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Commons Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 17th November 2004.

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Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative 4:45 pm, 17th November 2004

My Lords, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, is to be in a formidable position, because she speaks with great knowledge and understanding. I hope that I may be permitted to make just a few observations, despite the fact that my noble friend Lord Elton, in that engaging way that he sometimes has, says, "I fancy that this is a penultimate speech, so I shall make my speech and everyone else can keep in their place".

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in a most engaging and impressive speech, tried virtually to remove from its place the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, suggesting that it was impossible and unusable. My noble friend was right to table the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said that they had tried to rewrite the whole basis of family law; that is a very impressive and formidable task. Part of the trouble is that the Bill has produced an inequality, which my noble friend Lady O'Cathain is trying to address.

The Bill is specifically designed, as the noble Baroness said, for same-sex couples. That is fine, except that it happens to have upset the balance with ordinary couples. We heard the story of two sisters who had lived together for a number of years. One died and the other was obliged to pay inheritance tax. That would not apply to a same-sex couple who had lived together for two weeks. My noble friend is trying to point out that that is not fair. If the law was wrong previously, we have tipped it over into being wrong again now. It is hard when that happens.

It has been said that there are 40,000 couples living in a same-sex relationship, but it is reckoned that only 5 per cent—2,000—are likely to take advantage of the provision. One wonders whether it is right to introduce a law which specifically benefits 2,000 couples but equally specifically does not benefit others in a similar set-up, in so far as they live together but do not have the particular business of being in a same-sex relationship. That is the point that my noble friend makes. If we alter the law for same-sex couples, that is fine, but we should not prejudice the law against those who are not of that particular persuasion. If the time comes, therefore, I will vote for my noble friend's amendment.