Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill - Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:41 am on 1st February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative 11:41 am, 1st February 2019

My Lords, as I indicated at Second Reading, Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7, which stand in my name, seek to replace the current Clause 2 and make consequential changes to the drafting of the Bill. In replacing Clause 2, I must highlight that we do not wish to change the intention of the clause. Rather, we want to clarify the power in order to use the Bill to deliver a comprehensive and effective opposite-sex civil partnerships regime.

Following the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013, we were left with a situation in which same-sex couples could either marry or form a civil partnership but opposite-sex couples could only marry. I outlined at Second Reading the various reasons why a couple may desire to choose a civil partnership over a marriage. Suffice to say that many people who would like the protections and provisions that a formalised relationship can bring do not feel that marriage is for them.

When Tim Loughton and I introduced this Bill in the other place and in this House respectively, we did so with the intention that it would be used to equalise access to civil partnerships between same-sex and other couples, and thus put right the post-same-sex marriage unfairness to which I have just referred. We were delighted in October last year when the Prime Minister announced that it was now the Government’s intention to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.

Subsequently, Tim Loughton successfully moved an amendment on Report in the other place that stands as the current Clause 2 of the Bill. The intention of the current Clause 2 is to enable the Secretary of State by regulations to equalise access to civil partnerships between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. We accept that the current clause is not adequately drafted. The Minister outlined her concerns about the drafting during her response on Report, highlighting the fact that the clause would not enable us to deliver a robust opposite-sex civil partnerships regime and the lack of detail in the regulation-making power.

I have been working closely with my noble friend the Minister and Tim Loughton on a more comprehensive approach to the provision, and I am pleased to be able to table Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 today, which effectively replace Clause 2.

Subsection (1) of the new clause would enable the Secretary of State to amend by regulation the eligibility criteria of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in order that two people who are not of the same sex are able to form a civil partnership.

Subsection (2) would establish the date by which the regulations must come into force as 31 December 2019. This would ensure that a comprehensive opposite-sex civil partnerships regime came into force at the earliest opportunity, and certainly before the end of the year. I know the Minister will also be reiterating that, all things being equal, that is the Government’s intention. This will be welcome news to many couples for whom getting a civil partnership is a matter of urgency for various reasons.

The new clause would also provide for other necessary amendments to be made by regulation. Subsection (4) outlines the areas about which the regulations may make particular provision, arising from the fact that the existing regime was designed with same-sex couples in mind. They include: matters relating to parenthood and parental responsibility; the financial consequences of civil partnership, which include pensions and survivor benefits; and the recognition of equivalent opposite-sex civil partnerships entered into overseas as civil partnerships in England and Wales.

Subsection (5) would enable the Secretary of State to make regulations governing conversion rights. These rights may include the right to convert a marriage into an opposite-sex civil partnership. The regulations may also provide for any new right to convert a marriage, or the existing right to convert a civil partnership into a marriage, to be restricted or brought to an end in future. Noble Lords may wonder why it is necessary for the legislation to stray into this territory; it is because existing civil partnerships can be converted into same-sex marriages. We need the scope to legislate further on conversion in a way that is equitable to different groups.

The question of converting civil partnerships into marriage and perhaps vice versa, will of course be of particular interest and concern to some people, so subsection (6) would require the Secretary of State specifically to consult on this matter before making any regulations on conversion.

Subsection (7) would make provision for regulations protecting the ability to act in accordance with religious belief in relation to matters provided for in regulations under this section. For example, any decision about whether to host an opposite-sex civil partnership on religious premises should remain a decision for an individual religious organisation to take.

Subsection (8) would enable the regulations made under the new clause to amend, repeal or revoke primary legislation. My amendments to Clause 5 would ensure that these and any other regulations made under the new clause would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, ensuring that they were debated and scrutinised appropriately in both this House and the other place. Amendments 4, 5 and 6 would make the necessary changes to the supplementary provisions about regulations in Clause 5.

Lastly, Amendment 7 would change the Long Title of the Bill to reflect the fact that Clause 2 no longer relates to the publication of a report on civil partnerships but instead relates to the extension of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. This is a missed consequential amendment from the changes on Report in the Commons. The Bill would therefore be correctly titled and reflect the important changes that it needs to make and, we trust, will make.

I apologise to noble Lords for being so croaky. I hope they will add their support to this amendment, which provides for access to civil partnerships to be equalised in a comprehensive and robust way. I beg to move.