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Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29 November 2006 be approved. 5th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, as far as I am aware, the main concerns about the order have been expressed by insurance brokers. Approximately 95 per cent of their work on behalf of insured clients is regulated by the Financial Services Authority, and therefore exempt under the regulations. A very small proportion of their endeavours, however, involve making referrals in circumstances where there is an element of uninsured risk. This activity falls outside financial services regulation.

Instead of legislating so as to bring these transactions within the scope of FSA regulation as well, insurance brokers are to be subjected to these new regulations, so they are now faced with two separate bodies that have responsibility for regulating intermediary claims activity. This appears to fly in the face of the Government’s often expressed desire to regulate with a lighter touch.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister. The first is slightly longer and may give her the chance to provide an answer by the end of the debate. It was asked by my honourable friend Mr Simon Hughes in another place and is about exemptions. He asked:

He asked if they would have to get a specific exemption or have a class exemption, but the Minister was not able on 22 January to answer him in another place. Is the Minister in this House able to update us?

The second question is: how would an individual who felt the exempt body had behaved badly have their complaint dealt with? Other than that, we support the order.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, let me begin with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, which specifically concerns the British Insurance Brokers Association. As he rightly indicated, BIBA requested an exemption. My officials met with BIBA to discuss the reasons, which were very carefully considered. The noble Lord indicated that BIBA made the case for exemption on the basis that brokers are regulated for other activities and that further regulation brings with it greater burdens. We

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have decided that is not a reason for exemption. A broker dealing with a claim which is not under a policy arranged by him or on behalf of a client is not regulated by the financial services Act. This is most likely to occur when a broker is aware of a possible personal injury claim by a client for whom he has arranged a multi-policy. If the broker chooses to deal with that claim by referring him to a solicitor, this activity is not regulated by the financial services Act. We therefore need to regulate it under the Act.

The noble Lord referred to a possible extension of the financial services Act. That would take primary legislation and it is not appropriate to waste time on this. We need to regulate properly now. I know BIBA is aware that this is the case and I believe we can work closely with it to ensure that the regulation works effectively. As it says in the order under Article 12, where brokers refer fewer than 25 cases per calendar quarter they will be exempted by the introducer exemption. I am grateful for the chance to explain our reasons.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, raised the question of mutual societies, et cetera. I am sorry my honourable friend was not able to answer it. They are either voluntary, so excluded on the face of Bill, or they are not for profit so they are exempted. I hope that gives Mr Simon Hughes the answer he is looking for.

The noble Baroness asked me too about the process by which people could complain if things went wrong. We have set in place slightly different systems for trade unions and companies. An individual who feels a company has misbehaved can get in touch with the company, which will be required to have a complaints procedure, or we have set up a monitoring compliance unit through the regulation process. That unit will deal with complaints; it will investigate; it will also do mystery shopping and spot-checks through trading standards. We are also working with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority to put together a memorandum of understanding so that we can intelligence-share in order to get information. If the rules have been breached, there can be an oral warning, a public censure, and a suspension of the authorisation; we can put conditions on the authorisation, or ultimately cancel it. I hope that gives the noble Baroness the answers she is looking for.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Marriage Act 1949 (Remedial) Order 2006

5.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) rose to move, That the draft remedial order laid before the House on 20 February 2006 be approved. 16th and 29th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005—06.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this instrument was laid before your Lordships’ House on 16 February 2006 and amends the Marriage Act 1949. It might be helpful if I outline the details of the case that led to the making of this order.

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The case is called B and L v United Kingdom and concerns a couple, B and L, who by virtue of marriage were father-in-law and daughter-in-law. Over the course of time both parties’ marriages broke down and both ended in divorce. Some time after the breakdown of those marriages, B and L formed a relationship and started to cohabit. L’s son shared the home with B and L, and although B is his grandfather, the child called him “dad”. Some years later, B and L decided that they wished to formalise their relationship by getting married; however, the superintendent registrar of deaths and marriages at the local register office correctly informed them that such a marriage would be impossible unless both their former spouses were dead.

The couple argued that the relevant provision in the Marriage Act 1949 was incompatible with Article 12 of the convention, which concerns an individual’s right to marry. The European Court of Human Rights accepted those arguments and declared on 13 September 2005 that those sections of the Marriage Act 1949 were incompatible with Article 12.

I shall outline the effect of the Marriage Act 1949 (Remedial) Order 2006. Section 10 of the Human Rights Act sets out procedures for remedial action to remove any incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights. The remedial order amends Section 1 of and Schedule 1 to the Marriage Act 1949 to remedy the incompatibility immediately. It removes the current prohibition on marriages between former parents-in-law and children-in-law. It also exempts a Church of England or Church of Wales clergyman from what would otherwise be his obligation to solemnise such a marriage.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Civil Partnership Act contains similar prohibitions on civil partnerships between former parents-in-law and children-in-law; however, they have never been commenced. The judgment in B and L v United Kingdom came after the Civil Partnership Act had completed its passage through Parliament but before it was implemented. The prohibitions on civil partnerships between former in-laws therefore appear in the Act but have not been, and will not be, implemented. In time the provisions will be repealed.

Although the Government could have taken the opportunity to amend the Civil Partnership Act using the remedial order, there were concerns that the power to make incidental, supplemental or consequential provisions under the Human Rights Act might not extend to those changes and that they could be considered out of scope. As the provisions in the Civil Partnership Act have not been implemented, the decision not to include these amendments in the remedial order has no practical consequences.

The Government considered a number of options to address the Act’s incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights before deciding upon a remedial order. They may have applied for the judgment to be referred to the Grand Chamber. However, the judgment was not out of line with the direction of government policy intentions for marriage legislation. The Government’s view was that the European Court

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of Human Rights had not inaccurately interpreted or applied the convention. They therefore decided to accept the judgment.

Secondly, consideration was given to introducing primary legislation to amend the relevant sections of the 1949 Act. We decided not to do this because the necessary amendments fell outside any planned legislation, and the need to seek parliamentary time could lead to a substantial delay in implementing the judgment. Bearing in mind that the couple in question were waiting to marry, such a delay was considered unacceptable.

Finally, having decided to use a remedial order, we had to decide whether to use the urgent or non-urgent procedure. The Government considered that the urgent procedure would not be appropriate in this case as, given the importance of marriage as a fundamental social institution, it is appropriate for the proposed draft order to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before coming into effect.

Noble Lords will have had the opportunity to read the 16th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which considered the proposed draft remedial order. In its report the committee agreed that the Government had compelling reasons for proceeding with the amendments by way of remedial order rather than primary legislation. It also indicated that proceeding to remedy the incompatibility by way of a non-urgent order rather than an urgent order strikes a reasonable balance between the competing considerations of the need to avoid undue delay before remedying the incompatibility and the need to afford a proper opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.

The Government received two representations on the order. One raised a question of vires. It queried whether the Lord Chancellor had the requisite power to remove the age restriction on marriage between parents-in-law and children-in-law, on the basis that the European Court of Human Rights did not consider the age restriction and, had it needed to do so, the Government might well have been able to mount a strong case for saying that it was not incompatible with Article 12.

The Government conceded that the European Court of Human Rights did not expressly consider the age restriction but they considered it necessary to remove the restriction in order to address the incompatibility with Article 12 of the convention across the board. They have the vires to do so by means of the remedial order.

The Government consider that there will be very few cases involving a party under 21. That is because the younger individual must have been 16 or over to enter into their first marriage, and then could not divorce for at least one year afterwards, and secondly because very few couples marry at so young an age. It should also be remembered that, as the younger party has already been through both a marriage and a divorce, the law has recognised them as an adult on at least two occasions. The Government therefore consider that requiring a couple who are ready to marry to delay that marriage until the younger is 21 is a breach of Article 12.

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Noble Lords will also have had the chance to read the 29th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which considered the draft order. In that report, the Joint Committee took into account the representations that were received from both individuals and the public. Two such representations were received; one made observations, while the other proposed a change to the draft order. The Joint Committee accepted the Government’s argument, and concluded that the Lord Chancellor is entitled to reach the view that the age restriction on marriage between parents-in-law and children-in-law is incompatible with Article 12 of the ECHR as a result of the Court’s decision in B and L v United Kingdom, and that he therefore has the power under the Human Rights Act to remove the age restriction by remedial order. The Joint Committee concluded that the special attention of each House is not required to be drawn to the draft order on any of the grounds on which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments may report in relation to most other instruments. It also recommended that the order should be approved.

I should also point out that the judgment in B and L v United Kingdom has already been implemented by Scotland in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, which amended Section 2 and Schedule 1 of the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 and came into effect on 4 May 2006; and by Northern Ireland in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, which came into force on 19 September 2006. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft remedial order laid before the House on 20 February 2006 be approved. 16th and 29th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, we are quite content with this order. As the noble Baroness has pointed out to your Lordships, the order is the consequence of the case of B and L v United Kingdom, in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The individuals concerned were, by virtue of marriage, father-in-law and daughter-in-law. Subsequently, both divorced and decided to get married to each other. This, they discovered, was prohibited by the Marriage Act 1949, unless both their former spouses were deceased. The Court held that this provision of the 1949 Act was incompatible with Article 12 of the convention.

Although it was no part of the judgment, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as the noble Baroness has indicated, concluded that the Government were entitled to conclude that the age restriction of 21 in the 1949 Act between parents-in-law and children-in-law was also incompatible with Article 12. Although it is almost inconceivable that any of the very few couples who are likely to fall within this order will be under 21, they will perforce have been married before, and in our view the age restriction serves no purpose.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, we agree with this order.

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The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, the Bench of Bishops is not content with the order; but we accept it.

The aim of the original prohibition was to uphold the sanctity of marriage, to prevent the development of inappropriate intimate relations or rivalries within the family and to protect the parent-child role. We accept that in the light of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights the Government are obliged to amend the Marriage Act 1949. However, we regret that it has been judged necessary to make such a substantial change. I hear what the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, say about age, but retaining a legal impediment to marriage between parent-in-law and child-in-law, at least in cases where the younger party is under the age of 21, would have been our preferred outcome. Regrettably, that would not appear to be permissible following the decision of the Strasbourg court. Nevertheless, we are glad to see a conscience clause for the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales included in the draft order, as the Minister has indicated.

In light of those changes to marriage law, the Bench of Bishops seeks the Minister’s assurance that the Government will continue to uphold marriage. I think she referred to it in her speech as a fundamental, social institution and, if I have understood her correctly, perhaps she would be good enough to reinforce that. I also ask the Minister to give an undertaking that the Government will seek to encourage healthy relations within families.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and for the contribution of the right reverend Prelate. It is precisely because we want to uphold the importance of marriage as a fundamental social institution that we want to allow this to happen. There is nothing to prevent such people living together and never has been; it is not regarded as inappropriate in that sense. The individuals, having been together, may wish to marry. I think the right reverend Prelate would applaud that, but I understand his reservations.

The order allows these people who want to be together to solemnise that fact in their own way. I completely understand that for all sorts of reasons one has to be cautious about the pressures we put on people. I hope that the church will continue its teachings, as I am sure it will, to ensure that people understand the importance of the solemnity of marriage.

We have thought pragmatically about the age issue. People can get married at 16 and these individuals have already had a marriage and a divorce so they will already have been recognised in law twice as adults. Such people will not be 16 because there is not time to do everything and still be 16. I hope they will want to be with each other for as long as possible, if not the rest of their lives. While I accept the reservations of the right reverend Prelate—I completely understand what he has said—he has been good enough to raise them in a spirit of understanding what we are doing. We recognise that marriage, sometimes in unusual circumstances, is still fundamentally important.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Agriculture: Organic Farming

5.52 pm

Lord Taverne rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will withdraw financial support which encourages farmers to convert to organic farming.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in this short debate, I want to examine the merits of organic farming. There is no doubt that it is a great business success story. It is expanding rapidly and has become a major and profitable industry with a turnover, in Britain alone, of well over £1 billion a year. It is backed by a powerful and influential lobby group, the Soil Association; it is heavily promoted by supermarkets; and organic food is popular with consumers. They pay premium prices because they are persuaded that organic food tastes better, is healthier than conventional food and that by buying organic, they benefit the environment and are helping to save the planet. We are constantly told that ethical living—which is all the rage—means buying organic. Who can possibly question the merits of organic farming? It is like questioning motherhood and apple pie.

I started without any prejudice against organic farming. I have no financial interest in supporting it or opposing it. If the evidence supports the claims made for organic farming I will back it. Unfortunately, it does not. Blind tests have shown that when people compare organic and conventionally grown fruit that is equally fresh, they cannot tell the difference. Time after time, tests by the independent Food Standards Agency have shown that organically grown food is not significantly different in terms of safety and nutrition from food produced conventionally. In one respect, it is arguable that it can be more likely to endanger health. Nor, perhaps surprisingly, is organic farming better for the environment. Far from saving the planet, promoting it can damage the environment and make global warming worse.

I start with health. People buy organic food because they feel it is free from synthetic pesticide residues, which are widely believed to cause cancer. In fact, the organic creed is founded on the principle that synthetic chemicals are bad and dangerous, while natural chemicals are safe and good. That is, of course, a scientific howler. It ignores the fact that a molecule is a molecule, whether man-made or natural. Any number of synthetic chemicals, such as anti-bacterial drugs, are highly beneficial; any number of natural chemicals, such as arsenic, ricin or aflotoxin, are highly poisonous. We consume many thousands of times more natural pesticides, manufactured by plants themselves to ward off pests, than synthetic ones.

Fear of pesticide residues is one of those media-hyped scares that has no scientific basis. It ignores the lesson taught by Paracelsus, of which no one in the Soil Association seems to be aware, that it all depends on the dose. Every mouthful we eat contains poisons, but in such tiny quantities that they do not harm us. Regulations set the safety levels for pesticide residues so high that they are between 100 and 1,000 times above concentrations at which any harmful effect might result. We should note that

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farmers, who are more exposed to pesticides than the rest of us, have lower than average rates of cancer. Stomach cancers, which might be expected to be closely related to the carcinogenic effects of ingested pesticides, have declined by about 60 per cent in the past 50 years.

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