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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 Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative 4:45 pm, 17th November 2004

My Lords, perhaps I may follow what the right reverend Prelate said about the nature of the Bill. A little while ago, I asked the Government in a Written Question:

"In what respects, other than its availability to persons of the same sex, a civil partnership as envisaged in the Civil Partnership Bill differs from a civil marriage".

The noble Baroness gave me her Answer:

"There are a number of differences between civil partnership and civil marriage; for example"— this is the sole example that she gave—

"a civil partnership is formed when the second civil partner signs the civil partnership document, a civil marriage is formed when the couple exchange spoken word".—[Hansard, 16/7/04; col. WA 161.]

I leave noble Lords to decide whether that is a very clear and emphatic distinction between the two.

I want to say something immensely personal about this amendment. Twenty years ago my wife and I were severely injured. Had the IRA been a little more successful, and had I died, I have no doubt whatever that one of my children would have put aside their life and career to care for my wife. Under the law as it is and under the law as the Government intend to leave it, there would be no option, when my wife then died, but for that child of ours to be forced out of the family home by the need to sell it in order to pay inheritance tax.

Had I been so deeply affected by that bombing, and had my wife died, that I should have chosen to enter into a civil partnership with someone I had known for only a few weeks, when I died my civil partner would not be in the position in which one of children would have been put. That answers the question of whether there is any injustice in this Bill.

Most noble Lords accept that there would be an injustice. I regret that so many who have spoken say that they are in favour of removing that injustice, but not yet. It is of course entirely wrong to say that the amendment of my noble friend is a wrecking amendment. It would make no change whatever to any provision of this Bill as it affects same-sex partners. I repeat: none whatever. Therefore it cannot be a wrecking amendment.

I have before me all 400 pages of the Bill in which not a single mention of inheritance tax is made; not one word. Yet the debate we are now having centres not on society's regard for those who enter into the sacred contract of marriage as opposed to those who form a civil partnership; rather, the debate we are having is about money, and nothing else.

As ever, I like to help people out of problems into which they have got themselves. Therefore I offer a solution which would enable my noble friend to withdraw her amendment and for the Bill to go on its way. The solution is very simple; that is, for the Government to state that in subsequent Budgets they will not make changes to the arrangements for inheritance tax as a consequence of the passage of this Bill. Civil partnerships would be accorded whatever standing people like to give them while marriage would go on in the same way. And there would be a blessed interval during which all those who are anxious about what they, Ministers and all of us see as an injustice in respect of taxation towards children, parents and siblings would be able to correct it.

The Government could undertake not to bring forward in any Budget arrangements affecting civil partnership which did not extend to the categories of persons broadly encompassed by those affected either by the amendment passed by this House and rejected by the Commons, or those who might be affected by my noble friend's amendment. That would get us all off the hook. If the Government choose not to do that, I hope that noble Lords will see that this is a matter about money and taxation, and that it is a question of introducing a new inequality between the very large numbers of parents, children and siblings who would suffer an injustice and the very small number of same-sex partners who would benefit financially from the kind of Budget we may envisage in the future.

This Bill can go through, but I want to hear the Government say that they will not give a tax advantage to civil partners which they will not give to others who are equally deserving. The problem would be resolved and I hope and believe that my noble friend would be willing to withdraw her amendment.