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Before I sit down, I shall say one last thing: I will withdraw the motion if the Minister says that the new clause is totally inappropriate because the Bill will create gay marriages and it would be quite wrong to add such provisions to a marriage Bill. I would fully accept that. If she intervened now, we could all go homewe would have had an honest debate and the public could make up their mindsbut she will not make that sort of intervention, will she? She will repeat, time and again, that this is not gay marriage. If it is not marriage and we are simply outside marriage, why are we giving certain benefits to only one group? Why do we not give them to other groups? That is the inescapable logic of what we
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are trying to do today, and it is why we believe that our cause is fully rooted in justice and that it will not go away.
Angela Eagle: It has been enjoyable watching those on the right wing of the Conservative party expressing concern about injustice, because it does not happen very often. I welcome their sudden attention to such details after 18 years in power, when they did not really spend much time considering these important issues. Perhaps even they, in their last redoubts, are beginning to recognise how our society has changed over the past 50 years.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I am just off to a meeting of the Home Affairs Committee, but listening to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) reminded me very much of the arguments used in 1967, when I was a Member and those who were very much opposed to legalising homosexuality put forward all kinds of arguments, including that it was a minority point of view. It was a minority point of view in 1967; the House of Commons gave a lead, as it did on divorce and abortion, and we were right to do so. We have heard just the same arguments as those used nearly 40 years ago.
Angela Eagle: My hon. Friend makes an extremely valuable point. Even though I was only six years old when those debates were raging and could not know how relevant that move to tolerance would be to my own life, I am nevertheless extremely grateful to those who were Members in 1967 for having the foresight and humanity to make progress in those important areas, ensuring that we moved into an era when there is more tolerance of people with a different sexual orientation. However, in the week when we heard about an horrific homophobic murder in London, we can be a bit too complacent about the progress that we have made to date.
The increase in homophobic attacks in London in the past year is a cause of worry, and it ought be a cause of concern for all hon. Members, including those Opposition Members who are in the last redoubt, fighting this change. They should be worried about that, and they should join those of us who wish for freedom from fear or violence on the streets of London for all people, regardless of their sexuality. I hope that they will join me in making that plea, but I do see them joining in very much at the moment.
There are real issues with siblings and people who share a home for a long time but who are not in a marriage, a sexual relationship or a soon-to-be civil partnership. It is right that some of those issues have been raised. When they are raised seriously, very many hon. Members are sympathetic to them, and that is also true of the Government.
If the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) had read the report of the debates in the House of Lords when these issues were first raised, he should have noticed and at least had the grace to acknowledge in his speech the fact that Ministers expressed sympathy. They said that the Government were considering how to deal with some of the more obvious injustices for those who live together outside marriage and not in a sexual relationship. In fact, they announced that a review of
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such issues is going on. It is important that we await the outcome of that review so that we can find out how we can do justice for those who find themselves in those circumstances and can be disadvantaged if a sudden death has ruinous financial implications for those siblings who have shared their lives together.
It is invidious and divisive but totally predictable that the hon. Member for Gainsborough is trying to use this inappropriate legislative vehicle, first, to prove his so-called point about gay marriage and, secondly, to wreck the Bill.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Is the hon. Lady suggesting that, somehow, with all the thought that has gone into this 420-page Bill, it would have been impossible to sort out that central question and get it completely clear? It is absolutely ridiculous to say that the matter should go off to review. We know what is in the Bill.
Angela Eagle: I am not saying that the matters in the Bill should go off to review. I am saying that the hon. Member for Gainsborough might have at least had the grace to mention in his opening remarks on the new clause that the Government are looking in general at the issue and have said that they will come back with some suggestions to improve the disadvantages that have been pointed out as occurring to those people who live in the same household but are not married, or are in what is soon to be called a civil partnership.
It is entirely appropriate for the Government to consider such things, but it is not appropriate that that should be somehow imported as an afterthought into a Bill that is designed to recognise the partnerships of same-sex couples.
Mr. Howarth: The hon. Lady said a moment ago that my hon. Friend's new clause would wreck the Bill. She owes a duty to the House and the country to explain why a very narrowly defined, simple new clause would wreck the Bill.
Angela Eagle: I was referring to the earlier Lords amendments, which undoubtedly wrecked the Bill. [Interruption.] If hon. Members will give me a chance to expand the argument, I was about to explain why even such a narrow new clauseI do not deny that it isis still massively disruptive to the Bill's intended approach to same-sex couples. The new clause is hasty, and it would be better to deal with the necessary consultation on some of the issues that Opposition Members have raised in the fullness of time, using different legislation.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough had no idea how much the pension provisions in the Bill for same-sex couples that match those for spouses would cost if extended to siblings. One of the first requirements of any legislation or a new clause that deals with costs of that potential magnitude is that it should be costed. The
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Government's analysis of the pensions provisions in the original clauses, which go wider, demonstrated that they would cost £2.5 billion if private and public pension costs were considered. Narrowing down those provisions to siblings would still leave a sizeable hole in the public finances, which, again, the hon. Member for Gainsborough and his followers have not costed. Given such circumstances, it is important to assess the costs properly before taking a fully informed decision on the principles that we are debating, rather than voting for a hastily assembled provision.
Mr. Hogg: Surely the most conclusive argument that could be made against my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) would be to accept his challenge. He says that if the Bill is essentially about marriage for same-sex couples, his amendments are inappropriate. Why do the Government not simply recognise the fact that the Bill is indeed about marriage for same-sex couples, because on that basis, by his own concession, the amendments would fall?
Angela Eagle: The Bill is about civil partnerships for same-sex couples, which will recognise and respect a choice that people of a different sexuality from Conservative Members who have spoken have been denied. Thankfully, after many years, that choice will be granted to them. I do not think that it is reasonable to play politics with that.
Miss Widdecombe: My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) asked the hon. Lady to confirm that the Bill was about homosexual marriage because if it is, we all agree that the amendments are inappropriate. Her response to that was that the Bill was about civil partnerships. Will she tell me the difference between the arrangements for civil partnerships for same-sex couples and a civil marriage in this country?
Angela Eagle: It is no secret that the Bill is an attempt to put in place arrangements that are as close as reasonable to civil marriage, but not holy matrimony. All Front-Bench spokesmen and hon. Members who support the Bill have been quite open about that.
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