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Mr. Alan Duncan: Let us be frank about this. Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate the fact that two people who have shared their lives, not necessarily in a sexual union as in the Bill, may face problems when one partner dies, either with the tenancy or ownership of a house, because of inheritance tax, and that it is as well, separate from the Bill, to try to find a way to remedy that?
Chris Bryant: There may be situations in which the hon. Gentleman is right, but the inheritance tax issue is a red herring when applied directly to the Bill, except in so far as it applies to same-sex partners, where we ought to rectify the problem now.
I believe that those who tabled the amendments in the Lords were seeking to wreck the Bill. That is not to say that everyone who voted for those amendments did so to wreck the Bill. They did so ill-advisedly because those amendments would not even rectify the injustice that they believed to exist. As the hon. Member for Buckingham has said, those amendments would not improve the situation of carers. In fact, it would make their situation far worse in many cases.
We have only to look at the bona fides or the track records of those who tabled the amendments in the Lords. Lord Tebbit's views on homosexuality are extremely well known. He aired them on the "Today" programme, when I heard one of the most bizarre things that I have heard in all my life: he said that one of the major causes of childhood obesity in this country was the Government's promotion of buggery. That was one of the most extraordinary leaps. It even put the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) into deep shock. So we know Lord Tebbit's bona fides.
Baroness O'Cathain's views on homosexuality seem similar. She has taken up the mantle that was cast upon her, Elijah-like, by Baroness Young in opposing section 28. So we know exactly what her aim was; she declared it very openly in moving her amendments. Incidentally, I thought she was wrong to press them to a vote because that showed that they were not about simply airing the issues, but specifically about trying to wreck the Bill. Let us be honest: some people think that homosexuality is wrong and a sin.
I am somewhat saddened, incidentally, that several hon. Members have immediately left the Chamber after speaking in the debate, without listening to the rest of the debate. That is a rather surprising change in custom in the House.
The amendments tabled in the Lords are particularly maladroit. They would be of no use to carers. Clause 2(1) is particularly bizarre in its wording. When I started to read it, I almost expected it to end with the words, "and they must be accompanied by both their grandparents", because it seems to take the proverbial mickey out of the rest of the Bill. The curious thing is that that amendment was allowed to be tabled because it is wholly without the scope of the Bill. I am surprised, on a constitutional point, that it was allowed to be tabled.
There are a number of aspects of the Bill in addition to the wrecking Lords amendments that should be reformed. The Bill currently presumes that there will be
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no ceremony, but I agree with hon. Members who think that it would be entirely appropriate for the two people who sign a civil partnership to make a statement to the effect that they are not legally barred from entering a civil partnership and that they consent to doing so. Beyond that, they should be entitled to have whatever ceremony they wish, which would parallel the provisions in the Marriage Act 1949 and thus make sense.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that changes are currently taking place to the registration of birth and deaths, but that consideration of marriage registration is being deferred so that note can be taken of the final state of the Bill? The type of ceremony to which he refers may well be considered.
It is also a mistake to prohibit a religious service of any kind at the signing of a civil partnership. The provision in the Bill is virtually identical to section 45(2) of the 1949 Act, which states that no religious service shall be used at the solemnisation of a civil marriage. However, that provision is wrong in itself because it means that many registrars refuse to allow couples who want to marry in a civil ceremony rather than a church to use any religious readings. Although many people would like readings such as 1 Corinthians 13 or something from Khalil Gibran, registrars refuse to allow such words to be used. I would like the provision to be removed from the Bill and section 45(2) of the 1949 Act to be similarly repealed.
Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman is arguing his point of view powerfully, but I am not sure that both sets of Front Benchers will welcome his remarks, because we were informed earlier that neither were in favour of gay marriages and that we were not considering a gay marriage Bill. However, the hon. Gentleman is eloquently arguing for exactly that, so people should realise that that would be the next step.
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is completely mistaken, and I hope that I do not have to repeat this too often. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton made a good proposition about parallel lines. I do not want same-sex relationships to ape marriage in any senseseveral people have used the offensive phrasebecause they are different. Although the two share similar elements, they do not have to be identical, so the legal provisions should be distinct.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): I have much sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Does he agree that the nature of a real relationship might suggest that people will want it to be celebrated or blessed?
There are churches and individual clergy in the Church of England and the Church of Scotland who would be happy to provide a blessing. There are clergy in many of the churches who would be more than desirous of the opportunity to hold a blessing in their
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churches. It is thus curious that the Bill will prohibit any kind of religious service or ceremony from taking place in religious premises. The provision's drafting is rather odd because some churches meet in gyms or halls and thus would not be covered by the current wording, so that might need tidying up. However, such matters are not ones of enormous principle and they can be debated in Committee.
One remaining issue of principle is pensions. To put it simply, as others have already done, if Jean were to marry John next week, the full pensionable service of Jean since 1988 would be taken into consideration for his widower's pension if she should die. However, as things stand, if Jean and Janet were to form a civil partnership, the benefit would, according to Baroness Hollis, accrue only from the date of the Bill. I hope that the Government will manage over the next 10 days to offer surviving civil partners parity with widowers' pension arrangements. I hope that the Minister's words were tending in that direction and that they might tend even further in that direction by the end of the day or the end of next week.
I note, incidentally, that as far as I can see, the only people for whom the Bill guarantees parity are the surviving civil partners of a Speaker of the House of Commons or the Prime Minister. I am not sure whether we have any particular idea in mind as to who either of those people will be in the near future, but I thought that that provision was rather curious.
Chris Bryant: It seems that it is the hon. Gentleman's ambition to have a civil partner to whom he can grant a surviving pension, although it is not clear whether that would be as the Speaker or the Prime Minister.
Having borne those issues in mind, I wholeheartedly welcome the cross-party support. That is important. The issue is not acrimonious in the country and many people will benefit from it. However, I suspect that only a Labour Government would introduce such a measure
Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Liberals might have introduced it, but that is stretching credulity too far because we would have to have a Liberal Democrat Government in the first place.
I am proud of the Labour Government's progressive record. To be honest, it is without peer in Europe. They abolished clause 28, introduced an equal age of consent and used the Parliament Act to enforce it. They legislated for joint adoption by gay couples, outlawed workforce discrimination and brought in a new category of homophobic hate crimes. The Government should be congratulated on that.
In the end, the Bill is about recognising a simple fact of life. It is not about setting up a new lifestyle, as the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) claimed. It is not about persuading people to be gay or lesbian. It is
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not about proliferating homosexuality because, in truth, homosexuality is not something that we can proliferate. It is not something that we can be persuaded into. It is not an illness that we can catch. It is not a cancer that we can have excised. For roughly one in 10 people in this land it is simply a fact of life that they have to come to terms with. Now, at lastthank Godthe law will recognise the fact of loving homosexual relationships. The whole of the UK will come to terms with a world in which two men or two women can love one another and make a commitment to one another, for richer and for poorer.
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