My Lords, I, too, wanted to make a brief contribution, having sat through all the remaining stages and the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I am one who does not think that it should.
Today has the potential to be deeply sad for this House and for millions of people—children, parents, families, teachers, clergymen—indeed, anyone who believes in the traditional family unit and its fundamental role in the life and cohesion of our country. If this Bill in its present form becomes law, a large number of people with understandable aspirations will be given new freedoms and be made very happy. But surely it must be right and only fair that your Lordships’ House should give some consideration to a much larger number of people, running into millions, whose lives will be less happy and whose concerns and problems will be increased by this legislation.
Have we got the balance right? I think not, particularly as the opportunity to adjust the balance was spurned by the Government’s complete rejection of any meaningful amendments. Happiness won at the expense of other people’s happiness is rarely trouble-free in the long term.
The questions that many are asking are: why now and why the haste? The simple truth is that the coalition Government have colluded with equal love campaigners and the European Court of Human Rights in bringing a case—an appeal—against our country’s long-established and settled position on marriage. There was a suggestion—some would call it a threat—that if legislation were not brought forward by June this year then changes would be forced on us. The House of Lords Library tells me that as legislation is proceeding the case in the European Court of Human Rights will probably not now be pursued. What outrageous, behind-the-scenes arm twisting.
The result is that not one meaningful amendment has been accepted, not because none has been worth while but for the sake of entirely contrived deadlines, which suit campaigners in a hurry and a Government who want it off their plate well before the next general election. How cynical and how dangerous. Given the huge effect the Bill, if passed, will have on millions of people, what an abuse of the parliamentary system to put speed before truth. So many important issues causing great concern have been left unresolved and hanging in the air, such as the effect on teachers, faith schools, the issue of adultery, consummation, the effect on registrars, which has already been referred to, and the use of premises—issues touching the lives of thousands every day, not to mention the effect on marriage itself.
Those of us who have sat through all the stages of the Bill and have watched the Government knock down amendment after amendment have despaired at their intransigence. This House prides itself on being a revising Chamber. On this Bill it has been a bulldozer. We are being used to bulldoze through an ill thought through Bill, the ramifications of which the people have not begun to understand. All great issues are essentially very simple. We make them complicated when we do not want to face them or when we are anxious to hide their true meaning and purpose. This Bill is built entirely on pretence. It pretends that there is no difference between a man and a woman. From this deceit have sprung all the problems we have been wrestling with—problems we have failed to resolve and which will bedevil generations to come. How can we possibly give our blessing to legislation built on pretence?
To those noble Lords who simply voted for this Bill at Second Reading for constitutional reasons, to those who have come to understand during our scrutiny its far-reaching measures, to those who are dismayed at the lack of concern for the worries of millions of people by the rejection of all the amendments, to those who believe that rushed, ill thought through legislation is dangerous, and to those noble Lords who prefer scrutiny to bulldozing—I realise that I am asking too much at this late stage—I was going to plead with your Lordships to vote against this Third Reading to defend this House’s integrity and to grant adequate time for Parliament and the people fully to understand what is going on and, I believe, to receive the thanks of millions of people.