Clause 133 - Formation of civil partnership by registration

Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 26th October 2004.

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Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 8—Restriction on publicity of reports of proceedings.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

I am delighted that we have moved on to part 4 of the Bill, which makes provision for civil partnerships in Northern Ireland. Part 4 is very much a mirror image of part 2, which deals with England and Wales, given the great similarities of legislative style and history between the two jurisdictions.

There are very few Government amendments. With the exception of a single drafting amendment, the other amendments as well as the schedule of minor and consequential amendments for Northern Ireland and two ancillary technical amendments were all taken for debate on Report in another place. Because of other difficulties, they were not moved and it was necessary to seek their inclusion in the Bill at this stage.

As I indicated, amendment No. 65 and new clause 8 deal with Northern Ireland. The first amendment is a textual one. It is a technical drafting amendment to remove certain unnecessary words from clause 133(5). The term ''registrar'' does not need to be qualified by the words ''civil partnership'', given the definition in clause 156.

New clause 8 inserts a new clause at the end of part 4 of the Bill to deal with a Northern Ireland law. The new clause extends section 1 of the Matrimonial Causes (Reports) Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 to civil partners. Section 1 of the 1966 Act makes it an offence to publish certain details in connection with judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage or judicial separation; proceedings relating to a declaration as to whether a civil partnership is valid; any proceedings by one spouse against the other for financial provision; or proceedings concerning another order made in connection with any such cause or matter. The amendment makes it an offence to disclose similar details in respect of civil partners involved in comparable judicial proceedings under the Civil Partnership Bill.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I do not propose to say much at this stage about the

clauses of the Bill that relate to Northern Ireland. I have a later amendment, which I hope we will get to this afternoon. It will afford an opportunity to discuss in more detail the views and concerns about aspects of the Bill that relate to the part of the United Kingdom that I represent.

However, I want to put it on the record that when the Government carried out a consultation in Northern Ireland prior to tabling the Bill before Parliament, the clear majority of responses were against their proposal. As my party leader pointed out on Second Reading, the 2001 census found that there were only 288 same-sex couple households in the whole of Northern Ireland. As the Government say that at most only 5 per cent. of same-sex couples will commit to civil partnerships, only 14 of 288 households in Northern Ireland would seek to benefit from the arrangements for civil partnerships.

Frankly, we have other priorities in Northern Ireland and other issues for which we would like legislation before we get down to this kind of arrangement. That is why I shall oppose the Government's amendments. I do not believe that the Bill should apply in Northern Ireland, and the amendment that I will move this afternoon, should we come to it, will seek to make an arrangement whereby the Northern Ireland Assembly will have the right to the final say on the application of the Bill in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

In response to the hon. Gentleman, I wish to put it on the record that, since the consultation, we received an additional 403 letters from same-sex couples in Northern Ireland and from their friends and families when some doubts were raised about whether Northern Ireland would be included in the Bill.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

If the hon. Lady's statistics are correct, they are at variance with those in the Government census in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady hinted at the end of her remarks that the letters were from the family and friends of same-sex couples in addition to same-sex couples. Some clarity is needed on that matter.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

I wanted to put it on the record that when it appeared that the provisions would not extend to Northern Ireland, we received, I repeat, 403 letters from same-sex couples, from family and friends. That would properly reflect opinion and it deals with some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in respect of consultation. I hope that that clarifies the matter; we have had representations from more than 14 people in Northern Ireland.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division number 61 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 133 - Formation of civil partnership by registration

Aye: 14 MPs

No: 2 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division number 62 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 133 - Formation of civil partnership by registration

Aye: 14 MPs

No: 2 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 133, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.