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Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill - Report

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

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 12:45 pm, 1st March 2019

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, tabled Amendment 2 and my noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury supported it.

To be clear at the outset, I support the amendment. It is disappointing that we find ourselves in this position, but, for me, this is about equality. It is about people in all parts of our United Kingdom enjoying the same rights. As the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, said, it is about people in Northern Ireland having the same rights as their fellow citizens in England, Scotland and Wales. I very much agree with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that these are matters of human rights and that where we are is a matter of much regret.

One of those rights is that people in Great Britain can get married. It is as simple as that for me. I want to support people enjoying those rights elsewhere in our United Kingdom. This is not me supporting direct rule over devolution. I entirely accept that other people in Northern Ireland, other Members of this House, have a different view to me. I respect their view completely: I acknowledge it and I respect it, but I do not agree with it. I think we have to continue this debate to get solutions to move forward. I speak very much on that basis.

We have an Assembly in Northern Ireland, as we have heard, but it is not meeting. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, that the matter should be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are in complete agreement on that. The Assembly should be meeting to debate, discuss and make decisions. The amendment is intended to address an issue that needs to be resolved. It is providing for this Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly, if it is functioning, to consider regulations that would in effect bring the intentions of the amendment into effect.

As I said, I want the Northern Ireland Assembly to be up and functioning to decide these and other matters—we have heard about a number of issues that are not moving forward in Northern Ireland because the Assembly is not sitting. We need to get these issues dealt with very soon. As my noble friend Lord Collins asked: if not now, when? That is the most important thing.

We have strayed into other issues in this debate that are not necessarily part of the amendment, but I thought that I should comment on one or two of them. I entirely accept that it was Sinn Fein, with Martin McGuinness resigning as Deputy First Minister, which collapsed the Assembly. There was the issue of the renewable heat initiative. He asked the First Minister to stand aside and she would not, so he collapsed the Assembly. I entirely accept that and put it on the record.

On the issue of Gaelic, my mother comes from Connemara and spoke Gaelic when she was a child. She does not speak it any more, but she certainly did. I am always conscious that Gaelic is a language that covers not just the island of Ireland, north and south, but Scotland and parts of France. It is a language in these islands. People speak Breton in parts of Brittany, which is a Gaelic-tongue language. In Scotland, 1.1% of the population speaks Gaelic. In Northern Ireland, 10% of the public claims some knowledge of Gaelic and 6% claims to speak the language. That is higher than in Scotland, although obviously I accept that it is not a majority. I just do not see the issue with the language. In Scotland, there is legislation to protect the language. Welsh is obviously widely spoken in Wales. I think it is about protecting languages that have been spoken on these islands and in other parts of the world. We should protect them. For me, this is a key part of the language issue.