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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

The amendments to which I am referring concern religious protection. The point that was made during our debate on registrars was that they are public servants, carrying out a public function, and are therefore not in the same position as people of faith as to the requirements if they are conducting a marriage in their own church. They are employed to do a job as public servants.

Our debates have provided evidence to support something else I said at Second Reading. It is possible for us to allow in law something that not everyone agrees with, and to respect our differences of view. In particular, I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, about the contrast between our debates and those of the past on previous gay rights legislation. I note, too, what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said when he paid tribute to the way in which we have debated the Bill in your Lordships’ House.

I thank everyone who contributed to our debates during the Bill’s various stages, whatever arguments they advanced. The fact that we have debated and scrutinised the Bill carefully is what matters. I am particularly grateful to the range of colleagues on my Conservative Back Benches who have provided me with much guidance and wise counsel. There are too many of them to mention. Noble Lords should not be fooled by the lack of pink carnations on my Benches.

I hope that the House will indulge me in putting on record—not to make a party-political point but to record an important fact—that in five out of six Divisions in your Lordships’ House, more Conservative Peers voted in support of the Bill than against it. I am aware that that did not happen—my Benches were evenly split—in the Division on registrars that my noble friend Lord Higgins has just mentioned. I am hugely proud of and grateful for that. We do not go in for emblems on these Benches, but many of us on this side of the House very much support the Bill. I pay particular tribute to one of my noble friends for helping me so much over the past few weeks. Without her support, my job would have been so much harder. She is my noble friend Lady Noakes.

As always, I have enjoyed working closely with my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and with my noble friend Lady Northover. All of us on the Front Bench have enjoyed fantastic support from a brilliant team of officials. I cannot name them all, but I mention in particular Melanie Field, Suki Lehrer, Wally Ford and Philip Bland. I will also give a shout-out to the special advisers who worked so hard in supporting us in this House. I will not say their names, but they know who they are.

I thank noble Lords from all four quarters of this Chamber who played a pivotal role in the passage of the Bill, in particular the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who is not in his place, and my noble friends Lady Barker and Lord Lester on the Lib Dem Benches. I was very pleased that my noble friend Lord Lester contributed to the debate and reminded noble Lords how much he has done to advance civil rights over many decades. I pay tribute to many noble Lords on the Cross Benches, including the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Also, while we have been on opposing sides, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and his colleagues for their commitment to their cause.

Finally, I pay tribute to the Labour Benches. It is often said that politicians should try harder to work together for the greater good. On this important, historic piece of legislation, I am proud to say that that is what the government and the opposition Front Benches did. It has been a real pleasure over the past few months to work with the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Thornton. It was characteristic of the noble Baroness to pay me such a generous tribute, and I am grateful to her. I have great respect for both noble Baronesses and will always be hugely grateful to them for their full support during the passage of the Bill. Although we will not agree to the same extent on all legislation that comes before the House in future, through the Bill I believe that we have strengthened our mutual understanding and personal trust. I am sure that that will be of great benefit to the work of the House.

I cannot pay tribute to the Labour Benches without mentioning the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who today gave a very moving speech. The other day, in a meeting with me, he declared in frustration at one point when I was disagreeing with him about a request he was putting forward, “But I am a gay rights campaigner”. Never was a truer word said, and, based on his record of achievements, he is undoubtedly one of the—if not the—very best. He has been a very active participant in the passage of the Bill and I am grateful to him.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Alli, I cannot claim to be a gay rights campaigner, but I am a firm believer in justice and fairness. My belief comes from two guiding principles that my parents taught me: that you are as good as anyone who thinks that they are better than you, and that you should always stand up for anyone who is treated worse than everyone else. Therefore, it has been a privilege to be part of a Bill that puts right something that is wrong: namely, the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. I am delighted that, very soon, it will be possible for gay couples to marry. They will be able to affirm publicly their commitment to each other, and accept all the responsibility and joy that comes with it, just like any other couple.

I say to any noble Lord who remains concerned that some gay couples will not take seriously the responsibility of marriage that it is likely that some will not. However, they will be no bigger in number than the small minority of straight couples who sadly end up disappointing each other and their families. Most importantly, we should celebrate and congratulate every gay couple who embarks on this special enterprise of shared endeavour in exactly the same way as we do straight couples, wishing them a long and happy life together, but knowing that that requires effort as well as the love and support of family and friends. As for me, I shall continue to wait for George Clooney before I give it a go myself.

I am very grateful to the many noble Lords who have paid tribute to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for his leadership in bringing forward this important piece of legislation. I do not think it is presumptuous for me to say on his behalf how grateful this coalition Government are for the support and challenge we have received from the Labour Front and Back Benches, the Cross Benches, the Bishops’ Benches and my noble friends on both the Lib Dem and Conservative Back Benches.

As I said at Second Reading, the Bill is a force for good. It remains that and I am delighted to be sending it back to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State Maria Miller, scrutinised and improved yet further by the House of Lords. I hope very much that the other place accepts all the amendments we have made and that it soon receives Royal Assent and becomes a great Act for good by this Parliament.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 17 : Orders and regulations

Amendment 2

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

2: Clause 17, page 14, line 26, at end insert—

“( ) an order under section (Survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes);”

Amendment 2 agreed.

Clause 19 : Extent

Amendment 3

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

3: Clause 19, page 17, line 3, leave out “and 15” and insert “to (Survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes)”

Amendment 3 agreed.

Clause 20 : Short title and commencemen

Amendment 4

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

4: Clause 20, page 17, line 21, after “15” insert “and (Survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes)”

Amendment 4 agreed.

In the Title

Amendment 5

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

5:In the Title, line 6, after “partnership” insert “, for the review of survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes”

Amendment 5 agreed.

Motion

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the Bill do now pass.