Clause 170 - Grounds on which civil partnership is voidable

Part of Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 am on 26th October 2004.

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Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland) 1:15 am, 26th October 2004

Amendment No. 243 would add the provision that a civil partnership would be voidable at the time of its formation if either partner were suffering from a communicable sexual disease. I must correct, with the greatest respect, the hon. Member for Buckingham: there is a provision in section 14 of the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 for marriage to be voidable if the applicant can show that at the time of the marriage the other person was suffering from venereal disease in

a communicable form. That is a similar provision relating to the marriage law of England and Wales.

As hon. Members know, the Government's intention in drafting the Bill was that civil partners would be treated in the same way as spouses except where there was justification for a difference in treatment. This was one matter on which we felt that there was justification for difference. It is a medical fact that men and women may carry certain sexually transmitted infections for many years without knowing it, and we do not believe that it is appropriate in present-day circumstances to include that as a ground for nullifying a civil partnership. The deliberate transmission of a sexually transmitted infection might well be considered as a basis for dissolution, as a factor proving unreasonable behaviour.

I suggest that were we starting now to create marriage law, it would be highly questionable whether we would include such a provision in that law. It is a provision from a bygone age when, perhaps, we were less informed about sexually transmitted diseases. The Government have clearly stated in their national strategy for sexual health and HIV that we need to de-stigmatise the whole issue of sexually transmitted infections if we are to tackle the increasing infection rate, as two of my hon. Friends have said. Suggesting that sexually transmitted diseases should be treated differently from any other communicable diseases in that regard is counterproductive to that aim. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, which adds nothing to the Bill.