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Written Statements

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 24 February 2005

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Written Statements The First Written Statement Should Have Been Printed On 23 February

Thursday 24 February 2005

Royal Marriage

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

In the light of recent interest in the law surrounding Royal marriages, I am making this Statement to set out in more detail the view that has been taken by the Government on the lawfulness of the proposed marriage between the Prince of Wales and Mrs Parker Bowles.The Government are satisfied that it is lawful for the Prince of Wales and Mrs Parker Bowles, like anyone else, to marry by a civil ceremony in accordance with Part III of the Marriage Act 1949.Civil marriages were introduced in England, by the Marriage Act 1836. Section 45 said that the Act " … shall not extend to the marriage of any of the Royal Family".But the provisions on civil marriage in the 1836 Act were repealed by the Marriage Act 1949. All remaining parts of the 1836 Act, including Section 45, were repealed by the Registration Service Act 1953. No part of the 1836 Act therefore remains on the statute book.The Marriage Act 1949 re-enacted and re-stated the law on marriage in England and Wales. The Act covered both marriage by Church of England rite, and civil marriage. It did not repeat the language of Section 45 of the 1836 Act. Instead, Section 79(5) of the 1949 Act says that "Nothing in this Act shall affect any law or custom relating to the marriage of members of the Royal Family".The change of wording is important, and the significance is not undermined by the fact that the 1949 Act is described as a consolidation Act. The interpretation of any Act of Parliament, even when it consolidates previous legislation, must be based on the words used in the Act itself, not different words used in the previous legislation.In our view, Section 79(5) of the 1949 Act preserves ancient procedures applying to Royal marriages; for example, the availability of customary forms of marriage and registration. It also preserves the effect of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which requires the Sovereign's consent for certain marriages. But it does not have the effect of excluding Royal marriages from the scope of Part III, which provides for civil ceremonies. As the heading to Section 79 indicates ("Repeals and Savings") it is a saving, not an exclusion.We are aware that different views have been taken in the past; but we consider that these were overcautious, and we are clear that the interpretation I have set out in this Statement is correct. We also note that the Human Rights Act has since 2000 required legislation to be interpreted wherever possible in a way that is compatible with the right to marry (Article 12) and with the right to enjoy that right without discrimination (Article 14). This, in our view, puts the modern meaning of the 1949 Act beyond doubt.

Northern Ireland: National Security Intelligence Work

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:The Government have been considering for a lengthy period how best to take forward one aspect of the modernisation agenda of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The announcement being made today reflects the enormous progress that has already been made in implementing the recommendations of the Patten Commission.Patten acknowledged that whatever changes were necessary in the policing arrangements for Northern Ireland it would remain the case that national security was a matter for central government, as is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Government have consistently subscribed to that view. The very serious threat from international terrorism which has developed over recent years has reinforced that conclusion.Against that background it seems to the Government appropriate to announce their intention that the Security Service will assume for Northern Ireland the lead responsibility it has had for national security intelligence work since 1992 in Great Britain.Such change will in no way diminish the role of the PSNI in intelligence gathering in areas other than national security, nor of course in mounting executive policing operations, making arrests and taking forward prosecutions.Looking to the future, such a change will facilitate the devolution of justice and policing when a robust and workable basis for that is agreed, taking account of the fact that national security is an excepted matter for which the Secretary of State must remain responsible. In the mean time there are important benefits in bringing the arrangements for national security into line with the rest of the UK so as to provide for a consistent and co-ordinated response to international terrorism. Sharing of intelligence on a cross-border and international basis will be particularly important in combating money-laundering and other aspects of organised crime.The PSNI and the Security Service will continue to work together in partnership, making best use of their complementary skills and expertise. The PSNI will, as now, provide the operational police response in countering terrorism and in protecting the whole community in Northern Ireland.

The powers and responsibilities of the policing board, the police ombudsman and the oversight commissioner to oversee policing are not affected by this change.

We intend that the new arrangements, together with associated safeguards, will be fully operational during 2007. This timetable reflects the need for detailed planning and implementation.

Hunting Act 2004

The Hunting Act came into force on Friday 18 February 2005 after the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the Countryside Alliance and ruled that the Act was lawful.I have discussed with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Association of Chief Police Officers, taking into account the experience of the first weekend after the ban came into force, how to approach the prosecution of offences under the Hunting Act.Though there are no prosecutions currently underway, these discussions have reinforced my confidence that there is adequate guidance in place for both police and prosecutors.The Hunting Act provides that those who commit offences under it are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding £5,000. The offences under the Act may be tried only in a magistrates' court.The police will investigate allegations of breaches of the Act in accordance with their normal procedures, making operational decisions in line with national and local priorities. They will refer charging decisions arising directly or indirectly out of activities associated with hunting wild mammals with dogs under the Hunting Act to a Crown prosecutor.Crown prosecutors will, in turn, make their decision in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. This provides that a prosecution will not take place unless there is a realistic prospect of conviction and it is in the public interest to prosecute.The code specifically requires Crown prosecutors to consider diversions from prosecution. These include informal warnings and cautions. Where it is decided to prosecute, proceedings may be instigated either by charge or by summons.The Countryside Alliance has now submitted a petition to the House of Lords for leave to appeal. It will be a matter for the House of Lords to decide whether or not to hear such an appeal. Should the House of Lords agree to hear the alliance's appeal, I will consider, with the DPP, what implications this may have for any pending prosecutions and will make a further Statement if necessary.As I made clear last week, it is not for the Attorney-General to suspend an Act of Parliament and introduce a blanket policy of non-enforcement of the law. The law will be enforced in the usual way.

Afghanistan: Appointment Of Prime Minister's Special Envoy

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

On 16 February, during his one-day visit to Kabul, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw) announced the appointment of Lieutenant General John McColl CBE DSO as the Prime Minister's special envoy to Afghanistan.The appointment of Lieutenant General McColl is a signal of the importance the UK attaches to our ongoing commitment to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Lieutenant General McColl will make a valuable contribution to our high-level dialogue with President Karzai and his government on the full range of our common strategic priorities, including reconstruction, security sector reform, the democratic process and counter-narcotics work. He will be working in a way fully complementary to that of the British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Rosalind Marsden, and her staff.Lieutenant General John McColl CBE DSO is currently Commander Regional Forces and Inspector General of the Territorial Army (CF/IGTA) at Headquarters, Land Command. He served as the first commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in the first half of 2002 and is highly regarded by President Karzai and key Afghan contacts for the manner in which he discharged his responsibilities. In that capacity, Lieutenant General McColl developed a wide understanding of the challenges facing Afghanistan as it re-builds after more than 20 years of conflict, and a keen sense of the most effective support that the international community can offer. Lieutenant General McColl attended President Karzai's inauguration on 7 December at the invitation of the president.In his role as Prime Minister's special envoy. Lieutenant General McColl will visit Afghanistan two to three times a year, engaging with President Karzai and the Afghan authorities across a range of issues vital to the bilateral relationship. He will also continue to fulfil his Army duties as CRF/IGTA. General McColl's role will be subject to review after a year.

Un Secretary-General: High Level Panel On Threats, Challenges And Change

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jack Straw) will today lay before Parliament a Command Paper on the recent report by the UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (CM 6449). Copies will be placed in the Library of the House and will be available from the Printed Paper Office. A copy will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at

The UK has welcomed the report. The panel has done an excellent job in laying the foundations for a new consensus on collective security to take the United Nations into the 21st century. The report has a simple but fundamental premise; that we all share responsibility for each other's security. It argues that the threats we face today are interlinked; poverty, disease and environmental degradation, including climate change, as well as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It also argues that the challenges of security and sustainable development are interlinked: neither is possible without the other.

The report includes an important recommendation for a new Peacebuilding Commission, to mobilise and co-ordinate international support for countries suffering from conflict; important proposals on the key threats of proliferation and terrorism; and endorses a collective international "responsibility to protect", that is to act against genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. The report also addresses the question of Security Council membership: a Security Council that better reflects today's world will be better able to deal with today's threats.

Britain will play a leading role in taking forward work on the panel's recommendations. On 10 February the Foreign Secretary launched a public debate on the issue, and the Government, in association with the United Nations Association, will hold a series of events around the country to ensure that people can contribute their views on how the UN should be dealing with threats to international peace and security. We hope that as many stakeholders as possible will give us their views, either at the regional events or by e-mailing us directly via the FCO website.

Northern Ireland: Baton Rounds

My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:I have today placed in the Library of the House a Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC) statement on medical issues arising from the first two years of operational use of the L21A1 Baton Round (June 2001 to May 2003).