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My Lords, I support the amendment. It depends how one looks at the issue, like most problems. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, addressed it in one way—from the point of view of same-sex couples. I agree that it is right that their status should be recognised. However, I disagree with the noble Lord because he raises no criticism of my noble friend's amendment in principle, or in its intrinsic purpose and value.
I approach it in this way. If one seeks to do what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I both want to do, if what my noble friend Lady O'Cathain wants to do is not open to serious critical objection, and if this is a fair way of looking at the situation, is it not right to have parallel provisions in the interests of justice, so providing a position that does not create disparity between the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, looks at the issue and the way I look at it?
The amendment has a very limited intendment. As I see it, it is not related to the status of marriage, although the lobby appears to think otherwise. It refers only to registrable family relationships. It is an attempt not to wreck the Bill, but to address a disparity and to create a just and fair resolution of a problem that requires resolution. It is inequitable to address one problem without addressing the other. The fact that it came late in the day is, I accept, unfortunate. But the fact that it is late cannot affect the fundamental merits of the argument. If the argument is sound, we have to deal with it.
The amendment addresses the needs of a surviving partner. In an ageing population—I have read the debate—when there is little prospect of any satisfactory pension structure, when we hear about Land Commission proposals—I have heard about Land Commission proposals all my life and very few of them have ever been implemented—and, far more importantly, when there are security of tenure issues, there may be a need to sell up the home to fund the cost of care to which my noble friend referred, as so often has been the case and will continue to be the case.
In a sense, the parallel not only rights the imbalance, but it serves as a humanitarian measure. It is an interim measure. The problem is that, at the moment, the scheme favours only one aspect of the social problem. It is obvious that implementation of the scheme will involve fiscal matters that will have to be dealt with in a Finance Act. Security of tenure will have to be dealt with by amendment to relevant extant legislation in that sphere. But the principle of the amendment is entirely sound and fair and should be accepted as such.
At this stage it would have been wholly inappropriate—perhaps it is unfortunate because it is late—to set out detailed provisions of how each relevant extant statute should be amended to give effect to the principle. This is an amendment in principle; it is sound in principle; it is fair in principle; and it is worthy of your Lordships' support.