Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 1st April 2022.

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Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 11:00 am, 1st April 2022

My Lords, given how long I have been in this House, I ought to know the rules and conventions relating to the gap—but I do not, so I will be extremely brief. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, on her very articulate and clear explanation of the rationale for this legislation, and all those who have campaigned and made this possible. I have to be clear: I did not know that this was coming through to us until I met Pauline Latham on a train and had a conversation about it. I should, as a parliamentarian, have been aware of what was coming down the line, but, if I did not know, I am presuming that a large number of the population out there did not know that we were taking this Bill through the Lords, and hopefully getting assent before the end of this Session.

I just want to make two or three points. One, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, made very clearly, is that we do now need to reach out and make sure that all those who are related to public policy implementation or who work with young people are actually aware of the change. Secondly, to pick up the point made by the right revered Prelate, it is interesting that public policy and private practice are sometimes different and sometimes have to be brought together. I was responsible for piloting the Sexual Offences Act through in 2003. Much has been built on that since, as we make progress in an incremental way.

I just want to counsel that we need to be very careful about hectoring, especially—if I may say this to my good friend, because I have done a lot of business with him, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—when old men are talking about what 16 and 17 year-old men and women—children, if you will—are actually doing in their private lives. I did bring in clarity—and clarification was needed—in relation to rape for those affected who are under the age of 16, which did not exist until the 2003 Act. We should be careful how we deal with this, because the public policy changes that we are bringing about in this Bill, which I very much welcome, are sensible, rational and have a very clear intent. Let us not move at this stage down the road of telling young 16 and 17 year-olds, who are experimenting in their lives and coming to adulthood, what they should do, other than guiding them to be extremely careful about their private behaviour and how that might affect the rest of their lives.

I take the point entirely about loving relationships. I was going to say “preach”, but actually, in my early days—God help me—I was a Methodist local preacher. I still have some of it inside me. They asked me if I would stop doing it on the grounds that I clearly was going to be a politician, not a minister, so I am not going to go down that road other than to say that when the late Simon Hughes suggested changing the law to make marriage legal at 17, I was very supportive of that, and I am incredibly supportive of this legislation today. But let us not muddle the different aspects of what we are trying to achieve because, if we do, I fear that there might be a revolution out there, as Members of the House of Lords dictate to 16 and 17 year-olds how to conduct their lives.