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Commons Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 17th November 2004.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 4:15 pm, 17th November 2004

My Lords, the noble Lord is very kind. I thank him.

I think that all noble Lords around the House very much share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I believe that that places us in a difficulty. However, I want to suggest two principles that are at stake that might suggest to the noble Baroness and to the House that the Bill is not the vehicle within which to achieve her aim.

Let me put the matter in another context. Let us suppose that the Minister had come to this House with a Bill to set right the issues of civil justice for people of the same sex who are living together. Under the terms of matrimonial law I would have had real difficulty. This Bench and people more generally would have had difficulty. Matrimonial law is a parallel, but it is a different field of law. Perhaps I may say to the Minister that it would be good to have on record that the public understanding of marriage held in the law of this country is not affected by this Bill. That would help us enormously in getting the matter clear.

I said in the Third Reading debate that the mess we got ourselves into at the end of the day was also about the principle. In this House we should not pass Bills that lack clarity of principle. The clarity of principle of this Bill is that it deals with relationships between people of the same sex. That is the central principle of it. It is different from marriage but it has this parallel. One of the reasons people in my office and the clergy encourage people who are living together to enter into marriage, recognising that marriage is a relationship between the two of them and not just a statement in the law, is in order that the community as a whole should be clear about the relationship that they are in. The Bill achieves that for people of long-term relationships of the same sex. It is not just about gay couples; it is about people of the same sex. That is very important because a whole variety of relationships are covered under this matter. I believe that it is important that we hold to the integrity of the Bill.

The third thing to say—and here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe—is that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, would be better served by dealing separately with the complex matters of law that surround family relationships. There is a sense in which this amendment does not achieve all that needs to be achieved in that area. I think that we would be helped if the Government were a little more upfront in saying that they recognise that a whole field of relationships and consequences in human rights needs to be addressed. If the Minister were able to give us a little more encouragement in that area, I think that we might be able to progress with this Bill.

However, what I am not happy to see is our losing the Bill around this issue. It is important that we do not lose the Bill at this stage in the Parliament.