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Commons Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 17th November 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice System and Law Reform), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 5:15 pm, 17th November 2004

My Lords, we have had a very full and, on this occasion, temperate debate. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, knows well that I, too, hold her in the highest regard. I—without reservation, as I made clear in my opening remarks—dissociate myself and the Government entirely from anyone who sought improperly to put pressure on any Member of this House. I hope that I made that clear at the beginning.

We have heard a lot this evening about the financial consequences of the provisions, which I construe as being the benefits that are seen by some to flow from them. We have, however, heard very little of the responsibilities. The registration of these relationships does not simply bring benefit; it also brings responsibilities for the partner—to finance, to love, to support, to help and to provide. Those responsibilities are weighty.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford is absolutely right when he says that there is a clear distinction between these provisions and those of marriage. Marriage is not affected in any way by the Bill. The right reverend Prelate was absolutely right when he said that we have to look at the clarity of principle that the Bill seeks to address. If we cannot right all the wrongs, should we not seek to right those wrongs which we can? That is what this Bill seeks to do.

The ills that have flown from the problem, which have improperly impinged on the lives of people of the same sex who wish to have a long-term relationship, have been long standing. To ask for that relief to be postponed because we cannot deal with each and every one of the remaining issues in dispute would be to perpetuate injustice. To that extent, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, was absolutely right. That was echoed by a number of other noble Lords around this Chamber, including the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley.

In my opening address, I sought to deal with the issues of inheritance tax and the provisions that we already have are extensive. The noble Baroness said that all would be left deprived. However, a relatively privileged few are able to take advantage of assets in excess of £500,000, so there is a cushion for those who do have difficulty.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made clear, this issue is one that we as legislators must look at responsibly. She was right when she asked whether it would be responsible to legislate in such haste. In my opening remarks and in the debates that we have had on this Bill I have tried to outline the plethora of complexities that pertain in relation to individual sets of relationships and how the ramifications of those relationships should be examined. When we are looking at a couple who are unrelated to each other joining in harmony and making a life together, that is one set of relationships. The relationship between brother and sister or father and daughter—all those who are referred to in the noble Baroness's amendment—are also complex. I know that by tabling this amendment, the noble Baroness is not saying that those are the only people who need to have their rights addressed. I concur with her on that, but not in this Bill.

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that of course care homes are an issue of future importance. The noble Lord will know well the complexity of how we have to order rights and responsibilities. Those are issues with which the noble Lord has wrestled for more than 20 years. They are complex and each time those individual Bills have come before this House, they have taken time and attention and care. This House and the other place have spent appropriate time on them. We cannot do it all: we have to do that which we can.

I hear the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who raised the delicate issue of the difficulties of those who may have been injured. He described his personal circumstances and none of us could have remained untouched by that. However, when it comes to the noble Lord's suggestion that we should somehow postpone the legislation, I recognise the comments that have been made about the noble Lord in another place. His honourable friend John Bercow said of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that,

"cleverly conceived amendments of this kind would . . . cause the Government no end of trouble, and that Gordon's sums would be thrown into disarray, providing the opportunity for a great deal of fun".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D; 19/10/04; col: 17.]

That may have been the sentiment, but that is not how it will feel to those who have been deprived of the rights.