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Mr. Cash: I am following what my right hon. and learned Friend is saying, but I think that he is taking us into extremely dangerous territory. Does he not agree that there is something fundamentally insidious about introducing a Bill for a purpose that is not achieved under that Bill, but which, one realises on reflection, is an artifice? Basically, that is what this whole process is about.
With respect to my hon. Friend, I think that he is wrong about this matter. The primary purpose is to accord a relationship within the law and before the law to a long-lasting partnership between people of the same sex. If people of the same sex want to designate their relationship as having that status, they should be able to do so, and the Bill achieves that. It may beI can
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understand this viewthat he does not want that to be permitted, but that is a difference of principle. I do want it to be permitted, and I ask myself whether the Bill is effective in achieving that, and I feel that it is.
Incidentally, I feel that I owe an apology to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). I was a bit churlish with him in respect of his sedentary intervention about my father, and I hope that he will forgive me. If my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough is right when he says that his amendments are inappropriate in the context of a Bill that he described as being about "gay marriage"I say that it is about partnerships recognised by lawnew clause 1 should not stand. In substance, this is a gay marriage Bill, and, in substance, I am in favour of it and am prepared so to designate it.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend's gracious apology, which I accept. My right hon. and learned Friend is being totally honest. He supports gay marriage, which is a perfectly defensible point of view, but the Bill purports not to enact gay marriage.
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend is right. I criticise Government Front Benchers, because those of us who have examined the Bill and the consequences that it attaches to such relationships find it impossible to make a serious distinction between civil marriage I emphasise "civil"and civil partnership. It would be more honest if the Government were to say that the Bill concerns civil marriage between same-sex couples. Howeverthis is the one remark that I shall make that will be wholly popular with Conservative Membersthe Government are not honest.
We must remember why the Bill was introduced in the first place: it recognises same-sex relationships and implements an infrastructure of rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples. It is not about property and taxation, which have formed the primary subjects for debate this afternoon. We are discussing the recognition of same-sex relationships, and the heart of the Bill concerns a lifelong commitment made by two individuals.
I recognise that the amendments in this group are in order because Mr. Speaker accepted them, but they seek to broaden the number of people affected by the Bill by including, with the exception of heterosexual couples who are not married, people in other sorts of partnerships who do not necessarily make a lifelong commitment to each other, whether they are members of the same family or people in platonic relationships.
New clause 3 seeks to extend the provisions of the Bill to heterosexual couples who cohabit. Such couples may or may not want to make a lifelong commitment, but I assume that the fact that they have not got married means that they are not yet ready to make such a commitment. Although the arguments about tax and inheritance may have some merit, the amendments to widen the scope of the Bill do not fit neatly and
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appropriately with the rest of the legislation. Such matters should be examined and dealt with separately because they do not fit the Bill's core, which concerns two people of the same sex making a lifelong public commitment to each other. That is the heart of the Bill; the various clauses simply deal with rights and responsibilities.
Charles Hendry : Much of this afternoon's debate has understandably focused on whether the registration of a civil partnership is the same as marriage, which is a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope).
To my mind, we have missed one of the key points. Although the Bill gives rights and confers responsibilities on those who are prepared to enter into civil partnerships, those benefits and rights are not workable without some form of legal registration. We are discussing the transference of property rights and pensions to obtain inheritance tax benefits, and, in the last few days of their life, someone could say, "This is my partner. I would be grateful if the whole of my estate is handed over to them." The only way in which legal changes of such magnitude can be made to work properly is if there is a legal framework that involves people making a legal commitment by saying that the relationship is long-term and having a structure whereby the framework can be broken up if the relationship goes wrong.
The Bill addresses a very clear injusticethe fact that people are invisible in the eyes of the law if they are living in a same-sex relationship. It is time to correct that injustice. That does not mean, however, that it is appropriate to use the Bill as a vehicle for correcting equally valid but disconnected injustices. That can be done on other occasions, and I hope that it will.
Much of the debate has focused purely on financial matters, yet, as the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) said, the Bill deals with many other injustices. I have mentioned the rights of the next of kin and the inability of people in a relationship to visit their partners in hospital or to make decisions about what happens to their belongings and joint home in the event of the death of one of them. Those issues do not relate to siblings or to people in relationships of other kinds; that is why the Bill should focus primarily on such matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) suggested that only small numbers of people may benefit from the Bill. That in itself is no reason for saying that it is not right to act. He and I would campaign together on the rights of Gurkhas or the pension rights of surviving partners of members of the armed forces. The fact that those issues affect only very small numbers of people does not in any way negate the importance of dealing with them, and the Bill must be seen in the same light. I happen to believe that the figure cited for the number of partners who will benefit significantly underestimates the total. In any event, there is a clear injustice and we are right to address it.
I want to say a few words about new clause 3. The more I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch the more concerned I became. His reply to
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my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) left us in no doubt that he believes that this will fundamentally undermine marriage. I was also concerned when he started to use the term "holy matrimony". Many of us got married in register offices instead of churches. I, for one, feel every bit as married as anybody who got married in a church. I have a wife, whom I call my wife, we have shared domestic arrangements, and I have a very wonderful mother-in-law.
I was particularly concerned when my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said that people will opt for this sort of relationship when they are looking for a shorter-term, rather than a longer-term, commitment. That is bizarre. I tried to imagine the scenetwo people are in a restaurant, and the man is about to make a proposal. In the candlelight, he gets down on one knee and says, "Darling, we've been together for a very long time now, we've got children and it's working very wellI want to ask you to become my short-term civil partner." In other words: "I love you very muchnot enough to say that I want to be with you for ever, but I would like to be with you for several years. We don't have to go to all the expense of getting married, but there is an alternative arrangementwe can have a civil partnership with all the same benefits. You can have the pension and inherit the house in the event of my death." I am not sure whether she would be deeply flattered by that proposal. Had I said that to my wife when I proposed to her, I suspect that she might have walked out of the restaurant. My hon. Friend has not drawn an apt distinction.
Mr. Chope: Does my hon. Friend accept that the most romantic people on earth are the French? Yet they have a civil partnership arrangement that is similar to the one that I described. They can either enter into that or get married.
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