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Third Reading

Part of Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 15th July 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 4:00 pm, 15th July 2013

My Lords, the custom at this stage of the Bill is for all of us to look at each other and congratulate ourselves on the piece of legislation that we are just about to sign off. Of course, I realise that not all noble Lords feel the same sense of satisfaction at a job well done that the Minister, other noble Lords who have supported the Bill and I feel at this moment. I regret that they are not sharing the sense of joy and happiness that some of us are experiencing. Certainly, if the London Gay Men’s Chorus’s tuneful offerings outside the House are anything to go by, very many others feel the same. Some of us, indeed, could not resist wearing pink carnations. However, I note that even the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is somewhat resplendent in pink himself.

To noble Lords who opposed the Bill I say that you have tested the Bill to within an inch of its life, and for that I congratulate you. No one expected that getting the Bill through your Lordships’ House would be a walk in the park, and I think that noble Lords have done their job as they see it with dedication and commitment.

There were moments at midnight when we were again discussing adultery when I thought we were never going to reach this point. Those moments were made all the more memorable by the description by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, of what is adultery and what is not. I refer noble Lords to column 146, 8 July 2013, if they are in any doubt. I wish her well with George Clooney, and I myself do not think that he is anything like worthy of the noble Baroness.

I very sincerely hope that time will change the views of noble Lords who are still concerned about the Bill. I hope that the happiness the Bill will bring to thousands of same-sex couples will persuade everyone that, after all, Parliament was right in its huge majorities on free votes, which led us to where we are today. I hope that your own marriages will indeed come through this change unscathed and as whole as ever, and that marriage itself will actually be strengthened and deepened by the Bill.

We must recognise that when the Prime Minister, to whom I pay tribute for his steadfast support, my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats all speak in unity, then the issue has powerful friends. However, even with those powerful friends, free votes ran through the Bill on all the major votes, and were won all the way through with huge majorities.

I pay tribute to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for the way in which she steered the Bill through the House. Patient, energetic and always ready to listen, she never lost her sense of humour or proportion. Ditto her helpmates, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Indeed, we worked together on this Bill, and I am glad of it. The Bill team were always helpful and friendly, and are to be congratulated on their very hard work. I know that the demands that were made on humanism, pensions and a host of other issues meant that they and the Ministers had to go back and persuade their colleagues in government that they needed to revisit or revise matters they thought already settled. I know how hard that is.

Across the House there has been remarkable work by groups of Back-Bench Peers, co-operating to win the free votes on the Bill. My noble friend Lord Alli has been remarkable; not only did all of us on the Labour side receive bulletins and information about what was going to happen and when votes were taking place, but he also organised some light entertainment for Labour colleagues. On Monday the actor Richard Wilson and last Wednesday evening Paul O’Grady, aka Lily Savage, joined us in Committee Room G. I thank them for their support and generosity. My noble friend Lord Alli has talked to everyone all the time, which I think helped the good humour and tolerance which characterised the debates even when we fiercely disagreed.

There are other Members one should thank. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, fought the corner for humanist weddings. The noble Lady, Baroness Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, helped to find a way through on humanist weddings. My noble friend Lady Gould explained with great clarity the issues faced by transsexual people, matters not yet resolved and to which we may return some time in the future, but not on this Bill. Many of my colleagues have been here all the way through. I thank you all.

I personally have been blessed with support and equal sharing, as it should be, by my noble friend Baroness Royall, who fitted the Bill in with her many other duties. I thank her. My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe sat next to me all through the Bill, and kept us to time and calm while under duress. I also thank the back room: Bethany Gardiner-Smith from the Opposition Whips Office, whose research, political management and inspired amendment-drafting made many things possible.

Across the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, has been with us every single step of the way and played a blinder with her Lib Dem colleagues, whose voting record has been magnificent. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Jenkin, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, from the Cross Bench, to whom I pay particular tribute. I treasure some contributions from other noble Lords: the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Deben, my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth and Lady Brinton. All their contributions bear re-reading.

We should not forget the contributions from the Bishops’ Benches. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made a very important speech at Second Reading. Many other right reverend Prelates have joined in the debates throughout, always with elegance and thoughtfulness. The meetings that we on this side have had with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and his colleagues have been helpful and always friendly. I cannot remember another Bill that has merited such attention from the Lords Spiritual.

Alongside us all, we have had the help and support of Stonewall and LGBT Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem. I also thank the British Humanist Association for its support. I particularly appreciated the tweets late at night. I was conscious that thousands of people were watching us all over the country. I sometimes felt like saying, “Get a life”, and they were certainly puzzled by some of our customs, but they were willing the supporters of the Bill to keep going.

The same-sex marriage Bill is a historic Bill. I am proud to have led these Labour Benches during its passage and to have helped ensure its safe passage on to the statute book. I am proud that the House has done its job well and thoroughly.