Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill

10th July 2007

Brooks Newmark welcomes the Bill and the support it has received, but raises concerns about its effectiveness when many of the women it aims to protect are very young, cannot speak English and have no social or family network in the UK.


9.15 pm

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I have been delighted to listen to many of the speeches that have been made in this debate. Clearly, there is enormous cross-party support for the Bill. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) on highlighting this important issue and bringing it to the attention not only of Members of this House but to the wider community.

I will be fairly brief, but I wish to make several points to the hon. and learned Solicitor-General, whose opinion I always appreciate. First, I want to try to understand, from her point of view, the spectrum that has been highlighted during the debate between forced marriage, arranged marriage, matchmaking and the general psychological pressure that is sometimes put on young women to get married. As the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) said, forced marriage often goes hand in hand with violence against women in a symbiotic relationship. Another problem with forced marriages is that of women becoming a form of quasi-forced labour. A lot of the young women who come from abroad have no social or family network. They are brought into this country as a form of slave labour for the household-sometimes, unfortunately, for the mother-in-law, who views her as an adjunct to the family merely as unpaid labour. The hon. Member for Solihull said that sometimes those young girls become, in effect, sexual slaves. That is a big problem, because they have nobody to protect them. I hope that the Bill will go some way towards dealing with the three abuses-violence, slave labour and sexual slavery-that these girls have to deal with when they are brought into this country through forced marriages.

I still find it difficult to distinguish between forced marriage, arranged marriage, and psychological pressure. How does one define a forced marriage? As we heard earlier, many women come under enormous psychological pressure to go into a marriage. Is that a forced marriage? If not, why not? Perhaps the Minister can clarify those points.

Secondly, strong community relations are key to this. While there are many benefits to multiculturalism, perhaps one of the unintended consequences has been the prevalence of forced marriage in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) observed that there are 5,000 such cases; there would have been far fewer 10 years ago. Strong community relations play a key role, and communication is critical. It is important that the infrastructure is in place and that there is a facility to help women caught up in forced marriages to find an easy way out of the trap in which they find themselves. That does not mean we must have a society into which people from different ethnic backgrounds feel they have to assimilate; we need an integrated society in which we respect others' cultures and backgrounds without making them assimilate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley made an important point about language. As people come into this country, it is important that there is far more encouragement for them to adopt its mother tongue, which is English, so that they can integrate, if not assimilate. Learning English is important because if they have a problem with their marriage, they should be able to communicate, in English, any problem to the facility that the Bill seeks to introduce.

Mr. Malins: I am most intrigued by my hon. Friend's observations about the way in which to distinguish a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. The definition in the Bill refers to force, including coercion

"by threats or other psychological means",

whatever that means. What about the situation where there is family pressure for an arranged marriage? Would it not be rather difficult to decide whether that meant it was a forced marriage?

Mr. Newmark: That was very much the point I was trying to make at the beginning of my speech, to tease out from the Solicitor-General how she distinguishes arranged marriages where psychological pressures are created by families at home. They may not come from wealthy backgrounds, and financial pressure may be put on people to get involved in a marriage that ultimately becomes unwelcome and, in many ways, abusive. We want to try to prevent such situations through the Bill.

I want to return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) made during his speech on the importance of judiciary training. There is no point in introducing legislation to deal with this sensitive issue without ensuring not only that people have proper training to understand the variety of issues that those who go through forced marriages deal with, but that the numbers are there. Will people who have judicial training be required to learn a foreign language, so that they can communicate with some of the young ladies who are being abused?

My fourth point relates to what the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said about empowering the victim. Many of the women in question are very young and have no family network in this country. I am perplexed as to how we can empower somebody who cannot communicate, and has found themselves in a trap-in a family who may well coalesce around the husband and protect him. They might be abusing that young person, and there might not be a mechanism by which the young woman can escape from the trap in which she finds herself.

Lorely Burt: Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. His colleague, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), talked about the wideness of the definition of those able to intervene. I am hoping that if an individual finds themselves in such a circumstance, the Bill will enable a friend, social worker or someone to whom they have gone for help to intervene on their behalf by virtue of the wideness of that definition.

Mr. Newmark: I understand the spirit in which the hon. Lady makes her point, but the reality is that many of those young women feel trapped in their homes. Many do not get out even to do the shopping. They have no social network in which to communicate with anybody, even extended members of the family, let alone social workers or other parties who could try to help them. That is the Bill's weakness.

Who is the relevant third party, who will make the application? If there is no way for the individual to communicate, no social network and no social worker with whom to interact, and the position is compounded because the family gangs up on her as she becomes increasingly unhappy, a problem develops. I suspect that, although one, two, half-a-dozen or even 500 women may escape and go to the courts to ask for help, probably 10 times that number cannot escape. I believe that that problem will continue to exist.

Although I support the Bill, and it is great that there is cross-party support for dealing with such an important issue, I believe that there are many outstanding questions, which I hope that the Solicitor-General will now clarify.

9.26 pm


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