Schedule 28 — Consequential amendments: Scotland

Part of Orders of the Day — Civil Partnerships Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 6:21 pm, 9th November 2004

It gives me great pleasure to follow Mr. Duncan, and to compliment him on his quick philosophical round-up of important social and political issues. I agree with his interpretation of the effects of the Bill.

I welcome this sensible piece of social reform. It recognises that we have moved on socially, and if it is passed it will grant an acknowledgement of the dignity and respect that should be conferred on same-sex couples as well as legal recognition of their relationships should they choose to enter into civil partnerships. It means that the United Kingdom is moving into the mainstream of social reform across the world, as many of us pointed out on Second Reading.

I was privileged to serve on the Standing Committee, along with Members on both sides of the House. I believe that scrutiny and consideration hugely improved the Bill, which was a mess when it arrived from the House of Lords. The removal of the Lords' wrecking amendments, which effectively would have allowed grandmothers to have a relationship akin to marriage with their grandsons or granddaughters, was essential to prevent this House from becoming a laughing stock.

A significant advance made in Committee, albeit one less commented on than others, was the Government's decision to grant full pension equality to same-sex couples and allow them to benefit from the contributions that many had made on the same basis as that applying to widows and widowers in the case of both state and private occupational pension schemes.

I asked my hon. Friend the Minister about that on Second Reading, and Mr. Carmichael said rather cynically that she was just trying to get through the debate. He did not know about some of the meetings that had been taking place behind the scenes to deal with what my hon. Friend Chris Bryant and I considered a very just cause. I for one was extremely pleased when, at the end of Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was able to grant the first part of our wish—full pension equality in state occupational schemes—thus, I hope, banishing the cynicism of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for ever. In Committee, we were able finally to iron out this issue by eliminating an existing anomaly in private sector pension schemes as well. So the Bill is now ready for the statute book, and I hope that when it returns to the other place shortly, the Lords will respect the large majorities by which it has proceeded through the various Commons stages.

The other very interesting and enjoyable aspect of the process was the spectacle of the Conservatives dealing with the Bill in Committee on a free vote. That prompted some extremely good speeches and passionate argument, but it also demonstrated the Janus face of the Conservative party, which I mentioned on Second Reading. Little did I realise quite how many facets that face has. The four Conservative Members in Committee proceeded in very different ways; in fact, they were all over the place, which is perhaps what free votes do.

After decades of reinforcing every prejudice, playing on every fear and creating legislation such as the odious section 28, there are welcome signs of movement among the Conservatives. Thankfully, a much more enlightened and humane element is emerging, and their support for the Bill is welcome. Particular mention should be made of Mr. Key, who made an extremely good speech. The hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry) made superb speeches on Second Reading, demonstrating this strand of conservatism and, hopefully, its emerging strength.

But for each enlightened, tolerant and respectful speech, the narrow-minded right-wing element of the Conservative party voiced its backward view of the world. In Committee, we had a quite extraordinary spectacle. In general, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton supported the Bill with a great deal of erudition and passion. However, he refused to vote to include its first 80 clauses in Committee—