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Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 24 February 2005


Prince of Wales (Marriage)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): 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:

But the provisions on civil marriage in the 1836 Act were repealed by the Marriage Act 1949. All remaining parts of the 1836 Act, including section 45, were repealed by the Registration Service Act 1953.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:

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 over-cautious, 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
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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.


Baton Rounds (Northern Ireland)

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): 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 L21 A1 Baton Round (June 2001–May 2003).


Commercial Property Leases

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): We are publishing today on our website the final report by the University of Reading on the impact of the 2002 code of practice for commercial leases. We will also be publishing it in hard copy in due course and copies will be available in the Libraries of both Houses.

The report considered the impact of the code since its introduction in April 2002, against the market and institutional background. We have undertaken to consider, in the light of this report, whether it is sufficient to continue relying on voluntary measures to promote greater flexibility and choice in the property market, or whether instead to introduce legislation. Last year, following Reading University's interim report, we carried out a consultation on options to deter or outlaw the use of upward only rent review clauses, making it clear that we would make a final decision on whether or not to legislate only when we had received the final report.

We are now studying the report alongside the consultation responses. We will announce our conclusions in due course.


UN Reform

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 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 Vote Office. A copy will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website www.fco.gov.uk.

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
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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 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.

Special Envoy (Afghanistan)

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): On 16 February, during my one day visit to Kabul, I 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. Lietenant-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 over 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.
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In his role as Prime Minister's special envoy, Lieutenant-General McColl will visit Afghanistan 2–3 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.

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