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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 Lord St John of Fawsley Lord St John of Fawsley Conservative 4:15 pm, 17th November 2004

My Lords, I am grateful to right reverend Prelate for that contribution. I am glad that I observed the convention of this House and gave way to him because I agree with almost all that he has said. My one caveat is on the question of marriage. I think that people who equate—I know the right reverend Prelate did not—this Bill with marriage do a great disservice to the Bill and to marriage. Marriage is quite a different relationship. It is the union—one hopes for life—of a man and a woman. It has a special place in our tradition because it has been sanctified by the sacramental tradition of Christianity. It is very important to preserve that. Those who either support or oppose the Bill obfuscate the whole issue when they talk about gay marriages.

We do not have to take our theology from the tabloid press; we do not even have to take it from the compact press. That is an arcane tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, who unfortunately is not in his place because he is having a tooth out. While I agree entirely in principle with the noble Baroness—and, indeed, said so on Report—I have my doubts about the matter because of the risks that this amendment poses to the success of this Bill, which has been achieved with so much sacrifice and with so much preparation.

So my objection to my noble friend's amendment is not that it is wrong in principle—it is right in principle. If the Government really want to see this Bill get through, I would very much welcome some firmer words, as the right reverend Prelate has said, as to what would be done for these families. I should be very happy to join my noble friend Lady O'Cathain in an ecumenical effort—ecumenical in these circumstances because we are in disagreement on this point—to do something positive, concrete and real to help not only relatives but also carers.

The amendment is wrong not in principle but in practice. It is the wrong time and the wrong place. To take the time first, to produce an amendment of such importance and complexity for the whole of our family and constitutional law at the last moment surely cannot be right. It cannot be right for the House, without the supporting documentation, research, knowledge and all the preliminary work that must be done, to accept the amendment.

Secondly, it is in the wrong place. My noble friend said that the Bill would right an injustice and create others, but we can look at it in quite a different way. There are all sorts of injustices in these complex relationships. The Bill does not create a new injustice; it gets rid of one of the injustices, which is a very important advance. Therefore, we can support the Bill in good conscience while wanting other measures to be proposed to right other wrongs.

No one could disagree with my noble friend's principle, but the effect of the amendment could be to wreck the Bill—she does not intend that, but I am considering not her intentions but the effect—which rights an injustice and which carries the hopes of many people with it.