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Third Reading

Part of Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 15th July 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Lords Spokesperson (Department for Work and Pensions), Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 3:30 pm, 15th July 2013

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and for their support for these amendments. I will respond to some of the questions that were put by my noble friend Lord Higgins. He asked whether those who are currently excluded from a defined benefit scheme would not get access to such a scheme to a greater advancement than anyone else as a result of this review. I can assure him that that is not the case. The purpose of the review is purely to look at the contributions that people made before 2005. The noble Lord asked about the composition of the review. We will publish terms of reference in due course, and at that time we will be able to offer a little more detail.

As to the role of Her Majesty the Queen and the comments of my noble friend Lady Anelay before I moved Third Reading, I do not have a comprehensive response to that question except to say that that was just a formality that is sometimes necessary on the government Chief Whip’s part before a Bill passes on to the Commons. It is all to do with various, specific interests that Her Majesty may have in a piece of legislation. In no way does it pre-empt proper process or the granting of Royal Assent. It is a pure formality and there is nothing unusual in it.

I will respond more broadly to this debate and to those that we have had on the Bill in your Lordships’ House over the past few weeks. At Second Reading, I urged the House to ensure that the protections that allow the church and other faiths to maintain their legitimate belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman should work properly. I also said that this House should debate and scrutinise whether the Bill protects freedom of speech. Your Lordships have done that, and I am grateful to all who have contributed. Those of us who have supported the Bill in principle, and those who have been concerned about protections for those who did not, have together made this an even better Bill.

While the amendments we have made were all tabled by the Government, they have all been inspired by your Lordships and by the debates we have had in this House or through the work done in its committees, particularly the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. During the passage of the Bill through both Houses, the Government have made 23 substantial amendments, 17 of them while the Bill has been in this House. The most significant include the reviews to which we are committed—on civil partnerships, humanist marriages and the equalisation of survivor benefits for same-sex and opposite-sex married couples—as well as the amendment to the Public Order Act, which is a significant protection for freedom of speech.

We have also made amendments on religious protections, in particular one that clarifies the word “compel” in Clause 2. Religious faiths, notably the Catholic Church and others who are neither the Church of England nor the Church in Wales, and who did not wish to opt in to marrying same-sex couples, wanted us to strengthen further the clause in the Bill that states that a person may not be compelled to conduct a marriage of a same-sex couple. This matter was also debated in the Commons and the movers of the amendment there were defeated by 321 votes to 163.

Even though the will of the Commons was clear on this point, the Government said that they remained open-minded and would continue to listen. We did so, and were persuaded to come forward with our own amendment on Report. The Bill is now clearer, and says:

“A person may not be compelled by any means (including by the enforcement of a contract or a statutory or other legal requirement)”.

I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, whom noble Lords will remember was critical of the Bill at Second Reading, commended the amendment, saying that it dealt with concerns about public functions comprehensively. He said:

“I cannot remember seeing in a statute—certainly not in one of this kind—the words ‘by any means’. That is an all-embracing, protective phrase and I commend the Government doubly for such a courageous use of language to achieve one of the protections that they said they wanted to achieve: institutional independence”.—[Hansard, 8/7/13; col. 105.]