Clause 251 - Minor and consequential amendments, repeals and revocations

Civil Partnership Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 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 3:00 pm, 26th October 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 116, in clause 251, page 124, line 2, at end insert—

'(2A) Schedule (Minor and consequential amendments: Northern Ireland) contains minor and consequential amendments relating to Northern Ireland.'.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments Nos. 127 to 135.

Amendment No. 230, in schedule 27, page 352, line 29, leave out paragraph 17.

Amendment No. 231, in schedule 27, page 352, line 31, leave out paragraph 18.

Government amendments Nos. 136 to 160.

Government amendments Nos. 99 to 113.

Government amendment No. 117.

Government new clause 3—Evidence.

Government new clause 7—Evidence (No.2).

Government new schedule 1—Minor and consequential amendments: Northern Ireland.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Industry and the Regions and Deputy Minister for Women), Department of Trade and Industry 3:15 pm, 26th October 2004

These amendments will seem positively straightforward in comparison with some previous amendments. They make a number of changes to the minor and consequential amendments in schedules 27 and 28. Schedule 27 relates to England and Wales and schedule 28 relates to Scotland. New schedule 1 is a new minor and consequential amendments schedule for Northern Ireland. A number of small amendments are also being made to schedule 29 and to clauses 251 and 252. Those amendments are largely technical in nature. They are

uncontroversial and they complement those already included in the Bill.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

The Minister says that these are all minor amendments, but I congratulate the Government on the comprehensiveness of their desire to achieve equality, not least because they have noticed that some civil partners might have suffered the terrible injustice of not being able to retain a licence to hold a slaughterhouse after a death has occurred. The Government are being very comprehensive.

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

I thank my hon. Friend for that observation. He is right; an awful lot of work has gone into trawling legislation that, as I suggested, goes back to the 1600s and the Declinature Acts. There is an awful lot of legislation to which minor and consequential amendments have been necessary because of the policy intentions of the Bill. I pay tribute to all those who did the trawling.

As I suggested, the amendments are largely technical in nature. They are uncontroversial and complement those in the Bill. The additions to schedules 27 and 28 add references to a civil partner alongside existing references to a spouse. In several cases, the amendments provide clarification. For example, they clarify that the same exemption from giving evidence and the same limitations to that exemption would apply to civil partners as to married couples.

An example is the amendment to the Civil Evidence Act 1968 and the addition of new clauses 3 and 7, which ensure that civil partners are exempt from liability to be a compellable witness against their partner. That exemption is similar to the one currently enjoyed by spouses. Proposed subsection (1) of new clause 3, to be added after clause 82, inserts into the Bill provision that:

''Any enactment or rule of law relating to the giving of evidence by a spouse''

will also apply to the giving of evidence by a civil partner. However, subsection (2) sets out that the general provision in subsection (1) is subject to

''any specific amendment made by or under this Act which relates to the giving of evidence by a civil partner.''

In some cases, it will be helpful to amend specific provisions in other enactments or rules.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Given that we just decided that clause 249 should stand part of the Bill, does not the Minister have the power to make such subsequent amendments anyway?

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

Clause 249 gives the power to make subsequent amendments, but it is right that we have done the trawling job and made clear in this legislation the implications for the vast variety of legislation that appears in schedules 27 and 28 and in the new schedule on Northern Ireland. The fact that we were able to do that provides certainty about the intent of the legislation. Of course, it is possible that we have missed something. The Bill is comprehensive, but we may have missed something, so it is important that the power set out in clause 249 is there as well.

I was speaking to new clause 3, which relates to the limit on the compellability of civil partners to give

evidence against their partner. New clause 7, which is to be added after clause 201, mirrors new clause 3 and provides that the same rules of law that apply to the giving of evidence by a spouse in Northern Ireland also apply to the giving of evidence by a civil partner in the same circumstances. The Government's aim in tabling the amendments is to provide clarity and consistency. The amendments clarify that the same exemption from giving evidence, and the same limitations to that exemption, that apply to married couples will apply to civil partners.

However, the amendments cover other areas as well. Amendment No. 105 removes from schedule 28 an amendment to the Family Law Act 1986 ensuring that civil partnership proceedings would be recognised by the Scottish court. As the 1986 Act is a UK-wide measure and the required amendments for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are to be achieved by regulation, the necessary Scottish amendments will also be achieved through regulation to ensure consistency throughout the UK.

The Government's aim in tabling the amendments to schedules 27 and 28 is to provide clarity and consistency. All the amendments are consistent with the overall policy aim, which is to create provision for civil partners where legislation currently does so for marriage.

As I said, the new schedule adds an equivalent to schedules 27 and 28 for Northern Ireland. The thrust of the amendments to existing legislation in Northern Ireland follows exactly the same principle as the amendments to schedules 27 and 28, which is to extend the scope of the legislation being amended so that the rights, responsibilities and privileges attaching to marriage will attach also to civil partnership. The differences between the Northern Ireland schedule of minor and consequential amendments and schedule 27 simply reflect the different legislative history in Northern Ireland.

I hope that the amendments and new clauses will have the support of the Committee.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I should like briefly to address my amendments Nos. 230 and 231. Amendment No. 230 would remove paragraph 17 of schedule 27, and amendment No. 231 would remove paragraph 18. As members of the Committee are well aware, I take the view that it is a mistake to make civil partnership equivalent to marriage in all but name, which is what the Bill seeks to achieve. Some of the amendments, in particular the new clause on the Civil Evidence Act 1995, to which the Minister referred, emphasise my concerns that we are seeking to set up one type of relationship outside marriage in a position that is superior to that of other relationships. I do not understand why people who are cohabiting as husband and wife should not be able to have the same protection under the 1995 Act as people who have entered a civil partnership, but that is the import of her comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton disagrees with me about that issue, but I know

that he respects our differences. I am sure that he would not wish me to miss this opportunity of reminding the Committee of my concerns. I have not been voting against all the Government amendments and new clauses, because I believe that it is important that we get on and discuss the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), as the applicability of the Bill to Northern Ireland is a serious issue. We should get on with that.

My amendment puts into legal language my concern that a person should not be prevented from entering a real marriage because of a subsisting civil partnership that may have broken down but of which the other party is unwilling to let go. The amendment would ensure that, in such a situation, a civil partner would be able to enter a legal marriage.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Does the hon. Gentleman realise what contempt he shows and what hurt he causes when he uses pejorative terms such as ''real marriage'' to refer to the difference between civil partners who clearly cannot get married and those in marriage? Does he not think that it is time to reflect on the effect of such language on those involved?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I know that the hon. Lady sincerely holds different views from mine on this issue, but she will be aware that there is now such a thing as same-sex marriage in some European jurisdictions. I do not know whether she would describe same-sex marriage in those jurisdictions as real or unreal marriage. The language that we were brought up with in our everyday lives is now being changed. For example, people coming to my advice centre who describe themselves as partners now have to emphasise that they are cohabiting heterosexual partners, because all the emphasis now is on partnership equalling same-sex partnership. The word ''partner'' is being changed in its everyday usage, in the same way in which the word ''gay'' was changed a generation ago.

The hon. Lady takes up this issue of real marriages as opposed to other partnerships. I emphasise—and this is the Government's view—that there is only one institution of marriage, and that is heterosexual marriage. Unfortunately, that is not now reflected in some of our European partners' jurisdictions. However, I pray in aid what happens in Portugal, where a subsequent marriage of a civil partner has the effect of dissolving that civil partnership and enabling the marriage to proceed.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say earlier that he was not forcing Divisions in order that we might get to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley? Is he therefore conceding the point that the practice of repeated Division calling obstructs the progress of the Committee?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not saying that such proceedings obstruct the progress of the Committee. What I am saying—I surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not understand this—is that I resent the fact that we have not been able to debate this Bill as much as we would have wished, because of the timetable constraints imposed upon us. It is intolerable that, because of the

guillotines, about 100 clauses have not been debated, including a host of Government amendments that could have been tabled in the other place.

I am sure that when the Bill returns to the other place, their Lordships will be very concerned that a number of Government amendments have not been properly considered in Committee. That is not my fault; it is the fault of the Government's insensitivity to the Bill's controversial nature and their reluctance to agree to a more realistic timetable. This Bill is tantamount to a constitutional Bill. It will have a severe and major impact on the way in which people conduct themselves and on legal relationships. The Government should have been prepared to give as much time as was needed to debate it in Committee.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. The hon. Gentleman's amendments refer to the deletion of a couple of paragraphs. I hope that he will confine his comments more directly to the amendments rather than ramble about constitutional change.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry, Mr. Cook. I only got into that subject in response to an intervention.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to return his attention to the amendments.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I shall certainly do so.

Before I gave way to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, I was concluding my remarks on amendment No. 230. Amendment No. 231 has a similar effect in relation to paragraph 18, and I expect that it will find as little favour with the Committee as some of my other amendments, but that does not mean that the idea that a subsequent marriage should be sufficient to dissolve a civil partnership is not already part of the law in Portugal. There is much to be said for making such provision in this country, because it would enable people to continue to get married when they wished to do so, if neither of them had previously been party to a marriage. The Bill creates a new bar on legal marriage, and my amendment would remove that bar.

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

We got to the meat of the hon. Gentleman's amendments towards the end of his remarks. First, he is proposing to remove the Government's proposed amendment to section 11 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which will add as an additional ground the provision that a marriage will be void if at the time of the marriage either party is already a civil partner. Secondly, amendment No. 231 would remove the provision that the Bill adds to section 14 of the 1973 Act. The Government's amendment to paragraph 18 of schedule 27 provides that a marriage governed by law outside England and Wales will not be treated as valid if at the time of the celebration either party was already a civil partner.

The crux of the matter is that the hon. Gentleman, as he said at the end of his remarks, wants there to be no restriction to prevent people currently in a civil partnership from entering a marriage. To be honest, I do not believe that he takes that view because he wants us to maintain consistency with Portugal. He takes such a view because he wants civil partnership to be

something that people can drift in and out of, and which has no significance whatever. The Government disagree.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I agree exactly with the Minister's critique of my hon. Friend's amendment. May I put it to her that a theme underlying the whole debate is that the essential contradiction in my hon. Friend's position, and that of people who think and speak in the same way, is that on the one hand they claim as a matter of prejudice that gay and lesbian relationships are essentially transitory and unstable, but on the other hand, they resist the opportunity to demonstrate the opposite through the vehicle provided by the Bill for the promotion of stable relationships? What they are really engaged in is an attempt at a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is complete illogicality in proclaiming, as I do, and as I suspect the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) would, the value of stable, committed, long-term relationships, but arguing against a provision to support and enable stable, long-term, committed relationships. The hon. Member for Christchurch has done that not only with these amendments but throughout our deliberations on the Bill.

In the Government's view, a civil partnership is a serious commitment with legal consequences parallel to those of civil marriage. It is right that a marriage contracted when one party is already a civil partner should not be treated as valid. It is important for the status and dignity of civil partnerships that people should not be able to marry while they are still registered as civil partners. It is central to the Government's policy on civil partnerships that civil partners should have a legal relationship that precludes either marriage or entry into another civil partnership while the first civil partnership remains in existence. The hon. Gentleman's amendments would undermine that legal relationship. More importantly, they would undermine his own avowed intent to support stable, committed relationships. It is the Bill that supports that intention, and his amendments that undermine it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 251, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.