Civil Partnership Bill

– in the House of Lords at 2:32 pm on 24th June 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 1.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 4, leave out "of the same sex"

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 11. These are simple amendments to remove the blatant sexual discrimination inherent in the Bill by removing the words "of the same sex". The argument is clear and simple—the Bill is discriminatory in its nature and will almost certainly suffer a legal challenge sooner or later. I offer these amendments in a spirit of helpfulness to the Government to get them out of a future problem. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, at an early stage I indicated in Grand Committee that while I had sympathy with the object of the amendment if it was that stated by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit—namely, to seek justice for heterosexual couples who are excluded from the Bill; that is why the Bill dealt with that matter originally—I was persuaded that this is not a Bill in which that should be sought. I shall explain why.

The matter is well put by the Solicitors' Family Law Association, which is a distinguished body of over 5,000 family lawyers, in its briefing for today's debate. Not only does it explain why the amendment that has just been carried was in its view most ill-considered, but it also explained that heterosexual couples should not be eligible to register as civil partners. They already have available to them the legal equivalent of civil partnership—namely, civil marriage—and by getting married the same legal rights and responsibilities are given to lesbian and gay couples who register a civil partnership. That is the first and unanswerable point.

Importantly, this authoritative body goes on to say:

"The broader and more complex problems faced by unmarried heterosexual couples relate to the increasing numbers who live together outside marriage. Many wrongly believe they have the same legal rights as married couples—a recent social attitudes survey found that 56 per cent of those questioned were unaware of the legal distinction between married and unmarried couples. In our role as legal advisers we have found that people's frequent reliance on the misconception of the 'common law marriage' makes them extremely vulnerable when the relationship ends, particularly women with children. A public information campaign alone will not address this problem. Urgent reform is needed to the law on cohabitation, but this should be dealt with by separate legislation".

The association continues:

"We welcome the commitment made by Lord Filkin to consider legislative reform and ask the Law Commission to re-examine the issues. The SFLA has developed proposals for a separate new law which would provide safety net protection for cohabitants made vulnerable at the breakdown of a relationship. With colleagues at the Law Society we have drafted a Cohabitation Bill which we hope can form the basis for further reform. We look forward to discussing it with Ministers and will make it available to the Law Commission. This should be the Government's next stage of reform, to follow the enactment of the Civil Partnership Bill".

It then outlines what it has in mind.

I never know whether the House is at its best or its worst when strong, emotional and psychological forces act upon us. I never know whether reason or information make the slightest difference to the verdict of the jury that is this House. But if information and reason have any relevance to this debate, I hope that noble Lords think that those points, made by an independent body of family lawyers—not by politicians—would explain why this amendment is, with respect, ill founded.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, in view of the changed nature of civil partnership following the amendment passed earlier—although I agree with what the noble Lord has just said and we would have adopted those views—the Government find themselves unable to contribute to the amendment at this stage, except that we oppose it.

The decision that the House has just made amending Clause 1 fundamentally alters the basis upon which the Government have brought forward the whole Bill and on which they have consulted widely before doing so. In those circumstances the Government feel unable to proceed with any of their amendments previously tabled and to contribute to the debate on other amendments, except to indicate that we oppose them.

I thought it was right that your Lordships should know that that is the course that we intend to take in relation to every amendment that will now follow.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, we entirely agree with that view. We regard what has happened as a torpedoing of the Bill in the guise of noble motives. Personally, I am most disappointed, since it was my Private Member's Bill that began the matter in this House and the only proper course is to bring it before the democratic Chamber as soon as possible.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, that is the most extraordinary statement that I have ever heard from the Government Front Bench in all the years that I have seen Bills pass through this House. The Government have lost one amendment, which has changed their Bill. They have every opportunity to put that amendment to another place, should they wish to change it, because the Bill will go to another place in due course. They are effectively seeking not to take the Bill any further.

Noble Lords:

No.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, the Government have said that they will not now bring forward any of the amendments that they have tabled. There is a large number of those and some of us have objected to the number of them, as we did in Committee. Can the noble Baroness tell us a little more about the Government's thinking. Why, on this occasion, do they intend not to do anything further?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I shall first deal with the issue of amendments. At Second Reading we made it clear that in order to make the Bill consistent we would have to table a number of technical amendments. Those amendments were predicated on the understanding that "civil partnerships" referred to relationships between same sex couples of either gender and to no other groups. The consequences of the amendment that your Lordships have just passed mean that that term—that definition—no longer applies. A "civil partnership" would now refer to a group of people considerably greater than single-sex relationships—mothers, children, fathers, grandparents and a whole series of other relationships.

Bearing that in mind and knowing that in each and every instance where we will now consider civil partnerships within that context we do not feel that we can helpfully explore the amendments, except to say that we oppose them and that we hope that the Bill will go speedily through this House so that it can go to another place.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, with the leave of the House—I appreciate that we are on Report—we do not know what another place might do. Obviously, there is a free vote there for both the major parties, although not for the Liberal Democrat party. Another place might decide to reverse our decision.

The Government have tabled a large number of amendments which it is right should be considered at some point. Should another place reverse our amendment, is the noble Baroness saying that we will not have adequate opportunity to discuss the vast array of amendments she has put before us today and the 130 pages of amendments which were discussed in Grand Committee?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I have made it plain that all the amendments which we seek to bring forward will be predicated on the definition of same-sex couples entering into the partnerships, not any other definition. All our amendments were predicated on that basis. It would be impossible for those amendments to be reconfigured in order to reflect the new construct which must be put on civil partnerships as a result of the amendment your Lordships have just passed.

I am sure that noble Lords opposite understood the consequence of what they did because I cannot imagine that it would have been done without them fully understanding that it would fundamentally alter the whole nature of the Bill—the whole nature of the Bill.

We wish the Bill to be speedy in its transit through this House so that it can be properly considered. It was a matter for noble Lords to take the view and approach that they did and the consequences that flow from that. We now face those consequences.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, it is difficult on Report to sort out a confusion of this kind because one is supposed to speak only once. However, perhaps I may pose one or two questions to the noble Baroness. She said that the Government do not propose to move the government amendments. However, a considerable number of amendments on the Marshalled List are not necessarily affected by what has happened and it would seem sensible to progress with them. Indeed, on Amendment No. 7, which I hope to move later, it may be possible to clarify many of the consequences of what has happened.

Secondly, if the Government simply intend to sit on their hands at this stage, intend that the Bill will then go to the Commons where the amendment will be reversed and then come back here, what will be the procedure for considering the Bill further? We cannot do so simply on a rejection of an amendment by the Commons. That would be quite inappropriate. The Bill would be in an even bigger mess than it is now.

We need to know. It is all very well standing up and saying, "Oh, well, we don't propose to move our amendments". We need to know what the procedure is which the Government propose and, in particular, whether there is any precedent whatever for a Government making the kind of statement that the noble Baroness has just made.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, as a consequence of what the House did, the House chose not to scrutinise those issues because it fundamentally disagreed with the Government's view that civil partnerships should be restricted to same-sex relationships. The consequence which flows is that of course noble Lords can table any amendments they choose. They will be debated and the Government will participate to the extent they feel able. I have indicated, as a matter of convenience for the House, that we will not involve ourselves in the details of the debate but say simply that we will oppose the amendments.

We are not seeking to deny the House the proper opportunity to scrutinise. The House has chosen to act in the way that it has. That means that in relation to certain matters the House has lost the right to scrutinise. That is our right. Noble Lords went through the Lobbies and voted on that basis. Now we have the consequences. It is a matter which has not been of the Government's making.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, with the leave of the House—it is difficult on Report to try to sort out the problem—can the noble Baroness comment on the second point I raised? How do the Government now propose that the Bill will proceed? Does she propose that it will go to Third Reading or does she have some other procedure in mind? If the Government do not move any of their amendments and the Bill goes through totally unamended to another place, it will not be satisfactory for the other place simply to reverse our amendment and then for the Bill to return here merely on that reversal. We would need to have a completely new arrangement to cover the return of our amendment if, as seems likely, the Government succeed in reversing it. We need some view from the Government, either from the Chief Whip or otherwise, on the procedure which we will now follow.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the procedure is absolutely and precisely as it always is; that is, the Bill goes through Report stage and Third Reading and then proceeds to the Commons. It is a Lords starter so it will go through all its stages in the Commons where the Government will put forward whatever amendments they want to put forward. The Bill will then return here and we shall deal with Lords consideration of Commons amendments in the normal way. The effect of our earlier vote, without wishing to be repetitive, has a knock-on effect on virtually everything on the Marshalled List for consideration today.

The Bill will proceed in the normal way; that is, any Member of the House can move the amendment down in his name; they can be debated and the Government will give whatever response they feel appropriate. We have indicated that it might be minimal in view of the decision made earlier today. The short, simple and precisely accurate answer is to say that the Bill will continue to be considered in exactly the same as any other Bill.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House exactly what we are discussing at the present time? I understand that an amendment has been moved and spoken to and the Minister has wound up. According to the rules, that should be the end of the matter.

If we are going to have a discussion about procedure, many of us will want to take part in it. That is why I ask the Chief Whip for clarification of the present position.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we have moved seamlessly into a procedural discussion from a discussion on an amendment. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who was a long-standing and, perhaps I may say, tough Whip in the other place, knows that perfectly well. I strongly suggest to the House that we proceed precisely in the old familiar track in the old familiar way. We should put forward amendments for discussion, move them or not, withdraw them or not and vote on them or not. Why do we not get on with the business?

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I am trying to be helpful. I do not understand what the Government Chief Whip is saying. He is saying that the Bill will go through the normal procedures in this House, then go to another place where the amendment we have just carried is likely to be reversed and then return to us here. However, I am not clear how we in this House can possibly discuss the detail of the Bill simply on a government amendment to an amendment we have carried in this House. As I understand it, there is not the scope to discuss all these issues.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I need to remind the House—this is a point on which I feel strongly—that the Bill is a Lords starter, as was the Constitutional Reform Bill. Both were strongly argued for by my noble friend the Leader of the House and myself as being desirable to be Lords starters. It is important that this House has important Bills to consider first and foremost.

I shall confine my remarks to this Bill and not include the Constitutional Reform Bill. If a fundamental change has been made in this House to the nature and substance of a Bill, as in this case, clearly, the sooner we can get it to the other House which can consider it properly in the normal way—not considering Lords amendments but considering it through all its stages—the better. Frankly, I cannot see the problem or the difficulty in the Bill coming back here with a series of Commons amendments for us to consider in the normal way. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, suggested, it is possible that the process will take longer. I fully understand that, but it seems to me that the procedure is simple.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may respectfully suggest—I do not move—that the House adjourns for a few moments to try to resolve this problem. It is wholly unacceptable that we should continue on the basis which the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has, with the best intentions, set out. He had to say what he said because of the procedures to be followed. But I suggest, without moving, that the House should adjourn for a short time to see whether some accommodation can be made.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I really do think that that would waste everyone's time. We need to proceed with this Bill. No change in procedure or normal practice is being suggested. The vast majority of amendments that come before this House are not put to a vote. Quite frequently, amendments which appear on the Marshalled List are not moved. That is precisely and exactly where we are at the moment. Numerically the balance may be a little different and it is possible that rather more amendments may not be moved than is normally the case, but I do not think that anyone in the House does not understand or appreciate that. The sooner we get on with the business of this very important Lords starter, which we want to continue discussing, the better. We should get on with it and complete the various stages of the Bill without having an extended debate which, I suggest, is unnecessary.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament

My Lords, it seems to those of us who have listened to this procedural debate for only the past few minutes that the Government have had a collective fit of pique about a decision taken by the House a couple of hours ago to include an amendment against the Government's wishes. On the back of that, the Government are now saying that the amendments that they had proposed, and had wholly intended to move in order to clarify various aspects of the Bill, will now not be moved. That is my understanding of the situation, and I understand that the Bill will now go to the Commons.

Can the Government Chief Whip tell us what will happen to the amendments on the Marshalled List which, I understand from our Front Bench, were all agreed? They were helpful and explanatory amendments and they should be proceeded with. My further understanding is that the Division won earlier does not affect those amendments and does not affect fundamentally the substance of the Bill. If the Government wish to behave in what appears to me to be an extremely churlish fashion, they will suffer the consequences.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I shall try once more, probably in vain, to close down this discussion and move on. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that, far from suffering from a fit of pique or anything else, the only anxiety and stress that I feel in this situation relates to ensuring that we finish the debate before the match starts tonight.

I strongly suggest that this situation is no different from any other, except for the fact that the effect of the amendment that was carried is to redefine a fundamental part of the Bill, and that affects virtually all the other amendments that are to be considered. Is there really anything else that we can find to say? I cannot think of anything.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may speak now. In fact, I think that I am the only person who should be heard under the procedures of the House, and I have behaved with great restraint during this discussion. As I understand it, the Government do not like the amendment, they will keep secret from the House their reasons for not liking it, and they would be obliged if we would just get on and talk to a blank wall. I confess that I do not find that a very satisfactory arrangement.

However, if I may say so, I believe that behind that approach is the fact that there must have been a panicky telephone call from the Treasury. That is at the heart of it. The noble Baronesses opposite say, "No, no. The Treasury? Good gracious me. The Treasury? It would not be the Treasury's concern". The amendment has done nothing to attack the principle of the Bill. All those who would have benefited under the Bill as it was introduced essentially remain to benefit. The earlier vote on the amendment of my noble friend Lady O'Cathain has done nothing to detract in any single way from the privileges or rights which the Bill would extend to certain groups of people. That vote has meant that another group or two of people have been made beneficiaries.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, looks astonished. I thought that she got hold of that idea earlier today. Most of us did, and that is why we voted for my noble friend's amendment. We wanted to benefit another group of people in order to reduce the inequities which the Bill would have created.

I can accept that in respect of certain bits and pieces the Government will want to scratch their head—for example, in relation to the provisions on the rules of evidence and the right which was to be extended to civil partners not to testify against each other. The Bill is, in every sense and every detail, a parody or mirror image of civil marriage. I can understand that.

I could have understood it if the noble Baroness had said that she thought that the House should adjourn early today and that the Report stage would proceed in a week or so after the five departments and however many hundred civil servants involved had gathered together their resources and the bean-counters had totted up the sums and made an estimate for the Chancellor of how much it might cost him in lost revenue if these privileges were extended to other people. Indeed, I could have understood it if the noble Baroness who speaks for the Government on social security had totted up on her calculator how much it would save the Treasury because it is a two-way bet.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said this morning, some people might lose if they enter a civil partnership but some might gain. I rather doubt whether people who would lose would be willing to go into a civil partnership, and so the noble Baroness should not worry her head too much about that. But she would want to juggle the figures and we could all understand that.

As I said earlier when I introduced the amendment— and did so very briefly—I do not want to make life difficult for the Government. However, that seems to have been a long time ago. I just want to be helpful in any way that I can. I am beginning to feel that it would not be appropriate for me to push this matter to a Division at this stage, but we shall have to return to it at Third Reading. Indeed, we may have to find ways of coming back to it when the Bill returns from the Commons.

But when the Bill reaches the Commons, unless something has changed there, I warn the noble Baroness that a very complex and long Bill such as this will almost certainly be timetabled—that is, guillotined. It is possible that great hunks of it will not be discussed at all in the Commons. Therefore, some of the Government's amendments, which they are now so shy about putting forward, may not be discussed properly.

I said earlier that in my 30-odd years in Parliament I have never encountered such a monumentally incompetently drafted Bill. Bills which have been in gestation longer than a baby elephant now come forward more than 50 per cent longer because pages have been added by government amendments in the Committee and Report stages. But the Government now say that, because my noble friend has secured the agreement of the House to a comparatively simple amendment, they are going to take their bat and ball home and will not even discuss their own amendments.

This is a most extraordinary situation. I now sense that most noble Lords would say to this legislation that it will have to go through as ill considered as it was ill drafted. The Government appear not to want to defend their own legislation in this House because the Treasury says that it cannot count the cost again. The noble Baroness wriggles a lot, but she knows full well, as my noble friend Lady O'Cathain explained earlier, that this Bill is essentially a Bill about money. If the Treasury is the problem—I suspect it is—why do not the Government back off and say that no civil partners of any kind will have the advantages of the avoidance of inheritance tax. That would make the situation much easier. I see the lawyers want to try to be helpful.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it requires unusual stupidity or courage to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, when in full flow. However, as I made the only speech in regard to his amendment, I should like him to reply to the points that I made. He has not replied to a single one.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, I must confess that I did not believe that the noble Lord had made any points about this amendment. I know I am getting on a bit and tend towards absentmindedness, but I am sure that he would not want to tempt me to speak on an amendment that was not the one that had been moved. I want to be helpful to everyone. I take the view, which is only a little more extreme than the Government's, that we should all go home. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, this is a fairly brief amendment. If I am not mistaken, it is likely to exclude one group of possible contestants and, to that extent, it might please the Government. The Bill refers on page 1, line 6 to a relationship,

"which is formed when they register as civil partners".

The amendment changes that wording to a relationship,

"which is only formed when they register as civil partners".

The amendment ensures that the only method of forming a civil partnership will be by registration with the proper authorities. Perhaps it is no secret to your Lordships to find that the amendment was first put forward by the Law Society of Scotland, whose view is that the new statutory arrangements should clearly ensure that there is only one route to establishing a civil partnership. That will reinforce clarity in respect of the new partnership arrangements. Customary routes should not have the capability of emerging over time. The amendment will limit that possibility.

I can see what is in the back of the Law Society of Scotland's mind. As noble Lords are probably aware, in Scotland one can be treated in law as being married by habit and repute. Therefore, one does not have to go through a particular ceremony. It obviously wanted to clarify the fact that, if we introduce this new contract arrangement, it would not eventually be argued that it could be established by habit and repute. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, we say that there is no need for the insertion of the word "only". It does not add anything to the way in which it can be interpreted. We oppose the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 9, after "4" insert "(subject to section 253(3))"

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, this group of amendments would give the Northern Ireland Assembly a say—indeed, the final say—in bringing the Northern Ireland provisions of the Bill into effect. Amendments Nos. 6 and 196 amount to a sunrise clause on Part 4 of the Bill. I am delighted that these amendments have been co-signed by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who, as we all acknowledge, is a great authority in this House on the Northern Ireland issue.

I also have some knowledge of the Province. It is out of concern for the opinions that I know are held by the great majority of the people of Northern Ireland that these amendments have been tabled. It is obvious to everyone, except perhaps to government Ministers, that there is strong opposition to the Bill from people throughout Northern Ireland. That is a view that transcends the tradition of the Catholic/Protestant divide and the political Unionist/nationalist divide.

What is especially shocking about the Government's decision to impose civil partnerships in the Province is that they are daring to do so while the Assembly is suspended. At the very time when they should be exercising the greatest restraint, it seems that Ministers are desperate to put a highly controversial issue on to the statute book before the Assembly reconvenes. I may be unduly suspicious but it seems to me that the Government see the suspension of the Assembly as a heaven-sent opportunity to impose on the Province legislation that the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland would never accept. My amendments would give the Assembly the final say.

The commencement order to bring the Northern Ireland part of the Bill into effect would have to be approved by resolution of the Assembly. Clearly and unhappily, we do not know when the Assembly will be reconvened, but Northern Ireland's politicians should have the chance to debate these measures. That means waiting until the current impasse is resolved and if it does approve the provisions, so be it.

In the early part of this year, the Government carried out a two-month consultation period in Northern Ireland by comparison with a three-month consultation period in England and Wales. Of the respondents to the Northern Ireland consultation, 86 per cent opposed the plan. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, commented in Grand Committee that he thought that the number of responses was small. In fact, if one compares the number with the responses to the England and Wales consultation, which I notice lasted a month longer, the proportion of the Northern Ireland population who responded was more than four times greater than that in England and Wales.

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness may recall that my substantive point on the consultation process was not the small number of responses, but I asked the Minister whether there was evidence of an organised letter-writing campaign. She referred the matter to her department and I believe that the response circulated was that there was indeed evidence of an organised letter-writing campaign to that consultation process, which threw up, I suspect, the result that the noble Baroness is discussing.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Alli—I do respect the noble Lord—was there any evidence of a concentrated letter-writing campaign in England and Wales?

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, that was not for me to ask. I simply asked about Northern Ireland as that was a substantial issue facing the Grand Committee and appeared to be one of the major building blocks in the argument of the noble Baroness as to why the legislation should not apply to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has not listened to the main problem that I have with this legislation, which is that it will be railroaded through Northern Ireland at a time when the Assembly is suspended. I do not believe that any Member of your Lordships' House does not recognise how sensitive the suspension of the Assembly is at the moment. We all want the Assembly to be reinstated. We want to see peace in Northern Ireland and we should not introduce legislation that could be difficult at a time when the Assembly is suspended. That is the major plank of my argument. If the noble Lord had listened to me earlier, he would have heard me stress that fact.

Of course, we do not need government consultation to tell us that the people of Northern Ireland are more conservative and more religious than those on the mainland. I suspect that that is one of the reasons why there was such overwhelming feeling against the Bill. In the England and Wales consultation process, 83 per cent of the people were in favour of the Bill. At the time, government Ministers trumpeted that to the press and said that it reflected "overwhelming public support". When the Northern Ireland consultation showed 86 per cent opposition to the Bill, suddenly public opinion became irrelevant to the Government. No government Ministers trumpeted that fact.

The recent census shows that there were only 288 same-sex couple households in Northern Ireland. If the Government are right that only 5 per cent of same-sex couples will avail themselves of civil partnerships, Ministers want to railroad the Bill through the Assembly to change the whole of family law in the Province for the sake of 15 same-sex couples.

I firmly believe that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to their views; they are entitled to be listened to by the Government. At the moment they have no means of expressing their views to the Assembly about this highly controversial issue. Surely that is undemocratic, unfair and unjust.

The Government may resent the fact that most politicians in the Province do not support gay rights, but if they believe in devolved government they must accept the views of that devolved government. The Scottish Parliament had the opportunity to debate these provisions when it passed a Sewel Motion on 3 June. Northern Ireland's politicians should be given the same opportunity. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green

My Lords, the Bill is not about economics, whatever anyone may say, it is about human rights and justice. Gay people in Northern Ireland suffer more than usual from prejudice. They are as entitled as anyone else in what is still a United Kingdom to have their human rights protected.

I hear from the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association that it would feel extremely bitter if such people were to be excluded from a Bill which would acknowledge that there were and should be particular human rights in the rest of the United Kingdom and they were denied them.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Shadow Minister, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, this issue caused a great deal of heat and perhaps not very much light in Grand Committee. We take the view that this Parliament is now responsible for the government of Northern Ireland because the Assembly has been suspended. In that case we have to take the decision whether these rights should be extended to people who live in Northern Ireland in the same way as they are extended to those who live in Great Britain.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. It seems to me that so long as we are responsible for human rights in Northern Ireland we cannot give rights to citizens this side of the Irish Channel which we do not extend to citizens who live in Northern Ireland. Therefore, in our view the amendment is misguided and we shall oppose it.

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, without rehearsing our debates in Grand Committee, the arguments of the noble Baroness boil down into two major areas. First, there are not very many gay people in Northern Ireland anyway so why should we do this? She said in Grand Committee that there were only 238 couples in the census and therefore she did not see why the legislation should apply to Northern Ireland.

The second objection of the noble Baroness essentially seems to be that because Northern Ireland can unite around a common cause of prejudice against gay people perhaps we might absent them from this particular case. We have had two notable speeches in the previous debate—that of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who is now in his place, and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—and have listened once again to people talking about unnatural sexual acts and the hijacking of the word "gay".

In the Northern Ireland context, I would say that this piece of legislation is probably needed more than in any other place. It will allow people who wish to register their civil partnerships to stand up and have protection in a way they do not at the moment. So the debate we witnessed less than two hours ago probably reinforces the need for this legislation more than anything else I have heard in the House.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, before the Bill was introduced there were discussions with the usual channels about whether there should be pre-legislative scrutiny. The Official Opposition party and my party agreed that there should not be pre-legislative scrutiny, even though the Government explained that there would be a particular problem about Northern Ireland. They explained to us, all cards face up on the tables, that it would take them a little longer to get the amendments on Northern Ireland into the Bill, partly through consultation and the need to do the careful work.

I then discussed the matter with the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. We both agreed that the argument in favour of pre-legislative scrutiny was not well founded, and that the sooner we got the Bill into and through the House and enacted by Parliament, the better.

It is therefore unfair to the Government, our two parties having taken this approach, for noble Lords to seek to suggest, as I think was suggested, that in some way the Government have acted improperly in producing a lot of amendments in Grand Committee on Northern Ireland after the original Bill was introduced. We knew that perfectly well in advance. When those amendments were introduced, in order to achieve clarity of intelligence on all our parts, a special procedure was adopted at my suggestion whereby the whole Bill in an amended form would be provided to us informally with all the explanatory notes that Ministers had.

We then had very full debates on all the Northern Ireland amendments. It is simply unfair and disingenuous now to complain.

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, historically in Ireland one of the great political problems has been the perception of England imposing laws in that island and, since 1921, in Northern Ireland. Let us not repeat the error again today. It is a matter not of human rights but of democracy and devolution. Either the Liberal Democrats support devolution or they do not, but they cannot have it both ways. If you accept the policy of devolution for Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland, and since you agree that Scotland can make its own decisions in its own Parliament on this issue, then logically you should also accept the right of the people of Northern Ireland through their elected Assembly to make their own decisions. They will not be ones of discrimination against marriages for people of the same sex.

There is a common understanding among the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland—Presbyterian, Anglican and Roman Catholic—on this particular issue. There is this common feeling in Northern Ireland and people such as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and others should respect it and not try to override or impose their opinion on the majority of people in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Assembly, of which I am a Member, is suspended temporarily. However, tomorrow at Lancaster House the Prime Minister Tony Blair will sponsor and host an all-party round table discussion on the issue of restoring devolution to Stormont in Northern Ireland. I think we should wait for the Assembly to be brought back into operation in Northern Ireland; and supporters of devolution should leave it to that Northern Ireland Assembly to make its decision for the people of Northern Ireland and not to impose a decision from outside.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words, although I doubt whether they will have much effect, having heard the Government's new constitutional doctrine that they do not respond to amendments on Bills that are Lords' starters so that they can deal with them much more easily in another place.

I make a few remarks in support of the amendment of my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. I offer the apologies of my noble friend Lord Glentoran. He hoped to be here to deal with the amendment but very much regrets that for business reasons he is unable to be here today. However, he wants to underline the point my noble friend made that when the consultation process took place in Northern Ireland some 86 per cent of the responses were in favour of not making a change and were opposed to the proposed changes to be imposed on Northern Ireland by the Bill.

I think that it must be rare indeed in such a divided community for such clear breadth of opinion to be behind the sense of the kind of amendment put forward by my noble friend. How odd is it in this age of devolution for the Westminster Parliament to take a piece of legislation and impose it on the people of Northern Ireland, whose government may be at the moment in suspension but where, none the less, devolution is the norm?

As we are in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, perhaps I may remind her that it was only on Tuesday when we discussed the Higher Education Bill that we debated amendments where concerns were raised on all sides of the House about the effects of academic freedom in Wales for certain matters to be devolved fully to the National Assembly for Wales. Despite the warnings from various noble Lords on the Government Back Benches, the House none the less resolved not to obstruct the will of Welsh Ministers and the Welsh Assembly, because these matters were devolved. In replying to that debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, will remember that she said that the Government are satisfied that the Assembly is best placed to make the judgment about how it wishes to take this forward.

All that this amendment asks is that the people of Northern Ireland, who have a far longer tradition of devolution going right back to the 1920s, should have the same degree of respect. Therefore, I hope that the Minister—whichever Minister is replying, perhaps it will be the noble Baroness the Leader of the House—will give some sort of response.

Since the Leader of the House will respond, I wonder whether I could take her on to amendments slightly beyond this one. We have heard from one of her Ministers, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, that the Government do not intend to move any of their amendments this afternoon. Therefore, we presume that when they seek to overturn the decision taken earlier on today they will put their amendments in the Commons, they will then come back to this House, and we will have no chance whatever to discuss them. It would therefore be legitimate of me to ask the noble Baroness how she expects us to deal with those amendments when they come back to this House.

I will start by looking briefly, if I may—although I appreciate that I might be slightly out of order—at the first group of government amendments that we were going to deal with before the Government announced this new and peculiar policy—that is government Amendments Nos. 13, 15, 17, 20, 24, 25, 34, 36 and 37. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, helpfully and kindly wrote a couple of letters to us earlier in the month setting out what was happening with those amendments and with some other amendments. She did not help her cause, or perhaps the Home Office did not help her cause, in that both letters were undated. That was just the first sign of the incompetence that my noble friend Lord Tebbit has talked about—

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, I am finding this difficult to follow. We were discussing Amendment No. 6, put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about Northern Ireland. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain why he seems to have moved on to a different group of amendments. We should try to finish one group of amendments before we move on to another. Many of us have been through Grand Committee, and we have dealt with this Bill line by line. We want to consider things in the right order and in the right place. The noble Lord is in danger of going off into a conversation that no one will follow except him and the Minister. With due respect, this is Report stage, and we have been through Grand Committee. Can the noble Lord deal with Amendment No. 6? If he wishes to, after that he can perhaps find some other procedural measure to cover the other amendments.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord—

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I suggest to noble Lords that we stick to the grouping of the amendments as proposed. We are dealing with Amendment No. 6, which is grouped with Amendment No. 196. If the noble Lord has points to make on other amendments, perhaps he can make them at the appropriate place.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was most helpful to his Government, and no doubt they will take note of that. In due course, I look forward to seeing him on the Front Bench in the weeks or months to come.

I accept that I was out of order. I was dealing with amendments that were beyond those in the group. I was doing that purely because the noble Baroness the Leader of the House is here, and she will be responding to Amendment No. 6. She might therefore be able to advise the House as to how we will be able to discuss those amendments that will go to the Commons, be moved in the Commons, probably not be discussed in the Commons, and we will have virtually no chance of discussing them here. It might be that we will have to seek changes to our procedures in this House when those amendments come back. I merely make that suggestion. If I decide not to detain the House too long, perhaps the noble Baroness will take some trouble to answer those points on those amendments that we are advised by her colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, the Government have no intention of moving later this afternoon.

Having said that, I offer my support to my noble friend Lady O'Cathain for her Amendments Nos. 6 and 196. If she does not move the amendments today, I hope that she will consider doing so on another occasion.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, I remind noble Lords who oppose this amendment that the law in Northern Ireland on sexual matters already differs from that in the rest of the United Kingdom in that the age of consent in Northern Ireland is 17 rather than 16. So there is a precedent. My main purpose in rising is to ask the noble Baroness who is to reply to confirm an answer that was given to me in Grand Committee, I think by the Leader of the House, to the effect that the Northern Ireland Assembly, if and when it reconvenes, would definitely have the power to repeal this Bill if it goes through and becomes an Act in so far as it affects Northern Ireland, if a majority of Assembly Members so decided. Can the noble Baroness please confirm that on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Lord Molyneaux of Killead Lord Molyneaux of Killead Crossbench

My Lords, there should not be any doubt about the attitude of the elected Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has always been a tradition that those matters that affected the entire community right across the religious divide would be dealt with by its own elected Assembly. It is true that the Assembly looks to be some way off. That should not in any way give us the opportunity in this place to impose on the people of Northern Ireland of all religions and all political views something that they clearly would not want any more than they wanted, for example, abortion legislation when it was carried through these two Houses.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, I find myself in some difficulties here. Some noble Lords may recollect that I tend to take an interest in both social legislation and legislation affecting Northern Ireland. They have come together here today. I also have an attachment to the concepts of parliamentary debate and fair play. I am tempted to support my noble friend's amendment if she takes it to a vote, but I would feel slightly uneasy about doing so if I had not heard the arguments put by the Government that might be to the contrary. If all I hear from the Government is, "No, we do not like it", but with no reasons given, what am I to do? I must make up my mind having heard only one side of a debate. All other noble Lords will be in the same position. For example, I am uncertain as to whether if the legislation goes through unamended in respect of Northern Ireland—that is if we do not accept the amendment proposed by my noble friend—that the Assembly when it is reconvened would have the power to undo it.

I hope that the Leader of the House will not stick by the undertaking given or the threat made by her colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, that all we will hear is whether or not the Government like or dislike this amendment. I hope that she can find it in her heart to be so generous as to give us the Government's view, which I think would be quite authoritative, about whether the Northern Ireland Assembly would or would not have the power to repeal this. Surely, it is essential to know that before we can take a decision on the amendment.

It would be unparliamentary conduct if we were to be denied the benefit of the noble Baroness's view, which will no doubt be buttressed by the notes about this issue that are received from the officials in the Box. After all, in this House today, there is no one more authoritative on the matter than the noble Baroness. Before I make my decision on this amendment, I will await what she says. It would not be fair to do otherwise—would it?

By the way, while I am on my feet, I am so glad that I stayed on to hear this little debate. I shall now know where to find in Hansard the words of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on the subject of the way in which we treat the people of Northern Ireland. As I understood them, his immortal words, which I jotted down—I shall not hold them word by word, but I shall look them up in the Official Report tomorrow—seem to show a remarkable similarity to things that I have said on Northern Irish legislation in this House more than once; namely, that we must not treat the citizens of Ulster differently from the remainder of the citizens of this kingdom. Amen to that. But almost every bit of Northern Ireland legislation that I have seen passing through this House during the time of this Government has done exactly that. That is why I have voted against so much of it. I welcome the prospect of having in the Lobby with me time and time again in the future, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, I apologise for being a few minutes late returning to the Chamber. I have spoken earlier on this issue. This is not the first time that I have tried to persuade the Government to tread carefully. After 30 difficult years, which were nothing to do with today's issue, Northern Ireland is in a period of transition.

Again and again, those of us who live and work in Northern Ireland are looking for points where the community can come together. In social terms, we are not and never have been anything other than a compassionate society. Politically, we have had huge difficulties. But socially, I believe that Northern Ireland is as compassionate a region as anywhere within the United Kingdom. We do not indulge in gay bashing and such things. Even the noble Lord, Lord Alli, would probably concur with me on that. It is not a practice that—

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me. But, if it is of any help, I could write to him providing some of the details of the abuses and violence in Northern Ireland towards young people and particularly young gay people. Rather than bore the House with that, perhaps he will let me do that.

At this Report stage, we already know what the Government think. We heard it ad nauseam in Grand Committee. I think that we particularly heard the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. On looking at the Official Report, one will find the Government's position 100 times over.

Photo of Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Lord Maginnis of Drumglass Crossbench

My Lords, I am relieved that I do not tempt the noble Lord, Lord Alli, to expand on what he has already said. Within Northern Ireland there is a general consensus. People will not accept having this legislation imposed on them: 87 per cent of respondents in Northern Ireland have indicated that at best they do not understand what this legislation is about. That is not the basis on which to move forward in a region of the United Kingdom that has other problems to solve during this transitional period. So I ask the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, to press ahead with this amendment on the basis that we cannot have, for example, Northern Ireland excluded when it comes to the Mental Capacity Bill but included when it comes to this Bill.

There is inconsistency so far as the Government are concerned. When it suits the Government to include Northern Ireland, without deep consideration of the needs of the people of Northern Ireland we are included in legislation. When it suits the Government to do otherwise we are excluded. As the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, remarked there is no consistency. Let us not add antagonism to what is a bad Bill. I think that the result of the previous vote indicated that the majority feel that this is a bad Bill. Again, let us not add antagonism to what is a bad Bill by pressing this issue against the proposed amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will seriously consider the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I made the Government's reasons for legislating in Northern Ireland very clear in Grand Committee. Those reasons concern fairness and social justice, Perhaps I may restate for the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, what I said in Grand Committee and which was reported in Hansard: when the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are restored, they will be able to decide on transferred matters. I oppose the amendment of the noble Baroness.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I thank her very much for what she has said and for the fact that she has already breached the policy set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who said that the Government would not reply in any way to the amendments put before the House. Now that we are back to normal working, can we get on?

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, it is strange to be moving an amendment in this atmosphere. It is completely new to me and, I would guess, completely new to all noble Lords in the Chamber today. But so be it, we have to get on with the business in hand.

On the issue of Northern Ireland, I think that the point has not been accepted; that it is due to the fact that the Assembly is suspended and is therefore not capable of making either a decision to say "yes" or "no" or of making any kind of contribution to the debate that I feel that it is quite outrageous to impose this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Alli, suggested that I had all sorts of reasons for putting forward this amendment, but the only reason is that the Assembly should have the right to decide.

I want to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who said that agreement had been reached between the Front Benches about pre-legislative scrutiny. Some of us are not party to such agreements. Some of us are little, humble Back Benchers who never hear about what is going on in the corridors of power and between the usual channels. But, let us face it, we are part of the legislature as well. We have the right to hold our views, to express and to debate them. I do not want to be rolled over and told that there is an agreement between the Front Benches that pre-legislative scrutiny is not on order and therefore, in other words, the Back Benches are to be muzzled. That is not what I joined this House for.

I do not want to become acrimonious over this issue because it is too important for that. I have listened carefully to all noble Lords who contributed to the debate, and in particular to the contribution from Northern Ireland. I wish that noble Lords really understood Northern Ireland. I can understand that they think that Northern Ireland has had an all-too difficult past and has been a problem for many years, in fact since 1921. But the reality is that it is an important part of the United Kingdom and we cannot either ignore it or ride roughshod over it. That is wrong, and we ought to take the lead by saying just how wrong it is.

There is no question that if I were to press the amendment to a Division, I probably would not win. So I simply tell the Government that I shall come back to it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 15, at end insert—

"( ) For tax purposes registered same sex couples will be treated in the way as set out in the Finance Act 2004."

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, this amendment is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Wilcox. In the light of earlier exchanges, it is clear that some of the Government's amendments are affected by what happened earlier in the day. But it is also the case that some may not be. If that is so, perhaps it would be convenient to move and debate those amendments. The same applies, to a greater or lesser extent, to our amendments.

I hope that Amendment No. 7 will be extremely helpful. In the light of the present circumstances, I shall not make the same speech as the one that I made in Committee; I shall seek to be as constructive as possible. However, the point I made in Committee is still relevant.

On the day the Bill was published the Inland Revenue issued a press release on the Civil Partnership Bill, child and working tax credits, child benefits and guardian allowances. It stated:

"The Civil Partnerships Bill is social policy legislation, so any tax consequences will be dealt with in the first available Finance Bill.

One would assume that that would mean the first Finance Bill in which it was possible to incorporate the clauses implementing what the Government have in mind with regard to taxation and civil partnerships. I have difficulty in interpreting that part of the press release in any other way.

I do not understand, therefore, why the Government have not included it in the Finance Bill which is now going through another place—which, I believe, concluded its Committee stage a day or two ago, or is in the course of concluding its Committee stage and will then go on to Report stage—as it is clearly the first available Finance Bill. No such clauses have so far been introduced. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness who is to reply will tell the House whether it is the Government's intention to fulfil the clear promise in the Inland Revenue press notice that they would introduce the tax provisions in the first available Finance Bill.

The Government may well argue that the implications are very different in the light of what has happened today. In a spirit of constructive approach to this problem, I have a solution for them. No doubt the Government have been informed—I presume that they are a joined-up government—that an amendment seeking to introduce a new Clause 6 has been tabled in the House of Commons. This relates to Clauses 279 to 281 of the Finance Bill, which deal with inheritance tax. It has been tabled for discussion either in Committee or, if there is not sufficient time, at Report.

The new clause relates to the transfer of real property on death between joint occupiers, of whatever relationship, so that the survivor is not called upon to sell the home or to fund inheritance tax instalments they may not be able to afford. It makes transfer on death an exempt transfer to the extent that it comprises a part or a whole share in a real property that has been occupied as the main residence of the transferor and the transferee throughout two years prior to the date of death, and disregards any absences during that period arising from any residential nursing care.

So far as inheritance tax is concerned, the effect of the clause would be to meet many of the concerns raised in the debate earlier today. It would have the added advantage that those receiving the benefit of such a clause would not in any way have to sign up to a civil partnership. It would solve that problem at a stroke, if I may put it that way.

It would be extremely helpful if the Government would indicate that they understand these arguments. The House of Lords has certainly expressed very clearly, in the context of the present Bill, what it believes ought to happen to carers and those in danger of losing their house. An acceptance of that amendment—without any of the complications involved in doing it through this Bill—would enable this. It would provide a solution to the present dilemma. I hope very much that that can be done.

Another point emerged in Committee which has not been fully appreciated, although one of the right reverend Prelates made the point earlier in the debate. Those living together would be able to form a civil partnership if they were same-sex couples, without necessarily having any sexual relationship. The noble Baroness made this clear in Committee. Quite apart from any provisions made with regard to those with a family relationship, they will in any event receive the benefits of the inheritance tax provisions.

The Government rely heavily on press releases, often in strange circumstances. It would be very helpful if they could say clearly that it is their intention to implement in the Finance Act the same tax provisions which exist for married couples. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could clarify that point. I hope that the Government will give careful consideration to whether we can achieve the same objectives that the House clearly indicated it wished to achieve without necessarily affecting the Bill, which I am anxious to see on the statute book.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State, Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management)

My Lords, I replied to this amendment on the first day of our Grand Committee proceedings, in cols. 36 to 42 of Hansard. I note, too, that this amendment refers to "registered same sex couples" being treated as married couples,

"as set out in the Finance Act 2004".

By virtue of the amendment that the House passed shortly before the short adjournment, the noble Lord will know that that definition now causes us some difficulty. I am not able to add further comments to those I made in Grand Committee. At this stage, we have to oppose the amendment, for the reasons I gave on the last occasion.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, the noble Baroness has not clarified why provisions will not be made in the first available Finance Act. My other point was that acceptance of the amendment would cover the groups we are discussing as well as a rather wider group, and that would help in both contexts. I give way.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. As I recollect, this point was perfectly clarified in Grand Committee in a dialogue with my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who, unfortunately, is not in his place. It was explained exactly why it would have to be the Finance Act, when that would apply and the way in which it would be done. I do not have the record in front of me, but I am fairly confident that that happened.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, my point is that an amendment is already tabled in the other place, although not by the Government, which would enable them to fulfil the implicit—indeed, the explicit—promise they made in the press release.

At all events, this amendment is sufficiently wide to deal with the Bill as it was before it was amended today and after its amendment today. Therefore, the difficulties created by accepting that amendment would be overcome, provided the Government, the Treasury and the finance legislation team were prepared to go along with this proposal, which seems the obvious way around these problems. If the noble Baroness is not prepared to say any more, it seems an extremely unhelpful way of proceeding. I intend to withdraw the amendment but will return to it at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 8:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

"CATEGORIES OF CIVIL PARTNERS OTHER THAN SAME SEX COUPLES (1) Two persons within the specified degrees of family relationship, both of whom are aged over thirty years, shall be eligible to register as civil partners provided that they have lived together for a continuous period of twelve years immediately prior to the date of registration. (2) Schedule (Specified degrees of family relationship) contains provisions for determining when two people are within the specified degrees of family relationship."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Formation of civil partnership by registration]:

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 3 [Eligibility]:

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 2, line 33, at beginning insert "Subject to subsection (1A),"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 2, line 37, at end insert—

"(1A) Subsection (1)(a) and (d) shall not apply in the case of two people who wish to register as civil partners under section (Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 5 [Types of pre-registration procedure]:

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 3, line 23, leave out "(including those procedures as modified by section 20)"

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, as the amendment belongs to the House, and the Minister does not want to move it herself, I thought it would be helpful to the House if I moved it on her behalf. In moving the amendment, I will also speak to government Amendments Nos. 15, 17, 20, 24, 25, 34, 36 and 37.

I thank the Minister for writing from the Home Office to me and to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and others with an explanation of this amendment and some of the other amendments before us. I explained to the House earlier, before I was interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that it did not help that the letters from the Home Office—that most efficient of departments—were not dated, especially as one of them says, "As I made clear in my letter of 17 June". I am not sure now which one of them is the letter of 17 June, but I presume that it is the one that does not say that. It must be the other one. However, the Minister did offer a number of explanations of the wide variety of amendments that she was putting before the House. I am grateful for that.

This group of amendments is largely dealt with in the undated letter that I presume is the one of 17 June. Government Amendments Nos. 13, 15, 17 and 20 are dealt with on page 1 on her list entitled "explanation of government amendments". Government Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 are then inexplicably dealt with on page 7 of the explanatory note that she sent to us. Government Amendment No. 34 was again dealt with on page 1. Government Amendment No. 36 was dealt with on page 2 and government Amendment No. 37 was dealt with on page 37.

I do not know whether I should read out the full details of these amendments. Amendment No. 13 is described merely as a technical amendment that does not affect the effect of Clause 5. I apologise to my noble friend for stepping on his foot. However, some of the other amendments have slightly longer explanations. If the House wishes, I could give details of those—unless the Minister herself wishes to respond to her own amendments and give some explanation of them.

I find it odd that, when it comes to grouping their amendments, the Government have the expertise to manage and to persuade us that it is wise that government Amendments Nos. 13, 15, 17, 20, 24, 25, 34, 36 and 37 should be taken as one, but that, when they give the explanation to those of us principally involved in the Bill—as opposed to others—they manage to scatter them around in sheets of paper, all undated, in a manner that makes it very difficult to follow what is going on. That is why, when I was dealing with Amendment No. 6 and was interrupted by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, I wanted some explanation from the Government about how they propose to find some means whereby we could discuss adequately all the government amendments that they intend to produce—I presume—in the Commons after they have sought the wishes of the Commons in trying to overturn the earlier amendment. How do they expect us to be able to follow what they are doing and ensure that this House performs its role as one equipped to provide proper scrutiny of the Bill?

My noble friend Lord Tebbit earlier referred to this Bill as being prepared in a "monumentally incompetent manner". I believe that that is correct. That was quoted by a noble Lord opposite as being some attack on the Bill. It was an attack not necessarily on the Bill but on the manner in which the Bill was prepared. It means that it is even more important that we in all parts of the House properly and adequately debate the intricacies of the Bill.

I appreciate that there are many more government amendments. I do not know whether I shall necessarily be able to stay to discuss them, but others will—and that is all I intend to say on the matter. But I believe that it would be helpful if the Government could give us some sort of assurance as how they intend to allow this House properly to debate and discuss all the amendments before us. If the Government do not feel able to do that, it might be left to noble Lords such as myself or others to go through the explanation of government amendments tabled to the Civil Partnership Bill, sent out on 17 July, and read out every single explanation that the Government have given. However, I believe that most noble Lords would accept that that would not be a fit way in which to discuss the amendments that come before us. Other than that, all I can suggest is that we find some other procedure, when we come to the consideration of Commons amendments, that allows us properly to discuss the amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I refer to the Government's statement from earlier this afternoon by my noble friend Lady Scotland. In the light of that statement, these amendments are not appropriate to the Bill in its new form. Therefore, on behalf of the Government, I have nothing further to say.

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, may I press this matter further? I observe that many Members of your Lordships' House, much more experienced in its procedures than I am, are at least as puzzled if not more puzzled at what seems to be happening.

The situation appears to be this—and maybe I can draw one of Her Majesty's Ministers to respond to it. Among the points made when the House voted earlier was that the vote was in disagreement with the character and impact of the amendment. The Government lost on that vote, which has surely to mean that among the things that the House did when it made that vote was to vote down the Government's understanding of the situation.

To me, as a child in matters of procedure in this House, it remains the Government's responsibility to engage fully in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said that we needed to proceed with the Bill—which, it appears to me, is what the Government are not doing. Not to proceed with the debate seems to me not to take note of the vote of this House. Of course, that does not mean that the Government should change their mind, but they have a responsibility to pursue the procedure of the House. That was what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, in his role as Chief Whip.

The word "pique" did not occur only to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who is not in his place—I wrote it down on my piece of paper, too. Her Majesty's Ministers owe it to the House that the House can do its business—which is surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, to proceed with this Bill.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am puzzled by the situation in which we find ourselves. If the Government choose not to move an amendment, that is their affair. If someone else chooses to move the amendment, that is their affair. No one is obliged to say anything on any of the issues.

The problem that needs to be faced by the right reverend Prelate and others is as follows: I should have liked to move Amendment No. 102, which relates to pensions. If I had made a speech on that amendment, I would have drawn attention to important recent cases. But when one looks at Amendment No. 102, one can see that it is predicated upon a civil partnership between two same-sex couples. The moment when words are altered to include a whole variety of other categories, our amendment makes no sense whatever.

I am now incapacitated from moving that important amendment, so long as the Bill is in this House. I shall therefore not do so. But my argument does not apply to that example alone—it runs right through the Bill. That is why I said that Amendment No. 3 was a mischievous wrecking amendment, destroying the entire purpose of the Bill in this House.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was beginning to make a very good and valid point. In fact, he was on the verge of making an excellent speech until he spoilt it with the last two or three sentences. I thought that he was coming, through the logic of his remarks, to the conclusion that it would be appropriate if the House now adjourned and that we did not come back to Report on the Bill for a little while, until the Government had sorted these matters out. It should not take them very long. I imagine that they have the best brains of the country at their command. They do not appear to have used them very much so far, but I am sure that they could make a better effort, given a week or two. We could get on with other business in the House next week. There is no particular rush on this. It might ease the problem of which is the next available Finance Bill and other such tricky issues for them. It would make it easier for everybody. I think we could all go home and consider what has been done today. Perhaps the Government Chief Whip might advise us whether he is attracted to the idea of pulling up stumps as opposed to sitting in his tent and—well, the word that comes to my mind is rather hard, it is "sulking".

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Baroness is going to respond to that but I am not sure whether it will help much. We have now had "nyet" from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland; we have had "nyet" from the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, the Leader of the House; we have had "nyet" from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis; and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, makes it four.

All I can say is that we are not going to let this go away. We want debate to make sure that we can discuss all these matters adequately and we will discuss them adequately. If we cannot discuss them here on Report, or if we cannot discuss them properly at Third Reading, for the rather odd reasons that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, then we will have to discuss them and discuss them at length—I say that to the noble Lord the Chief Whip—when the Bill comes back to this House for consideration of Commons amendments. Then so be it. But this House will make sure that it discusses all these matters properly, in the manner that it ought to do. Having said that—

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he explain whether it is the position of the Opposition that they want speedy enactments in favour of same-sex couples?

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, as I understand it, even if it gets speedy enactment, the Bill will not come into effect for some time. We have no shortage of time, whatever the noble Lord says. If he thinks that speedy enactment of Bills should mean that we should not discuss them, other than the odd intervention from noble Lords on the Liberal Benches, I have to say that I think he is wrong. I think that the whole House should be able to discuss the Bill and we should not be deprived of doing it by the Government because of rather odd procedures that they wish to bring in. Before I withdraw the amendment, I think that my noble friend Lord Denham wants to make an intervention.

Photo of Lord Denham Lord Denham Conservative

My Lords, I have never heard anything quite like this before in this House. I think that, on reflection, the Government may feel that they have behaved with a certain lack of courtesy. They did not give any sort of warning about what was going to happen after the Division, which was subsequently carried against them. We are now left in a position where we are getting no answers at all, which has never happened in this House before. We are presumably expected to let the Bill slip through without any of the government amendments being moved and without any other amendments being replied to. I wonder whether, in the circumstances, the Leader of the House can come back and explain to the House whether this is the sort of treatment that we can accept in future. I think that the right reverend Prelate spoke extremely well on this and I am very sorry that his speech did not produce a reply from Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords) 4:45 pm, 24th June 2004

My Lords, it is with some reluctance that I am again drawn to the Dispatch Box, but I wanted to repeat precisely and exactly what I said before. There is no pique or sulk on the part of the Government. It is simply that it is nonsensical to move government amendments that were tabled earlier and predicated on a situation that no longer exists. There is no discourtesy to the House in any Member—including a member of the Government; we are no more or less favoured than anyone else—deciding they do not wish to move their amendments. If the amendments are nonsensical in the light of a subsequent decision, then it is a courtesy to the House not to waste its time by moving amendments that are just that—nonsensical on the basis of a decision that has been made.

I say to the right reverend Prelate that there is absolutely no discourtesy in doing that. I hope that we can proceed on the basis that if a Member, including a government member, does not want to move his amendment, the House can simply proceed to the next amendment. I am sure that that is precisely what has happened in all the long experience of the noble Lord, Lord Denham.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord says that the amendment that was passed earlier has changed the whole basis of the Bill and so it is now not possible to debate the Government's amendments. I think that that is the point that he would put. But that must apply to all the other amendments as well.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord says that it is up to us. However, he cannot say that there are two sorts of amendments—government amendments that are now not valid and relevant to the Bill; and everyone else's amendments that are—and so we should get on and discuss our amendments, with no replies from the Minister and no reasoning, with only half a debate at best—amendments that he would say do not relate to the Bill as it now stands. He nods. Then it seems to me that there is only one conclusion to be reached. He should move the adjournment of the House.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord nodded to the proposition that I made—that it is nonsensical to discuss the amendments. That means that no one has had an opportunity to table amendments that are relevant to the Bill as it is following the earlier vote. Surely any reasonable man would say, "Let us break off for a few days". At the end of that few days, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, with his customary ingenuity and remarkable legal ability, will have drafted new versions of his amendments that would fit to the Bill as it has been amended. Then we could get on and have some proper debates. The Government could come forward and tell us the implications of everything that is going on.

What the noble Lord is saying is that he wants to get the Bill out of this place—with his tail between his legs, if I may put it that way—and dash it off down to the other place where the children will not interfere with it unduly. They will be timetabled. It will be chopped up bang, bang, bang, bang. Debate? My Lords, I do not believe that that is a proper way to behave. And I do not believe that, in his heart, the noble Lord does either.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, I am rather torn now. I was minded to withdraw the amendment. However, I have a sneaking feeling that the best way to see where the Government stand on this would be for me first to ungroup it from the rest of the group.

Noble Lords:

It was withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Henley Lord Henley Conservative

My Lords, I did not withdraw it because I was interrupted before I could. Having not withdrawn it, I think it is now open to me to press it and see just what the Government's attitude to it is.

A Noble Lord:

Order.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Labour

My Lords, the Question is that the amendment be agreed to. As many of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content".

Noble Lords:

Not-Content!

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Labour

My Lords, I think the Contents have it. Clear the Bar.

Division called.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, Tellers for the Contents and for the Not-Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order 54. A Division therefore cannot take place. In accordance with Standing Order 57, which provides that no proposal to amend a Bill in the form in which it is before the House shall be agreed to unless there is a majority in favour of such an amendment, I declare the amendment disagreed to.

Clause 8 [Notice of proposed civil partnership and declaration]:

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, I wonder whether noble Lords who wish to speak to each other would do so outside because the noble Baroness is unable to speak and we await her comments with interest.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, in good faith in this House, I beg to move Amendment No. 14 which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Higgins. The amendment concerns Clause 8, which details some of the standard procedure for forming a civil partnership. Subsection (2) tells us that:

"A notice of proposed civil partnership must contain such information as may be prescribed by regulations".

Our amendment would leave out that subsection.

Many noble Lords will remember the equivalent amendment from the days that we spent in Grand Committee. The argument has not changed since then. I am sure that none of us needs reminding that we are now working from a Bill of two volumes—at least, the Opposition are. Our argument is simply that, in a Bill of such size, we do not see why the Government need to leave out details that they will add later.

In Grand Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, stated that the information likely to be required for the notice was,

"a person's name, age, occupation, address and marital/civil partnership status".—[Official Report, 12/5/04; col. GC 142.]

If the Government know what information the notices need to contain, why is that information not mentioned in the Bill? It cannot be because they are shy of tabling amendments to their own Bills, given the volume of them with which we have been faced in Grand Committee and on Report. Perhaps that is not quite what I should say at the moment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, I could not quite understand what the noble Baroness was getting at, in terms of the protection that she seeks to gain by not allowing the Bill—in her view—to write a blank cheque. Can she indicate what issue she is trying to pursue with the amendment?

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I am awfully sorry; I thought that I had been very clear. We have already discussed the question in Committee, but I am very happy to repeat what I said if that will help the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, is the noble Baroness specifically seeking to put the information into the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, gave quite a clear statement, as the Bill is so big, and as we are taking so much trouble to put so much into it, this noble Baroness is suggesting that it would have been helpful to put the information into the Bill. That is what I ask for at this stage—nothing more than that.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, in view of the statement made earlier, the Government have nothing to add to the arguments made in Grand Committee. We therefore oppose the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I am naturally disappointed in that response. Having ploughed through the Bill in Committee and as I am now ploughing through it on Report, I am quite prepared to take my amendment away and return with it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Clause 9 [Power to require evidence of name etc.]:

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 5, line 21, leave out subsection (3).

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, the amendment relates to a clause concerned with the power to require evidence of the details of people who wish to become civil partners. It is becoming apparent that some of the amendments are significantly affected by the amendments agreed earlier, and some are not. If amendments are not affected significantly by those amendments, or would be relevant whether those amendments had been accepted or not, it may save time later and anyway be a sensible way of proceeding if the Government respond to them.

We discussed the matter in Committee. At that time, the Minister said that the Government would look at the points again. I merely inquire whether they have come to any conclusions as a result of doing so.

Perhaps I may raise an additional matter that has arisen since we discussed the matter in Committee. In marriages special procedures exist for immigrants or asylum seekers—I am not clear which. They will be required to go to a special office if they wish to be married. That is designed, no doubt, to avoid marriages of convenience which overcome the immigration requirements. That may be relevant whether or not the amendment carried earlier is acceptable. In addition to the points that I made in Committee, can the Minister say whether or not the provisions for civil partnerships will be specified in a similar way to those that apply to people wishing to marry? That would seem sensible. Perhaps the Minister could outline the Government's intention at this stage. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the amendment illustrates as well as any the difficulty that we are in, because the amendments were tabled before we made the fundamental change to the Bill. All of these amendments would have to be reconsidered if the Bill were to remain as amended.

I introduced my Bill two and a half years ago and it rightly took the Government two years to produce an extraordinarily long Bill. That length of time was also right because the Bill had to cover the whole of marriage law in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales and apply it mutatis mutandis to same-sex couples. If one were now to seek to alter the amendment and all of the other amendments to accommodate a wider range of relationships—an extraordinarily wide range that goes well beyond the object of the Bill—the consequence of that would be that it would take a team of Government lawyers, Ministers and their advisers not less than two years to produce not two volumes, but probably five volumes of a single Bill, even though the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, suggested that I was clever and could somehow do it. It would become an omnibus Bill, a portmanteau Bill, into which had been packed a wide range of other social relationships that were well beyond the needs of same-sex couples.

That is why I oppose the amendment and any other amendment predicated upon the Bill that has been changed by this debate. The Official Opposition have told us from the beginning, through their leader, the right honourable Michael Howard, that they were in favour of the Bill, that they were a new party in favour of gay rights for the first time in their history and that they would accelerate the Bill by having no pre-legislative scrutiny. But they are now saying to same-sex couples, "You can forget about that, because we will filibuster when the Bill comes back from the Commons. We will keep this going as long as we can because we do not really believe in its objective".

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, we have not the least intention of filibustering the Bill. My party's position is clear—in fact, not my party, because, unlike the Liberal Democrat Benches, we are on a free vote. But the leader of my party has made the position clear: we are anxious to put the Bill on the statute book.

One of the ways around the problem that we have encountered today would be to cover the points about which the House is concerned in the finance legislation. Then we could proceed with this Bill without those matters. That does not mean that it is not reasonable to move the amendment, particularly to clarify the situation with regard to immigrants and asylum seekers, which I raised with the noble Baroness. In Committee she said that she would look at the matter again. The points that were raised then are in no way affected by the amendment carried earlier and it would be reasonable for the Government to respond. There is no question whatever of filibustering the Bill. On the contrary, we are anxious to make progress.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I have no wish to be disrespectful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, as I am sure he will recognise. However, as he was looking for a detailed response from us, I have to disappoint him. The Government have nothing to add to the arguments made in Grand Committee, save to say that it is simply not necessary on the face of the Bill to list all the documents that would be acceptable evidence of these different types of information. We therefore oppose the amendment.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, that is a clear answer to the points made in Committee. The noble Baroness said that she would look at the matter and we now have her considered view on it. However, I hope that we can clarify the other point that I raised, to which there was no response. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, may be prepared to give a clearer view at Third Reading and I may well table an amendment to that effect to cover the point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Proposed civil partnership to be publicised]:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Clause 14 [Issue of civil partnership schedule]:

[Amendment No. 18 not moved.]

Clause 22 [Evidence to be produced]:

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 19:

Page 11, line 14, leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, some amendments are affected by that which was carried earlier and some are not. This amendment is now even more relevant, but one would need to consider the implications of what has happened in deciding whether it is drafted in precisely the form which would cover the points we want to raise. I shall not move it now but will return to the matter at Third Reading.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Clause 25 [Issue of Registrar General's licence]:

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Clause 35 [Regulations and orders]:

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 16, line 4, at end insert—

"( ) with respect to determining whether two people have lived together for the period of twelve years specified in section (Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 23:

Before Schedule 1, insert the following new schedule—

"SCHEDULE A1

Specified degrees of family relationship

(1) Two people are within the specified degrees of family relationship if one falls within the list below in relation to the other. Adoptive child Adoptive parent Child Former adoptive child Former adoptive parent Grandparent

Grandchild Parent Parent's sibling Sibling Sibling's child (2) In the list "sibling" means a brother, sister, half-brother or half-sister."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Registration by former spouses one of whom has changed sex]:

[Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.]

Clause 41 [Attempts at reconciliation of civil partners]:

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 19, line 3, after "applicant" insert "at the first available opportunity"

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, this amendment concerns Clause 41 which details provisions on attempts at reconciliation of civil partners. The clause would allow a court hearing an application to dissolve a civil partnership to adjourn proceedings if it appears that the civil partners have a reasonable possibility of achieving reconciliation. The clause states that the court must make provision for the applicant's solicitors to certify that they have discussed with their clients the possibility of reconciliation and to provide the applicant with details of persons qualified to help the civil partners effect reconciliation.

In Grand Committee, I first raised our concerns regarding this clause in a general clause-stand-part debate, but have now drafted an amendment which is more suited to the point we are trying to make. Our amendment would ensure that the applicant's solicitor raises the possibility of a reconciliation with his client,

"at the first available opportunity".

We are looking for a way of ensuring that reconciliation is raised by the solicitor as early as possible and not at the courtroom door. An early reconciliation will save the applicant money and both the applicant and the court system time. As I have said on many occasions, civil partnerships are not something which should be entered into lightly and they should be given all the chances that can be given to reconcile such a relationship. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, this may be a very decent and well intentioned amendment and, under other circumstances, it may be the kind of amendment that the Government would want to consider. But, as I understand it, it is designed to deal with the situation where a civil partnership between a same-sex couple is breaking up and those involved are going through a process, which, had they been an opposite-sex married couple, would be called divorce.

Given the amendment that was agreed to this morning, it is very difficult to see how one would apply any such vocabulary to the ending or dissolution of a civil partnership between, say, a mother and son or a brother and sister who remain mother and son or brother and sister even after the civil partnership is over.

Therefore, the noble Baroness will understand that I simply cannot engage in this debate, much as I would wish to do so, because the context within which the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, perfectly decently, would otherwise have been discussed is now completely different. Therefore, I am afraid that the Government cannot make any further response.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, following the events earlier today, I entirely understand the Government's difficulty. However, on the assumption that Parliament will, by one route or another, get its act together and sort out the confusions that have arisen, perhaps I may say that the clause that we are debating is a very interesting piece of legislation. I am delighted to see it, and I have some sympathy with the amendment because it also has an implication for matrimonial law and practice.

The language of reconciliation is used on the face of the Bill. I know that the noble and learned Lord who was Lord Chancellor, and who introduced a very important Act of Parliament, Part 2 of which the Government decided not to fulfil a while back, made some efforts to get that into matrimonial law.

If we sort out the mess—I believe that we are in a mess with regard to this Bill—and we find a way of proceeding, perhaps I may say to some noble Lords opposite that this is not just about gay and lesbian couples; it is about same-sex partnerships. Can we keep the language clear so that we include all those who may potentially benefit if we get our act together? However, I should like to encourage the Government to "roll on" if we reach that point and to think about the implications for matrimonial practice as well.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the Minister's response to me. However, I had written down "civil partnerships, same sex" and I hope, too, that at some stage we shall be able to consider this amendment. I am extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. I was a little confused earlier and I hope that he will excuse me as I nearly referred to him as the Bishop of Guildford. He is right. We are talking about same-sex couples here, and I am delighted that we can at least place that on the record in Hansard. I hope that at some point we shall be able to return to the amendment in some form to see whether we can take it further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 53 [Validity of civil partnerships registered outside England and Wales]:

[Amendments Nos. 27 to 33 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Schedule 5 [Financial relief in the High Court or a county court etc.]:

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

Clause 77 [Adoption]:

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Schedule 9 [Family homes and domestic violence]:

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Clause 82 [Formation of civil partnership by registration]:

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 38, line 7, after "has" insert—

"(a) freely agreed to enter a civil partnership, and (b)"

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, this is one of several Scottish amendments which have been put to us by the Scottish Law Society. This amendment ensures that the parties to a civil partnership clearly agree to enter the partnership. The reason given by the Law Society is that the Bill infers that parties agree to enter the civil partnership by, for example, contemporaneous inscription of the civil partnership schedule. However, there is no specific requirement for agreement between the parties. The amendment provides for that agreement. It would also allow for avoidance of the partnership if a party lacked capacity or was induced to enter the partnership through fraud or under duress. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, in view of the changed nature of civil partnership following the earlier amendment, I am unable to contribute to the debate on this amendment at this stage. In common with the rest of the Bill, the Scottish clauses are fundamentally altered.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 83 [Eligibility]:

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 38, line 20, at beginning insert "Subject to subsection (1A),"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 41.

Page 38, line 26, leave out "of understanding the nature of civil partnership" and insert "of—

(i) understanding the nature of civil partnership, or (ii) validly consenting to its formation".

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words on this amendment. The Government have tabled amendments that cover some of these Scottish issues, which are very well thought through. In a way, if the opportunity were open to me, I would prefer Amendment No. 41 to my Amendment No. 42. The same would apply to Amendment No. 47 rather than Amendment No. 48, which are in this group. We are in rather difficult territory at the moment.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I remind noble Lords—if they need any reminding—that the Scottish clauses in the Civil Partnership Bill achieve the same policy purposes as Part 2, but they have been drafted to reflect the special characteristics of Scots law. In view of the fundamental change in the definition of civil partnership, following the earlier amendment, I shall not be able to move the Scottish amendments tabled on behalf of the Scottish Executive.

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, surely it is the case that whatever the disagreement about the character of civil partnership—we could spend a lot of time on that—it is important that it is entered into responsibly. Therefore, it seems to me that, with respect, what the Minister has just said has no logic. How the partnership is entered into is important, whatever its character. Therefore, it seems to me that this is an amendment that can work.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I beg to differ. I believe that there is an absolute logic in the position that I am taking. We are harmonising English law with Scottish law. If the definition of civil partnership has changed in English law as a result of the vote earlier, we are not comparing like with like. Many of the amendments that the Government were to propose came to us as a result of helpful interventions by the Law Society of Scotland. I anticipate that in due course I shall be able to do the job that I had hoped to do this afternoon, which was to make absolutely sure that there was no conflict between English law and Scottish law in this very important matter. This afternoon I am unable to move the government amendments for that reason.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Chief Whip, Parliament, Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, however the Bill is drawn up, whatever it covers—whether it covers one group or a wider group, as a result of the earlier amendment—it is important that Scottish law, in particular in relation to these amendments, should be properly written into the Bill. The object of the Law Society of Scotland, as I understand it, in making these suggestions both to the Government and to ourselves, was to improve the way in which Scottish law will apply to whomever it applies. Whether it applies to the narrow group that the Government originally intended, or to a rather wider group, as a result of the decision taken by the House earlier, the Scottish law should be right.

When the Minister reflects on this matter, he will consider that the Scottish law should be right in either case. It seems to me that at least some of the amendments should apply, whether to the narrower group or to the wider group of people. That is particularly true of government Amendment No. 41, which my noble friend the Duke of Montrose said he prefers to the earlier version.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am afraid that I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope. In the speaking notes for Amendment No. 41 the phrase "civil partnership" is on every other line. Civil partnership now does not mean what it meant when we started at eleven o'clock this morning.

That is not something that I can do anything about; it is a reality that I have to confront at 5.20 this afternoon. If I talk from my notes about civil partnerships in England and compare them to civil partnerships in Scotland and what needs to be done to harmonise the two concepts, I shall get into a terrible muddle. I cannot do so because we are now dealing with two very different terms. I apologise to the House for taking this stance, but I have been put into this position, as have all Ministers, by the amendment moved this morning and carried by the House.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Like my noble friend Lord Cope I am equally puzzled. I understood that the Bill and the legislation we have in front of us about civil partnerships exactly matched the legislation on marriages and that whatever group one is talking about, if one wishes to parallel the legislation on marriages one would use exactly the same phrase.

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 42 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 38, line 26, at end insert—

"(1A) Subsection (1)(a) and (b) shall not apply in the case of two people who wish to register as civil partners under section (Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 44 to 46 not moved.]

Clause 89 [Objections to registration]:

[Amendments Nos. 47 and 48 not moved.]

Clause 90 [Place of registration]:

[Amendments Nos. 49 to 51 not moved.]

Clause 110 [Civil partners: competency of interdict]:

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

moved Amendment No. 52:

Page 56, line 19, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

"(1) It shall be competent for the Court of Session or the Sheriff to entertain an application by one civil partner in a civil partnership for a relevant interdict."

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, the amendment rewords Clause 110 to make a more positive statement of competency for interdict proceedings in the Court of Session or sheriff court. The clause is required because Clause 109 follows closely the wording of Section 14 of the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act, which created the concept of matrimonial interdicts.

The provision currently employs a double negative. The society is of the view that this could be more clearly expressed. There is no logical necessity to follow the earlier statutory provision, which in any event relates to matrimonial law. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am in exactly the same position as I was on the previous group of amendments. I have nothing to say to the proposed amendment of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I think we will have to await future developments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 114 [Dissolution]:

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, the amendment deletes the provision for dissolution on the basis of desertion. Clause 113(3)(b) reflects the provisions contained in Section 1(2)(c) of the Divorce (Scotland) Act 1976.

The Scottish Law Commission has recommended that desertion as a basis for establishing the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage should be abolished. Accordingly, it is appropriate in relation to the civil partnership that this thinking is reflected in the law.

The amendment reconstructs the law relating to dissolution and judicial separation. The Scottish Executive has published a consultation paper on family law reform called Family matters: improving family law in Scotland. It contains firm proposals for two years. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, again, I feel unable to contribute to the debate, although I think that the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, would be very happy with the answer that I would give him if I was able to.

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, while the noble Duke is on his feet, is not the logic of that that he should press his amendment?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 54 and 55 not moved.]

Clause 117 [Separation]:

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, this amendment would delete Clause 117. Clause 117 provides for judicial separation in respect of civil partnerships. Until 1861, a judicial separation was the only consistorial remedy for cruelty and it was only in 1938, when cruelty became a ground of divorce, that separation became less common. It is still competent in a marriage context for people who do not wish to be divorced for religious reasons, given the provisions for dissolution that interdict, and there appears to be no good reason why judicial separation should be extended to civil partnerships. The Law Society of Scotland wants to probe the reasons for including that in the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, again, I must say that at this stage, I am unable to respond to the noble Duke's amendments.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Chief Whip, Parliament, Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, surely the Minister could explain why the Government originally proposed to insert that into the Bill?

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, perhaps I may explain that this is Report and I have sat down.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 118 [Dissolution following on decree of separation]:

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, this amendment raises the same argument as that in the previous amendment with regard to Clause 118. I beg to move.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 56) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 43; Not-Contents, 104.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Civil Partnership Bill

Aye: 41 Members of the House of Lords

No: 102 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 120 [Nullity]:

[Amendment No. 58 not moved.]

Clause 121 [Validity of civil partnerships registered outside Scotland]:

[Amendments Nos. 59 to 65 not moved.]

Clause 123 [Regulations]:

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative 5:40 pm, 24th June 2004

moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 63, line 21, at end insert—

"( ) Regulations so made may in particular make provision with respect to determining whether two people have lived together for the period of twelve years specified in section (Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 67 not moved.]

Clause 134 [Eligibility]:

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendments Nos. 68 and 69:

Page 67, line 16, at beginning insert "Subject to subsection (1A),"

Page 67, line 22, at end insert—

"(1A) Subsection (1)(a) and (d) shall not apply in the case of two people who wish to register as civil partners under section (Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples)."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 155 [Regulations]:

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

moved Amendment No. 70:

Page 75, line 14, at end insert—

"( ) Regulations made under subsection (1) may in particular make provision with respect to determining whether two people have lived together for the period of twelve years specified in section (Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 157 [Powers to make orders and effect of orders]:

[Amendment No. 71 not moved.]

Clause 165 [Supplemental provisions as to facts raising presumption of breakdown]:

[Amendments No. 72 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Clause 179 [Supplementary provisions as to declarations]:

[Amendment No. 74 not moved.]

Clause 185 [Transfer of proceedings]:

[Amendment No. 75 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 76 not moved.]

Schedule 15 [Financial relief in the High Court or a county court etc.: Northern Ireland]:

[Amendments Nos. 77 and 78 not moved.]

Schedule 16 [Financial relief in court of summary jurisdiction etc.: Northern Ireland]:

[Amendments Nos. 79 to 82 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 83 and 84 not moved.]

Clause 204 [Meaning of "overseas relationships"]:

[Amendment No. 85 not moved.]

Schedule 20 [Meaning of overseas relationship: specified relationships]:

[Amendment No. 86 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 87:

Page 314, line 19, at end insert—

"United States of America:Massachusetts same sex marriage or civilunion, as the case may be"

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment No. 87 is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Goodhart. It is an example of the Gilbert and Sullivan situation which the House has been put into today that the position is now as follows. Had not the Bill been wrecked, making pointless Schedule 20 to it, the Government would have moved Amendment No. 86. I am delighted that they would have done because they have decided to include the two Canadian provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia in the schedule because each of the registered partnership schemes satisfies the Bill's criteria.

Amendment No. 87 seeks to include the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Schedule 20. Certainly this would not be pleasing to the President of the United States, but it would be pleasing to many other people in Massachusetts and beyond. I shall explain. The Bill contains a power to specify jurisdictions which have schemes that fulfil the requirements to be recognised as civil partnerships in the UK. At present the only United States jurisdiction specified is Vermont. I and others hope to persuade the Government—and certainly when the Bill reaches the other place—that it would be right to include Massachusetts in the specified list. That is because, as the Government fairly concede, its gay marriage provisions fully meet the prescribed criteria in the Bill.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, for her letter to me of 10 June that was copied to all Peers who spoke in Grand Committee. I do not agree that the law in Massachusetts is subject to what is referred to as,

"such uncertainty that it would be premature to include Massachusetts same-sex marriage in Schedule 20".

As regards the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the legal position is clearly set out in the first judgments of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts in the Goodridge case where Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, who I had the pleasure of meeting again the other day, conveniently summarised the relevant provisions for registration of marriages under Massachusetts state law. As the Government concede, it is quite clear that they fully satisfy the general requirements and conditions in the Bill.

I can say with the authority of others that there is no prospect of the decisions of the Massachusetts Supreme Court being challenged or reversed between now and the coming into force of the Bill. I understand that in May the Supreme Court of the United States rejected an attempt to prevent gay marriages being registered. To amend the Massachusetts state constitution, there would have to be a referendum in two years' time. Even if that were successful in amending the law, it could not take effect for a further two years. Moreover, if it were successful, it would turn gay marriages into civil unions, which would equally satisfy the matching requirements of the Bill.

I suggest that it is unfair and unnecessary for gay and lesbian partners who have registered lawfully under the prevailing Massachusetts legislation which meets the requirements of the Bill to be left in doubt about what will happen once it comes into force at some point next year, particularly given that the content of the Massachusetts law would not be altered, if at all, for at least two years and, if altered, would still fully meet the requirements of this Bill.

I know that the Government have received representations from the General Court of Massachusetts and from 24 or 25 state senators. Perhaps I may refer to the letter that they sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. They said:

"We are delighted that the United Kingdom is considering passage of a Civil Partnership Bill.

"We understand that the Bill specifies particular jurisdictions as having schemes that fulfil the requirements of civil partnerships in the United Kingdom".

They then explain that only Vermont is covered in the specified list and hope that the Government will include Massachusetts. The letter continues:

"We hope that the United Kingdom Government will agree that it is unfair and unnecessary for gay and lesbian partners who have been married lawfully under Massachusetts law to be excluded once the Civil Partnership Bill comes into effect next year, particularly given that the content of the Massachusetts constitution will not be altered (if at all) for at least four years. If the United Kingdom does not recognize these relationships, families will be hurt if they decide to relocate from Massachusetts to the United Kingdom.

"Thank you for your consideration of our request".

The letter is signed by state senator Barrios of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and 24 or 25 other state senators.

Why does it matter? It matters because there will be, let us say, middle-aged same sex couples who are married now under Massachusetts law. Like everyone everywhere in the world, they know that the law could be changed in Massachusetts. But they are there now and they need to know what their legal position is.

If the Minister were to reply to the amendment—I am not requesting that she should—she would confirm, I am sure, that such people will have no problem because they will satisfy the general conditions in the Bill. But how will they know that on the basis of a Pepper v Hart statement made by the Minister today? They will know it if Massachusetts goes into the schedule.

What possible reason could there be for not putting Massachusetts into the schedule? I am sorry to say that the only one I can think of is entirely political. We have a coalition government in some areas between this Government and the Government of the United States. We do not wish to offend the President of the United States, who went on record as soon as the court in Massachusetts made its decision. While the President was in London, he denounced the decision and said that he would seek to reverse it.

Any reversal using the federal constitution would probably take about 20 years. As the Minister knows—because she and I both had the privilege of a graduate education in the United States—it is extremely difficult to carry a constitutional amendment requiring the approval of all the states. It is ridiculous and unfair for gay and lesbian couples to be left in a position of legal uncertainty for reasons that do not pass muster. For example, in Canada, the law can equally be changed, and it can be changed in any of the other jurisdictions listed in the schedule.

I do not expect the Government to say today that they accept the amendment—I expect them to stick to the line that they have taken—but I have no doubt this issue will be raised in the other place. It might be better to raise the issue in the other place, where parliamentarians who are elected can listen to parliamentarians who are elected in Massachusetts and in the US Congress.

I have sufficient optimism in the Government, who have been splendid in the way in which they have approached the Bill. This is one of my only two rubbing points; otherwise the Bill is extremely welcome in all other respects. It would be very sad if the Government were, in that well-known cliché, to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar.

I very much hope that, even though the amendment will not be acceptable today, the mind of the Government will be sufficiently ajar for them to look more closely at the legal situation in Massachusetts. My amendment gives same-sex marriage or civil union as the two alternatives, which would deal with the situation should the law change. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to what I am seeking to do with the object of explaining to the citizens of Massachusetts what the implications would be if they changed residence and came to this country. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on this particular amendment. I believe that the Government's position, as outlined in Grand Committee, is wholly inconsistent. If the state of Massachusetts has made gay marriage legal, then until an appeal is successful, those citizens should be treated as having a civil partnership in terms of recognition under the Bill.

I would push the Minister to look at the issue again but I suspect, on a non-party political point, that I will get the same response as the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lords, Lord Higgins and Lord Lester. I suspect that she may not be tempted to go into this matter, even if it is put to her from this side of the House, but at least all parties will suffer.

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, while I regret the character of the Massachusetts legislation, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will understand, that does not seem the point at the moment. What he has proposed seems entirely in line with the Bill as it is, in my view—as it was, in the view of the noble Lord and the Government. I believe the proposal is entirely in line with the Bill as it is, although the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, think that it has been more radically changed than I think it has been. However, that is not the point at issue.

I thought there was not a leaf to be put between the Front Bench and the noble Lord. It is not possible to do business with the Bill now and the Government have been refusing to move their amendments, but the noble Lord has moved his amendment. The craziness of the situation seems a few notches crazier as a result of the noble Lord's latest intervention.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and my noble friend Lord Alli rightly anticipated the Government's response, I am afraid, due not so much to the instability of the situation that arose this morning but to the instability of the situation in the United States. These arguments were addressed much more fully by my noble friend Lady Scotland in Committee, and I do not need to rehearse them. Both my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will understand where the Government are coming from on this issue.

I also regret that I do not think that at this stage I can sensibly and usefully move the government amendment. But if, on reflection, we feel we can, we will come back to it at Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very grateful to everyone who has taken part in this debate. I thought it was sensible to move the amendment because, although it has become a nonsense in that it makes no sense to have a schedule of this kind which deals only with same-sex relationships, if one is concerned about recognising carers across the world in the way that one is recognising homosexuals throughout the world one would need to amend the schedule radically to include wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and others all over the world who would have to be given recognition if they came to live in this country. That is why I began by saying it is a Gilbert and Sullivan situation. My amendment has in any event been wrecked by what the Official Opposition have done.

The only argument that has been put forward is that the situation in Massachusetts is unstable. I must be the most optimistic Member of this House in saying this, but I very much hope that even at this stage officials will look more carefully at exactly what the situation in Massachusetts is, and we can help them to do so. The position is not unstable. The present position is that the marriage code in Massachusetts has been applied verbatim to gay and lesbian couples. I quite understand the right reverend Prelate's objection to the absolutism of the view taken by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts, which said that civil partnership is not enough—it must be marriage because there must be total equality under the state constitution. I personally understand why many people believe that to be a step too far. I do not agree with them, but I understand.

However, those in the Massachusetts legislature who object to that measure are in favour of civil partnerships. They say that marriage goes too far and civil partnerships are fine and dandy. They are seeking in a referendum in two years' time—which would come into effect in four years' time—to amend the state constitution dealing with marriage to make it clear that marriage, unlike civil partnership, must apply only to men and women and not to same-sex couples. They intend to do that in order to leave in place exactly the same substantial rights for same-sex couples, although it will be civil union or civil partnership instead.

That is why the situation is wholly stable. If I thought that there were a risk of a challenge in an appeal—for example, to the Supreme Court in the United States or some other jurisdiction—or if I thought that what was being threatened was likely to happen before this Bill became law or there was a change to the legislation, that would be a different matter. Having said all of that, I will not press the amendment further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 206 [The general conditions]:

[Amendments Nos. 88 and 89 not moved.]

Clause 208 [The same-sex requirement]:

[Amendments Nos. 90 and 91 not moved.]

Clause 220 [Meaning of "the court"]:

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

Clause 222 [Proceedings for presumption of death order]:

[Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 not moved.]

Clause 229 [Supplementary provisions relating to recognition of dissolution etc. ]:

[Amendments Nos. 95 to 99 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 100 not moved.]

Clause 243 [Civil partners to have unlimited insurable interest in each other]:

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 102 not moved.]

Schedule 23 [Social security, child support and tax credits]:

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

moved Amendment No. 103:

Page 318, line 18, leave out paragraphs 1 to 5.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

We now come to Amendment No. 103 with which we may debate Amendment No. 105. If I do not move subsequent amendments, that means I am carefully considering to what extent we should return to them at Third Reading in the light of the unforthcoming response of the Government on various other amendments.

As far as I can see, this amendment is not affected in any way by the amendments that we carried earlier. Consequently, I hope that we shall get a response from the Minister in reply. Amendment No. 103 is to page 318, line 18 and would leave out paragraphs 1 to 5. More clearly in terms of intention, Amendment No. 105 would insert into the end of line 28 on page 318:

"The amendments of Child Support Act 1991 . . . shall not come into effect until all existing cases have been transferred from the old scheme as originally enacted, to the new scheme".

The Minister and I have debated the Child Support Agency for a long time—at least it seems like a very long time. I have always accepted that the introduction of that Act by the previous government was difficult to implement. When the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 was debated in this House, the Minister and I both agreed that the change from the rather complicated scheme that we had before to a simpler flat-rate scheme should be welcomed. We co-operated in getting those matters through the House.

However, since we did that in 2000, the situation has been one of almost unmitigated disaster. The new formula was due to be introduced for all new cases from April 2002. However, in March 2002, Alistair Darling, then the Secretary of State, announced in a Statement that the changes were to be delayed. He pointed to problems of the development of the required computer system. On 27 January 2003, Mr Andrew Smith finally announced that a new system was coming into effect, in March 2003. That system finally went live for all new cases—I stress, for all new cases only—in April 2003. The situation has continued until the present time. From a statement made by Mr Doug Smith in July 2003, it seemed clear that it was not likely to come into effect until the spring of next year.

The system is still working very badly. The problem is not with the computer system alone but with staff relationships and the ability of the staff to operate the system. As of September 2003—the last date for which I have managed to find figures—there were some 30,000 cases operating on the new formula and 882,000—nearly 883,000—operating on the original formula.

I know only too well from my constituents' experience in another place how concerned and emotional those who have to deal with the Child Support Agency become. It is quite extraordinary that we should have seen delays of the kind with which we are faced at present, with regard to the ability of both the computer and the staff to cope.

I am not suggesting that the inclusion in this arrangement of same-sex couples is going to result in an enormous number of cases. None the less, the situation has not only been bad in the respects that I have mentioned but a huge amount of compensation—something like £12 million—has been paid out as a result of fraud. The whole system, in terms of computers and staff, is obviously under enormous strain. A huge number of those affected by the Child Support Agency have been waiting for a very long time for the matter to be sorted out.

I am not suggesting that an enormous number of people will be involved as a result of this Bill or that the Bill will greatly affect the problem—except that the staff will have to deal with a quite different set of problems. The problems likely to be involved with child support cases with same-sex couples looking after the child are likely to be ones with which the staff, as of now, are totally unfamiliar. More particularly, those who have been waiting so long for the system to be sorted out, in many cases in very emotional circumstances, will not be at all happy—I was going to say "amused", but that is an understatement—at the fact that, instead of giving priority to sorting out the problems from which we have suffered for so long and to which the Government have clearly not managed to find a solution, the Government are putting more load on the system in terms of the type of case and numbers. Those people will not be at all pleased.

The priority should be to sort out the system first and then, when we have done that, to turn our attention to cases that may be affected. After all, this Bill will not be enacted or implemented for a considerable time, so that matter should be sorted out before we extend the provisions of the Child Support Act 1991 to those who will be affected by this Bill.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, only those who were originally intended to be affected by the Bill are involved in this matter. The amendments that we carried earlier will not affect the situation that I have described. Therefore I hope that the Minister, if she replies, can accept Amendment No. 105, which seeks to ensure that these matters are introduced on a sensible basis, when the Government have sorted out the horrendous problems with the Child Support Agency. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Conservative

My Lords, I advise the House that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 104 to 106 inclusive.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, I do not wish to show any discourtesy to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who I have always found to be extraordinarily courteous, helpful and informed on all social security debates that we have engaged in over many years. However, I do not think that this is the right time to go into a general debate about the performance of the Child Support Agency or the current figures. I entirely accept and deeply regret the problems posed by the inadequacy of the computer system, which is not sufficiently robust, in ministerial eyes, to allow us to bring the existing cases, as opposed to new cases, on to the system. We do not disagree about this. As soon as we can, we will do so. However, I do not think that today is an appropriate time to raise this; maybe an Unstarred Question at some time might be appropriate.

My difficulty is engaging with the noble Lord's amendment because it excludes from child support liability same-sex couples in the way that opposite-sex couples would now be liable. The problem is that what counts as a couple for this purpose has been torpedoed by the debate earlier today. We now no longer have a working concept of couple. I must say that I would oppose the amendment anyway, for obvious reasons involving the Child Support Agency. However, I cannot engage in a debate on any aspect of social security that has at its core the concept of a couple because I do not now know whether a couple is, as I understood it, people living together as husband and wife, so to speak, in conventional social security legislation or whether it could be a civil partnership of two brothers or a brother and sister. Given that, I am stuck.

I absolute do not intend any discourtesy to the noble Lord. I could go into a general discussion on the Child Support Agency but I shall not do so at this late hour. I am happy to do so on some other occasion. We will oppose the amendment. There is no point in taking it further, given that the concept of a couple has now been blown out of the water by the debate earlier today.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I do not understand the point that she is making. As far as the original Bill was concerned, quite clearly the amendment was appropriate. Even if it remains in its amended form, it will still be the case—perhaps even more strongly the case—that the Child Support Agency should not be required to take on the additional burden. If the amendments go through as agreed by your Lordships' House that is even more true. It should not be required to take this on until it has sorted out the other problems. Those who have suffered such long delays feel that they will suffer even longer delays because of the strain put on the CSA. That is not satisfactory. So I do not understand why the noble Baroness was proposing to reject the amendment anyway. Perhaps she can enlighten us in that respect.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, I do not understand why that is so. The noble Baroness could perfectly well say that in any case the Government are not prepared to accept the amendment. But I have heard no reason why that is so.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, this is Report stage and so I do not want to continue this debate. I made it clear that the Government would have been unhappy to accept the amendment even as the Bill stood. Given the complexity of what we now understand by a couple, and therefore responsibility, within social security law, the Government will oppose the amendment if the noble Lord seeks to push it to a Division. But I do not want to continue to elaborate on the points about the concept of a couple and so on, which is at the core of my dilemma in all social security legislation and in all the amendments that we now face.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, we are, as the noble Baroness says, on Report. I will be out of order if I go on jumping up and down any more. I may need to return to this at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 104 to 107 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 108:

Page 322, line 22, leave out sub-paragraphs (1) to (4).

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, this amendment is covered by subsequent amendments on the Marshalled List which have overtaken it. I think that the amendments that replace it are on the supplementary list. So we will come to those in due course.

[Amendment No. 108 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 109 to 125 not moved.]

Clause 245 [Power to amend enactments relating to pensions]:

[Amendments Nos. 126 to 129 not moved.]

Schedule 24 [Amendment of certain enactments relating to pensions]:

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

had given his intention to move Amendment No. 129A:

Page 343, line 12, leave out paragraph 1.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, the four amendments in this group are the ones to which I referred a moment ago. They cover a series of changes in pension arrangements. It seemed helpful to divide them up rather than to take them en bloc, which would have been the effect of Amendment No. 108 that I did not move.

I am considering very carefully, in the light of the various statements made by the Government, whether it would be fruitful to raise the matter at this stage. I suspect that we will merely get the same stonewalling answer. The noble Baroness has indicated that that is so. So it seems pointless, I regret to say, to go on with this rather strange procedure—which I cannot recall in my entire parliamentary life of some 40 years of experience.

No doubt it will be appropriate to reconsider these points, to see to what extent it is valid for the Government to say they cannot reply. In some of the cases in which they have said that previously, I suspect that it is not the case. So I may well wish to return to the amendments on Third Reading.

[Amendment No. 129A not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 129B to 131 not moved.]

Clause 250 [Community obligations and civil partners]:

[Amendments Nos. 132 and 133 not moved.]

Clause 251 [Minor and consequential amendments, repeals and revocations]:

[Amendment No. 134 not moved.]

Schedule 26 [Minor and consequential amendments: general]:

[Amendments Nos. 135 to 169 not moved.]

Schedule 27 [Consequential amendments: Scotland]:

[Amendment No. 170 not moved.]

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

moved Amendment No. 171:

Page 373, line 2, at end insert—

"In section 16(4) (petitions for recall of sequestration), for "section 41(1)(b)" substitute "sections 41(1)(b) and 41A(1)(b)"."

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, with the leave of the House, in moving Amendment No. 171 I should like to speak also to my other amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 173, 175 and 178, although we have in some ways gone past that group.

Once again I must express great disappointment that the Government do not feel able to move their amendments. I would like to appreciate the effort that the Government and the Civil Service in Scotland have obviously put in to produce full and totally adequate amendments to this part of the Bill. However, I shall speak to my amendments.

Amendment No. 171 inserts a reference to a new Section 41A(1)(b) into Section 16(4) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. The reason for this is that Paragraph 32 of Schedule 27 to the Bill inserts a new Section 41A into the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. As a result, Section 16(4) of the 1985 Act requires to be amended to refer to the new Section 41A(1)(b).

Amendment No. 173 inserts into Section 34(7) of the 1985 Act a reference to the provisions of Clause 127 of the Bill. The reason why this is required is that Section 34(7) of the 1985 Act states that that section operates,

"without prejudice to the operation of section 2 of the Married Women's Policies of Assurance Act (Scotland) 1880 (policy of assurance may be effected in trust for spouse, future spouse and children)".

As the provisions contained in Clause 128 of the Bill extend Section 2 of the 1880 Act to cover civil partners, this amendment is intended to insert a reference to those provisions into the 1985 Act.

Amendment No. 176 inserts a reference to civil partners in Section 51(3) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. Section 51(3)(b) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 makes, inter alia, a loan by a debtor's spouse a postponed debt in terms of that Act. This amendment aims to widen that provision to cover also civil partners.

Amendment No. 178 would insert a reference to former civil partners into Schedule 1, paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985. Paragraph 2(1)(a) of Schedule 1 to the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 sets out rules in relation to claims for aliment and periodical allowance on divorce. This amendment would extend these provisions to cover former civil partners following dissolution of that partnership. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Chief Whip, Parliament, Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, as this is the last group of amendments, I do not want to add to what my noble friend the Duke of Montrose has just said, but to say that, like my noble friend Lord Higgins, in the 30 years that I have been in Parliament I have never experienced an afternoon like the one we have had today. The Government's response to the defeat, which, admittedly, they clearly did not expect, was highly unsatisfactory. I refer to their refusal even to explain what their amendments meant, even when there was a great deal of sympathy both for the Bill generally—as was known from the earlier stages of the Bill—and for the particular amendment under debate. The fact that they refused even to explain what they were doing on some but not all of the amendments was highly unsatisfactory.

There has been no attempt to filibuster. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, accused us of that a little earlier but I think I am right in saying that he made about the longest speech of anyone in the course of the whole discussion. That is not unusual, but he did so today.

I remind the House that the amendment which was carried earlier was carried entirely on a free vote, at any rate so far as my party was concerned. So far as I know, that applied to other parties. I believe I am right in saying that noble Lords of different parties went through different Lobbies. I have not studied the Division List in detail as yet but there were noble Lords from different parties in different Lobbies.

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not accept that following what happened this morning with the relevant amendment, on which the House rightly voted as it saw fit, for those of us who sat through Grand Committee the concept of the Civil Partnership Bill had been fundamentally changed? Therefore, all the amendments that we were discussing, and had discussed in Grand Committee, gained wider ramifications that made every single one of them incompatible with the broader scope of the Bill. Does the noble Lord accept that the Government have allowed proceedings to move forward—we have had discussions on a whole range of issues—but that the amendments that the noble Lord was seeking to discuss seem to be inappropriate given the change in circumstances and scope of the Bill?

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Chief Whip, Parliament, Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord was intervening in my speech or making his own. However, from the way he expressed himself, I believe that he was intervening in my speech.

Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour

My Lords, for clarity, I was intervening in the noble Lord's speech; I was not making my own.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Chief Whip, Parliament, Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that clear. I understand the point that the noble Lord made from his own point of view, but I certainly do not think that it applies to anything like all the amendments that we have discussed this afternoon. In any case, I see no reason why the Government could not have explained what various amendments would have meant had the Bill not been amended. That would have been helpful to the House and no doubt to the discussion of the Bill, which will proceed both in this place and in another place.

Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop

My Lords, in the light of the previous contribution, I am making my own speech. I offer it as we helpfully become reflective on this extraordinary afternoon—or so I thought at the start of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

When the noble Lord, Lord Lester, brought forward his own Civil Partnerships Bill in January two and a half years ago, I made the point that some of us who were not at all happy with it might have been markedly happier had it looked at a much smaller number of people, been a much smaller Bill, and looked at a number of the clearest points where there were manifest injustices and sources of real distress and anxiety. That advice has not been followed by the process that has brought us to this point.

One plank of what the Government and others have said is that responsibility for the position in which we find ourselves lies with those who were in the majority this afternoon. However, a significant element of responsibility seems to lie on those responsible for the character of the Bill. The Bill has become enormous and spread because of the intention—perhaps as a result of a particular element of human rights legislation—to replicate painstakingly everything there might be concerning marriage. The position in which the Government have found themselves largely stems from that astonishing exhaustiveness of the Bill.

Might there not be a question of remembering the advice that some of us gave two and a half years ago—that the Government might more easily get a much more straightforward Bill through, one that addresses some of the most critically and obviously distressing, disadvantaging and, frankly, wrong elements of the present system? If it is the responsibility of the majority this afternoon, which I question, it is not simply our responsibility, because the whole character of the Bill—its scale, shape and exhaustive replication—has got us where we are.

Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, I am not speaking to respond to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about the contribution of my noble friend Lord Lester to Amendment No. 87. However, given that the whole debate on that group took only 15 minutes, it cannot be said that he was speaking at excessive length.

The situation is very unusual. In my experience in both Houses of this Parliament, I have never known such a radical change to a piece of legislation; it may be an unprecedented change. It would probably have misled the House had the Government attempted to use material prepared to discuss amendments that it was assumed would be considered in a different context. It is right that that material was not put on record. The Government have behaved in the correct manner in this extraordinarily unusual situation. However, I hope that we will have an opportunity at a later stage—when amendments come back from the Commons—to give amendments the consideration that we have not been able to give them this afternoon.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, I want to add a word or two to the remarks of my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. Whatever mess we have got ourselves into today, we as a House need to bear two things in mind. First, the Government started this legislation here. It is entirely appropriate that such legislation be started in this House. Therefore, we have to watch how we conduct ourselves, and not hand across to the other place legislation that is clearly in a principled mess. If we do not watch that, the Government might be tempted not to take such a route, which has implications for the practice of this House.

My second point is that we have to have legislation that is rooted in principle. All those in positions of political responsibility need to consider that, whatever their point of view. There is a variety of points of view on these Benches as well as elsewhere in the House. Given the damage that has been done today there has to be coherence in terms of principle. We have lost that today. I hope that those that are here every day through negotiation will help us to recover the situation.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, like others I deeply regret the situation in which we find ourselves. It was not created by any act of Government; it was a consequence of a vote that was taken earlier today that the Government have to respect and act upon as though it happened. With the best will in the world, what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, seems to suggest is that the Government should respond to amendments as if that vote had not taken place, as though the will of the House had not been declared and as though the Government had not been overturned in a straight debate about the core concept of the Bill, which is, "What is a couple?". That concept of partners living as though they were husband and wife has now been changed radically and fundamentally out of all recognition, as the noble Lord, Lord Roper, said.

As my noble friend Lord Alli said clearly, in consequence, most of the government amendments and the Government's response to the amendments moved were based on one concept of the Bill, which has now been completely, dramatically and fundamentally changed. If the precepts of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, had been followed we could have been described as being arrogant, as disregarding the view of the House, of ignoring it, of being confident that the Commons would overturn the vote and of pretending that it had never taken place.

We could not do that. We were in an extremely difficult position. I entirely respect some of the amendments and positions taken by noble Lords opposite—as well as noble Lords on the Bishops' Bench. The Government have tried to act in a clean, straightforward and transparent manner. I hope that we will have an adequate opportunity at a later stage to do what this House does best, which is to scrutinise the Bill carefully. Maybe we will make time to do that at some point in the proceedings, but the situation was created by the vote today. It has fundamentally changed the Bill. We could not act as though that vote had not taken place and therefore we took the most honourable way forward, which was to recognise that fact, expedite the proceedings and allow us, perhaps, at a later stage to have further scrutiny of the Bill.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Shadow Minister, Environment & Transport, Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs, Deputy Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, before the Minister sits down can I ask her, as a matter of curiosity, whether one of the difficulties that the Government are having with the Bill is that the original Bill was "Sewel-ed" by the Scottish Parliament? Does the fact that we have a different Bill put us in difficulty with the Scottish Parliament? Are we not in a parallel situation to that regarding Northern Ireland, where we wish the devolved governments to have a say, but that we cannot go ahead until they have that say?

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

My Lords, we will have to come back to the noble Duke on that. I am not in a position to get my head around all the of implications of the decision that was made by your Lordships earlier.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 172 to 179 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 180 not moved.]

Schedule 28 [Repeals and revocations]:

[Amendments Nos. 181 to 187 not moved.]

Clause 252 [Extent]:

[Amendments Nos. 188 to 193 not moved.]

Clause 253 [Commencement]:

[Amendments Nos. 194 to 201 not moved.]