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Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman says that such people have always suffered an injustice, so we should give credit to the Government. We have heard many stories about men who may have lived together for 20, 30 or 40 years. Why cannot we give the same justice to the elderly spinsterthis real personwhose letter I have just read out?
Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab):
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has narrowed the new clause, and I suppose we have to be grateful for that, but has he worked out how much it would cost the Exchequer to give siblings the pension provisions in the Bill? He has just made a spending commitment for the Tory Front-
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Bench team by saying that they will abolish inheritance tax, and I assume that there would also be pretty large pension costs in spreading to siblings the Bill's provisions for civil partners.
Mr. Leigh: Unfortunately, I am only a Back Bencher. I would love to give a commitment on behalf of the Conservative party to abolish all inheritance tax, but sadly I am not able to do that, and my right hon. and hon. Friends have not done so. The point of my amendments is to avoid the charge that we are trying to let people avoid paying inheritance tax. "Stephen" and the elderly spinster will not be able to pass their advantage down the generations, so inheritance tax will be paid pretty soon for that 75-year-old man and 79-year-old woman. I freely admit that I have not got the exact figures on what my proposals would cost the Treasury, but the Bill itself puts a cost on the Treasury and we have not had many figures from the Minister on that. It is an affordable cost because it is a matter of justice.
The hon. Lady seemed to imply that we are obsessed with inheritance tax, but we are not necessarily talking about inheritance tax. What will happen, for instance, if two sisters live together in a tenancy? They do not own the property, and if one of them dies the remaining sister, as well as suffering bereavement, will have what is called an assured tenancy. Under an assured tenancy, it is possible that her rent could rise or, in certain circumstances, that she could be evicted. She would not have a statutory tenancy, which is a far more secure thing. Under the Bill, a same-sex couple will have a statutory tenancy, and that is an obvious, glaring injustice to impose on siblings.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman tell me why he seems always to assume that only two siblings will be cohabiting? If it is so important to protect the rights of siblings who cohabit, why do his amendments not afford the same protection in situations where three, four or any number of siblings do so?
Mr. Leigh: Usually, there are only two. Secondly, the Bill is about partnerships, and if we had tried to extend it further, we would be accused of trying to go way beyond what it is intended to do. Thirdly, if there are more than two siblings, the financial consequences when one dies are far less than they are when there are two siblings. It is more affordable and a less devastating circumstance. If there are a brother and a sister and one dies, the remaining brother or sister is faced with buying out half the property, and that may often not be affordable. I shall refer in a few moments to an opinion poll that shows that a very large percentage of the population8 per cent., which is 3.7 million peopleknow someone who has lost their home as a result of paying inheritance tax.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con):
If two people are sharing a house and one dies, the other would like to keep the house. If they have to register a civil partnership, though, they will pool all their assets, perhaps to the disadvantage of a third sibling, who
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effectively would be disinherited. My hon. Friend's measure would introduce into the traditional family some misery and stress, which would be rather undesirable in my view.
Mr. Leigh: We had this argument on Second Reading. If my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying so, he should allow people to make that decision for themselves. There will be circumstances in which it is not advantageous for siblings to enter into a civil partnership. There may be circumstances in which it is not advantageousperhaps for tax reasons; I do not knowfor a same-sex couple to enter into a civil partnership. None of those arguments has been used against the substance of the Bill; they are used only against our amendments. If my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying so, such nit-picking objections are constantly raised against what is an attempt to correct a fundamental injustice. Given that the Bill will become law and that homosexual couples will have these rights, I cannot for the life of me understand why people are so violently and strongly opposed to extending the same rights to siblings.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Perhaps it is simply this; what we face here is a well-organised, vocal minority in society who are constantly pushing for more and more recognition of the kind that the Bill is supposed to give them. Siblings are not such a minority and are not so vocal. In a parliamentary context, we feel under constant pressure from a vocal minority but, perhaps sadly, under little or no pressure from the very group that my hon. Friend is trying to represent.
Mr. Leigh: Perhaps 80,000 same-sex couples will benefit from this Bill, but there are many other ways of living togethernot necessarily in a sexual relationshipand those people do not have a voice. They do not come to lobby the House. We have a right, surely, to think of those other minorities, because they, too, have a right to justice. That is all that we are trying to give them. We are not trying to wreck the Bill or take anything away from homosexual couples. We are simply trying to extend a sense of justice to other people.
The hon. Gentleman seems to think that there is a very clever Venn diagram in the world that excludes all homosexuals from being siblings. They are not two separate communities; there may be many siblings who are homosexual and who may, indeed, want to enter into civil partnerships with the partner whom they love. The hon. Gentleman said that many of us wholeheartedly oppose the idea of doing anything for siblings where they suffer injustice. He may want to withdraw that remark, because many hon. Members have members of their families who are siblings who have lived together and who may have suffered injustices. We want to put those injustices right, but to do so in proper order, and this is not proper order. The
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hon. Gentleman said it is normal for there to be only two siblings, but the two cases in my own family involved three siblings living together
Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman makes an obvious point. People can make their own arrangements, and there may well be all sorts of arrangements we do not know about. Homosexual siblings may live together with other people, but that does not affect what I am saying. We did not ask for the Bill; in fact, we oppose the principle of the Bill. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] So what? We have never made any secret of that, and we will vote against the Bill. We have a perfect right to do that in a free House of Commons. All we are saying is that although we did not ask for the Bill, the completely novel idea has been introduced that a particular group of people should be helped outside of marriage. If we are establishing the principle that one group of people should be helped outside marriage, we say that others should be helped as well.
There is a fundamental dishonesty about this debate. The Bill introduces homosexual marriage by any other name. The Government are determined, for political reasons, not to call it a homosexual marriage Bill because they do not want to alienate public opinion, but they are creating a homosexual marriage Bill.
That peg allows me to move on to the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). He, too, has seen a logical flaw in the Bill. He wants to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. He asks why a couple who are heterosexual should not have the same rights. I do not accept or support my hon. Friend's amendments because I believe that marriage is unique and holy and should be left alone. None the less, there is at least some logic in what he is saying. He is at least being completely open with the House. No doubt the Minister will ensure that his amendments are thrown out, but I cannot see the logic in that. However, it is possible that the Government will introduce at some later stage, if they remain in power, some variation of the French PACS system for all sorts of couples. At least there is some logic in my hon. Friend's amendment. There is no logic in the Bill at the moment.
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