HL Deb 28 June 1995 vol 565 cc748-50

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Sharpies asked Her Majesty's Government:

What advice is given to registrars concerning the reporting of marriages which may he bogus.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, superintendent registrars are instructed to send a report to the Registrar General where they have good reason to suspect that a proposed marriage has been arranged for the sole purpose of evading statutory immigration controls. If the Registrar General is satisfied that the marriage is purely one of convenience, then the facts will passed on to the Home Office.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can she say how many people are involved? Would it be possible for the so-called immigration consultancies to be licensed so as to prevent the exploitation of many immigrants who wish to settle in this country?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I understand that last year there were 470 suspected marriages of convenience, of which 404 were passed to the Home Office. With regard to the licensing issue, I understand that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is actively reviewing the immigration rules concerning bogus marriages. I am sure that this is one issue which he would wish to take into account.

Lord Rea

My Lords, are the Government to ask registrars of marriages to act as informal informers for the Home Office? Their real job is to establish a good rapport with couples before and during the civil ceremony. Will the registrars perhaps be offered performance-related pay according to the number of so-called bogus marriages that they unearth? Surely the problem should be tackled by using approaches other than asking registrars of marriages to give information.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, a lot of quips are made about marriage. I was told one at the weekend—"Where there's a will, there's a relation"! I do not believe that that is the case. For some people this is a very serious matter. There are people who want to gain access to this country, and I can understand why. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is considering this issue at the moment. The noble Lord has a point; superintendent registrars are not there to do the policing for the Home Office. This difficult issue is being actively addressed.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the category of marriages which "may be" bogus is somewhat short on precision? Will she bear in mind the case of my late great Uncle Henry, then Lord Stanley of Alderley? He was married three times to the same woman and, when he died, it turned out that he was not married at all! Will the Minister accept that the noble Lord acted in perfectly good faith?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am distraught that 1 did not know this great Uncle Henry. He obviously had tremendous charms.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, my relatives declared the marriage bogus after the death of our mutual great uncle so that they could get the jewellery back. Is the noble Baroness aware that 404 cases is a very small number, and by no means justifies the hysteria about bogus marriages that has been whipped up in parts of the popular press? Can she say how many of the 404 cases reported to the Home Office resulted in prosecutions and how many people were subsequently convicted?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have that information. I know that last year 17,000 people applied to remain in this country on the basis that they are married to a person who is settled here or that they are a British citizen. The noble Lord may have a very good point when he says that the issue has been whipped up. However, it should he addressed. Feelings on the matter are very strong, and it is quite right that my right honourable friend should address them. We should hear something before the Recess.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it would be logical for the Home Secretary also to consider those cases that represent genuine marriages with people in other countries who have waited for many years and who have a legitimate right to live in this country? Will she seek to ensure that her right honourable friend the Home Secretary will review the procedure in those cases as well?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, an overseas national who is in the United Kingdom gains no automatic entitlement to remain here simply by marrying a British citizen or a person settled here. There are people who wish to try to gain access to this country and who perhaps have no intention of marrying and remaining married except for this one particular purpose. We do not believe that that is a legitimate way to gain access to this country, and therefore the matter needs to he addressed.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, with respect, that was not my question.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am sorry if I did not answer the noble Baroness. If the case is genuine, then there is not an issue. Indeed, certain conditions are laid down to ensure that cases are genuine. A person coming to this country must not, for instance, he a burden on the state. A number of different conditions apply. I will certainly write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the outbreak of the last war my father entered into a marriage of convenience with a lady of German extraction who was of the Jewish faith in order to prevent her being sent back to Nazi Germany? Does the Minister condemn or condone such action?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I find that an impossible case to answer. One has to look into the details. Perhaps I may simply say that I married at 17; it was the best decision I ever made, and it has been very successful.