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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 Elton Lord Elton Conservative 4:15 pm, 17th November 2004

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has a great gift for making what I call the penultimate speech, the speech that is designed to draw forward the Front-Bench speakers, because everything that must be said has been said. Most things that must be said have been said, but just a little has been left out. I ask your Lordships' indulgence for a brief speech. I have spoken only once before during these proceedings. That was on Second Reading, to say that, on balance, and with some regret, but with honest intention, I was in favour of the Bill. I remain so.

I do not accept the argument that the amendment would wreck the Bill. There is plenty of time for the other place to send it back without the amendment and an opportunity would then be provided for Members of the other place also to say something that has not been said that should be. We have all been schooled throughout all these debates to regard this as something distinct and separate from and not related to marriage. So be it, let us accept that it is so.

In that case, all the issues in the Bill must be dealt with as not pertaining to marriage. One of them, probably the most delicate and therefore the least referred to, is the relationship between those whom the Bill is principally designed to benefit and the rest of the community. At present, the Bill is designed to benefit them outside marriage in a way that other couples, such as those that my noble friend has described, who are, let us admit, far more numerous, are not to benefit. That will be seen as unfair and will attract hostility.

I expect that your Lordships will test your feelings on the matter in a Division; I shall support my noble friend. Whether the amendment goes back to the other House or falls here, the Government must accept that, in engendering the Bill, they have brought on themselves a duty to secure a perception of fairness between those who benefit from it and those who are excluded from those benefits. I remain a friend of the Bill, but my friendship is tempered by the imperfection that my noble friend is trying to remedy. If she fails, as I fear she may, that must be tackled by the Government, and soon.