30 May 2007

"Tough [illegal] rules expose scale of bogus marriages"

by By Duncan Gardham in The Telegraph 16/05/05

"Since the Asylum and Immigration Act came into force in February [2005] the number of marriage applications at some offices has dropped by 60 per cent.

........ Mark Rimmer, the superintendent registrar at Brent, north-west London, who is on a Government working group, said: 'There has been a significant decrease throughout London.

"In Brent we have seen a huge decrease - 60 per cent in February and March. It is nothing short of remarkable. We had suspicions about roughly 20 per cent of marriages but we could only report them where we had concrete evidence. It now seems that figure was an underestimation.

"The decrease in applications has been significantly higher and that suggests, perhaps, that the estimate of bogus marriages was a gross underestimate."

.......... Karen Knapton, the general secretary of the Society of Registration Officers, said: "If people really want to get married they will persevere but the new regulations have highlighted the scale of bogus marriages. Register offices, especially in London, have been very quiet.

"We have been asking what nationality applicants are for two years but we have been aware that crime rings have been making a lot of money out of sham marriages.

"It has been no fun when we know people have been using marriage to get around immigration laws. It has made a mockery of our job."

Now [May 2007] that the Court of Appeal has held that the rules the Home Office brought in to stem the flow of bogus marriages are illegal, and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill is proposing remedies for forced marriages, surely it is high time to take a holistic view marriage and of the plight of Registrars rather than just a piecemeal view relating to some minority groups?

Let us return to what Ruth Kelly said in 2002:

"In our White Paper, [Delivering Vital Change] the Government explained that the registration service is ideally placed to act as a focal point for information about services associated with births, deaths and marriages, such as ........ marriage preparation ...... I believe that there is a genuine opportunity for local authorities to develop those services innovatively to meet the needs of their communities, now and in future. A wider role for the registration service will improve on the current piecemeal approach by local authorities and will be underpinned by the proposed national standards."

Nobody needs to eat their words, just get on with Delivering Vital Change!

28 May 2007

"........ demand that the Conservatives introduce strong pro-family policies"

by Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail

"The problem for Cameron is this: there are much more important decisions coming up over the course of the next 12 months, and this week’s grammar school row simply opens the question whether he has the strength to push them through.

In December, Iain Duncan Smith’s Social Justice Commission is due to bring to a culmination two years’ dedicated work into the causes of crime in Britain.

It is likely that Duncan Smith (whose former lieutenant Tim Montgomerie has been a leading protagonist of the grammar school revolt) will identify family breakdown as the main cause of social collapse, and demand that the Conservatives introduce strong pro-family policies.

If so, David Cameron will be forced to choose between offending Conservative activists, and offending conventional opinion. If he fails to rally behind the traditional values of support for the family, he will face an internal row many times bigger than the one over grammar schools."

David Cameron has said the Conservatives must support marriage and the family, but - so far - there has been no sign through Conservative controlled local authorities that they are actually doing anything now specifically towards this.

The LGA [Local Government Association] has not been demanding that the ONS or its successor publish a Social Capital Index like the Retail Price Index, so that changes in social and domestic cohesion by neighbourhood can be measured by local community leaders and in order that local authorities can be ranked in terms of the improvements that are being made.

Shadow Conservative Ministers are not proposing amendments to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill to promote healthy marriages and to prevent bogus marriages from taking place.

Thus far, action - or, rather, inaction - belies the words.

It is true that the Conservatives are hinting at tax breaks for married couples with families. But they have made such proposals before in the election manifesto only to drop them again before subsequent elections, so why should anyone believe them? When pro-family policies are being implemented by Conservative local authorities, the necessary credentials will start to emerge.

David Cameron is right to be talking about social responsibility, but he will only be believed when the Conservatives demonstrate that they want social and domestic cohesion to be measured, otherwise it is an empty phrase. People want to see where social capital is being built up and what programmes are helping to achieve it.

If the Conservatives don't want to measure social capital and aren't prepared to promote any programmes when the opportunities arise - such as by proposing amendments to the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill and the Statistics and Registration Service Bill - for improving marriage and family life, electors are going to remain sceptical about whether Conservative hearts are really in the issue and their stomachs ready for the fight.

Peter Oborne is correct in saying:

"If he [David Cameron] fails to rally behind the traditional values of support for the family, he will face an internal row many times bigger than the one over grammar schools."

26 May 2007

Rules to stop 'sham' marriages unlawful

By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor - Daily Telegraph

"Tough rules to stop illegal immigrants using sham marriages to get in to the country were declared unlawful by the Appeal Court yesterday. Judges said regulations brought in two years ago to block thousands of alleged ''marriages of convenience'' breached human rights laws............
The Appeal Court - upholding an earlier High Court ruling - said this was a "disproportionate interference'' in the human right to marry. Lord Justice Buxton said the scheme could only be lawful if it prevented sham marriages intended to improve the immigration status of one of the parties. "To be proportionate, a scheme must either properly investigate individual cases or at least show that it has come close to isolating cases that very likely fall into the target category,'' said Lord Buxton. "It must also show that the marriages targeted do indeed make substantial inroads into the enforcement of immigration control."

Much of the problem is caused the the Government's failure to adopt a holistic approach towards couple relationships. It presents a hostile attitude towards every aspect of marriage. Instead of trying to promote 'healthy marriages', like the Americans, the UK Government is trying merely to prevent bogus marriages, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy etc..

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill needs an amendment [see earlier posts]. Engaged couples should be invited by Registrars to complete an internationally approved programme of marriage preparation such as one of those that meet the criteria of the US government's Healthy Marriage Initiative. At least 2 are available in the UK.

The judges said the Home Office was within its rights to stop sham marriages but it would need to legislate in "a proportionate manner". They said that could mean properly investigating individual cases.

If a couple decline to participate in one of the approved marriage preparation programmes suggested by a Registrar or member of the clergy and the celebrant is suspicious the proposed marriage is bogus, he/she would be behaving in "a proportionate manner" in declining to marry the couple and in referring the matter to the Home Secretary.

21 May 2007

"The love of a good woman" - by Revd Dr Alan Billings

Thought for the Day, 21 May 2007 by Rev Dr Alan Billings

I recently visited a Young Offender Institution. I talked to older teenage lads about their life before custody, to which they would soon return. Even allowing for exaggeration, their stories were disturbing - families without fathers, abuse and violence, absences from school, gangs and drugs. I asked one of the prison officers - whose whole life had been in the Prison Service - what he thought was powerful enough to change the patterns of behaviour they described. His answer took me by surprise. I thought he might say, 'They need to learn basic educational and social skills', or, 'They need a job' - both of which are important. But, after pausing, he said, 'I only know two things that are that powerful: the love of a good woman and religion'. He had seen young men change because they wanted to keep the love of a girl who didn't want a boyfriend whose behaviour got him into trouble with the law. He had seen others change under the influence of a religious faith. I should add that he had no idea that I was a priest. Now, although I don't doubt the truth of what he said, it does present those who are concerned in any way with policy-making with a difficulty. There is no way that the Youth Justice Board or the Prison Service can supply either girlfriends or religion.

But the Youth Justice Board and the Prison Service - and schools and youth groups - can provide access to tools - like talk2me - together with mentors who can help young people make sensible choices. Those who do are more likely to attract "the love of a good woman " and in doing so they are also more likely to find "religion".

16 May 2007

Education: Community Cohesion - Schools told to bring parents together

Education: Community Cohesion - Schools told to bring parents together by Nancy Rowntree, 16 May 2007 in Children Now.

"Schools will need to work with parents to improve community cohesion under Government guidelines published last week.

Draft guidance on the new duty to promote community cohesion, which comes into force in September, outlines how schools must bring parents from different backgrounds together, as well as pupils.

The guidance says schools need to consider good partnership activities including "bringing parents from different backgrounds together through parenting and family support and community use of facilities for activities that take place out of school hours".......

Meanwhile parenting groups welcomed the proposals to get parents more involved. Jan Fry, deputy chief executive of Parentline Plus, welcomed the proposals to bring different communities together but said it must be done in a sensitive way. "I would hope that schools would partner with community groups in order to make it work," she said. "And schools taking this on by themselves is a huge responsibility, particularly if there is no extra funding for outreach work."

This is an opportunity for Community Family Trusts which are trying to build up local social capital to introduce schools to services that will help to develop social and domestic cohesion through parenting courses and assessment tools such as talk2me.

talk2me is a tool for measuring progress in social and emotional education in line with the Every Child Matters agenda which can also be used with parents.