Clause 252 - Extent

Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 26th October 2004.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry 3:30 pm, 26th October 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 165, in clause 252, page 124, line 5, after 'Wales),' insert

'excluding section (Power to assimilate provisions relating to civil registration in England and Wales) but'.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 11—Power to assimilate provisions relating to civil registration in England and Wales.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry

The amendment amends the extent clause, consequential on the addition of new clause 11 to the Bill. New clause 11 adds a new power in place of the power in clause 36(4), which was removed by an amendment passed during the previous sitting of the Committee. The new power is needed to ensure that civil partnership and civil marriage can follow similar registration procedures. Although the Government are clear that civil partnership and civil marriage are different legal relationships, registration authorities must provide both services to the public, along with their other statutory duties.

In order to ensure parity of treatment between opposite-sex and same-sex couples, and operational ease for registrars, it makes good sense to have similar registration provisions for civil marriage and civil partnership. It is important not to introduce unjustifiable differences between the registration provisions for civil marriage and civil partnership. As we touched on during a previous sitting, the registration provisions in the Bill are drafted to follow many of the proposals for the preliminaries to and registration of civil marriage, outlined in the consultation paper, ''Civil Registration: Delivering Vital Change'', published in July 2003. It is now proposed that the regulatory reform order that will contain the legislative reforms needed to implement the proposals will be laid in draft during the next session of Parliament, but after the passage of the Bill.

The purpose of the power in clause 36(4) as originally drafted was to ensure that the Civil Partnership Act could be amended to reflect any changes to the proposals for civil marriage contained in the regulatory reform order that had not been anticipated during the drafting of the Civil Partnership Bill. While that remains the case, subsequent developments have led us to adapt the power to fit the current situation better. My colleague, Lord Filkin, announced in July that there was to be further consultation on the absence of any proposal

to change the legal requirement for marriage ceremonies to be either civil or religious.

Of course, the issue does not arise for civil partnership, where there is no alternative to a civil procedure, but it means that there is still a question on the shape of the proposals to be included in the draft regulatory reform order. It also means that any changes to the proposed reforms of the procedures for marriage resulting from the consultation may impact on the wider reforms to civil marriage and civil partnership legislation.

The Government's view is therefore that the power in clause 36(4) was not sufficient for the overriding purpose of ensuring that civil marriage and civil partnership can follow similar procedures wherever that is considered appropriate. The power, as originally drafted, would allow amendments to the registration provisions only as a consequence of provisions included in a regulatory reform order. That power would not, however, allow for the amendment of provisions in the Bill if those anticipated changes were not legislated for. It is because of that continuing uncertainty with the content of the reforms for civil marriage registration that we feel it is entirely sensible to extend the power in such a way.

If an anticipated change of the basis on which the Bill has been drafted were left out of the regulatory reform order when that change had already been included in the Civil Partnership Act, the original power would not have allowed for civil partnership procedures to be brought into line.

The Bill must therefore contain sufficient provision to ensure that the civil partnership legislation can be amended to make it compatible with marriage law, and the amendments allow us to do that in all possible scenarios. The Government have drafted the power so as to specify clearly the purpose for which it is to be used and it should be noted that that power remains subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 117, in clause 252, page 124, line 21, at end insert—

'( ) Schedule (Minor and consequential amendments: Northern Ireland) extends to Northern Ireland only.'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 252, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.