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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 Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 12:45 pm, 1st March 2019

My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in what has been quite a wide-ranging debate, and in particular my noble friend Lord Hayward for moving the amendment. I am also grateful for the conversations I have been able to have with him in the past few days on the matter.

The Government are rightly very proud of their role in demanding and defending LGBT rights. We are proud to have introduced same-sex marriage in England and Wales, for which we have legislative competence, and that the Scottish Government followed that lead shortly afterwards. Of course we want Northern Ireland do likewise and legalise same-sex marriage. The Prime Minister shares this view and has said so on a number of occasions.

I commend my noble friend Lord Hayward for his determined commitment on this issue. I know that many people—and the list is clearly growing—in Northern Ireland and further afield greatly appreciate his efforts, as demonstrated by his recognition recently by PinkNews as its politician of the year. I also pay tribute to the many others who have campaigned and shared personal and very poignant stories in support of his amendment.

Same-sex marriage is a devolved matter, as noble Lords have said. The proper and best place for it to be addressed is in the Northern Ireland Assembly, by Northern Ireland’s elected representatives. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s top priority remains to restore the Executive and Assembly at Stormont; this should be the focus. There is a need to rebuild political dialogue and she continues to encourage the parties to come together to work towards restoring devolved government, including in a recent meeting with the five parties to progress this objective.

It is important that any legislation legalising same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is afforded a level of consultation, debate and scrutiny, using the precedents of the UK and Scottish Governments. Legislation should be developed having taken into account the wide range of views on this issue in Northern Ireland, as well as the various legal requirements. My noble friend Lord Hayward knows that we do not think that this Bill is the right vehicle for extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland. We have concerns about the drafting of the amendment, in particular the nature of the duty it would place on the Government.

It is not clear that the amendment would allow for all the legislative changes needed to fully implement a same-sex marriage regime in Northern Ireland equivalent to those in England, Wales and Scotland. For example, the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales necessitated the amendment of more than 50 Acts of Parliament. The Government have heard the growing calls for change, and much progress has been made since my noble friend Lord Hayward introduced his Private Member’s Bill in March last year. Parliamentarians have played an important part in continuing to raise the profile of this issue, and I hope that, despite the potential disappointment that some people will feel today, everyone will have listened to the debate and the growing support on all sides of the House.

I will add one very important final point. We support the principle of my noble friend’s amendment—that it is right for same-sex marriage to be extended to Northern Ireland by a restored Executive—and we recognise that the ongoing absence of devolved government is having an impact on addressing this issue. We would encourage a restored Executive to progress legislation on this issue as one of the first things that they do. On that note, I hope that my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.