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Mr. Hogg: This is a serious argument, but I suggest that my hon. Friend is wrong to say that the creation of civil partnerships is designed simply to provide financial relief for two homosexuals. The fundamental purpose is to assist two homosexuals who want some form of legal, continuing expression of their relationship. My hon. Friend may not agree with that, but it is a perfectly respectable objective.
Why are we not being honest about that? Why do we not say to the British people that the Bill will create homosexual marriage? The Government do not dare do so, because it would be too politically controversial. Instead, they are creating this ridiculous beast and, when we try to extend it to address injustice to other groups, we are told that it is special and nothing can be added to it. Why not? If one group of people are
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to enjoy those advantages outside of marriage, why cannot another group, such as those supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch?
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I shall tell my hon. Friend why many of us resist his amendments. The Bill in its original form is not about tax relief: it is about the recognition of relationships
Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend chunters from a sedentary position to no obvious benefit or purpose. If the injustice is as fundamental as my hon. Friend claims, why did he not argue for remedying it a long time ago? Alternatively, why does he not argue that it be remedied in a Finance Bill? Instead, he dresses up his arguments in what many of us regard as a contortionist's logic.
Mr. Leigh: It is not contortionist. We did not ask for this debate. We had a simple system in this country, as in most other countries historically, in which society believed that marriage is such a useful bedrock that it should have unique rights. The argument is not only about inheritance tax: it is about many other things. We fully accept that. The Government, heavily influenced by the homosexual lobby, want to introduce the same rights for homosexual couples. That is fair enough, but why not be honest about it? They are not being honest, so they have created something that gives us an opportunity to talk about other people in similar situations.
"The Government wants to extend the financial benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples in its Civil Partnership Bill. Some argue that it would be unfair and unjust not at the same time to make these benefits available to others who have lived together for a long period and become financially interdependent. Would you agree or disagree that were these benefits to be made available to gay and lesbian couples, they should be made available to two sisters who share a house for 12 years?"
Some 84 per cent. responded yes to that question. Interestingly, 79 per cent. of Conservative voters were in favour of my amendment, as were 86 per cent. of Labour voters and 91 per cent. of Liberal Democrat voters. The public are overwhelmingly in favour of what I am trying to do.
Other questions were asked, one of which will please my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). People were asked about the case of a daughter who lives with her elderly mother for 12 years, and 91 per cent. agreed that she should have the rights that I suggest90 per cent. of Conservative voters, 91 per cent. of Labour voters and 95 per cent. of Lib Dem voters. If we had stuck with the original House of Lords amendments, we would be even more popular. But of course we could not do that, because they had no hope of getting through this House. That is why we have had to draw these amendments very tightly.
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There is no debate in the country. Some 90 per cent. of people agree with what I am trying to do. Why is it that the House of Commons alone believes that it has the moral right to stand against rectifying a fundamental injustice?
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): My hon. Friend places great store on opinion polls and public opinion. Did he also see the poll in The Times that showed that 75 per cent. of people backed the principle of gay couples having exactly the same rights as married couples? Should not that influence his judgment on how to vote today?
Mr. Leigh: If my hon. Friend accepts my amendment, I shall think about accepting the Bill. I accept, for the sake of argument, that the majority of people accept the substance of the Bill. But an even larger majority 91 per cent.accept my amendments. Is my hon. Friend going to vote against them? He shrugs his shoulders.
Mr. Alan Duncan: I shall rise to that challenge. If those who were polled had been asked a secondary question to the effect that the amendments are impractical because many of the daughters caring for aged mothers may also want to get married, they would think again about supporting the amendments.
Mr. Leigh: That is a very patrician point of view. My hon. Friend is very patrician in many of his attitudes. The truth is that we should respect people's fundamental good sense. As we are limiting the amendment to siblings in any event, there is no reason why it would be unworkable. Nobody has yet convinced me that there is any technical problem with inheritance tax that would make it unworkable.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is an articulate advocate of his position. I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) described as many things over the years, but patrician is not one of them.
Mr. Bercow: Possibly. I put it to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) that if the majority of those questioned were told that under the terms of the Bill the dissolution of a civil partnership between daughter and mother would require demonstration of an irretrievable breakdown between the two, the overwhelming likelihood is that they would reconsider their view.
Mr. Leigh: My hon. Friend is a very articulate parliamentarian, but if he wants to make progress in this place he should read the amendments that have been tabled. It would help. If he read new clause 2, he would see that we do not propose anything of the sort.
We are not debating that case. I have already conceded that point. We are dealing only with
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siblings, and the amendments would not require them to argue that they have suffered an irretrievable breakdown in their relationship. We have tried to listen to the objections to our amendments and we have narrowed them down and down, but we still meet this immovable objection in principle to remedying the injustice for siblings. For the life of me, I cannot understand why.
Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): I have listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's contribution so far. The Bill deals with many injustices suffered by same-sex couples. Could the hon. Gentleman identify the specific injustices suffered by same-sex couples that are also suffered by siblings and which the Bill should also address?
Mr. Leigh: I do not understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. He made a similar intervention on Second Reading and I have already tried to answer that point. I gave the specific example of assured and statutory tenancies, and inheritance tax is another obvious example. Another example might be if two sisters were living together and one was killed in a car crash because of the obvious negligence of another driver. The surviving sister would not be able to sue the driver for negligence. However, under the terms of the Bill, if a gay couple who had entered into a civil partnership were in the same situation, the bereaved partner could sue. We could go through the entire Bill and find similar examples. The hon. Gentleman is honest about believing in gay marriage and he knows that the Bill replicates the provisions of marriage and gives exactly the same rights to gay couples. That is why it is fundamentally dishonest.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): For clarification, my hon. Friend is not suggesting that registered civil partnership between siblings should be compulsory. That would be a choice for those who may wish to take it. The Bill purports to put right injustices in a range of things such as benefits, pensions, inheritance and tenancy arrangements for same-sex couples or same-sex cohabitees, but the schedules show that these provisions will not do that; they are available only to selected types of couple. That is where the Bill fails.
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