Schedule 28 — Consequential amendments: Scotland

Part of Orders of the Day — Civil Partnerships Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 6:31 pm, 9th November 2004

First, I associate myself with the expressions of gratitude made earlier by the Minister and Mr. Duncan in respect of House and Committee officials who have assisted the Bill's passage to its current stage. The Minister said that the process has been constructive, and I would certainly want to use the same word. I pay tribute to the Minister, particularly for the manner in which she has handled changes to the pension provisions. As a Liberal Democrat, I am delighted to welcome them.

I am pleased that my cynicism, or perhaps my scepticism, has made such an impression on Angela Eagle. She asked whether it has been banished for ever, which sounds like the sort of optimism usually expressed by Liberal Democrats, but let us say that it is banished for tonight.

Miss Widdecombe said in an earlier intervention that if we do not pass the Bill, nothing will change. From my perspective, I have to say that that is exactly why we should pass the Bill, because if we do not pass it, nothing will change. Mixed-sex couples will still, to borrow the Minister's phrase, remain "largely invisible" within the eyes of the law and people will continue to suffer discrimination and disadvantage simply because of their sexual orientation. To my mind, that is simply wrong.

The hon. Member for Wallasey spoke about the House leading the world and being at the forefront of these issues, but I believe that we are engaged in a catching-up process. It is all about recognition of our society, as currently constituted and as it has been for some time.

Several hon. Members have urged us to admit that we are talking about gay marriage, but I cannot admit that because, as I explained earlier, marriage is something uniquely given to mixed-sex couples. What flows from that is recognition of the marriage relationship, which, in turn, brings certain financial and property rights. Having said that same-sex couples cannot be party to a marriage, I believe that they are obviously entitled to the same recognition and the same rights of property as married people are granted.

I often wonder why some Conservative Back Benchers are so obsessed with the use of the "M" word, if I may put it that way. The only conclusion that I can draw is that they argue that way deliberately, knowing that the issue becomes emotive and that, by talking that way, they stand a better chance of stirring up opposition and antipathy towards the giving of these basic rights to certain groups of people. I therefore believe that the Government are correct to refer to "civil partnerships" and to leave it at that.

I also have to say that this morning's intervention by the Christian Institute was profoundly regrettable. I shall choose my words with care, but I have been a Christian since I was 14. Christianity has been a formative influence for me and has changed my life, but there are few less edifying spectacles than politicians who preach, so I shall keep this simple.

To my mind, the fundamental factor in Christianity is love. The tremendous thing about Christian love is that it knows no discrimination. That is why, when Jesus told us in the New Testament to love our neighbour, he did not qualify that by saying that we need not love those of our neighbours who are black, gay, fat, thin, tall or short. There are no equivocations about the love that Jesus offers us. That is why I feel passionately that it would be wrong for us to prolong, in the name of Christianity, the discrimination and disadvantage that some people suffer.