Schedule 28 — Consequential amendments: Scotland

Part of Orders of the Day — Civil Partnerships Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 6:38 pm, 9th November 2004

I bear in mind the fact that Mr. Carmichael has just said that he hated politicians who preach, so I shall be very careful about the words that I choose this evening. However, I know that those hon. Members who are church wardens and Church Commissioners adopt a very different stance to the Bill, and also that there are many other religious hues in this House. I do not believe that there is one Christian, or even one religious position, on this matter. There are many different ways to view this legislation, and we should honour the personal position that each hon. Member adopts.

I welcome the Bill, primarily because it represents another nail in the coffin of prejudice towards homosexual people in this country. This is therefore an important moment. It is more than 100 years since Edward Carpenter, one of the great founders of the Labour party, set up his household with George Merrill. He was reviled at the time for that and had to be very courageous. Some years have passed since my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith was open in this Chamber about his sexuality. Many people would consider that part of the steady progress that has been made towards openness and away from prejudice.

As I said, I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly, and I know that many lesbians and gay men in this country will do the same. For the sake of argument, I am sure that many will call what the Bill offers gay marriage—and I do not care at all. I am happy that the people who will benefit from the Bill will feel that they are able to enjoy the same rights, and bear the same responsibilities, as heterosexual people have been able to enjoy throughout the centuries. I think that they will accept both rights and responsibilities with open arms.

I also welcome the Bill because it is extremely comprehensive. The Minister paid tribute to the people in her office who have made sure that it is in good order. I merely note that we are amending the Explosive Substances Act 1883, the Pharmacy Act 1954, the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963 and, perhaps most significantly, the Slaughterhouses Act 1974. Rights that they never even knew they did not have gay men and lesbians will now be able to enjoy.

That is in part because of the process that we went through in Committee. I wholeheartedly welcome the fact that we have improved the Bill immeasurably. The most important improvements, to my mind, have been those on pension provision, and I pay tribute to the two Ministers and to the Paymaster General, who played an important part in making sure we were able to produce a Bill that is yet more equal and is advancing more equality than was originally intended.

One of the most important and moving speeches made in the whole process was by my hon. Friend Mr. Borrow. Many Members will look forward to going to the celebration of his civil partnership, and we look forward to finding out where the wedding list will be, whether it is at John Lewis or somewhere else.

I also pay tribute to Mr. Chope. I passionately disagree with nearly everything he said in Committee and in the Chamber. He let himself down on a couple of occasions when he used phrases that he may wish he had not used in the light of better judgment. He said at the beginning of the Committee stage that he did not want to become its pariah. I do not know whether he then knew that that is a religious term, a Tamil word that refers to a drummer who is not allowed to take part in a religious procession. The hon. Gentleman banged his drum gracefully, and although he may not progress through the Lobby with us later, he has done a fine thing in standing up for what he believes, even if I just wish he believed in something different.

I pay tribute, too, to Mr. Duncan. He gave us a fine speech today and has given many of them. I was intrigued to hear him give a philosophical tour d'horizon today, not least because I remember much of it appearing in his book "Saturn's Children" a few years ago, which rabidly condemned Christian socialism—and me—at length. It is a delight to see him as consistent as ever.

I only hope that the Lords do not mess the Bill up. They messed it up when they sent it to us, giving us an unworkable Bill. They often proclaim that they are much better at drafting and improving legislation than we are, but this time we have done a far better job than they did.