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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:45 pm on 1st February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative 12:45 pm, 1st February 2019

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 3 in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman. At the start of the debate on this Bill, I did not think I would be declaring my religion or anything else, but I will choose to do so as a number of others have. I was brought up a practising Christian, and as a practising Christian I believe in the equality of all people. That is at the core of this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and others have referred to changes in social attitudes. It is relevant to this amendment that I make reference to DUP leader Arlene Foster’s extremely welcome move last year to attend an event she previously had not. That indicates that society is moving—a matter to which I will return later. Given the issue covered by the amendment, I should also declare that I am a strong unionist and will remain so. That applies to the whole country, but I am also strongly in favour of devolution.

First, I will comment on the Bill and the nature of the issues it covers. When I first discussed this with the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, and Tim Loughton, I indicated that I had every desire that the Bill should pass. I also had every desire that it should be amended in the way I am attempting today. I say that because in March last year I introduced, along with Conor McGinn in the other place, a Private Member’s Bill with the specific aim of introducing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. I do not want to delay the Bill or lose it at any point, but I believe this is the ideal opportunity to make progress on a subject that matters to so many people. If I do not do it on this Bill—it has been suggested that I should not—the question is: on what Bill should I do it? My own Private Member’s Bill is at the bottom of queue—quite reasonably, because others put their Bills in first —so you then search for an alternative.

The Government have the opportunity to introduce a Bill on this, as acknowledged by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley. I believe that not only the Government but all political parties in this House and the other should give serious consideration to finding a way to achieve and introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, whatever that may be, if it is not through this proposed new clause—which I hope it will be. We cannot wait for ever. It is all very well saying that this is not the right Bill, but when will there be a right Bill? The obligation is on all parties in both Houses to give serious consideration to this or another clause.

I now move away from the broad principle of how we do something to the specific issue of devolution. My Private Member’s Bill came on the back of a series of events in Northern Ireland, and it is worth recalling what they were. In November 2015, in the fourth vote, the Assembly passed—by a majority of two—that same-sex marriage should apply in Northern Ireland. It was defeated as a result of a petition of concern. That is quite reasonable, because that is the constitutional practice in Northern Ireland. But we have had no Assembly or Executive in Northern Ireland for two full years now. They fell in January 2017. When I introduced my Private Member’s Bill, we had been without any Assembly or Executive in Northern Ireland for just over a year; it has now been over two years.

We cannot go on for ever saying that we cannot take action and it has to be left in the hands of Northern Ireland. I wish it were in the hands of Northern Ireland. As I just indicated, I am a staunch devolutionist. I believe power should be given to the lowest reasonable level to achieve any effect in government. We are now beyond two years since the Administration in Northern Ireland fell. It is therefore important that we find some way of achieving this.

In answer to my comments at Second Reading, my noble friend observed that it would be for a democratically elected Assembly to decide whether to introduce same sex marriage. As I have indicated, I wish that were the case but it is not, so it would be worth while, by one means or another, to test the process.

On the proposed new clause introduced by the amendment, when I made a comment at Second Reading about a friend marrying someone from Northern Ireland—I also referred to this last October—they did not have the option of marrying in Northern Ireland; it had to be in this country. However, I did not indicate at Second Reading that the person from Northern Ireland is a former employee of this House. Last week, I was in the Peers’ Lobby when I was approached by someone else from Northern Ireland, a female, who said she wished me well with this amendment because she suffered the same problem.

I do not know how many people in Northern Ireland this affects—a few per cent, 1%, it does not matter—but it is clear that it affects some people in the way they want to live their lives. I ask noble Lords, when they next go to a wedding, where great celebrations will be taking place, to remember that in Northern Ireland that may not be possible in the circumstances. Imagine a product of St Malachy’s coming out and going to university in Belfast and a boy from Belfast Inst going to the same university. If they form a relationship—there are certainly some here who will recognise the significance of the choice of the two schools—it will be formed across the massive religious divide that we face in Northern Ireland. Then, having crossed one enormous divide, they will not be allowed to get married because both are from Northern Ireland: they will have to come over here. What kind of society do we live in when we say, “Sorry, there are two of you. You were both brought up in Northern Ireland, your families are from Northern Ireland and you were educated in Northern Ireland, but you have to come over here to get married if that is what you want”? That is utterly unacceptable in this day and age.

I have tabled an amendment that provides the opportunity for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland but, above all, provides a timescale so that if there is an Assembly and an Executive in Northern Ireland in the next few months—we are not saying that we are right—it will give them an opportunity to review that decision. In effect, this proposed new clause gives an opportunity for review—and implementation, I hope—through to the middle of 2020, some three-and-a-half years after the Assembly and the Executive stopped. As has been acknowledged, that would be five years after the original vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly and seven years after the legislation on same-sex marriage in this country.

It is a difficult issue for all of us but, in the circumstances where we do not have the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland, sooner or later, on behalf of however many people, we have to say enough is enough. I beg to move.