Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I think that most Members with no prejudices in either direction will have understood some of the arguments, including those of my hon. Friend. The fact is, however, that a significant proportion of marriages involve such problems, and they are not an argument against a Marriage Act. What we are doing is extending some rights to some people outside marriage—those who cannot marry.

The question that occurs to some of us is, "Why must we exclude people who might properly receive the benefits that follow from civil partnership?" Nothing that has been said on either side of the House strikes me as conclusive. I feel that it is taking the argument too far to cite the difficulties of dissolution when the same difficulties do not prevent us from getting married.

Mr. Duncan: The answer to that is that there are concerns to be addressed, but this is not the place in which to address them.

The new clauses and amendments wreck the Bill by creating partnerships within an existing family which, in their confused and contradictory interrelationship, are utterly unworkable. My right hon. and learned Friend
9 Nov 2004 : Column 759
the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) gave a very good example when he cited the complications to the inheritance tax regime. The new clauses and amendments are an ingenious disruption masquerading as a genuine attempt to help people whom they would not, in fact, help. The associations that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough wishes to protect—as do I—could, as he admitted, be included in a Finance Bill. They are not addressed by this Bill, for a very simple reason that no one has mentioned today.

The Bill cannot come into practical effect until there is an accompanying Finance Bill to implement all the measures. That is the place for all the arguments that have been deployed by my hon. Friends today. They do not fit in this particular piece of primary legislation.

Mr. McNamara: Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the last Finance Act contained paving measures for this Bill?

Mr. Duncan: No. I argued for that on Second Reading. I would have liked the financial measures to coincide with Royal Assent for the Bill, but because this Bill did not exist, I was told that it was not possible to include such measures in the Finance Bill. If my interpretation is wrong, I am sure that the Minister will clarify the matter.

Mr. McNamara: Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mr. Duncan: I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not.

3.45 pm

Other groups have also recognised that this is not the right way to address these issues, and they have said so on many occasions. As we have been told three or four times in this Chamber and in Committee, the Carers National Association, which purportedly would benefit from the new clauses and amendments being moved by my right hon. and hon. Friends, has stated its opposition to such provisions. It says:

So all the apparently good motives supposedly contained in the Bill stand to have a "devastating" effect on the people whom they pretend to assist. That is not the kind of purpose that we in this House properly serve.

But there are many other anomalies—

Mr. Leigh: But such an arrangement would be voluntary.

Mr. Duncan: But if it can almost never work and it would not introduce a system that has parity of effect across the sector that my hon. Friend is trying to help, even more anomalies would be introduced than the ones I have listed, thereby making matters even more complicated. As a result, there would be carers who need help but who cannot benefit from the status of the
9 Nov 2004 : Column 760
law, and those who can. A myriad complications and discriminations would render many a carer far worse off than equivalent carers who would be equally deserving.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend must not be too generous with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), because although, as he just said, the arrangement would be voluntary, it would be chronic if we in this House deliberately—or even inadvertently—misled people into thinking that they were going to get a benefit that in fact would prove not at all workable.

Mr. Duncan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although the new clauses and amendments have the potential to help some people, in my view they would wreck the Bill and introduce no end of problems; moreover, they would be only symbolic in their effect and cause many more problems than they address.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Duncan: Once again, my generosity overtakes me.

Mr. Howarth: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his typical generosity. He has repeated the assertion, made by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), that the new clause would wreck the Bill. However, it is very narrowly defined and if passed, in its simplicity and clarity—even given the problems that he foresees—it nevertheless would not wreck the Bill's central purpose, which he appears to support.

Mr. Duncan: I remember a little homily that Lord Lawson offered when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. When once urged to simplify the taxation system, he said that the problem is that as soon as one tries to do so, one invariably makes it more complicated. Those responsible for this supposedly simple group of new clauses and amendments could benefit from listening to that homily. These measures would not make things simpler; they are straightforward, but with potentially devastating and complicated implications.

Many other anomalies and absurd unintended consequences arising from trying to shoehorn these measures into the Bill would also make it utterly unworkable. What is needed are measures to offer inheritance tax deferral to anyone who finds themselves in the situation described emotively in this morning's Christian Institute advertisement. The place for securing inheritance tax deferral is—we say it again—in a Finance Bill, not a Civil Partnership Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough essentially admitted earlier. We do indeed have the opportunity to include such an amendment to the Finance Bill that will be required to accompany the Bill before us. Indeed, that is the approach endorsed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who supported the action that we took in Committee to reverse amendments made in another place. I make no apology for repeating what he said in a letter to colleagues and to those who wrote to him:

9 Nov 2004 : Column 761

That will be a glorious moment, because there is nothing that I would enjoy more than to be able to work in harmony, unity and unison with all my right hon. and hon. Friends in the manner best suited to dealing with the problem.

Mr. Chope rose—

Mr. Duncan: I still live in hope.

Mr. Chope: Will my hon. Friend let us know whether the commitment given by our right hon. and learned Friend extends to people who are cohabiting? Surely it is important for them to be included in it.

Mr. Duncan: In my personal opinion, rather than an official party position, I hope not, and for the very reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) of all people should most understand—that it would undermine the institution of marriage. I believe that provisions should not be placed in a finance Bill to deal with that category of people.

David Cairns: When the hon. Gentleman forms his broad coalition to fight for inheritance tax reform, does he expect the Christian Institute to argue that cohabiting couples should receive the relief and not just married couples?

Mr. Duncan: The hon. Gentleman hits on the absurd contradiction contained in any argument for that position. It is certainly my view—we have been consistent in it throughout the Bill's passage—that we should not do anything to undermine the institution of marriage, and setting up a system of competing civil partnerships alongside heterosexual marriage would do exactly that. When it comes to setting up such arrangements for same-sex couples, I have argued that we are not exactly fishing in the same pool.

Both my party leader and I believe that amending a Finance Bill to allow inheritance tax deferral on certain terms is a sensible approach, and I hope that my hon. Friends will support it. I am sure that they will, when the moment comes. During the passage of the Bill, this important issue has been brought to wider attention; the Government have made some commitments to dealing with it, though not as firmly as we would like; and the leader of the Conservative party has committed us to fight for such a measure as a matter of policy. As far as I am concerned, that is not a bad result all round, though I would like to see it brought to a conclusion.

Next Section IndexHome Page