PROPOSALS to tighten rules for foreigners wanting to get married
received a cross-party welcome when the Government's Immigration
Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday
Introducing the Bill, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that
"between 4000 and 10,000 applications to stay in the UK are made on
the basis of a sham marriage or sham civil partnership" each
"Registration officials already have a duty to report suspected
sham marriages and sham civil partnerships to the Home Office," she
said. "At the moment we have the ridiculous situation whereby we
cannot always stop a marriage or civil partnership that a registrar
believes to be a sham. The current 15-day notice period provides
very little time for the Home Office to act before the ceremony
The number of suspected sham marriages being reported had risen
in recent years, Mrs May said, with 1891 reports in 2012.
The Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said that she welcomed
"stronger action against sham marriages". She said: "Like the
Government, we listened to the concerns of registrars about cases
where they feared abuse but had too little time to ensure that
investigations took place."
The Conservative MP for Thurrock, Jackie Doyle-Price,
highlighted the part played by the Rector of St John the Baptist,
Tilbury Docks, the Revd Tim Codling, in tackling sham marriages in
her "very ethnically diverse" constituency" (News,
10 September 2010).
The priest "was very brave in taking this on because, as he
would articulate, once the licences have been issued, the priest is
under an absolute obligation to undertake the marriage," she said.
"However, having seen the same ill-fitting wedding dress a number
of times, he smelled a rat. . . It was a very scary concept for
him, because this was an organised criminal gang and he felt very
intimidated, as did many of the brides. It was clearly a great
She said that "a great debt of gratitude" was owed to the priest
"for participating in that police sting to bring the perpetrators
to book. It is estimated that they had organised more than 30 sham
marriages in that church in Tilbury alone. This is a shining
example to everyone involved, showing that we should bring people
to book when these things happen."
But not everybody welcomed the measures. The Labour MP for Hayes
and Harlington, John McDonnell, described the Bill as "racist", and
said that it was "not about good governance or the long-term
interests of the country". He said: "I fear for our long-term
interests if we are to be governed by prejudice in this way. I
abhor the society that the Bill seeks to create.
"Nearly 50 per cent of my constituents are black or people of
colour. The Bill will mean that any person who is black, is of
colour, or who just looks foreign will be challenged. They will be
challenged by bank managers and landlords, and by the vicar if they
want to get married. They will also be challenged if they apply for
legal aid. I find that offensive."
The Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, Stephen
Phillips, replied that it was "disappointing" that some MPs had
focused on issues of race. "It is a great shame that we continue to
have a debate about immigration in which race plays such a large
part. . . It is immigration we are talking about today, in
particular unlawful or illegal immigration. We should be discussing
that and nothing else."
The Home Office predicts that the measures in the Bill would
deter up to 10 per cent of sham marriages and civil partnerships in
its first year; rising to 60 per cent by the fifth year of
At the conclusion of the Second Reading debate - a general
debate about the Bill as a whole - 303 MPs voted in favour with
just 18 against. The Bill now moves to its Committee stage for
detailed clause-by-clause scrutiny, which will be completed by 19