Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 — Motion to Annul

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 15th December 2011.

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Photo of Lord Dannatt Lord Dannatt Crossbench 12:30 pm, 15th December 2011

My Lords, had I spoken earlier in this debate, I would have made a lengthy speech, much of which has been overtaken by the course of events, which would have been in support of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I maintain my support for her today.

Much legal opinion has been expressed on both sides of the argument and a fair consensus would appear to have emerged, but I am left with a residual feeling of ambiguity. Ambiguity can give rise to unintended consequences, and it is unintended consequences that I am worried about. Those consequences arise from regulations that are not crystal clear and have worried a lot of ordinary decent people up and down this country, who have filled noble Lords' postbags and mine in the past few days.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, circulated his letter, which we received yesterday, in which he states-and we have heard it repeated already today-that,

"if a successful legal challenge were ever brought, I would like to provide reassurance that the Government would immediately review the relevant legislation".

If we think that there is some doubt or ambiguity in this case, and if we think that ambiguity could lead to unintended consequences, there is an obligation on the Minister to activate that sentence in the last paragraph of his letter and, for the avoidance of doubt, to make it crystal clear-an expression that we have heard many times in this Chamber today-to people up and down the country, whoever they are, that they have nothing to fear from these regulations. Until I hear a commitment to the avoidance of doubt, I maintain my support for the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain.