Committee (1st Day)

Part of Cohabitation Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 30th April 2009.

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Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Government Whip, Government Whip 6:00 pm, 30th April 2009

I rise to inform the debate and not particularly to respond to it. These linked amendments effectively include Amendment 26, which also was spoken to. These amendments change the conditions that must be met for the Bill's provisions to apply. The requirement to live as a couple remains, but the requirement that couple should not be within prohibited degrees of relationship is removed. This, as has been said, would appear to mean that, for example, a brother and sister could live together as a "couple" and be considered "cohabitants" within the meaning of the Bill, so that the provisions of the Bill would apply.

That would seem to me to raise at least several major issues, not the least of which is the difference between family members—brothers and sisters—and those who are married or in civil partnerships. The latter have made a formal public commitment with legal consequences, while brothers and sisters and other family members simply have not. Also, the families about which the noble Baroness and others have spoken may be the kind of families that are totally at one in understanding outcome and outlook and that never have even have a tiff. However, that is not necessarily the situation in all families in the United Kingdom. It is quite possible to have someone living together as sisters or brothers, or a mixture of both, that fall out violently. The consequence of this, if it were to be enacted, would be the possibility of litigation once they have ceased to live together. The Committee will therefore understand why the Government are not supportive of these amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, invited me—tempted me, even—to suggest that the Government might have nothing better to do in their dying days than to introduce legislation. As the Committee knows, in 2006 Scotland introduced provisions similar to those recommended in the Law Commission report. We wish to learn and assess from its experience before we move down that track in any way. The noble Lord, Lord Henley—a near neighbour of mine in the beautiful county of Cumbria—and I are both quite proud of the size and quality of the chickens that we have in that county. I can only suggest that he should not count quite as many as he seems to have counted at the moment.