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David Cairns: I acknowledge and respect my hon. Friend's long track record on this matter, which he outlined earlier. However, in the example that he has just cited, the couple would be in the position of a same-sex couple who choose not to register their partnership. The implication of what he says is that every same-sex couple should have those rights, but they should have those rights only if they choose to register their partnerships. Not every gay couple will choose to do so, but the fundamental point is that at present same-sex couples have no choice under the law. The couple that
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my hon. Friend gave as an example have made a philosophical decision and they could change their minds, but the gay couple cannot change their minds because the law discriminates against them as it stands.

Mr. McNamara: I take that point, but we seek to legislate equitably for all the sorts of relationships that may exist. One can imagine a situation in which one member of a gay couple would like to register the partnership but the other refuses to do so, for whatever philosophical reason. The innocent party—the one who wishes to register—would suffer.

We are taking a piecemeal approach and dealing with one example of an inequitable and unjust situation. By just picking one example, we are not looking at the gamut of relationships that can exist. We are not talking about the registration of a loving relationship. If that were to happen, that would be fine—no problem. What we are really talking about are fiscal, inheritance and property rights and how with deal with those matters in certain relationships.

The hardship that is often cited relates to the difficulties associated with the relationship between the principal actor in "Yes Minister" and his partner. The same relationship also exists between siblings—brothers and sisters or two daughters—and the only difference is one of sexuality, not of love or companionship. It is not a question of sharing or owning property, which is what the Bill really deals with. If it were merely a question of people registering a relationship, there would be no problem. The other things that follow from the Bill will create inequity in respect of other people's relationships.

Mr. Borrow: Does my hon. Friend accept that the most crucial aspect of the Bill for most same-sex couples is not tax, nor even inheritance, but the invisibility issue? If the relationship is recognised, the partners are recognised as next of kin. That is the crucial thing for most same-sex couples, and that is what the Bill will give to most of them if they decide to register. Tax, pensions and inheritance mean nothing to many same-sex couples without wealth or high incomes. The key thing is being recognised as a couple and as next of kin, with all the implications—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a very long intervention.

Mr. McNamara: I have no objection to the next-of-kin relationship. People are entitled to choose whom they want to represent them one way or the other. That is not the problem. The problem relates to the other things that will follow from the Bill. For that reason, I shall vote for the new clause.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: It has become a characteristic of these debates that, despite the fact that there are passionately held views on both sides of the argument, we have nevertheless endeavoured to discuss matters in as relatively amicable a fashion as we can possibly command, given the depth of our feelings.

I support new clause 1, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and
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Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) and I are party. I make no bones about that. I have made it absolutely clear that I wholly oppose the Bill. It is a profound mistake. Its consequences have been as yet unfathomed by many of those who support it, but fathomed only too clearly by some of those who support it very enthusiastically, and great damage will be done to our country in consequence.

I have set out my reasons in earlier debates, so I will not rehearse them tonight, but I wish that those who support the Bill and oppose new clause 1 would understand that we are not in the business of wrecking the Bill with the new clause. Would that we could by the new clause wreck the Bill. Sadly, we will not be able to do so. To impute to us the motive that we are using the new clause to wreck the Bill is unfair. [Interruption.] I oppose the Bill, but the new clause is not a mechanism for wrecking it.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is not anyone who suggests that the new clause would wreck the Bill indirectly criticising the Chair for selecting it?

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend is much better versed in such matters than I am. I know that you, with your wisdom, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will have heard the submission that my hon. Friend made. I am sure that he was right.

4.15 pm

Our motivation is the fact that the Bill is transparently unfair. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) rejected Conservative Members' concerns for justice. [Interruption.] Yes, she did. She used the word "injustice" and said that we were not interested in justice during our 18 years in government. Let me remind her that we got rid of the closed shop, we gave people trapped in council houses the right to own their own homes and we relieved people of the tax burden. Those are examples of our concern for justice, which is manifested today in our support for new clause 1. We thus feel that we have every moral right to claim that the motivation behind new clause 1 is a sense of justice because we believe that the Bill is unfair. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) said that it was profoundly unfair—I have not even used the word "profoundly"—that siblings were suffering to such an extent.

Let me remind the House of the situation about which we are talking. According to the 2001 census, more than 4.6 million people who live in the same house as another person do not consider themselves to be part of a couple. A number, although not all, of those will be close family members. Many will be siblings of the type set out in the excellent and admirable Christian Institute advertisement in The Times today. I submit that the situation contrasts unfavourably with the Bill's purpose.

The census estimates that some 80,000 people in this country live in same-sex couples. Baroness Scotland said in the other place that it was likely that 5 to 10 per cent. of eligible people would take up the benefits and privileges set out in the Bill.

Chris Bryant: And responsibilities.
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Mr. Howarth: That means that perhaps only 8,000 people in this country will take up the great panoply of the several hundred pages of new law that will be enacted. I entirely accept that the Bill sets out responsibilities, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) says, but it will also create privileges that will be denied to siblings. New clause 1 would confer such privileges. It is grossly unfair that siblings will not be included under the Bill.

I listened to all the arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton. He spoke from the Front Bench, but not, I hasten to remind the House, on behalf of the official Opposition—compelling though he was, we have a free vote on the issue. I do not understand why hon. Members proclaim the fact that the Bill will right an injustice and make fair a situation that is currently unfair when they are aware that other examples of unfairness exist. Their only answer to that is, "Wait until the Finance Bill." That is not an adequate response. It sits ill with a Government who profess that they are concerned about human rights and righting an injustice when they deny a pension to the widows of those who married servicemen after they had left military service and who have resisted time and again amendments made in the other place to correct that. It sits ill in their mouths to claim that they are motivated by righting an injustice when there are other manifest unfairnesses. Post-retirement marriages are one example of that, but clearly so too are siblings, as addressed in new clause 1.

Chris Bryant rose—

Mr. Bercow rose—

Mr. Howarth: I face an embarrassment des riches. I give way to the hon. Member for Rhondda first.

Chris Bryant: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is generous as only a churchwarden can be.

Just because there are different injustices does not mean that they all have to be dealt with in one Bill. Injustices in British society affect coal miners, but they should not be inserted in the Bill. There are injustices suffered by disabled people, but they should not be inserted either. The problem is that the amendments do not fit in the Bill.

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