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Chris Bryant: The casualness is in the forming of the relationship and the determination that it should be registered as a civil partnership. In the Bill, we are trying to allow homosexual couples, both male and female, to declare their commitment to one another and enter into
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something which, I accept, is remarkably similar to marriage in many regards. To use a phrase deployed by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) on Second Reading, we are proceeding along parallel lines. It is right and proper that they are close together but, equally, it is a property of parallel lines that they do not cross.

Angela Watkinson: The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that the main purpose of the Bill is to recognise partnerships through civil registration. How does that affect same-sex cohabiting couples in a platonic relationship, such as two women who have shared a life together? They obviously do not have the sort of relationship that he is talking about, but they fall within the scope of the Bill. They cannot, however, avail themselves of civil registration.

Chris Bryant: I am glad to say that the secrets of our hearts are not known to everyone in the land. Many marriages in the land consecrated in church result in a remarkably platonic relationship. The couple, however, have decided that they want to declare their love for one another in public. The state should not try to ensure that those relationships are not platonic, as it is for individuals to make their own decision.

Mr. Alan Duncan: Is not the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) the strongest possible argument for inheritance tax deferral for such people, over and above any argument for their inclusion in the Bill?

Chris Bryant: That is not a matter for the Bill. We could discuss at length what constitutes a platonic relationship.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): Do not go there.

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend rightly warns me not to do so.

In conclusion, the hon. Member for Gainsborough, in an effort to avert the arguments against his previous amendments by trying to make a relationship that is easily dissoluble in law, has established a new set of parallel lines that have nothing to do with the Bill, and should therefore be rejected by the House.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Before I speak to my amendments, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) on the wording of new clause 1, which addresses concerns expressed on Second Reading and in Committee about the unintended consequences of the Bill, as amended in the other place. I challenge everyone who has used the anomalies in the original wording of the Bill as a smokescreen to confront the discrimination that, without my amendments or new clause 1, the Bill would embrace, as it would privilege same-sex partnerships over and above all other partnerships outside marriage. My hon. Friend's new clause extends the ability to access the privilege of legal partnership to siblings over 30 who have lived together for a continuous period of 12 years.
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New clause 2 would replace the complicated legal structure of dissolution, nullity and separation with a much simpler system of termination similar to the approach that I argued for in Committee, which is reflected in new clause 3, which I tabled.

Miss Widdecombe: Will my hon. Friend confirm that his new clause would bring into the scope of the Bill couples of the opposite sex who are not married? Those of us who are extremely worried about the Bill because it undermines the uniqueness of marriage in favour of homosexual relationships must surely be vastly more worried by a proposal to extend its provisions to all and sundry.

Mr. Chope: I can understand that my right hon. Friend is worried about extending the Bill to all and sundry, as she puts it, but I hope that when she has listened to my argument in favour of new clause 3, she will accept its logic. In particular, she should bear in mind that the French civil solidarity pact is a registered relationship that is far inferior to marriage, and different from and looser than marriage. Nevertheless, whether partners are of the same sex or opposite sexes, they can enter into such a pact and thereby gain access to various state legal privileges. That arrangement has nothing to do with the law of God; it is purely a civil relationship. I commend it to the House in preference to the extraordinary arrangements set out in the Bill. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for looking satisfied with my explanation.

I commend to the House the argument for extending the provisions in the Bill much further. My amendments would not limit the legal privilege of being able to apply for civil partnership as new clause 1 seeks to do. That privilege would be open to any two people over 18 in a specified relationship as set out in new schedule 1. It would be open to two unmarried and unrelated people sharing a home in an asexual relationship; an unmarried parent sharing a home with an unmarried son or daughter; two unmarried siblings sharing a home; and two unmarried and unrelated people in a sexual relationship sharing a home.

Mr. Hogg: New schedule 1 would have the bizarre effect of ensuring that inheritance tax is not chargeable in transfers between a parent and an unmarried child who registers, although it would be chargeable between a parent and a married child. That seems to turn values on their head.

Mr. Chope: My right hon. and learned Friend talks about turning values on their head, but in doing my research for this afternoon's debate, I happened to notice that he supported the Bill on civil partnerships introduced by the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) in 2001. That Bill sought to give legality to civil partnerships covering both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. I am disappointed that my right hon. and learned Friend seeks by implication to support the whole structure of inheritance tax. I would
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have hoped that he would, like me, be against inheritance tax and want to abolish it as soon as possible. I hope that we can agree about that.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend must not do me an injustice. I am against inheritance tax and always will be. I want to see it abolished.

Mr. Chope: As soon as it is abolished, new clause 3 will no longer be the subject of any valid objection by my right hon. and learned Friend.

Charles Hendry: My hon. Friend mentioned the research that he had done in preparing for the debate. In doing that research, he will clearly have worked out how many millions of couples will benefit from the proposed package and identified its cost. Will he tell us what that cost is?

Mr. Chope: The arrangement would be open to about 4 million people. I am very disappointed by the implication of what my hon. Friend is suggesting. He seems to be saying that, if there is discrimination, there should be a limit on the price of eliminating it. I would have thought that, as a Conservative, he would be in favour of eliminating discrimination irrespective of the costs of so doing.

Miss Widdecombe: Will my hon. Friend help me through this maze with one very simple explanation? Under his new clause, what unique factors are still preserved by marriage?

Mr. Chope: The unique factors preserved by marriage are holy matrimony, permanence and all that goes with the fact that the relationship will be marriage.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Chope: I shall not do so at the moment, as I want to respond to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).

In France, marriage is a very strong institution. It has not been undermined one iota by the introduction into French law of the civil solidarity pact, to which I referred earlier. If one looks at new clause 2, which would effectively simplify the way in which one could enter into or break such a relationship, it becomes apparent that, far from being like marriage, this is a completely different and distinct legal relationship that is more like a contract and therefore totally unrelated to marriage. As it is distinct from marriage, it is much preferable to the complication in the Bill, which seeks to promote same-sex marriage in all but name.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Chope: I know that lots of hon. Members want to participate in the debate, but I think that it would be better to make a bit of progress before taking any more interventions.

New clause 3 and new schedule 1 would give millions of people access to the legal privilege provided by the Bill, which the Government intend to be available only
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to same-sex partners. By far the largest category of people who could benefit from the new clause is unmarried and unrelated people sharing a home in a sexual relationship—in other words, cohabitees. The 2001 census found that slightly more than 4 million people lived in cohabiting relationships in England and Wales, in contrast with 78,500 living in same-sex cohabiting relationships.

About five years ago, the Law Society published recommendations for reform of the law relating to cohabitants. Those proposals gave rise to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Reading, East. I shall not repeat to the House the full list of the Law Society's recommendations, but I point out that a primary recommendation was:

The Law Society also said:

It went on to say:

It was against that background that the hon. Member for Reading, East introduced her Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill in October 2001. That Bill was supported by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who has spoken today in terms that would make it difficult for an objective observer to see how it was consistent to support that Bill and oppose the amendments before us. As I said, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) also supported that Bill.

Why did people support the Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill? They did so largely because of some of the cases identified by the hon. Member for Reading, East in her speech. I shall not repeat the whole of that speech, but I want to refer to a particular case that is pertinent to what we are discussing. She told the House about her constituent, Rose Green:

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Hon. Members who are concerned about same-sex partnerships have made that point.

The hon. Member for Reading, East introduced her Bill against that background, so that people such as Rose and John, who lived together, can have the same rights and responsibilities as others.

3 pm

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