My Lords, I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for her very careful explanation of the long and complex orders and regulations before us. She made them extremely clear. When the Conservative Party put in its manifesto for the 2010 election a commitment to legislate for same-sex marriages, I wonder whether those who wrote that paragraph of the manifesto had the remotest conception of what would be involved in the way of changing legislation. The three schedules to the main order that my noble friend described, covering nearly 24 pages of typescript and literally hundreds of amendments to existing legislation and orders, speaks volumes about what had to be done and what has been done very successfully, as far as I can make out, by the department’s advisers and lawyers.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Alli, I rejoice that the first same-sex marriages will be happening sooner than had originally been planned. I have accepted the invitation of the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Reverend Mark Oakley, to a celebration of the first same-sex marriages in the cathedral at the end of this month and I am sure that I am not alone in looking forward to it. That is a remarkable development and I know that many others in the Church will recognise this as a move in the right direction.
I want to raise one specific matter which my noble friend mentioned towards the end of her speech and that is the desire of couples who are in civil partnerships to convert their civil partnerships to marriages as soon as possible. I tabled a Question on this a while ago and the reply from my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble appeared in a list of Written Answers yesterday. Apparently, he was not satisfied with the first draft of the answer that he was given and he told me that it would be a while before we got it but I now have it. However, it raises a number of questions of which I have given my noble friend notice. It says that the Government hope to achieve this by the end of this year. That is nine months away and one has to ask why. It says that these aspects of the Act,
“involve developing and implementing completely new procedures and processes”.—[ Official Report , 26/02/14; col.
Can the Minister explain to the House what those completely new procedures and processes are? After all, a civil partnership is half way there already. Compared with what has had to be done in these orders to make the rest of the law applicable to same-sex marriages, one would have thought at first sight that it would not have been too difficult to have done this, if not at the same time, at least no more than a few weeks or a month or two afterwards. Why so long? What are these procedures? Will there have to be further orders? Is it going to be necessary for Parliament to approve the orders?
The point has been made to me that some people in civil partnerships are elderly and are anxious that they should convert to marriages with the legal consequences of that as soon as possible. If one dies before that has been done, then the handling of property and so on is different from what it would be if they were married. To be told that they may have to wait nine months or more before this can be done has caused a good deal of dismay and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give a better explanation than my noble friend Lord Gardiner gave at the end of his reply in the Hansard published this morning.
Apart from that I very much echo what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has said. I think the Government have done a magnificent job on this and I take some pride that in this House, in contrast with the other place, on every single Division a majority of Conservatives supported the Bill. We may be on average 20 to 25 years older than they are at the other end and yet we achieved that. As the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said, that is a considerable tribute to the House of Lords.