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Third Reading

Part of Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:16 pm on 15th July 2013.

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Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat 3:16 pm, 15th July 2013

My Lords, I am glad that I put my name to these amendments. I add my support to the Minister for the wisdom of the amendments. It is an open-ended consultation that is not prejudged, it is time-limited so there will not be undue delay, and if there are changes it will be subject to affirmative procedure, which means that Parliament will be able to be properly consulted, as the public and all the interested groups will have been.

To add a further point, if change is brought about it will avoid the need for further litigation that could finish up in the European Court of Human Rights, as I read its case law, because if there is to be change it will remove a source of discrimination that, it could be strongly argued, is not compatible with convention rights. For all those reasons, I am very glad to support this.

The noble Lord, Lord Alli, has described me in the past as a lone ranger, but I was not sure that that was a compliment. I sit among my Liberal Democrat tribe not as a lone ranger; we are full of support for that team. I should say, though others will also say it from these Benches, that we are very proud of the fact that we were the first to think of civil partnership, to do civil partnership in a Private Member’s Bill and then to support the admirable Equality Act, so I do not think that I am a lone ranger. Anyhow, I do not watch cowboy films because I am too frightened of what will happen to the horses of the Indians.

I join in the tributes to the Minister and her extremely skilled team. Part of that team was responsible for the Equality Act 2010, which I have described as the best civil rights legislation in the world, and that I believe to be the case. The Minister has had to deal with the Bill in difficult circumstances; there are some in the House who are strongly opposed to it. However, the way in which amendments have been considered and debated across the House honestly and transparently has been extremely important, and I have learnt a great deal from listening to those debates.

I joined the House 20 years ago and I can tell those who are a bit younger that it would have been quite inconceivable for the House to have been able to approve this measure then. It would have been fairly impossible 15 years ago. What has changed for the better has been the modernisation of this House through appointments, and I pay tribute to the previous Government for the appointments that they made that I think have secured a House that is truly countermajoritarian and truly concerned with individual rights and with protecting minorities against the abuse of powers by the tyranny of the majority.