4 Mar 2007

"Blair U-turn over forced marriages" - The Observer 4th March 2007

Some excellent news in The Observer:

"Tony Blair is to back moves to make forced marriages illegal. The move, a U-turn in government policy, will ensure the introduction of a new law [Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill] enshrining powerful rights for victims, many of them under age, who have been compelled to marry against their will.

The Prime Minister's change of heart, revealed in an exclusive interview with The Observer, means that legislation introduced in the Lords by the Liberal Democratic peer, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, will obtain the government backing it has previously been denied."

'We listened to what people were saying,' Blair said. 'I was told we were in the wrong place on this, that the bill should be supported and that we should think again. I reflected and realised that, if you approach the problem through civil law, it's very sensible. It [forced marriage] is a terrible thing.'

Very rarely do Governments support Bills by private Members of Parliament. Even more rarely do they back down from a position of opposition. So, 'two cheers' for the Prime Minister for this - thus far.

There is more joy in heaven etc....

The next question is will HMG back the amendment that I am proposing should be added to Lord Lester's Bill?

I am suggesting two additional clauses should be added to section 2 of the draft Bill concerning 'guidance', which starts with 2 (a) the difference between arranged and forced marriage:

(e) the opportunities and advantages for the parties to protect themselves and each other against any possible accusations about the marriage being one that is forced or bogus by participating together in a research-based educational programme of marriage preparation - including an independently validated psychometric inventory - to assist them in confirming to the Registrar or deputy Registrar the voluntary nature of their commitment to the marriage.

(f) the advantage of obtaining a certificate from the facilitator of the programme of marriage preparation that they have satisfactorily completed both the educational programme and the inventory.

And the question after that is will HMG support the amendment that I am proposing should be added to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill?

The opportunity arises with the Statistics and Registration Service Bill to insert a clause for publishing a Social Capital Index. There is already a clause [19] to provide for the Retail Price Index. My proposal is:

[20] Social capital index
(1) The Board must under section 18
(a) compile and maintain a social capital index by neighbourhood, and
(b) publish it regularly, together with
(c) statistics and an index for social and domestic cohesion.

The amended Bills would have the effect of:

(1 ) enabling local authorities which decide to follow the guidance to train registration officers to introduce marrying couples to the benefits to them of undertaking an approved programme of marriage preparation, and
(2) measure the changes by neighbourhood in social and domestic cohesion as a result of the LA's policy and the marriage education programmes local voluntary groups are providing.

The US government has sponsored a Healthy Marriage Initiative and included a list of approved assessment tools. Two of these psychometric inventories - FOCCUS [which I and Marriage Care and Scottish Marriage Care provide] and PREPARE are widely available in the UK.

Please see Criteria for Inclusion of Relationship Assessment Tools on the National Healthy Marriage Web site.

No comments: