Clause 39 - Polygamous marriages

Tax Credits Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 24 January 2002.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

Sometimes one makes speeches in this place because one is genuinely angry about or genuinely supportive of something. Sometimes, but all too rarely, one does so out of sheer curiosity. This is one of those occasions.

The clause is about polygamous marriages. I seem to have upset the Minister, which was no part of my intention. I rise to make no point at all. The notes on clauses say:

''Exceptionally, those claiming tax credits may be parties to polygamous marriages.''

Why are we making that exception? My party and I—and I am sure you, too, Mr. Beard—are great supporters of marriage as an institution, but I tend to the view that one wife or husband is enough.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

At the same time, as my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position. One can have too much of a good thing.

I would like to know why we are making the exception. It is also the last opportunity in this Bill for me to ask why we are relying on regulation-making powers under the negative procedure? I look forward to the Minister's comments.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I do not think that I am going to get away with saying that the Conservative Government, which the hon. Gentleman supported, introduced the provisions into social security legislation and that it is now necessary to carry them forward because the Tax Credits Bill is not reliant on or cross-referenced to social security legislation. However, such a provision was and is part of income support and family credit.

I would like to quit while I am ahead and say that the previous Government thought this up, but I do not think that I can leave it at that. It is provided for in regulations in this way because that is how the previous Government did it. I know that I am picking and choosing, but it seemed right to follow the recommendations of the hon. Member for Northavon and on this occasion I decided that if something was not broken, we should not mend it.

Speaking seriously, the clause allows the new tax credits to cater for the rare cases—I stress that they are very rare—in which the claimants are party to a polygamous marriage. The practice of making provision in United Kingdom law to recognise polygamous marriages legally entered into abroad is long established in the UK. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have checked that to make sure—

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

The hon. Lady would not want to make it obligatory, would she?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

No, I agree. One husband is quite enough.

A polygamous marriage is recognised as valid by the courts if it was contracted in a country that permits

polygamy and the parties to the marriage were subject to the law of that country at the time when they were married. This is a principle of international law and was written into the UK statute book in 1995—thank goodness—by the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. Polygamy is recognised for the purposes of income support, jobseeker's allowance, working families tax credit and disabled person's tax credit and follows the precedent that has been set.

I was informed that, if the provision was not included in the Bill, the UK would risk being in breach of the European convention on human rights, in which case, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor would have been unable to sign the compatibility statement.

I have probably said enough to assure the Committee that this is a necessary provision. It is extremely rare and is a sensitive issue. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to allow us to move on, although I am sure that he could ask the Library to do some interesting research for him on this aspect of UK law.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I cannot resist pointing out to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) that his noble Friends in another place considering the State Pension Credit Bill have moved an amendment relating to polyandry, and that he may have been guilty of glossing over the issue of many husbands. The clause covers only many wives—polygamy—whereas polyandry relates to many husbands. It is clearly a matter of some concern to the hon. Gentleman's party.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am in all kinds of dilemmas, because I am now being accused of sexism. I imagined that the term ''polygamous marriage'' referred to husbands and wives, but I am in some difficulty now.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Order. I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. The clause refers to polygamy, so it would be preferable to stay on that subject.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

That is true. You are entirely right, Mr. Beard, and I think that the hon. Member for Northavon also makes an important point that the Government should reflect on before the Bill is considered on Report. Let the record show that the Minister indicated dissent.

On the basis that any member of the Committee who votes that the clause stand part of the Bill does not endorse polygamy or polyandry, I would not wish to force the Paymaster General to say any more and I am grateful to her for her remarks.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 40 to 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.