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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:00 pm on 1st February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 12:00 pm, 1st February 2019

I thank the noble and learned Lord for that explanation, which gives me a bit of reassurance. I hope that the Minister will do the same. The fact is that two committee reports have raised serious concerns about the powers that are being extended or given in the Bill. I make it clear from the outset that we support the passing of the Bill and its objectives. We would not want to do anything to hinder it but, on the other hand, we want the Minister to be clear about the precise nature of these powers—about how they will be used and their scope.

The noble and learned Lord has been clear about proposed new subsection (3). I hope that the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, will be able to respond clearly in relation to my noble friend’s question about proposed new subsection (7). Precisely what is its purpose? I suppose the right reverend Prelate alluded to this, in that he referred to the implications for couples who have been married in church. I suppose that is what he is concerned about. There are obviously many people who have married in church and later divorced, then married again—maybe not in a church, but that has extended even to members of the Royal Family and, potentially, a future head of the Church of England. That is not for me to query. However, this really is important because, in scrutinising legislation, we have to be clear about the sort of precedent we are setting.

My own view, expressed partly by the Delegated Powers Committee, is that when the Supreme Court decision was made the Government should have come in with a Bill themselves. Why are we not conducting primary legislation properly and scrutinising it properly? We have here an omnibus Bill to which, as I say, I do not object; we certainly want to see it passed, without delay. People who want civil partnerships should be able to have them as soon as practicable and we will support that. However, it is incumbent on the Minister to answer these very important questions about scope.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, referred to the conversion period. I have experienced that myself, not least because I converted my civil partnership into a marriage and I wanted clear assurances about the timeframe for that when the 2013 Bill was going through. I got assurances but it still took a bit longer than I thought it would, so I hope the Minister will tell us precisely what the window of opportunity that has been alluded to is. What is the Government’s view about this period in which people may be able to convert their marriages into civil partnerships? What timeframe are we looking at and how will people know about this? If there is a window of opportunity that will close, it is really important that the Government communicate that effectively. I hope the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, will be able to respond to those points.