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.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 12:00 pm, 1st February 2019

My Lords, I want to take this opportunity to commend my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger, who is quite a trooper when it comes to pressing on regardless. I wish her well and hope that she has good rest over the weekend, having fought the good fight today to bring further equality with civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples.

I fully support my noble friend’s amendments. As she said, the Government had some concerns about the drafting of Clause 2, but not the intentions behind it. I am pleased that the drafting of this amendment has been improved in a way that is satisfactory both to the Bill’s sponsors and to the Government. I hope that we have arrived at an amendment that works for everyone and is able to deliver a comprehensive and effective opposite-sex civil partnerships regime at the earliest opportunity.

The Government are committed to equality for all, and we were pleased last October to announce our intention to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. As my noble friend has outlined, the amendments make it possible to equalise access to civil partnerships between same-sex and other couples by amending the eligibility criteria in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 through regulations.

A couple of noble Lords mentioned that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee expressed concerns about the drafting of Clause 2. I hope that our amendments go some way towards alleviating those concerns. The new clause now sets out in much greater detail how we envisage the delegated powers would be exercised, including dealing with issues such as parental responsibility, the effect of a legal change of gender, the financial consequences of a partnership and any conversion entitlements. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman, about Henry VIII powers, but I hope that I can satisfy them at least in part. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, is shaking his head—but perhaps when I have said what I have to say he will be happier.

The powers are needed to give opposite-sex couples equivalent rights and benefits to those enjoyed by same-sex couples. Simply changing the eligibility criteria in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 would not ensure this. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman—and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Collins—were concerned about subsection (3) and the possibility of extending civil partnerships to siblings. We have no intention of using the subsection to extend civil partnerships to siblings or family members. My noble friend Lord Lexden, who lives in hope that one day we may do so, has clarified that. Subsection (1) makes it clear that the extension of eligibility applies to opposite-sex couples only, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, and, as drafted, would stand in the way of extension to siblings.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, asked me about other European countries—I am sorry, it was the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I do not know why I am mixing the two of them up today. Both their names begin with C. They are the dynamic duo.