Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:58 am on 2nd February 2018.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 10:58 am, 2nd February 2018

I thank my hon. Friend Tim Loughton for bringing these incredibly important issues to the House with his private Member’s Bill. He has managed to squeeze into one Bill the work of, I think, four Government Departments—it may be more. One can see from the Box just how many officials have been working on the Bill, and believe me there are many more. I commend my hon. Friend for making the Government work so hard to ensure that we see justice done on these four important issues.

I thank Members from all parties for contributing to this debate. I must say that it is difficult to follow the very moving speech by Mrs Hodgson. To bring Lucy into this Chamber and to speak about her in the way the hon. Lady did was incredibly moving, and I hope that today will be a step forward not just for the hon. Lady but for other mothers and fathers throughout the country who have suffered terrible, terrible loss.

I am also grateful to Lilian Greenwood for her moving speech, and to my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), both of whom have spoken on some of these issues at great length and, sadly, with personal experience.

It has been a pleasure to work with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. His reputation precedes him, as a tenacious Back Bencher and as a tenacious Minister when he was Minister for Children and Families. I am delighted that we have reached a place where we can agree on the progression of the Bill. The Government cannot support the version of the long title that is currently before the House, but we have amendments to be added in Committee that we hope will bring about the changes that so many in this House wish to see. Assuming that the House agrees to give the Bill its Second Reading, we will table the amendments—jointly with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham—before the rise of the House today and they will be debated in Committee.

I recognise that my hon. Friend wants the Bill to go further than our amendments, particularly our amendment to civil partnership, will allow. I am therefore very grateful to him for working so constructively with us to reach an agreement. We will ensure that marker clauses 1 and 2 are both amended accordingly. Clause 2 deals with civil partnerships. Our amendment to it will require the Government to undertake a further review of the operation of civil partnerships, and to bring forward proposals for how the law ought to be changed so that the difference in treatment in the current system is resolved. The amendment will go further than the current marker clause in the Bill before the House, in that it will require the Government to report to Parliament and to include a full public consultation.

I assure Members that this is a commitment on behalf of the Government. We are committed to resolving this issue, but we have to get some better evidence than we have at the moment in order to deal sensitively with the civil partnership issue. I wish it were a simple matter of changing a sentence in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, but we have to recognise that this is not just about eligibility; it is also about the rights that flow from any changes. For example, the rules for the dissolution of civil partnerships and divorce in the case of marriage are different for same-sex and opposite-sex partners.