|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) on an emotional winding-up statement and one that clearly identifies the journey that he has made in accepting the situation that we are discussing tonight. We have had a valuable debate. Seldom in this House over my short period in it have I heard such a thoughtful and thought-provoking debate. I say that in all sincerity to those people who perhaps do not accept the point of view that the Government are putting forward this evening.
12 Oct 2004 : Column 247
I make it clear from the outset that we are not here to denigrate or undermine anybody's deeply held religious beliefs. We are here to discuss a secular arrangement for a commitment that two people make. I hope that we will gain, if not universal support, then significant support for that in this House. I am particularly pleased with the overall support for the principle of the Bill and the recognition of the inherent value and humanity of committed same-sex relationships.
Throughout today we have heard some outstanding speeches, and I want to comment on one or two of them. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) made a brave contribution to the debate today. It is very difficult to describe in the Chamber of the House of Commons in the full glow of publicity our own personal living circumstances, but he did so with great dignity. He also highlighted the fact that we are not talking about anonymous beings; we are talking about real people with whom we live and work.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) on his personal support for the Bill and on relaying the Leader of the Opposition's support. We divide on political grounds in many debates in the House, but I was absolutely delighted to hear about both his own support and that of the Leader of the Opposition. I wish to deal with a couple of points that the hon. Gentleman made and perhaps to give him some reassurance. On the compression of time, there is not a major difficulty. We intend to get the Bill through Parliament; it is a flagship Bill, and we certainly hope that we will have maximum support for it. On the design of premises, we will have a further opportunity to discuss that issue in Committee. I hope that that gives some comfort to him.
I wish to pick up on the comments made by the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). Although I obviously do not wish to challenge their theological approachthat is not the purpose of my contributionI hope that hon. Members will agree that very strong equality and social justice imperatives drive the introduction of civil partnerships and that they apply equally to Northern Ireland as to the rest of the United Kingdom. It would be invidious to treat same-sex couples in Northern Ireland differently from same-sex couples in the rest of the United Kingdom even, with the greatest respect to the hon. Member for North Antrim, if there were only 14 of those couples in Northern Ireland.
I also wish to highlight the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). I congratulate her on her work as a Minister in highlighting the issue when she was in government. She made a telling contribution, and she also highlighted the fact that, in a mature society, we should be able to discuss such issues and to recognise that it is important that, regardless of our background or sexual orientation, we are entitled to equality of treatment and fairness.
I am sorry in some respects to highlight the contribution made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) because, frankly, it brought a rather sour note to the debate. I can only say that it appeared to be a speech of single transferable family values.
12 Oct 2004 : Column 248
We have heard about other countries throughout the debate. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) certainly identified, in a free-ranging and eloquent speech which brought seriousness to the debate, the range of countries that now adopt a position similar to the one that we speaking about this evening. One of his comments was particularly apposite: we cannot help those who cannot marry by somehow hurting those who can. That comment was very appropriate.
The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) also made a thoughtful speech, and I want to use it as a hook to congratulate him and the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford), the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Chris Smith), who collectively, in a cross-party way, sent letters to all hon. Members to say that they should support this important social legislation. I congratulate the hon. Member for Salisbury and other colleagues on that initiative.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), who is in her place, recognised when she introduced her civil partnerships Bill three years ago that she was ploughing a furrow that would end up here this evening on 12 October. She made a valuable contribution to our debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asked about religious ceremonies. I appreciate that he is an expert on such matters, although he has not been so for quite such a lengthy time as the hon. Member for Belfast, South. My hon. Friend asked whether ceremonies should be involved in civil partnerships. I think that it is fair to say that same-sex couples could have a ceremony in addition to the registration process if they wished, but that would not be a legal requirement. The Government are clear about the route down which we wish to go. The confirmation of the civil partnership will be the signing of the partnership schedule.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) raised one or two issues relating to Scotland on which I hope that I can reassure her. She asked whether the Government will allow the Bill to grant the legal rights of succession that exist in common law for spouses. We will move amendments in Committee to provide legal rights of succession to civil partners, and we probably would have been able to do that in the House of Lords if we had not been so rudely interrupted. She asked whether the Executive plan to review the law on succession in the light of the Bill, but as she will appreciate that is purely a matter for the Scottish Executive.
I highlight to my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) the fact that it was disappointing that the only contribution to the debate from a representative of the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), was to chunter on about whether the House should be legislating in such a way. It is important to appreciate that some things are better done collectively across the United Kingdom's legislatures. When there is such complexity surrounding reserved and devolved matters, it is vital, as my hon. Friend said, for the Scottish Parliament to have the maturity to realise the
12 Oct 2004 : Column 249
importance of giving its powers back to Westminster in this specific case. I reassure Scottish Membersthis might well interest other hon. Membersthat I met representatives of the Scottish Parliament Justice 1 Committee and explained to them the procedures and the way in which we would implement the Bill.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said at the outset that she thought the Bill was wrong, so I doubt whether anything that any hon. Member could say would change her mind. With the greatest humility, however, I must tell her that she is not the only person in the House who wishes to defend the institution of marriage. Many of us want to defend that institution, and after 32 years of marriage, rather like the hon. Member for Salisbury, I think that I could defend the institution in most instances. The right hon. Lady should not assume that people who oppose the Bill are the only ones who are willing to defend the institution of marriage.
I shall deal with several general issues before I conclude my speech. As we have heard from examples cited today, the amendments made in the other place frankly left us in a faintly surreal situation. Although I would not impugn the reputation of all those who supported the amendments, the Bill was hijacked for reasons that are generally recognised to be outwith its scope. Many examples have been cited this evening about situations involving divorce or dissolving a civil partnership with a parent. Rather like the hon. Member for Daventry, I would have had grave difficulties with the situation in my family. I have three sisters and do not know whether we could agree about which would enter a civil partnership. When my parents were alive, I doubt that they would have been able to choose between the four of us regarding a civil partnershipmy father would have had to divorce my mother first in any case.
We have clearly highlighted the fact that same-sex couples are invisible in legal terms. That is a good phrase, which has permeated the debate. It describes the situation exactly. We all know gay people who are living together in relationships, but in legal terms they do not exist. The Bill goes an enormous way to deal with that invisibility. With the greatest of respect to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, just because we want to give legal rights to people in that position, that does not mean that we are undermining the institution of marriage. We cannot defend the institution by perpetrating disadvantage and unfairness.
Pensions have been of great interest and were raised by various hon. Members on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned survivor pensions in public service schemes. There has been a significant discussion on that throughout the lead-up to the Bill. I am pleased to report that the Government will follow the approach that we have taken in the tax system. As for tax purposes, for survivor pensions in public service schemes, registered same-sex couples will
12 Oct 2004 : Column 250
be treated in the same way as married couples. The change will be achieved by means of regulations, which will be introduced following Royal Assent. There is no need to amend the Bill.
The regulations will provide equality, as they will allow registered same-sex partners to accrue survivor pensions in public service schemes from 1988. That replicates the position for child and working tax credits, child benefit and guardian's allowance, which will be amended so that the rights and responsibilities of opposite-sex couples are replicated for same-sex couples. We have made it clear that we will use the first available Finance Bill to ensure that registered same-sex couples will be treated the same as married couples for tax purposes.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|