Orders of the Day — Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 12th October 2004.

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Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Shadow Minister (Education) 6:20 pm, 12th October 2004

I should like to make two points briefly so that my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh can also contribute to the debate. I intend to vote against the Bill and I shall briefly explain my two reasons for doing so.

First, the Bill is unfair. It purports to overcome inequality, but it introduces inequality where there was none before. It gives preference and advantages in law to homosexual couples over and above other same-sex couples, which is unjustifiable.

I listened to the opening speeches and noticed that the Minister repeatedly used the term "homosexual", so it is clear that the Bill's provisions are intended for homosexuals, though I cannot remember whether the precise terms "gay" or "lesbian" were used. I cannot claim to have read every page of the Bill, which is rather a weighty tome, but I saw no reference to homosexuality in it. It refers simply to "same-sex couples", so I am left wondering whether platonic same-sex couples are excluded.

The impression was created that two women who have been lifelong friends living in the same home and sharing a life together would not be subject to the Bill's provisions. I hope that the Minister will clarify that point, because she gave the impression that the Bill would exclusively benefit homosexual couples. If that is not the case, it puts a whole different slant on the matter. In any case, who apart from the two involved can possibly know the nature of a personal relationship? Some heterosexual opposite-sex marriages are platonic and two homosexual people can live together and share a home even though they are not involved in a personal relationship with one another. There are other variations on the theme. I therefore ask the Minister how eligibility for civil partnerships will be established, given that it is virtually impossible to know the real relationship between any two people.

The civil partnership provisions, as presented by the Minister, are unfair. Unamended, the scheme will apply only to gays and lesbians, and other house sharers will be excluded. Would two elderly ladies living together for most of their lives have to affect to be homosexual in order to gain the advantages in law as described in the Bill? Would one of two sisters sharing a house over a long period incur inheritance tax when the other dies? Under the Bill, if a homosexual couple registered their partnership, even after a few months, one would inherit tax free if a partner died. That amounts to an injustice where there was none before.

I suggest that the Bill is unnecessary. Let us get back to its purpose. If it is to overcome injustices regarding tax benefits, pensions and so forth, I concede that it is right to deal with such injustices, but I am not persuaded that the Bill is the proper device for doing so. If the purpose is purely to overcome those injustices, civil partnerships per se are unnecessary. If it is to provide legal recognition for civil partnerships by creating a pseudo-marriage, that amounts to an entirely different purpose. The traditional family provides the basis for a stable society and the procreation of children. The Bill rests on the view that marriage and same-sex partnerships are equivalent or the same, but I do not believe that they are.