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Rev. Martin Smyth: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but we should bear it in mind that politics represents society. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) made the point that 86 per cent. of people did not approve of the Bill before it was applied to Northern Ireland, but the Bill was suddenly extended to Northern Ireland on the ground of equality. For years, I pleaded for this House to pass legislation to give equal rights to disabled people in Northern Ireland, but it was regularly kicked into touch. If we deal with equality, we should do so across the board.
I am not convinced that the Bill will provide the rights mentioned by the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry). The financial issues could have been tackled differently, but Governments of both persuasions will always hesitate to introduce legislation that increases expense and makes them unpopular with taxpayers, and we must bear that issue in mind.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) discussed goods and services and referred to Sandals. Have we reached the stage at which we introduce legislation that deals not with moral law, but with people's preferences, and that compels people to act in certain ways? If we go down that road, the legislation that we introduce will ultimately prove divisive. I have no time for homophobia, which is prevalent in all societies, but I am not convinced that the Bill will actually advance our response to young folk who hold such attitudes. Thankfully, many young people are beginning to react against the commercial side of sexuality, which is brainwashing our society.
David Cairns: The hon. Gentleman is sliding dangerously close to a view of homosexuality and young people from which I urge him to back off, because it will do his argument no good whatsoever. To return to his point about moral judgments, personal preferences and the law, does he accept that we legislate in a variety of other areas? If I ran a bed and breakfast and decided that I did not want to accommodate black people, it would be against the law, which we accept. Personal preferences and the law cross over, and we are here to make choices and pass legislation. We cannot stand back and say, "We should not get involved", because that is why we are here.
The heart of the argument was expounded in Belfast by a representative of the homosexual community who said that in his opinion there is a difference between marriage, which is a sacrament, and civil partnership. There are those of us who believe that marriage is not a sacrament but an ordinance of God, and we wonder whether the state can continue to try to replicate the pattern that God has ordained.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): This has been an interesting debate. I do not intend to disappoint my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), for Wealden (Charles Hendry) or for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). I oppose the Bill in principle and feel just as passionately about that as those who have spoken in favour of it. I salute the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), who made a courageous speech with great dignity, and I respect him for his position. I hope that the House, which has overwhelmingly declared that it is in favour of the Bill, will nevertheless recognise that some of us have equally passionate beliefs on the other side of the argument. I am afraid that simply to throw epithets at us does the House no credit. Serious issues are involved and they deserve to be addressed.
Let me say at the outset that there is no question that any hon. Member would tolerate bullying of any description. The activities that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden described are unacceptable to anybody, but they are nothing to do with the Bill. The fact that action has not been taken is regrettable, and those who have failed to do so should be upbraided.
Mr. Borrow: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could answer the question that I put to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe): does the Bill contain parts that he can accept and parts that he cannot, or is he opposed to the whole concept? Many right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned specific injustices in the current situation. Which of those injustices would he be prepared to address?
So strong are my feelings about the principle of this matter that I have made common cause with Peter Tatchell, whose name has been mentioned. I supported Peter Tatchell when he was arrested by the Belgian authorities for rightly protesting against Mr. Mugabe when he visited Brussels. I have some wonderful letters from Peter Tatchell on file. The idea that people who are dealt with unfavourably by the police or bullied by their peers is acceptable is wrong and must be resisted with all the passion that we can muster.
Of course I readily accept that my hon. Friend is opposed to bullying of, or violence against,
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gays. He will recall, however, that he is on record as having said on 10 February 2000 that he believes that homosexual relations between consenting adults should be permissible only with the consent of both sets of parents, which is a somewhat difficult state of affairs to achieve. Does he not accept that if the political culture and the law fail to respect the existence of gay couples, it is likely that discrimination against them, potentially including violence, will follow? As the late Enoch Powell would have said, that is so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily clever person could fail to see it.
Mr. Howarth: I shall assume that my hon. Friend thinks that I am extremely clever, as I know that he is a very generous man. I do not accept his point, and he is unfair in adducing those remarks to me. I cannot remember exactly what I said on 10 February, but obviously my hon. Friend, with his encyclopaedic mind, can.
Hon. Members, including Front Benchers, are overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton is a veritable pocket battleship, and he made a very good speech. I did not agree with it, but I entirely respect his right to make it, and I am delighted that he did so in his personal capacity. If the chips were down and we were under fire, I would happily share a trench with my hon. Friend. I hope that he will take comfort from that.
If there is an overwhelming view in this Chamber, I do not believe the view outside to be the same. This is a highly controversial issue, and there are people outside who do not agree with civil partnerships. Furthermore, those people will be astonished that the Bill is being rammed through the House in the space of about 10 days. That is not the way to treat an issue of such major importance. Such people regard this Bill as gay marriage in all but name, and they simply think that that is wrong. They are our constituents, they are decent people
These are decent people that I am talking about. They are not homophobes, bigots or any of the other epithets so readily thrown about. They are tolerant and generally neither inquire nor want to be told what other people do in the privacy of their own home. However, they recognise that our laws ought to have a moral basis. They also recognise that the law sends a moral signal, for good or ill.
The Government also believe that, which is part of their reason for pressing ahead with the measure. The plan to create civil partnerships was first announced in December 2002, when the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche)I am sorry that she is not in her place at the moment, although she spoke earlierwho was then Minister for Social Exclusion, indicated that legal change was intended to force cultural change. She said:
"It would send a powerful message about the acceptability of same-sex relationships and about the unacceptability of the homophobia still far too prevalent in our society."
People often say that one cannot use the law to force one's beliefs on other people, but clearly the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green does not accept that, and nor does her successor, the Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, who is in charge of civil partnerships and responsible for the Bill today. She issued a consultation paper in June last year. In her foreword, she announced that thousands of homosexual couples are
"living in exactly the same way as any other family".
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