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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:15 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) 1:15 pm, 1st February 2019

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this debate on the amendment in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Hayward, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman. I have considerable sympathy with their arguments, as they will all know—I spoke to my noble friend yesterday—but I am afraid I cannot support the proposed new clause.

The amendment seeks to change the law of Northern Ireland to extend same-sex marriage to couples there within 10 months of the Act receiving Royal Assent. Equality, civil partnerships and marriage are all devolved matters, so it is for the relevant Administration in Northern Ireland to legislate to make any necessary changes to the law relating to civil partnerships and marriages, but I note with considerable interest the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, on the matter of the petition of concern. That gives me hope that things might be resolved there in future. However, at this point in time, Northern Ireland has chosen not to extend marriage to same-sex couples. While noble Lords might disagree with that position, it is clearly a matter for the Administration in Northern Ireland. The Government have made very clear that same-sex marriage is a devolved issue and the Assembly is the proper place for such legislation to be considered.

The fact that there is not currently a functioning Government in Northern Ireland does not alter the principle that it is for the devolved Administration to legislate on such matters, although I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. I appreciate that this situation is not ideal and understand noble Lords’ desire to make progress on this very important issue. Restoring the Executive remains a key priority for the Government, which will allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to take important decisions on issues pertaining to the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that, in light of what I have said, my noble friend feels able to withdraw the amendment.