British Overseas Territories: Same-Sex Marriage - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 2:53 pm, 23rd July 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to enable citizens to enter into a same-sex marriage in British Overseas Territories.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, we are pleased that the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, the Pitcairn Islands, St Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands—I sound like a train announcer—have all taken steps to recognise and enable same-sex marriage. In the overseas territories where same-sex marriage is not currently recognised, we continue to engage constructively with both Governments and civil society to encourage and promote equality irrespective of gender or sexuality.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector)

I thank the Minister for that detailed Answer. The United Kingdom Government imposed on overseas territories compliance with the international money laundering Act of 2018, even where there were not agreed international regulatory frameworks. The Government refuse to require all the overseas territories to respect the rights of LGBT citizens under the ECHR, with which they and we must be compliant. Why the double standard?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, first, I do not think that there is a double standard. The noble Baroness may recall my vociferous defence, as the Minister for the Overseas Territories, of the autonomy of the overseas territories, believing that it was right that they should continue to take forward the issue of the registers, as they were doing quite progressively. However, the will of the other place was such that the will of Parliament was upheld by the Government. We would rather not have been in that position. On this issue, we continue to respect the autonomy. However, at the same time, I assure the noble Baroness that we work very progressively. We have seen in recent developments in places such as Bermuda how the courts domestically are reacting to the importance of progressing this issue.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour

My Lords, I know that the Minister is both personally and politically committed to human rights and equality. Therefore, can he help me out? According to the most recent White Paper on the overseas territories, published in 2012, the UK Government assume an obligation in relation to good governance of the territories, which includes the obligation,

“to ensure … just treatment and … protection against abuses”,

for the peoples of the territories. Therefore, can the Minister confirm that the peoples of the territories include LGBTI people? Notwithstanding his intention on behalf of the Government to engage, what concrete measures are they considering to ensure that LGBTI people can embrace and enjoy equality and human rights in conformity with the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

First, on the latter point, I assure the noble Lord that we work very constructively with our British Overseas Territories to ensure that they comply with international obligations. Indeed, the progress we have seen in Bermuda is reflective of the fact that equality for all citizens, including members of the LGBT community, are safeguarded and that they will continue to be able to play a full and active role in the future. On the specific issue of equal marriage, as I said, we are engaging constructively and it remains the British Government’s position. The noble Lord mentioned the 2012 paper. The basis of that was to encourage and continue to support the overseas territories to make progress on this important issue directly themselves.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Will my noble friend confirm—and I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the all-party Cayman group—that, particularly in the Caribbean, a number of the overseas territories have their own constitution to deal with domestic matters? As I understand it, in their view the subject raised by this Question is a domestic issue. They have elected Members of Parliament. Those Parliaments debate these issues, and surely it is for those Parliaments, which after all represent the people living in those islands, to decide what is appropriate or not.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

My Lords, as I have already said, of course we respect the rights of our British Overseas Territories to decide their own domestic issues, but it is also important that on issues of fairness the Government of the United Kingdom continue to hold constructive discussions, as we do in broader terms as well. I am minded to quote my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when she addressed this important issue in the context of the Commonwealth conference:

“As a family of nations we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions. But we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality, a value that is clearly stated in the Commonwealth Charter ... Nobody should face persecution or discrimination because of who they are or who they love. And the UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible”.

It is a constructive, progressive approach, and is the same approach that we adopt with our British Overseas Territories.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, in Her Majesty’s territories overseas we obviously have an obligation to uphold human rights, and it is a fundamental human right to be treated equally under the law. Of course, when the Minister read out that list, Bermuda would have been on it, because it did pass same-sex marriage laws. In fact, people were able to marry, and then we had that overturned. The Government cannot abrogate their responsibilities here, because it was agreed to by this Government and it should not have been. They should have upheld the rights of LGBT people. I declare an interest: I am actually half Bermudian, so when I go out there with my husband, will I be able to exercise the same rights? I hope the Minister will stand up for same-sex marriage in Bermuda.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State

The noble Lord specifically mentioned Bermuda and he will know the history there. There was a referendum on both domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage, which the Bermudians did not accept in their vote. A decision was taken by the Supreme Court in advance which permitted same-sex marriage. That was overturned, as the noble Lord said, in the Parliament there to bring forward domestic partnership legislation which protects pension rights and other rights of same-sex couples. As to where we are with Bermuda, as the noble Lord will be aware, that legislation has been referred to the Supreme Court. The Government of Bermuda are appealing that decision, and, later this year, a determination will be made. We need to ensure, and it would be entirely appropriate—I am sure the noble Lord will respect this—that those local issues of justice are played out appropriately.