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Mr. Howarth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of my other responsibilities at the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot. We shall continue to sing, "I Vow to Thee My Country" despite the observations of some bishops.
I reject the argument that the Bill is not the place to deal with the problem. The hon. Gentleman rests on the argument that, because there is an injustice about which he feels strongly, all other injustices should be set on one side until that is sorted out. We believe that our limited new clause sits fairly in the Bill and would not wreck it,
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and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough made a powerful case to support that. I am afraid to say that I have not heard an argument to suggest that the new clause would wreck it. I accept that there are complexities, but it would not wreck it.
I do not have the same view of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and cannot support him on that. It is more far-reaching. However, the House should think carefully about how it will be perceived outside if we reject new clause 1, which is a modest measure to assist a particular group of people who may well exceed the number whom it is estimated will take advantage of the panoply of new law that the Bill creates. People will fail to understand why the Government rejected the opportunity to correct deficiencies in the amendments made in the other place by narrowing the definition and why they insisted that one group should benefit from the new rights without encompassing that other group. We should bear it in mind that 84 per cent. of the public who responded to the opinion poll took the view that those people also deserve consideration.
Mr. Bercow: Whatever my hon. Friend may think about the fundamental injustice that his new clause would correct, given that the siblings amendment would by common consent require a radical rewriting of social security legislation, how is it, if he feels so strongly about that, that he and others who think like him did not think it right or prudent to consult the Law Society or the Solicitors Family Law Association about the amendment?
Mr. Howarth: The submissions that I receive from the Law Society are so politically correct that they are not worth reading. They are not written by normal lawyers, but seem to be written by a particular group, probably from the Matrix chambers.
Mr. Howarth: That is quite possible. I have long since given up studying submissions from the Law Society. My hon. Friend, however, points out that some people believe that the proposal is not the appropriate way to deal with the problem, which is fair enough. Others, however, believe that it is appropriate, and we are entitled to assert that view and to try to persuade the public that they should not listen to the Law Society but to the Christian Institute and us.
Many points that I wanted to make have already been covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and other hon. Members. The House must think carefully before passing legislation and deliberately forswearing the opportunity to deal with another group of people, possibly a larger one than the group to whom the Bill applies, by excluding them altogether. Finally, whatever the Minister says, the public believe that the Bill is about gay marriage in everything but name. I received a letter from the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration about a constituent who wishes to have someone of the same sex admitted to this country so that he can live with him. He
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told me that the application is being considered and that documentary evidence has been requested to show
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) thinks of accepting an intervention from the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), I should point out that he is clearly straying into Second Reading and away from the new clause before the House.
Mr. Howarth: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for which, as ever, I am truly grateful. It is only fair, however, to point out that Members who oppose new clause 1 do so because it mucks up their plan for a straightforward gay marriage Bill. That is why they do not want it, and the country will judge them accordingly.
Mr. Hogg: I wish to make only two brief points, as most matters have already been covered in other speeches, including those by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), both of whom I agree with.
In the course of our debate, many injustices have been highlighted, including arrangements that affect siblings and others such as inheritance tax, the right to statutory tenancies and perhaps the right to pensions. The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) mentioned the position of next of kin and so on. Clearly, there are a number of injustices, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) highlighted, and the House is grateful to him for doing so. I agree, however, with the view powerfully expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, who said that those injustices are essentially distinct from the Bill's underlying theme, and should be addressed in other appropriate legislation. Speaking for myself, I would like to abolish or substantially ameliorate inheritance tax, which is wrong in principle for a number of reasons. I do not, however, want to create special exemptions from the burdens of that tax, as that, too, would be wrong in principle. The injustices identified by the House need to be addressed in another measure or measures.
I now want to pursue my second theme in answer to a challenge made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough.I hope that you will forgive me for doing so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I do not want to make a Second Reading speech. When you were not in the Chair, my hon. Friend said in terms that, if it was conceded that this was a "gay marriage Bill", he would not press his amendments. He went on to say that he would concede that his amendments were inappropriate
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in the context of such a Bill. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, do not want me to go into a lot of depth about this matter.
The question is whether what we are doing in this Bill is in substance to create a gay marriage Bill. I believe that that is probably the case, and let me hasten to say that I do not disapprove of that.
If one asks oneself what marriage is, one sees that it is the recognition by law of a relationship of a continuing kind. Historically, such relationships have been held between men and women, and marriage has been attended by divine service. Of course, that was changed, and we now have civil marriage. I must ask myself what the sensible distinction is in fact and substance between a civil marriage between a man and a women and a legal partnership of the kind contemplated in the Bill. I do not think that there is any significant difference between a civil marriage between a man and a woman and a legal partnership as created by the Bill.
The purpose of the Bill is not to attach to the relationship the financial and other benefits to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough referred; it is rather to accord to a couple of homosexuals the right to denote their relationship with legal status. They want to do that, and I do not want to withhold from them that ability. As a matter of fact, I also think that the Church would be right to bless such relationships. [Interruption.] I can hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) expressing her disagreement. She and I have often disagreed on this point, but I think that in a liberal, compassionate world, the Church should be willing to act in that way.
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