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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 Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 17th November 2004

My Lords, it is the mark of a skilled, astute and experienced parliamentarian to be able to use a measure proposed for one purpose in order to bring to the attention of the House and the country at large another matter of enormous importance. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, has clearly done that.

There is little doubt in anyone's mind that the noble Baroness has pointed up a matter of injustice and enormous and widespread importance. There is no doubt about that. However, it is also clear that what she has raised is a separate matter—she herself described it as a parallel matter. The right reverend Prelate clarified for the House in a marvellous way why it is such a separate matter. The matter that we embarked on with the Bill was the way to address the question of same-sex relationships between two people and the fact that there was no legal standing for such relationships and it was important that legal standing be given not just for financial reasons but for a range of important compassionate reasons.

When the noble Baroness raises this further question, she ventures into an area of enormous complexity, because it is not just about the relationship between two people. Many families involve many more than two people, and the two who are living together may not necessarily be the two who are closest together by relationship.

Perhaps because of the average age of the House, there has been a good deal of concentration on elderly couples who may be living together—two older sisters, or whatever. But a very common situation is that of a woman or, indeed, a man in her or his 30s or early 40s with an ailing elderly parent. Were there such a system, there might be pressure to enter into an arrangement for practical, personal and other reasons. Then, someone else important comes along for that relatively young person, in her or his 30s or 40s, which complicates the issue. It complicates the issue in any case, but it will complicate it a good deal further if questions of registration, finance and so on have been brought to bear.

I do not raise that as an argument for not addressing the question. I am simply saying that the noble Baroness has encouraged us to consider a question even more complex than she has perhaps been able to address in her amendment. The difficulty is that in an attempt concisely and perhaps a little briskly to address a particular injustice—injustice there undoubtedly is—one can create a worse situation, which is not what anyone wants to do. Matters of family and relationships require consideration; they require us to think them through. Of course, no matter how deeply we think them through, we will not remove all difficulties, complexities or injustices, but we owe it to those who may be affected to give them serious consideration and ensure that, as far as possible, we remove complexity, difficulty and injustice.

For myself and, I suspect, for most Members of your Lordships' House, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that question. When she says that she thinks that it will be prolonged beyond next year, she is perhaps being a little despondent about what results next year may bring. The matter that she has raised should not be forgotten, but nor should it be given short shrift, either by being set aside or by being too readily adopted. That might not only disadvantage the Bill on which we have embarked but not do the service that she would wish to the many people who deserve our attention on that other side of complex family relationships.