Orders of the Day — Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 12th October 2004.

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Photo of Charles Hendry Charles Hendry Shadow Minister (Children, Young People and Families), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 5:38 pm, 12th October 2004

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Had those lyrics referred to the same incitement of violence towards old people, black people or women, the police would have taken action; they would have intervened. I am pleased that the MOBO awards organisers decided to take action and to say that such lyrics were not acceptable.

I wish to look at some important contributions that the Bill will make. The issue of inheritance has been discussed, and I am grateful to Stonewall for providing examples that bring it to life. Chris is in his 60s and has been with his partner for 40 years. After his retirement, he was told that he had renal cancer. As if it were not enough to fight a virulent form of cancer, he found that in the event of his death his partner would be forced to sell the home that they had shared for 25 years to pay death duties and other taxes. It is utterly wrong that someone who is fighting a terrible illness should have additional worries about whether his partner of many years will be treated fairly.

Stonewall also told us about the next of kin issue and the way in which people are affected. When Andrew's partner died, for example, he was excluded from decisions, as his partner's parents had never accepted him as their son's partner; they removed personal effects, including photographs, and Andrew was denied access to them. They sold the flat in which the couple had lived, and Andrew had no right whatsoever under legislation to challenge their decision. That is barbaric, and it is not right in any society. If the Bill ends such practices, we should all be happy.

Kate had a history of depression, and had been with her partner, Jo, for 10 years. Jo, however, found it virtually impossible to persuade the NHS to recognise her as Kate's next of kin and encountered homophobic reactions among some of Kate's relatives. In the end, she was forced to seek a power of attorney to get the rights to which she believed she was entitled.

We should all, therefore, welcome the fundamental changes that the Bill will bring about. I agree, however, with many of my colleagues and other Members that the amendments made in the Lords were a mistake, and should be reversed in Committee. I accept that people are anxious about the interests of interdependent relatives and other people who are living together, but the Bill is not the place to address those issues. I know that other Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude shortly, but the only people who will gain from the anomalies of such relationships are accountants, who will discover a new wheeze to prevent their rich clients from paying taxes. They will say, "We could advise you to move to the Bahamas or set up a family trust. However, we think you should encourage your 18-year-old son to live with his grandfather. When he is 30, he will inherit everything free of tax. The only problem, of course, is that if he dies soon afterwards and leaves the money to his stepson, who is also his father, a huge amount of tax will be payable." That will make a mockery of the system, so it should be swept away because it will not improve the lot of carers, whose position must be recognised and improved, or people who are in similar relationships for other reasons. The right place to address such concerns is a future Finance Bill, and I hope that the shadow Treasury team will introduce measures to achieve such changes.

Pensions are another concern. I am encouraged by the Minister's remarks that the Government will reconsider the issue, and I hope that in her winding-up speech she will say that the Government will introduce amendments to tackle the problem. If she does not, when the Bill goes into Committee, and if I am lucky enough to serve on it, I shall support measures that require equality provisions in public sector pensions to be made retrospective. That is entirely right and appropriate. If we say that we believe in equality only if it does not come with a price tag, that is not a genuine belief in equality. Equality sometimes has a cost attached to it, and we must recognise that and take it into account.

One of the reasons I am a Conservative is that I believe passionately in the rights of the individual, who should make decisions about their life and the way in which they want to live it. Governments should not become involved in such decisions unless they have a negative impact on other people. We should not be imposing a barrier to other people's happiness—and for what reason? Should we do so because people are living in a stable, loving relationship in which they have chosen to make a commitment for the rest of their lives as far as they can see? For heterosexuals, that arrangement is called marriage, but for same-sex couples, that option is not available. We must ensure through this Bill that such couples have the chance to have the same opportunities and rights.

We are dealing with an outdated restriction that is, at best, unfair and, in respect of next of kin, is barbaric and inhuman. I hope that we can take the issue of sexuality out of politics. I do not believe that there is such a thing as a gay vote. I think that parties can drive away the gay vote just as they can drive away the women's vote, the elderly vote or the black vote—my party has tried to do it quite effectively over the years—but there is no single issue that it can be said will win over the gay vote. However, addressing issues such as those in the Bill will ensure that those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual can look at issues in the round and vote for the party that they believe in because it is advocating the right policies on health, education and the economy, rather than make their choice because they think that sexuality continues to divide the parties.

One of the most important quotes from the memorable speech of my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan is his remark that the Government should intervene to stop people hurting each other, but not to stop people loving each other. Good people have been hurt for too long by the situation under the law as it currently exists. It is time that that was stopped, and this Bill is a chance to stop it.