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This afternoon's debate has focused heavily on the financial aspects such as inheritance tax, the transfer of housing rights and pension rights, but does my hon. Friend accept that a large part of the Bill deals with very different issues that uniquely affect same-sex couples and do not apply to siblings? I am thinking, for example, of the rights of next of kin, visiting rights in hospitals, the right to take decisions about a deceased partner and what subsequently happens to the estate and so forth. We should be focusing on those issues, but
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some of the other amendments have highlighted the fact that the Bill is not the most appropriate vehicle to deal with all of them.
Mr. Duncan: I totally agree with my hon. Friend, and I am happy openly to reassert that the fundamental assumption of the Bill is that a partnership is based on a permanent and loving relationship. As such, it is different in respect of the affection between a sister and brother or two sisters and two brothers, and it is also different because the arrangements apply to a different group of people from those in the established traditional institution of marriage.
Mr. Swayne: Before my hon. Friend moves on, will he deal with the point that was forcefully made earlierthat cohabiting couples deserve the same protection as those who are married? My hon. Friend's answer is that they can get married, but they may not want to get married. It seems to me that telling those people that they should get married is to preach at them and to fly in the face of reality.
Mr. Duncan: My hon. Friend is going through logical contortions here. It is not preaching at people. It is perhaps others who preach by saying that, because they are cohabiting, they should get married. I am not saying that and neither are most hon. Members. What we are saying is that, given that those people have the option of marriage and can quite readily secure all the rights that are currently given to same-sex couples in the Bill, they should not also be afforded the right to civil partnership. After all, they may be less inclined to enter into a civil partnership just to secure those rights than they would be to enter into marriage. As has been noted time and again, if there existed a parallel and equivalent institutioncivil partnershipthat was an alternative to heterosexual marriage, that would be in competition with marriage and would undermine it. It is strange that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and I appear to be on opposite sides of this argument, when one might expect him to agree with me that we should do everything possible to protect the traditional institution of marriage.
Peter Bottomley: It has been established that the amendment would not undermine the purpose of the Bill, but I want to propose to my hon. Friend the example of people who may live together between the ages of, say, 60 to 100. Such people might be an elderly surviving orphan and a housekeeper, for example. If they are of the same sex, they may enter into a civil partnership, but they cannot do so if they are not of the same sex. Why is the partnership available to people of the same sex who want to live together in a loving but non-sexual relationship, but not to people of different sexes?
Mr. Duncan: I am not sure that I quite understand what my hon. Friend means. Two people living together have the option of marriage, and it is possible that the Finance Bill will contain a provision to defer inheritance tax, thus overcoming the main problem that we are trying to address.
I shall explain why I was rather disappointed when I saw these amendments appear again, and when I saw this morning's media coverage and advertisements.
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After all the debates that we have had on this issue, no one with any interest in it can be left in any doubt about the effect that the amendments would have. The Bill would be undermined, and I argue that the amendments would wreck it.
Let us examine the Christian Institute advertisement. It states that 84 per cent. of people say yes to the assertion that if gay couplesand there is an insinuation in that that I do not particularly like, but I shall take it at face valueare to get new house-sharing rights, then so should two sisters who have lived together for 12 years or more. I agree that such people should be assisted, as the advertisement asks. In fact, I do not understand why only 84 per cent. of people were reported to agree with that proposition: why is it not 100 per cent?
As I have just said, we support the provision of inheritance tax measures to ensure that such couples are treated more fairly. However, this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for that. That is a separate issue and it deserves separate attention in the Finance Bill.
We cannot choose to deal with one set of injustices in preference to another. Respect is not a zero-sum game, and neither is love. We do not weaken one loving relationship by affording recognition to another. [Interruption.] What is wrong and defensive in the argument advanced by the Christian Institute and others is the apparent suggestion that advancing the rights of what it calls ordinary families requires the condemnation of gay couples and the denial of rights to them. We are getting into a rather undesirable and potentially unpleasant situation when our debates as legislators begin to be swayed by moral lobbying and advertisements from religious pressure groups. Of course, they may choose to condemn homosexuality on the basis of their religious beliefs. We can either agree or disagree with that, but they do not have the right to insist that those beliefs be written into the laws of this country.
Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend is at risk of going down a really dangerous avenue if he is suggesting that the Christian Institute is not entitled to express what is a mainstream Christian point of view. It may not be universally held, but it is certainly in the mainstream. His approach is all the more dangerous because our laws are intended to be based on a Christian moral code.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst):
Order. Before the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton
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(Mr. Duncan) replies, may I say that we are in danger of straying outside the terms of the amendment and going into a Second Reading debate? I do not want to narrow the focus too much, but the debate is becoming a little too general.
The amendments would damage the Bill. They would introduce contradictions and complications that would broadly make it unworkable. They would not, in fact, help the people they purport to help. There are other routes by which improvements in someone's plight can properly be remedied. The route for remedying those difficulties is a Finance Bill, not this Bill. It is up to hon. Members to choose how they will vote, but on that basis I urge them to reject the new clauses and amendments.
Mr. McNamara: I apologise to the House. Because of business of the House, I was unfortunately unable to be present on Second Reading. Because of business of the House, I also came to this debate only when my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was speaking.
I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). He said that people were wrong to try to put into legislation what they felt were their correct beliefs. Yet that is what this Bill does. I am neither for nor against that in this particular matter, but it is what is happening now. He considerably weakened his case by saying that people should not be able, in whatever way, to put into legislation what they believe in. Whether they are old clause IV socialists like me or more like the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who would privatise everything in sight, people are entitledso long as their constituents know where they standto put forward their opinions and seek to change legislation.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda is no longer in his place. He said that there were two extremes in this debatethose who regard homosexuality as an abomination, and those who think it is part and parcel of life and we should get on with that. I suggest that there is a third grouppeople who may or not find homosexual relationships acceptable but who believe that the law has no part to play in the matter. I well rememberI think I am the only hon. Member present who did sovoting in favour of Leo Abse's Bill. When I had a more elevated status than I do now, as Opposition defence spokesman, I moved amendments to military discipline legislation that would have resulted in homosexual conduct by members of the armed forces ceasing to be a criminal offence. I remember the serried ranks of the Conservative party voting against them, but when my own party came to power and was reminded of the undertaking that we had given, the Government ran away from it until the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg forced them to act.
On this matter, then, I think that I am in a position to say that I have a record of seeking not to criminalise people, but I can also say that I do not believe that the
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creation of a new type of civil relationship for one group alonea group distinguished from others only by sexual relationshipshould discriminate against other people. That, I think, is of the utmost importance.
We are saying that two people who have a sexual relationship, a commitment and a loving relationship, but who are of the same sex, should have advantages, through registering, over other people who have non-sexual loving relationships and who cannot register or gain any sort of advantage under the Bill. This Bill may not be about marriageand I regard marriage as the union between a man and a womanbut it will create special relationships with special privileges that are not available to others in our society. Therefore, we must question it.
I raised with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton the issue of the Finance Act 2004. I apologise to him because the Joint Committee on Human Rights in fact drew attention to the fact that confining the benefit of exemption from paragraph 10 of schedule 5 to the parties to a lawful marriage excludes from the scope of the exemption homosexual couples who live together as de facto spouses but are legally unable to marry; heterosexual unmarried couples who live together as de facto spouses; and people sharing a home on the basis of a long-term family relationship that is not a sexual relationship. We drew that to the attention of the House under articles 1 and 8 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights. Therefore, the House and the Government were aware of the particular problem that had been created in relation to this matter. Many hon. Members have said that this issue should be dealt with by a Finance Bill. If that is the case, the whole Bill should be dealt with by a Finance Bill. We could then deal with the relationships that I have just mentioned and achieve a degree of equity between them. The Bill will create an unequal situation.
I intervened in the speech by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on several occasions to ask him to change "could" to "may" to draw attention to the fact that there are heterosexual relationships in which the parties may not wish to marry for a variety of philosophical reasons that mean that they do not personally feel able to enter into the institution of marriage. I also cited the case of a couple with children, one of whom would dearly love to get married, but the other sees no need to do so. The innocent partythe one who wants to get married or even to enter into a legal relationshipwill not benefit because of the attitude of the other. That is wrong. We seek to legislate for equity, and a person in a heterosexual relationship should be able to have the rights in the Bill.
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