked earlier. What does he consider to be the role of the national group to address violence against women? How is the Government discussing local outcomes with COSLA and community planning partnerships? How is it asking them to assess the resources that would be required to support that work? When will guidance on the equality aspects of single outcome agreements be available? Answers to those questions are critical to allaying people's fears that there is not sufficient recognition of the challenge that this work presents while the process is ongoing.

I urge the minister to be creative—as other members have suggested—in how he consults, and to recognise that the conclusions that he reaches will not be the last word, but will be a critically important word in respect of supporting people who find themselves in such circumstances.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 4:50 pm, 4th December 2008

I welcome this afternoon's wide-ranging debate, and the cross-party support and commitment to eradicating forced marriage and other forms of honour-based violence—perhaps I should say so-called honour-based violence—and violence against women.

There have been a number of excellent speeches this afternoon, and I pay tribute to members who have campaigned on the issues for many years, during the two previous sessions of Parliament as well as the current session—Gil Paterson, for example, who has not been able to speak today.

What we know from the statistics is the tip of the iceberg, so the challenge remains huge and the necessity for action is clear. Cathy Peattie said that we might learn of only one case in 10 because the rest are not reported. We simply do not know how big the iceberg is, but we know that it is lurking beneath the surface, representing unreported violence against women. Each woman who faces the awful predicament of violence against her, and who is afraid to report it, is in a truly nightmarish situation.

I will respond to some of the many points that members have made during the debate, starting with Johann Lamont. She has, as members know, campaigned on these issues for a long time—long before she was first elected to Parliament, if that is not an ungallant way to put it. She mentioned single outcome agreements. They are, in a sense, toddlers—they are in their infancy in the historic concordat. National outcome 7 is:

"We have tackled the significant inequalities in Scottish society."

We expect that councils will address that in their single outcome agreements.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does the minister agree that there is a difference between giving people certainty that something will happen, and expecting people to make it happen? There is concern that the issue has been deprioritised, and that the Scottish Government is not acting to ensure that such matters are included in single outcome agreements.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

There is a difference between the two prospects, but I certainly do not accept that the issue has been in any way deprioritised, nor do I accept that any council of any political hue would wish to deprioritise the issues—the situation is quite the contrary. From my work with Ronnie McColl, Harry McGuigan and Barbara Grant, I know that we have good relationships with all parties in our dealings with senior COSLA spokespeople. It is important that we work in partnership on all these matters.

It is also relevant to point out that we have substantially increased the funding that is committed over the three-year period to tackle the abomination that is violence against women—and men, but primarily women—to £44 million. That is a major contribution, and it is fair to say that it is a very substantial increase.

Many members talked about the difference between forced marriage and arranged marriage, and implied that they are in some way antonyms. The difference is the lack of consent. As Bashir Ahmad, John Lamont and others pointed out, there is consent in an arranged marriage but none in a forced marriage. Bill Aitken said that he could think of no religion that favours forced marriages and it was useful to hear Bashir Ahmad state that Islam has no place for forced marriages. As Johann Lamont did, I applaud people such as Bashir Ahmad and Mohammad Sarwar for making their views known and for providing leadership on such issues to their communities and their constituents.

Many members, including Margaret Smith, Christine Grahame and Johann Lamont, pointed out the difference between UK legislation and current Scots law. I must admit that I pinched myself—I had never heard Christine Grahame say that she stood corrected by Johann Lamont. That reflects the consensual tone of the debate. Johann Lamont was correct to say that the difference is that the position in UK law—the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007—is that third parties can apply for orders on behalf of a victim of a forced marriage. Powers of arrest can also be directed against others, not just against the principal perpetrator named in the order. In Scotland, on the other hand, only the victim can apply for an interdict and power of arrest, and those are enforceable only against the person named in the interdict.

I am pleased that we are launching the consultation paper today and I restate the Government's commitment to this agenda. We are clear about the basis for our work—it is correct to consider the broader agenda of violence against women. We will not overlook violence against men, although more work needs to be done. We will consider the influence of alcohol, which is not a cause for violence but an excuse. It exacerbates violence and records show that alcohol is central in a high proportion of reported domestic abuse incidents.

I pay tribute to the 218 project in Glasgow, which I visited earlier this year. It provides a specialist multidisciplinary facility for women aged 18 years and over who are involved in the criminal justice system and may have co-existing addiction issues. That facility plays a great role in assisting victims of domestic violence. I pay particular tribute to all those who do excellent work at the project, which is at 218 Bath Street, Glasgow.

I turn to the consultation paper. Many members asked whether there should be a specific criminal offence relating to forced marriage. I remind members that, as is stated in paragraph 3 of the consultation paper, a previous joint consultation between the UK and the Scottish Government yielded mixed results: 39.4 per cent of Scottish respondents were against the creation of a new offence while 36.4 per cent were in favour. The balance of opinion today suggests that more MSPs are against criminalisation than are for it, although one or two members have argued that the door to criminalisation should not be closed. In the 19 questions that Stewart Maxwell has asked in his consultation paper, the focus is on the civil approach rather than on the criminal approach.

I recently read a crime novel by an Icelandic novelist called Indridason—a novel I thoroughly recommend—on domestic violence. Because of the paucity of my research, I do not have a quote to offer members, but the book says that victims of domestic violence suffer not only because of the violence against them but because they lose their souls. I feel that that offers an interesting perspective on the predicament of many people who face this awful fate, which is meted out to them by others.

I conclude by echoing a phrase that was picked up more than any other by members this evening. Bashir Ahmad expressed a sentiment that I think we all share: one forced marriage in Scotland is one too many.