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Clause 9 — Conversion of civil partnership into marriage

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 21st May 2013.

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Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge 4:15 pm, 21st May 2013

I beg to move amendment 15, page 10, line 24, at end add—

‘(9) Where a civil partnership formed under part 1, section 96 of the Civil Partnership Act (Civil Partnership with former spouse) is converted into a marriage under this section—

(a) the civil partnership ends on the conversion, and

(b) if both partners so elect, the resulting marriage is to be treated as having subsisted since the marriage dissolved under Schedule 2 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was formed.’.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 25 to 39.

Amendment 49, in schedule 4, page 33, leave out from line 42 to line 4 on page 34 and insert—

‘(2) Omit sub-paragraph (1).’.

Government amendments 40 to 47.

Amendment 13, in schedule 5, page 36, leave out lines 10 to 37 and insert—

Section 4 (successful applications): for subsections (2) and (3) substitute—

“(2) The certificate is to be a full gender recognition certificate if—

(a) the applicant is not a civil partner and does not request an interim gender recognition certificate,

(b) or the applicant is a civil partner who does not request an interim gender recognition certificate and the Panel has deceided to issue a full gender recognition certificate to the other party to the civil partnership.

(3) The certificate is to be an interim gender recognition certificate if either—

(a) the applicant is a party to a protected civil partnership and the other party to the civil partnership has not made an application under section 1(1).

(b) the applicant is a party to a protected civil partnership and the Panel had decided not to issue a full gender recognition certificate to the other party to the civil partnership,

(c) or the applicants is party to a protected marriage, requests an interim gender recognition certificate and the application includes a statutory declaration of consent from the applicant’s spouse.

(3A) If a gender recognition panel issues a full gender recognition certificate under this section to an applicant who is a party to a marriage or civil partnership, the panel must give the applicant’s spouse notice of the issue of the certificate.”.’.

Amendment 14, schedule 5, page 39, line 39, leave out

‘(by virtue of section 4(2)(b) or (4A)’.

Amendment 18, in schedule 5, page 40, line 18, at end insert—

‘One-off compensation payment to couples whose marriages were annulled to permit a person to obtain a gender recognition certificate

9A Schedule 4 (Effect on Marriage): at beginning insert—

“(1) This section applies to a formerly married couple whose marriage was annulled in order to permit one or both partners to that marriage to obtain a full gender recognition certificate, provided that—

(a) the marriage was annulled following the coming into force of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and

(b) the formerly married couple either—

(a) (i) formed a civil partnership with each other within six months of the annulment of their marriage, and continue to maintain their civil partnership, or

(ii) have continued to live together as a couple in the same household since the annulment of their marriage.

(2) The couple shall be compensated from public funds to the amount of £1,000 by way of apology for the distress and costs incurred as a result of the annulment of their marriage.”.’.

Amendment 22, in schedule 5, page 40, line 18, at end insert—

‘Reinstatement of marriages annulled to permit a person to obtain a gender recognition certificate

9A Schedule 4 (Effect on Marriage): at beginning insert—

“(1) This section applies to a formerly married couple whose marriage was annulled in order to permit one or both partners to that marriage to obtain a full gender recognition certificate, provided that—

(a) the couple have continued to live together in the same household since the annulment of their marriage, and

(b) both partners to the former marriage give notice to a registrar that they wish their marriage to be reinstated.

(2) When notice is given under (1)(b), the marriage shall be reinstated with effect from the date the couple give notice to have it reinstated.”.’.

Amendment 16, in schedule 5, page 40, leave out lines 30 and 31 and insert—

‘(a) the registration of qualifying marriages,

(b) the registration of qualifying civil partnerships,

(c) the issue of replacement marriage certificates displaying the new details of the parties to the marriage but maintaining the original date,

(d) the issue of replacement birth certificates where the application is shown on the certificate, with the consent of the other parent named and—

(i) where the child has reached 16 years of age, the consent of the child to whom the birth certificate relates,

(ii) where the child has not yet reached the age of 16 years, the consent of the other parent named on the birth certificate, where present.’.

Government amendment 48.

Amendment 12, schedule 7, page 50, line 37, at end insert—

‘24A Section 12 (grounds on which a marriage is voidable): omit paragraph (h).’.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

We now move on to a rather different subject, but it is still an important one that affects a number of people greatly. A range of issues apply specifically to people who change their gender, who transition between genders or who are transgender. There may not be a huge number of people in that category and they may be a small minority, but they have been subject to some of the worst discrimination over many years and decades. Indeed, that has happened partly because there are not as many people in that group as in other groups.

Another group that we will not talk about specifically today is that of people who are intersex and who do not associate with one gender for a range of reasons. My right hon. Friend Simon Hughes has tabled some amendments to clarify the position for such people. I assume that it is clear that the Government’s intention is that marriage will be equal and will not exclude those who do not identify as male or female. I assume that there is no intention to discriminate. We therefore need to focus on the specific issues for the small group of people who are transgender.

Last Friday was IDAHO—the international day against homophobia and transphobia—and I spoke to people who have suffered such discrimination at an event in my constituency. My constituency is perhaps uniquely blessed in having not only a number of people who are out about the fact that they are transgender—many people, for understandable reasons, are cagey about admitting that they are transgender—but a number of transgender people who have been elected to the local council. Indeed, we had the first transgender mayor in the country. She was very proud of that role.

There is far too much transphobia, which many people have to face. Like other hon. Members, I have worked with Trans Media Watch, which keeps an eye on the truly disgusting articles that appear in the press about people who are transgender. I heard a number of awful stories at a recent event. To give one of the many examples, Lucy Meadows, a primary school teacher, killed herself after a very nasty article came out in the Daily Mail shortly after she transitioned. That is not acceptable in society, and we need to make a stand against it.

Sometimes, such things happen because people wish to be actively nasty. Sometimes, problems are caused for people who are transgender because of problems with the legislation that we produce. We do not always think of people who are transgender when we are writing legislation and there can be unintended consequences. I do not believe that this Government or the last Government have ever intended to discriminate against people who are transgender, but it has happened by accident.

We have had a few specialist debates—for instance, about which gender of police officer should search people who are transgender. I proposed that we should just ask people whom they wished to be search by, which would resolve the problem.

One problem that many transgender people face is when their marriage is stolen from them. A number of people are in a perfectly stable and loving married couple, one of whom wishes to transition. I know a number of people in that category. As it happens, the ones I know have been male to female transitions, but that is not uniquely so at all. Under the current law, for somebody to transition, they have to end the marriage. We, the state, say to people who still love each other, “You must get a divorce and break your marriage.” They were allowed a civil partnership when those were introduced, but they still have to go through that process, which is quite an upsetting thing to do.

There is some good journalism about transgender issues. There was a piece in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago about one of my constituents, Sarah Brown, who is a city councillor in Cambridge. She and her partner Sylvia, who were married, still live together and are still in a loving couple. The article states:

“For Sylvia, the toughest part of Sarah’s transition was being forced to replace their marriage with a civil partnership. ‘I thought it wouldn’t make a difference,’ says Sylvia. ‘I’m a scientist, I’m rational. It’s just a bit of paper, but it made us cry.’ In contrast to the poetry of the wedding vows, they found the language of the civil partnership ceremony like a business arrangement.

Sylvia and Sarah hope to remarry when the marriage (same-sex couples) bill becomes law, but their original marriage can never be restored in the eyes of the law. ‘When the registrar pronounced us civil partners it felt like the state was kicking us in the teeth,’ adds Sarah.”

That is what we as a country did—not deliberately in any way, but by accident—and many people feel the same. That is why I have tabled a range of amendments and worked with colleagues who care about these issues, of whom there are a number in all parties, to see what we can do to fix this.

We can now make some amends, because some of the couples affected will now be able to move to a marriage, as Sylvia and Sarah talked about doing. Amendment 15 simply argues that when such couples convert back from a civil partnership into a marriage, if both wish to do so, they should be able to count the marriage as having continued during the gap. In that way, we would be saying that, because we took their marriage from them for that period, we would let them count as having been married even though in fact they had to go through a civil partnership and then back again.

The amendment might have all sorts of effects, including on pensions, although I do not think it would have any financial consequences on a scale that the Government should be concerned about. Mostly, it would have a moral effect on the couples involved. It would say to a couple who stayed together through a transition that their relationship continued and that we value it as such. I do not intend to press it to a vote, but I expect the Government to consider it carefully and I hope that some progress will be made either here or in the other place, so that we can provide some restoration for the people whom we forced to go through the process.

I support amendments 18 and 22, which I believe that Caroline Lucas will discuss later, as they would also take some steps in the right direction. Amendment 18 would provide £1,000 in compensation to people who lost their marriage, not because we value that stolen marriage at £1,000—that is not the point in any way—but to acknowledge that we forced people into something that we should not have forced them into, so causing them genuine emotional hardship. Amendment 22 is an alternative way to restore the lost marriages and does not go quite as far as amendment 15. The point that I wish to make is not about the exact details; it is that we need to make restoration for people who went through the process.

None of the amendments is quite perfect. One person in a same-sex couple in a civil partnership might transition in future, in which case they would not be allowed to continue in that civil partnership. They would have the route of changing to a marriage available to them, so it is less of a concern, but it is a small anomaly.

Amendment 15 seeks to right a wrong that we have caused. I fear, however, that we may make errors in the Bill, not because of any intent to get things wrong, but because of the consequences of complex issues working together. Amendments 13 and 14 deal with one such issue. Where a couple are married and one transitions, there is a requirement to have a gender recognition certificate. Under current provisions, their partner would have to agree to allow them to get that certificate. Therefore, if I am married to somebody and wish to transition and change my gender, they get to veto whether that is fully legally recognised. Why should that be? A relationship might have terminally broken down for some reason, in which case it is possibly heading towards divorce, but that may not be so. The couple might not wish to go through that, yet one person is allowed to say to the other, “You may not do this; you may not legally change your gender fully. You will have to force through a divorce, which can take a very long time.” We should try to avoid the spousal veto.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green 4:30 pm, 21st May 2013

Does my hon. Friend agree it is bizarre that a man or woman who is transitioning can have surgery and change their name but cannot have a gender realignment certificate without spousal approval?

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I find it very bizarre. There are a number of anomalies in the whole process because of how it is set up, but a gender recognition certificate may be applied for only two years after someone has transitioned into the acquired gender full time, so there has already been quite a long time to try to sort out other issues. Amendments 13 and 14 would simply end the spousal veto, so that people who transition do not have to rely on their spouses to give approval. Some spouses will not give permission for that to happen.

Amendment 16 deals with marriage and birth certificates when there are transgender issues. It argues that replacement marriage certificates should be available for people who have transitioned, so that we do not force them to be outed every time they have to show a marriage certificate. We would reissue a marriage certificate with the original date and new names. That is a simple thing, but it will make a big difference. Not everybody who has transitioned wants to be known as somebody who transitioned. Many people just want to be known by their new name and new gender, and they do not wish to explain their past in every case. They already face that often enough when dealing with various institutions and medical issues. We should not force people to out themselves every time that they need to present a marriage certificate.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

There will be problems with police records, for example, if people change names like that, and that will cause a big problem.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. In many cases, of course, there is no problem, and there are technical ways in which the issue has been resolved. It is already possible for people to transition and the state manages to cope—income tax, HMRC and other systems manage to cope and each have detailed arrangements. I do not think that would pose a problem for somebody transitioning to avoid their previous criminal record, but it would avoid their being outed inadvertently or accidently, which is a genuine fear for a large number of transgender people.

At the moment, a child’s birth certificate cannot be reissued on the parent’s transition. Again, that raises concerns about privacy and outing, not just for the transperson but for their families, for example, when applying for school places. Under the amendment, replacement birth certificates could be issued with the new gender and with the consent of the child once they have reached an age at which they are able to consent. Older children should clearly have some say in this.

Such a provision would protect the privacy of the person who has transitioned where such information should not be revealed.

Clause 12 relates to an interesting aspect of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which gives grounds to void a marriage. It states that a marriage can be voided if

“the respondent is a person whose gender at the time of the marriage had become the acquired gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.”

If somebody marries somebody who has already transitioned, they can at any point cancel the marriage on that ground. Technically, that applies only if the person did not know that their partner had transitioned, but the problem is that, if someone is not public about the fact that they have transitioned, they are at risk of their partner, at any time, saying, “I did not realise.” There would be little proof, unless we expect transpeople always to tell others.

We could get rid of that anomaly and still allow normal divorce proceedings to be started. The marriage could still be ended if there was an incompatible breakdown when a person discovers the history of their partner—there would still be a way out for them if they feel they cannot continue—but we should remove the automatic sense that somebody has done something wrong simply by being transgender. That is a real concern. There have been such cases in Scotland—they were not to do with marriage, but with other sexual interactions—and there have been sex-by-fraud cases simply because somebody was transgender. We simply should not allow that to happen. Those are small and specific issues, but the proposals will make a difference to a persecuted minority within our country.

Government amendments on pensions and transgender people are welcome. I thank the Government for making that step, which is welcomed by the trans community and is to be supported.

Before I conclude, I want to highlight amendment 49, which is in the name of Caroline Lucas. I hope she does not mind my speaking to it before she does. The amendment would end a bizarre anomaly. If I marry somebody and die, they get a survivor’s pension related to the amount of time that I have spent in work. However, if I have a civil partnership with somebody and die, the payment they receive is related not to the time when I started work, but to the time when civil partnerships came into existence. That is bizarre. Any insurer would not know whether I would choose a marriage or civil partnership. It seems odd that one pension is backdated to when I started work, and the other goes only part way. It would make sense if both pensions dated back to the date of the marriage—I can understand the logic, although I do not believe that that is the right solution—but there is a blatant and odd inequality.

Most employers pay no attention to the anomaly because they are keen to be helpful to their employees. Many of them can nominate people to whom they are not married to receive the survivor’s pension. However, we should not have such inequality written in law. I apologise to the hon. Lady for saying that before she has had a chance to do so.

I hope that the Government take those issues seriously, because we can fix anomalies of the past and avoid making further ones in the present.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

It is a pleasure to follow Dr Huppert. I will address many of the issues he has raised. As he said powerfully, the amendments seek to provide some small right to the dreadful wrong that has been done to those couples who were forced by the state to annul marriages in order for one of them to avail themselves of their most basic civil rights.

Amendments 18 and 22 are in the name of Hugh Bayley, who is unable to be in the Chamber today because he is attending the spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I gladly agreed to speak to the amendments as the second signatory, because I have long been concerned to see that injustice rectified.

I shall provide the House with the case example that led the hon. Gentleman to table the amendments. His constituents have been married for 35 years as man and wife. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 forced them to annul their marriage, which they did in 2007, so that the male-to-female transsexual in the relationship could obtain a gender recognition certificate in her acquired gender and get on with her life. The legislation did not allow the couple to continue to be married even though they wanted that. Both were extremely clear that they wished to stay together and did not want a divorce. They had cared for, supported and loved each other as a married couple for more than 30 years, and wanted the care and support they mutually offered each other to continue in the years ahead. They wanted to keep their family together for their own sake and for the sakes of their children.

Since being forced to annul their marriage, the couple have lived together as two women in a civil partnership. They entered into a civil partnership on the very same day their marriage ended and still live together, but they should never have been made to annul their marriage, even if an alternative legal mechanism was available in the form of a civil partnership. They have lived together continuously for 44 years and it is their marriage anniversary that they still celebrate. For many couples, annulment was deeply distressing and not something of mere technical and legal significance.

As I think we would all recognise, reasons for marrying and making a public commitment are intensely personal and varied. For some, marriage is not just about legal practicalities, and the blunt replacement of one legal mechanism with another is not the end of the matter. Other hon. Members will have similar cases. The number of people involved is not large—a point I will come on to in a moment—but the injustice done to them is real. We ought to take this opportunity to go some way to righting the wrong done.

What can the Government do to make amends? Amendment 18 proposes to require the Government to make a one-off compensation payment from public funds to couples whose marriages were annulled, to permit a person to obtain a gender recognition certificate and enter into or continue to maintain a civil partnership; or to those who have continued to live together as a couple in the same household since the annulment of their marriage, but who did not choose to go down the route of a civil partnership. It is a simple principle: married couples forced by the state to have an annulment that they did not want should be compensated by the Government by way of an apology for the distress and cost incurred as a result of the annulment of their marriage. The amendment proposes a nominal sum of £1,000. The public expenditure implications would be negligible—we know the numbers are small, as I will go on to explain in a moment. The £1,000 compensation payment would be far less than the cost for couples who have had to pay for a divorce and a civil partnership ceremony.

A written question, answered by Mrs Grant, the Minister with responsibility for equality, confirmed that 151 interim gender recognition certificates were made—the certificates given when someone seeking full legal recognition is in a pre-existing marriage. The interim certificate could be used as grounds for annulment. After annulment, a full certificate giving the long sought-after civil rights could then be issued. Some of those 151 couples will have gone on to divorce and continue to live with, or form civil partnerships with, their former spouses. It is only they who would be eligible for compensation under the amendment, so the cost would probably be no more than tens of thousands of pounds and could not, at the absolute maximum, be any more than £151,000. The financial implications of the amendment, therefore, are tiny to the point of being negligible. This is about a symbolic apology: the state apologising for having, as the hon. Member for Cambridge put it, stolen those marriages.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene on what is a very interesting contribution. Will she clarify a small point, but one that is of great significance to those in Northern Ireland? I am following the logic of her argument. Under schedule 2 to the Bill, those in England and Wales can avail themselves of same-sex marriage. As soon as they go to Northern Ireland, however, that marriage would have to be treated as a civil partnership. Is the logic of her argument that the state that passed the legislation must also compensate those who regard themselves as married couples in England and Wales, but become civil partners again in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Given that we are talking about a symbolic apology, it would be generous and appropriate for it to be offered in Northern Ireland too. My argument is not a narrow legal argument. A wrong was done. To the extent that the wrong was done by the Government, one can make an argument that the measure is relevant only to those who were living in the country at that time.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

It is very generous of the hon. Lady to take a second intervention. Just to be clear, I was not making a recommendation that compensation be paid by the state. I was simply asking the hon. Lady whether her amendments would oblige the Government to pay compensation in the circumstances she outlined. Is the logic of her argument that she would advocate compensation in Northern Ireland? I certainly am not doing so.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification. In that case, my answer is simple: yes, I would.

Amendment 22 would remove any reference to compensation and deal specifically with the reinstatement of marriages in cases where couples had their marriages annulled, so that a person could obtain a gender recognition certificate and continue to live together without forming a civil partnership. In cases where civil partnerships were formed after forced annulment, I am pleased that the Bill provides some assistance. Under clause 9, a couple are permitted to convert their civil partnership into a marriage to be treated as having subsisted since the date the civil partnership was formed.

Couples who were forced to annul a marriage and enter into a civil partnership will not be able to rewrite history—at least not legally—but it will almost be as if there was no break in their marriage, which of course they never wanted to annul in the first place. These are not the only cases, however, and we must ensure that all cases are covered. As a result, amendment 22 is designed to help couples who annulled their marriages so that one person could get a gender certificate, but who did not then enter into a civil partnership. As far as possible, the injustice that they have also faced must be addressed.

When the issue was discussed in Committee, the Minister expressed sympathy for couples who had been required to make the difficult choice of whether to end their marriage to enable one of the parties to obtain gender recognition, but she said that she could not support an amendment that sought to reinstate marriages from the date they were annulled because of the difficulties that could be caused with any rights and responsibilities that the couple had accrued since their marriage was annulled—for example, retrospective entitlements to benefits and taxation.

In order to help the Government and make some progress, in this version of the amendment, I and the hon. Member for York Central are proposing that reinstatement of the marriage be from the date that the couple gave notice to have it reinstated. This would address Ministers’ concern about retrospective legislation. It is not ideal. I would much prefer a fully retrospective measure, but given what the Minister said in Committee, it would be better than nothing for this small but greatly wronged—I still believe—group of people. Couples were forced to make a distressing and appalling choice, largely because policy on same-sex marriage was lagging so far behind what was right and just. I hope that we can use the window of opportunity in this historic Bill to do the right thing.

Photo of Margot James Margot James Conservative, Stourbridge

I congratulate the hon. Lady and Dr Hupperton their work in this important area. A couple in Stourbridge came to me two years ago, one of them having undergone gender reassignment treatment and surgery. They were very distressed that their marriage had been annulled and did not want to enter into a civil partnership, for their own reasons. Does this not underline the benefit of the Bill? People who are in this position having had gender reassignment surgery will have the choice, whether they are gay or heterosexual.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

Yes, I think it does underline the benefit. As we have said, the numbers are not huge, but for the individuals involved, it was very distressing, so I think it appropriate that we take this opportunity to address the situation.

My amendment 49 would address the continuing discriminatory hurdle in the Bill around pensions. The Bill allows employers and pension providers to award gay spouses and civil partners a fraction of the survivor benefits payable to a partner in a mixed-sex marriage. It is an unnecessary and counter-productive anomaly in a Bill that otherwise makes landmark progress in furthering the fundamental human rights of gay people. The amendment would give same sex couples entering into a gay marriage entitlement to the same pension rights as married opposite-sex couples. It removes both existing discriminatory provisions in the Equality Act 2010 and the subsequent extension of that discrimination in this Bill.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

In tabling amendment 49, the hon. Lady has identified an anomaly that deserves to be rectified in the way she suggests. If the Government and the House want to give complete equality to same-sex relationships, they must address the pension question, otherwise we will have this extraordinary anomaly that if a person in a same-sex relationship today chooses to enter into a heterosexual marriage tomorrow, their new spouse would have full pension entitlement, whereas their former same-sex partner, whom they might have had a relationship with for many years, would get a fraction of that pension entitlement. If the Government and the House want same-sex relationships to have full equal rights, her amendment must be the right course of action.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention. I know he has had first-hand experience in his constituency of exactly this issue.

Paragraph 18 of schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010 allows employers and pension providers to ignore the service and contributions of gay employees made before 5 December 2005 when it comes to assessing survivor benefits for their civil partners and occupational pension schemes. Paragraph 15 of schedule 4 to the Bill would extend that discriminatory provision to same-sex spouses.

As we saw in yesterday’s debate on opening civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, the Government are comfortable arguing that unforeseen costs to pension schemes are a legitimate justification for sanctioning discrimination, yet their warning that the equalisation of treatment in the provision of occupational pension benefits will cost too much simply cannot be substantiated. No pension provider can accurately predict how many individuals in a pension scheme will be gay, never mind how many of them will marry or form a civil partnership with an individual who outlives them by a significant period of time.

Dealing with uncertainties around length of life, the possibility of illness, the decision to marry and many other issues is second nature to pension providers. Gay married people pose no more uncertainty than their straight counterparts. What is more, according to the Government’s figures, two thirds of pension providers already do the right thing, so any additional liability to pension schemes will surely be minimal. The financial implications of perpetuating discrimination could be very grave indeed, though, for those individuals who have paid into their pension schemes in the same way as other employees, yet will be denied the survivor benefits available to married mixed-sex couples.

One recent employment tribunal found that an occupational pension scheme was directly discriminatory because it provided a civil partner only with the benefit from pension rights accrued since 2004—in other words, when civil partnerships became available in the UK. John Walker and his civil partner have been together for 20 years and registered their civil partnership at the first possible opportunity, yet the pension scheme sought to restrict the survivor benefits available to John’s partner to just £500 a year. If John dissolved his civil partnership and married a woman today, she would be entitled to £41,000 per annum in the event of his death.

With the help of Liberty, John challenged that discrimination and recently won his legal battle to secure equal pension benefits for his civil partner. The employment tribunal relied on European Court of Justice rulings, which concluded that treating married and same-sex couples differently over the pensions payable to a survivor when national law recognises the relationships as equivalent in other respects breached the framework directive on equal treatment in employment. My amendment 49 would ensure full compliance with that directive and, crucially, ensure that the equality rulings made by the courts are applicable to all marriage relationships.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Labour, North Tyneside

Does the hon. Lady agree that if people are to have parity before the law, they must have not just emotional parity, but financial parity? Anything less would not be equality in any shape or form.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. We are talking about genuine equality. That means legal equality, as well as symbolic or any other kind of equality.

That tribunal was a landmark case. Interestingly, the Government lost the case, so one could argue that agreeing to my amendment 49 might save them money, as they would not need to pay out in future legal cases that might go against them. If the law remains as it is for civil partners and that inequality is extended to those in same-sex marriages, it could be several decades before gay couples achieve real equality in pension provision. I see no justification for continuing to permit discrimination in this area. I hope very much that colleagues will support amendment 49 and join me in overturning an anomalous and discriminatory provision.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

It is a pleasure to participate in this important debate on this group of amendments.

I have been quite conflicted over this entire subject. I am a godfather to a lovely little boy who has been adopted. His parents are in a partnership and they are both gay. I see myself very much as a progressive Conservative, and I certainly recognise that society’s attitudes have advanced, which is reflected in the fact that we are debating the amendments in such detail today. Of course we do not send children up chimneys any more, or allow only privileged landowners to vote, and we got rid of slavery long ago.

Now that we are debating the final set of amendments to the Bill, however, I have to ask where the call is for the details that Caroline Lucas mentioned. Where are the demands to drive those changes? There is certainly a trajectory in society that suggests that the amendments should be debated as part of the wider Bill. Like other MPs, I have had a full postbag and inbox, and I am grateful for the correspondence on these issues. Some of the language has been quite creative and provocative.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green 5:00 pm, 21st May 2013

Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. Speaking as a gay man in a civil partnership, I had no idea that my pension rights could be curtailed until someone wrote to me about it. The reason my hon. Friend might not have had much about that in his postbag could be that most gay people in a civil partnership have no idea that they are being discriminated against if they are in a contracted-in scheme.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The question is whether the Bill should be the vehicle for making those changes, but I very much respect his views.

I represent the beautiful, very diverse constituency of Bournemouth East. It has a substantial elderly population—some Members of Parliament have chosen to call Bournemouth “God’s waiting room”—as well as a vibrant town centre with a huge gay population. It is also a university town. So it has an elderly population and a young generation, as well as a large gay community. I have talked to members of the gay community about the Bill. I have also made an effort to speak to religious groups, individuals and organisations across the town, not only about pensions but about matters such as gender recognition. We debated those matters in schools as well. I have to say that I heard no significant call for these proposals generally, and certainly not for the provision in amendment 15, tabled by Dr Huppert. There were no planned demonstrations or pent-up anger because the issues had not been addressed.

Many people in the gay community like the general proposals in the Bill. As my hon. Friend Mike Freer has just pointed out, certain aspects in life need to be corrected, and this debate has been helpful in that regard. In general terms, however, most of the people I spoke to said, “Go away and focus on the economy.” They suggested that this was an important issue, but wondered why we were dealing with it right now.

The Bill was not mentioned in any Queen’s Speech, and I believe that the Government could have helped themselves by following the normal protocol of announcing that the measures would be introduced in a particular legislative period. Given that backdrop, I take my hat off to the Secretary of State and her Ministers for their stamina in pursuing the amendments they have tabled. They must have known from the start how controversial the amendments and the Bill as a whole would be. I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s assurances, especially on Government amendment 25.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend, as I always do. The Bill as a whole has certainly been controversial—it has divided the parties and the country—but does he agree that amendment 49, tabled by Caroline Lucas, is not controversial and should attract widespread support across the House and outside in the country? It represents a bit of unfinished business from the Civil Partnerships Act 2004.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

I understand what my hon. Friend says, but I step back and wonder whether all these amendments are required right now and whether this is where society wants to go right now. Many Members have been forced to make a decision, and there is naturally a tendency to want to support the Bill and not to view it as out of place. My question is why these issues are being brought to our attention at this moment in time. As I say, I did not see the deluge of calls for this measure, although the trajectory of society moving forward means that this is very much how we would anticipate the Bill and its amendments.

I am pleased that we have this opportunity to conduct this debate, which has prompted us to think about the wider issues of the role, purpose and values of marriage in our society. We are debating amendments relating to gender recognition and so forth, which has educated us about the historic role of the state in respect of the Church.

The Bible is full of commands that are unknown or ignored by many Christians today. That reflects how society is very much moving forward. Wives used to be subject to their husbands; children arguing with their parents used to be taken out and stoned to death; women used to have to cover their heads in church. Those things are either unknown by Christians today or simply ignored because they have no place in modern society. The Church has changed its views over the years—indeed, the Bill has changed as we have debated it over these last few months.

The Church remains divided on many subjects: the burning of witches, abortion, contraception, the status of illegitimate children and so forth. On a wider perspective, it is the role of Parliament to challenge the Church on these issues and through the Bill and amendments, as we did on the grander issues in the past. Slavery was indeed defended by many bishops because of the Bible; the Old Testament regulated for slavery; divorce was clearly condemned by Jesus in the Gospels, and those who had divorced were not permitted to remarry. In the Church of England, marriage was “Till death us do part”; it was long thought to be lifelong and indissoluble, yet divorce was formally introduced in this place in 1857.

What, then, are my thoughts on this Bill? I am absolutely supportive of the concept, but, like many of the Government amendments, it is ahead of its time. That puts many of us in an awkward position. Do we support the Government amendments and the Bill, which I believe to be somewhat messy and not well handled, albeit on a subject to which I do not object. Should I vote against the Bill and the amendments for which many of my constituents have called? A significant number of them were moved enough to call me to make sure that I did not support specific amendments or indeed the Bill as a whole. Then there is the final option, which is to abstain on the amendments and the Bill, thus honouring many of the calls not to support the Bill’s proposals while ensuring that my vote is honest to myself.

I shall conclude because I know others wish to participate in this important Report debate. I hope I shall not digress too far from the subject matter by mentioning that the FTSE 100 yesterday recorded its highest value in 24 years; despite being a significant economic indicator, it got no mention in this place. I hope that after Third Reading later today, we can back to considering the economy. The subject of gay marriage is significant and should be brought into law, but I remain to be convinced that it should be a priority for now. Those who will benefit from the change in the law are calling for the change now.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to amendments 27 and 28. It will not be a surprise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to hear that I am deeply unhappy about the Bill. I have said that in Public Bill Committee and in this Chamber in the earlier debate, I said it yesterday and I will reiterate it today.

I want to thank the Government for at least listening to me and my party on one issue. The Bill proposes that same-sex marriages formed in England and Wales should be recognised as civil partnerships in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is consistent with the way in which overseas same-sex marriages are currently recognised in the House.

I was a member of the Committee that scrutinised the Bill. When I say “scrutinised”, I mean that the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) scrutinised it very thoroughly. Most of the Committee’s members, however, sat in silence throughout the five days of our debates on the clauses, and most of them tabled precious few amendments. They seemed to see themselves as cheerleaders for the Bill, rather than the scrutinisers that they should have been. Never before, during my short time in the House of Commons, have I known members of the official Opposition to abdicate their responsibility to hold the Government to account quite so thoroughly.

Some of us did table amendments, and took the time and the trouble to speak. I pointed out to the Committee that Scottish Ministers were to be asked to give their consent to legal changes allowing recognition of English same-sex marriages, whereas Northern Ireland Ministers were merely to be consulted. Amendments 27 and 28 give us an opportunity to align the law with that in Scotland, which is good news.

As I said in Committee and have said in the Chamber, the Bill has generated the biggest single postbag I have received on any issue in all my years as an elected representative—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

Order. I am trying to be as tolerant as possible, but we are discussing this group of amendments, not previous amendments and what happened in Committee. I am trying to be fair, but we are in danger of not remaining where we should be.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

Amendments 27 and 28 provide for “consent”, Mr Deputy Speaker, and remove the reference to consultation. Why is that important? It is important to the people whom I represent in Northern Ireland because it introduces accountability to the process. Some 1,700 of my constituents have contacted me about the issue: members of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterians, Methodists, members of the Elim Pentacostal Church, Baptist Brethren, evangelical groups, Roman Catholics, Sikhs and Muslims. Members of faith groups throughout Northern Ireland have asked us, as Members of Parliament, to push for consent rather than consultation, and we have done so.

I believe that when we convey opinions about the importance of faith and religious persuasions, as we have in the House today and as we did in Committee, those opinions cannot be ignored. It has grieved me when some members of the Committee, and perhaps some Members in the House, have brushed aside the opinions of those with hard-held religious views.

Several of my fellow Northern Ireland Members have received similar amounts of correspondence from constituents, all of them pushing for consent rather than consultation. Only 17 of my constituents who contacted me were in favour of the changes. Theirs was very much a minority view, but it is one that we must respect and take on board.

The Northern Ireland Assembly will make the final decision on the issue, which is why amendments 27 and 28 are important. The Assembly has rejected same-sex marriage on two occasions under the consultation process. The first occasion was on 1 October 2012, when it was rejected by 50 votes to 45. Then, on 29 April this year, it was rejected by 53 votes to 42.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

Order. I have been generous, and have allowed what I thought was a kind of preamble, but we are actually discussing a group of amendments entitled “Gender, benefits and miscellaneous”. That is the problem that I am facing. I thought that the hon. Gentleman must be getting there. I am sure that he is, and will confine himself to the subjects under discussion from now on.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

I may have been a wee bit over-ambitious in trying to express some of my points of view, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I appreciate your generosity. I will return to the issues directly.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Hugh Robertson, confirmed to me, in a letter that I received yesterday, that

“Amendments 27 and 28 to clause 15(6) of the Bill make all orders and regulations made under the Bill subject to the consent of the Department of Finance and Personnel if those amendments would otherwise fall within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

The amendments have clearly given the Assembly the authority to make a final decision on the issue. That is very significant, and I thank both Ministers for what they have done.

This issue is immensely important to us in Northern Ireland, and has given rise to a massive postbag. I thank Ministers again for enabling consent rather than consultation to be enshrined in legislation.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green 5:15 pm, 21st May 2013

May I return to the topic of amendment 49, which I was very pleased to co-sign with Caroline Lucas?

Let me start by reassuring my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood that building a stable and cohesive society is one of the most fundamental roles of Government, so to be doing that today through debating this Bill is a highly appropriate use of parliamentary time. To those who ask whether we should be doing something else, I say that I can, perhaps unusually for a man, multi-task, so I think I can manage both to speak in this debate and to deal with other pressing issues.

Turning specifically to the amendment, it is important to distinguish between contracted-in and contracted-out pensions. This is quite a technical change and it does not apply to contracted-out pensions; it applies only to contracted-in pensions. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said, two-thirds of pension schemes already allow spousal survivors in civil partnerships equivalent widow or widower benefits without having to be forced to do so by the law, but one-third of them are discriminating. What is worse, that is an optional discrimination; they are choosing to discriminate against surviving civil partners in contracted-in pension schemes.

Let me try to explain why that is so fundamentally wrong. The hon. Lady gave the example of John Walker. Had he married a woman, she would have got a pension on his death of £41,000, but his civil partner got a pension of just £500 per annum. That diversity is the wrong kind of diversity; that is pure discrimination. Let us assume two men or two women join a pension scheme on the same day, and they both have the same level of service, and they both enter into some form of partnership, but one gets married and the other goes into a civil partnership, and let us also assume that the day after they get married or enter their civil partnership, they are both, by some quirk of fate, killed in a car accident. The pension of the widow in marriage will be go back to the date her former husband joined the pension scheme, let us say some 20 years previously, but the civil partner only gets to go as far back as when civil partnerships came into law. That cannot be right by any stretch of the imagination.

When researching why the Government were resisting this amendment, I was told that one of the issues is the cost factor. Everything we as a Government do has a cost, so I thought there must be some huge cost—perhaps £4 billion, which was a ready price-tag yesterday. In fact, the cost of giving equal pension rights on contracted-in pensions to civil partners is £18 million—not £80 million or £80 billion, but £18 million. It is true that that is a lot of money, and I certainly would not mind having £18 million in my bank account, but let me put that into perspective. The assets under management of the pension industry amount to £360 billion, so the cost of removing this anomaly is 0.006% of assets under management. I do not think that is a price we cannot afford.

I was also told that it is wrong to force pension providers to make retrospective calculations on which they did not base their pension actuarial decisions. That, too, is a flawed argument. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said, the actuaries behind a pension scheme make a whole variety of assumptions about longevity, how many of their pensioners will die in service and how many of them will die as a pensioner, and how long they will stay in the pension, and the accrual rate will be based on an assumption that most of their members will get married. It is complete nonsense to suggest that pension providers cannot allow civil partners who survive to get the same benefit as a widow or widower because it has not been accrued, as there is absolutely no evidence that the actuaries have not been able to make that calculation. If they made the calculation that X% of their pensioners would get married, they could simply make assumptions about a man in a civil partnership. They will have had no knowledge of whether that man or woman would have decided to get married or to enter a civil partnership and there is no logical or financial reason why the anomaly cannot be removed.

I hope that the Minister will give some commitment from the Government that the anomaly will be reconsidered. I know it was mentioned in Committee and that the Government are resisting the amendments, but I urge my ministerial colleagues to address the issue.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I totally support the comments my hon. Friend is making about removing the anomaly. Is there a list of companies that are already doing the right thing and, crucially, those that are doing the wrong thing? Are those companies named and shamed? Often, when we flick through the glossy corporate reports they say lots of glowing things and that the company is doing the right thing, but are they putting their money where their mouth is and supporting equal rights?

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I have tried to dig around to find out the size of liabilities and which companies are doing this, but unfortunately I cannot find that information. It is fair to say that many corporates take great pleasure in trumpeting in their annual reports what they would regard as their social responsibility, but I think that they should be saying loud and proud—to coin a phrase—that they are treating civil partners in the same way as heterosexual widows and widowers.

I hope that my ministerial colleagues can give some ground and say that the Government are willing to reconsider the matter. The cost is not even a rounding error in the Government accounts or for the pension industry, but the benefit to the recipients is beyond value.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Equalities)

It is a particular pleasure to follow Mike Freer, whose contributions to our debates on this Bill at every stage have been exemplary, moving, powerful and reasoned.

I am very pleased to welcome warmly many of the amendments on transgender issues. I particularly welcome Government amendments 40 to 47, and I thank Ministers, who I know have taken on board issues raised in Committee about pension protections for transgender couples. I am pleased that the concerns raised in Committee have been addressed in the amendments. They will create no new liability for pension funds and will remove for some couples the hideous decision about whether a member of the couple should proceed with gender reassignment and, in the process, remove the pension rights of a much-loved spouse. I know that following the debate in Committee, transgender people and their partners are pleased by the Government’s response and I want to put on record my thanks to Ministers for that.

I also welcome the other amendments on transgender issues in the group. Although I have some concerns about the compensation provision, the calculation given to us by Caroline Lucas suggests that there is relatively—indeed, microscopically—little cause for any Chancellor to be concerned. I hope that the Government will consider very carefully the whole package of amendments on transgender issues proposed by Dr Huppert and others. As I think the hon. Gentleman said, many of the injustices that the amendments seek to address are probably inadvertent injustices, but they are none the less deeply wrong injustices suffered by transgender couples. I invite Ministers to look, even as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament, at ways in which we might put rectifying action in place.

On amendment 49, on pensions, I too recognise the anomaly that exists between the treatment of pension rights for married couples and same-sex civil partners. I also recognise that resolving this anomaly is not without difficulty. We have always accepted the estimate of £18 million potential additional cost to private contracted-in occupational pension schemes, and I agree with hon. Members who have already said that in the scheme of overall funds under management for pension companies, that seems a very small amount indeed, although I also accept the concern that extending pension rights to civil partners could have a disproportionate impact in a very small number of cases, particularly in small and often charity employer schemes.

In relation to other schemes and the possible wider effect, for example on contracted-out occupational pensions, where Ministers have suggested a potential impact of £90 million, or in relation to public sector schemes, I must say that I am still puzzled as to why we think there is any further implication. In February I obtained a note from the House of Commons Library which pointed out that civil partners are already entitled to survivor benefits in contracted-out and public sector schemes in relation to benefits going back to 1988. That is a result of the Civil Partnership (Contracted-out and Appropriate Personal Pension Schemes) (Surviving Civil Partners) Order 2005. The Library said that the same was true of public sector schemes, as I say. So I am not clear how the exemption would affect those contracted-out and public sector schemes.

Although I have great sympathy for the amendment, the Government should come forward with a full analysis in order for Parliament to take an informed decision on what the cost implications would be. That is why I tabled new clause 17, which was not selected for debate. I understand the reasons for that, but it would have asked for the full report of the pensions costs implications for all forms of occupational pension and the impact on pension funds and pensioner poverty to be presented to Parliament. Although the new clause has not been selected for debate, I join the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green in asking Ministers to present the fullest possible information to Parliament so that we can make a proper decision. I recognise that if we get it wrong, we could drive very small pension schemes out of business, which would exacerbate inequalities in other ways.

As things stand, we are without a proper review of the cost. Ministers have expressed concerns that it could be more—potentially considerably more—than £18 million, and on the basis of the information before us, I regret that I cannot support amendment 49 today. However, I want to place on record my strong support for the principle that underpins it, and I very much hope that information that will enable us to move forward will be available to the House as soon as possible.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

It is nice to be able to make a contribution at last to this important debate, after sitting on the Front Bench for quite a few hours.

I will first speak to Government amendments in the group. This is a large group of amendments that, in broad terms, concern pension entitlements, gender reassignment, devolution and a number of miscellaneous matters. Government amendment 25 ensures that the protection for the Church of England in the Bill is both full and clear. We have been continuing our discussions with the Church since we knew that it had doubts about whether the power provided in clause 11(5)(c) would be sufficient to enable us to provide full protection for Church of England ecclesiastical law from the effect of clauses 11(1) and 11(2). It is an important part of the protection that Church of England canon law should not be affected by the provisions in the Bill and that references to marriage shall continue to mean marriage between a man with a woman only. Having consulted the Church of England, we have decided to provide further protection by referring to ecclesiastical law in the Bill. The amendment affects only law applying to the Church of England in the limited cases where the effect of marriage is at issue.

The Government’s devolution amendments clarify and make improvements to provisions on the control of secondary legislation affecting legislation within the competence of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. These changes follow constructive discussions with the Scottish and Northern Irish Administrations, which have sought additional reassurance on the extent to which the Secretary of State will, under the Bill, be able to amend or introduce legislation normally within their competence.

In respect of Scotland, we are extending the current requirement in clause 15(6)(a) on the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor to obtain the consent of the Scottish Ministers prior to making orders that amend legislation within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. That will broaden the consent requirement to regulations as well as orders, and will additionally require such consent when orders and regulations make provision under the Bill that is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

In respect of Northern Ireland, we are proposing arrangements that essentially mirror those for Scotland. Rather than a requirement to consult the Department of Finance and Personnel, we now propose a consent requirement that would apply to regulations as well as orders, and to measures creating new legislation within the competence of the Assembly.

Government amendment 48 relates to marriages in overseas consulates and armed forces bases, and means that if an Order in Council made under schedule 6 contains provisions that would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish

Parliament must be consulted before such an order is made. Similar arrangements are proposed for Northern Ireland.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down 5:30 pm, 21st May 2013

My intervention relates specifically to Northern Ireland and harks back to the useful advice given at the beginning of the debate by the Attorney-General in relation to the risk of discrimination. The Minister will know that under the Bill as drafted, if it is enacted, schedule 2 means that a couple who avail of the facility of a same-sex marriage will be fine in England and Wales, but as soon as they go to Northern Ireland it reverts to a civil partnership. My concern, mirrored by the Attorney-General’s intervention in relation to an earlier amendment, is that within the United Kingdom, surely that is discrimination on grounds of different status in Northern Ireland as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

I could not quite hear everything that the hon. Lady said, but my consideration is that it is down to Northern Ireland to respond. I am assured that that is right, but if that is not correct I will write to her to clarify that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

Perhaps the Minister’s correspondence could clarify the matter. I believe that the authority lies with the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps she might like to reply, if that is in order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am being reassured from both flanks, and from much higher authorities than me, that that is the situation.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on these devolution matters and for the work the Government have done to ensure that we have our own separate legislation for same-sex marriage. Can she assure me that she will do all she can to work with Scottish Ministers and ensure that everything required for a legislative consent motion will be approved by the UK Government so that we can go ahead with our own process in Scotland?

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We will certainly work very hard on that together.

I turn now to Government amendments 30 to 32, which are purely technical and simply ensure that the use of the phrase “existing England and Wales legislation” is entirely coherent, so as to remove any possible doubt as to its meaning. Government amendments 33 to 39 are technical and make changes to the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 to ensure that it works entirely properly for same-sex marriages. Amendment 33 makes changes to the 1973 Act in relation to what applies to opposite-sex and same-sex marriages and to give effect to schedule A1.

Amendments 34, 35, 36 and 38 make changes to ensure consistency of language with the 1973 Act. Amendment 37 inserts a provision into schedule A1 to enable applications for an order to end a marriage because one of the couple is dead to be made under the Presumption of Death Act 2013. Amendment 39 enables schedule A1 to work using the presumption of death provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 if the 2013 Act is not in force when the Bill comes into force. Amendment 39 also amends schedule 1 to the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 provisions on staying—meaning halting—matrimonial proceedings in England and Wales when there are other court proceedings at the same time outside England and Wales about that same-sex marriage. That will ensure that such proceedings on the same divorce, judicial separation or annulment do not give rise to conflicting decisions, which would prevent resolution of the issue.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am listening intently to the Minister and am sorry to interrupt her at this stage, but I must bring her back to Northern Ireland. I really want an assurance from the Government that we in Northern Ireland will not see legal challenges on the grounds of breaches of the European convention on human rights by those who, if the Bill becomes law, avail of same-sex marriage in England and Wales. It is specifically paragraph 2 of schedule 2 that concerns me. It states:

“Under the law of Northern Ireland, a marriage of a same sex couple under the law of England and Wales is to be treated as a civil partnership… (and accordingly, the spouses are to be treated as civil partners).”

I just need reassurance from the Minister.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

Order. We are getting to Third Reading points and I would not want the hon. Lady to use up the points that would be better made then.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

I am afraid that, as this is a devolved matter, it is impossible for me to give the assurance that the hon. Lady is asking for. Northern Ireland, rightly, has to look at the issue itself.

Government amendments 40 to 47 deal with pension entitlements. They amend part 6 of schedule 4, which provides for same-sex married couples to be treated in the same manner and to be entitled to the same survivor benefits as civil partners. As drafted, that includes couples in same-sex marriages who have preserved their marriage following the change of legal gender of one of the spouses, and it is designed to ensure that all same-sex couples are treated alike for this purpose. We recognise that our policy of treating same-sex marriages in the same way as civil partnerships for occupational pension survivor benefits may create a problem in relation to survivor benefits for a very small group of individuals whose spouses change gender during their marriage. We understand that this could deter a transsexual person from seeking to change their legal gender because of the financial impact on their husband or wife. If the amendments are made, widows of marriages that become same-sex as a result of the husband’s change of legal gender during the marriage will still be treated as widows for the purpose of calculating survivor benefits in a contracted-out occupational pension scheme; and for schemes that are not contracted out, in calculating any entitlement to survivor benefits, the marriage will continue to be treated as opposite-sex marriage.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green

If I heard the Minister correctly, she said that any transgender couple who transition will keep their full entitlement from the date of joining the pension scheme, but a civil partner survivor will still be restricted to the point at which civil partnerships became law. Does not that create yet another anomaly?

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

I think that I have made the position clear. The concession is intended to target a very small group of people, and we do not intend to open it up any further. The main reason for giving the concession is that there has been no break in the marriage.

Amendment 49 would remove the exception in the Equality Act 2010 that allows occupational pension schemes to take into consideration only accruals from 2005 for the purpose of survivor benefits for those in a civil partnership. It would also remove the provision in the Bill that extends the exception to same-sex married couples. When civil partnerships were introduced, an exception was added to equality legislation that allowed schemes to restrict access to survivor benefits for those in civil partnerships, so that schemes are required, when calculating survivor benefits, to take into account only accruals from 2005, when civil partnerships were implemented.

We have a responsibility to balance the interests of all parties involved in a pension, so while we are of course absolutely committed to equality for same-sex couples, we do not believe that it would be right to put on schemes the significant additional and retrospective financial burdens that would arise from removing the Equality Act exception. We are very conscious that defined-benefit schemes already face difficult economic conditions.

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

I would like to make a little headway, as I have a fair way to go.

Caroline Lucas referred to the recent case of Walker, which was supported by Liberty, in which an employment tribunal found that a pension scheme had discriminated against a member by using that exception. The Government do not agree with that finding. The decision of the tribunal is not binding and there is nothing in it that leads us to question our policy. We intend to challenge the decision robustly. The Government have recently been added as an interested party in the appeal. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion not to press the amendment.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 5:45 pm, 21st May 2013

Will the Minister explain what the situation will be if the Government lose the appeal, which seems entirely likely given the legal case?

Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

As an optimist, I would prefer to decide what action is appropriate if that happens. I do not want to prejudge the appeal.

I shall now deal with the non-Government amendments on gender reassignment. Amendment 15 would enable a marriage to be held to be continuously valid from the date of the original marriage solemnisation, effectively restoring the original marriage. Amendment 22 would allow couples who have continued to live together following the annulment to apply to have their marriage reinstated from the date on which they notify the registrar of their wish to have their marriage reinstated.

I understand the concerns that prompted hon. Members to propose those amendments, and the Government have great sympathy for couples who felt required to make the difficult choice to end their marriage to enable one party to obtain gender recognition. However, it is not possible to reinstate a marriage that has been lawfully ended by an order of the court. It will be possible to backdate converted marriages to the date of registration of the civil partnership, as the civil partnership will not have been lawfully ended.

Couples who have continued to live together will be able to marry by virtue of the changes in the Bill. I realise that that will not be a reinstatement of the original marriage, but I sincerely hope that couples will feel able to make use of these important provisions. I realise that some transsexual people in this situation may be disappointed, but we need to ensure that a person’s legal relationship status is completely clear at all times in the eyes of the law.

Amendment 18 would enable a one-off payment of £1,000 from public funds to be made as compensation for the distress caused to and costs incurred by couples who had their marriages annulled to enable one or both parties to get gender recognition. I cannot support that amendment because we have to take the law as we find it. It is not fair arbitrarily to compensate couples who decided to end their marriage under the law that applied at the time. There will be other couples who felt unable to end their marriage and who may have suffered distress as a result of not being able to obtain gender recognition. We have taken on board the issues that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and my hon. Friend Mike Freer have raised, and we will continue to listen carefully.

The first part of amendment 16 would provide a power for the Registrar General to make regulations about the issuing of new marriage certificates to couples in which one or both parties have obtained gender recognition that reflect the trans party’s acquired gender, but retain the original date of registration. That could include the date of registration of a marriage that had been annulled. I assure the House that that part of the amendment is unnecessary because the power provided in the Bill is wide enough to deal with those matters. We will give serious consideration to the registration date that should be referred to on any new marriage certificate issued to a couple who are to stay married following gender recognition. We will also need to ensure that the certificate does not inadvertently reveal that one party has gender recognition.

The second part of amendment 16 would provide a power for the Registrar General of England and Wales to make regulations providing for amended birth certificates for transsexual people’s children to reflect the transsexual person’s acquired gender. The amendment does not seem to be directly related to equal marriage, and in any event I cannot accept it as section 12 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes it clear that gender recognition does not affect the status of a transsexual person as the father or mother of a child. That section is necessary to ensure the continuity of parental rights and responsibilities and to protect the right of children to know the details of their biological parents.

Amendment 12 is intended to remove the provision in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 that makes a marriage voidable when a transsexual person marries a non-trans person but does not inform that person of their trans status prior to the marriage or at the time when it takes place. I cannot accept the amendment, because the current provision in the 1973 Act and the corresponding provision in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 provide important protection for the non-trans spouse. If a non-trans person finds themselves in a marriage to which they did not fully consent, it is only right that they should be able to apply to annul the marriage rather than have to wait to bring time-consuming and often costly divorce proceedings.

Amendments 13 and 14 would require the Gender Recognition Panel to issue full gender recognition certificates to all applicants in protected marriages, irrespective of the non-trans spouse’s views. It would then be open to the non-trans spouse to issue divorce proceedings. I understand that the amendments are intended to remove the so-called “spousal veto” in schedule 5. However, let me be clear that non-trans spouses will not be able to veto their spouses obtaining gender recognition. I also understand that the amendments are intended to deal with the problem of hostile or obstructive non-trans spouses who deliberately seek to delay nullity proceedings. I have not seen any evidence that that is a widespread problem. If the grounds for the marriage being voidable are met, the hostility or absence of the non-trans spouse should not delay a court in issuing a decree of nullity. If there is evidence that unnecessary delays are occurring, we believe that it should be a matter for the court.

It must be remembered that a marriage is contracted between two people who should have an equal say in the future of that marriage. We consider that it would be unfair to remove the right of every non-trans spouse to have a say in the future of their marriage before gender recognition takes place. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press their amendments relating to gender reassignment.

Finally, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this important debate. I am conscious of time and know that I need to leave a little time for Dr Huppert to respond, so I will conclude my remarks.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

We have discussed some important and detailed issues that matter intensely to a range of people. I am grateful for the tone in which the debate has been conducted by almost everybody; it has been productive. I know that people from the trans community and other minority sexual communities who have been watching are impressed that Parliament is able to discuss these matters.

Mr Ellwood, who is no longer in his place, said that there is no pent-up anger about some of these issues. I would quote comments sent to me by some of my transgender colleagues, but I suspect the language would be rather unparliamentary. There is certainly pent-up anger among people about their stolen marriages.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, I disagree on some of the detail about these amendments and I maintain that there are some concerns. I was worried by some of the language about not fully consenting to a marriage, although I am sure the Minister did not mean to imply that people need to be protected from transgender spouses or transgender people—I am sure that is not what was intended. I was grateful to hear her say that the Government will continue to listen carefully on such issues. I hope there will be further discussion in another place and that the Government will reflect on what more they are able to do.

There has been some progress and I acknowledge some of the Government amendments. On stolen marriages, amendment 15 was always an ideal, and I am well aware of the Government’s objection to backdating. It would be wonderful if it were possible to do so, and I am sure the Attorney-General is a good enough lawyer to find a way to do that. The Minister highlighted the fact that couples will be able to backdate their new marriage to the date on which their civil partnership was formed, so there is some form of backdating, which is welcome. In many cases, there will be a one-day gap between two otherwise identical marriages, which is slightly odd, but I am grateful for that progress. Amendment 15 was always somewhat optimistic, but I hope we can make progress on some of the other issues.

Amendment 49, tabled by Caroline Lucas, is critical. It has been noted that the current position gives rise to some truly odd anomalies. We are introducing—quite correctly—protection for someone who is transgender and transitions, so that they do not lose out on pensions by virtue of that, but we are leaving in place a slightly bizarre anomaly, mentioned by Mike Freer, regarding people who have a same-sex relationship, because we are not backdating that to before 2005. That seems deeply anomalous and I am sure the Attorney-General will give clear advice about discrimination on that basis.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green

I raised that question because of the anomaly that a gay man or a straight man joining the pension scheme will pay contributions at the same rate but receive different benefits, which is discrimination.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

It is absolutely discriminatory. It is also the case that a bisexual man or woman would pay at the same rate and would get a different pension transferred depending who they happen to end up with. That seems truly bizarre. The position is not at all sustainable and if the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion presses her amendment to the vote, I expect that I and my colleagues will support her. It is a free vote but I promise my support. However, given that Opposition Front Benchers have said they will not support the proposal, I will understand if the hon. Lady wants to leave her amendment for consideration in another place. The situation is completely unsustainable and it should not last the passage of this Bill. Amendment 15 is right in principle, but I accept that it will not win support, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.