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The Civil Partnerships Bill marks an important stage in the ongoing progress towards equality for lesbian and gay people. Over recent years we have seen legislative and cultural changes that mark the growing confidence and maturity of our civil society. We have removed laws that stigmatised and excluded lesbian, gay and bisexual people from full involvement in the life of the nation. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) rightly observed, just when we may feel that progress is being made, we are confronted with events that remind us, in the most appalling ways, of how much more is to be done. Incidents such as the senseless murder of David Morley, a survivor of the bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan pub, and another recent attack in which a man was stabbed on his way home from a night out, apparently simply because he was gay, demonstrate that we must continue to combat prejudice and hatred wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: I hope that the Minister will accept unreservedly that those of us who oppose the Bill, however passionately, in no way condone any of the actions to which she referred. We find it as outrageous and unacceptable as she does, and I hope that she would not try to persuade the House that we were complicit in the horrendous actions that have taken place.
The fact that we have introduced the Bill and will, I hope, pass it into legislation, sends a very important message about the respect in which we, as a country and as individuals, hold the many people in this country who are in long-term same-sex relationships. I have always
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argued that the Bill is not only about dealing with the considerable day-to-day practical and legal difficulties involved in those relationships, but is a manifestation of the respect and dignity that we give to them.
This new legal relationship comes with both rights and responsibilities, and the Bill sends out a clear message about the importance of stable and committed relationships. It will enshrine in law a comprehensive structure through which same-sex couples can form a civil partnership and make provision for organising their joint lives together.
Most of the time, our debates on the Bill have shown the House at its best. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken with intelligence, thoughtfulness and temperance. I believe that we have listened to hon. Members' concerns and, when appropriate, sought to amend the Bill to tackle them. On the whole, the process has been constructive, due to various hon. Members' contributions. I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for her contribution and the important issues that she has tackled, including those that relate to Scotland. I assure hon. Members that she has a close and intimate knowledge of Scottish succession legislation. I put on record my appreciation of the work in another place of Baroness Scotland, Baroness Hollis, Baroness Amos, Baroness Crawley, Lord Filkin and Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.
I thank hon. Members of all parties who have made an important contribution to the scrutiny of the Bill. The mature and constructive approach of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan)perhaps I should call him Mr. Decemberis a credit to him and, I hope, to his party. The hon. Gentleman was unfortunately not in his place when the Government amendment on religious premises was agreed earlier. It is therefore worth while to put on record again that it arose from discussions that he in particular prompted.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who has on every occasion actively supported the Government's commitment to reject amendments that would have rendered the Bill unworkable. He has been diligent in his attendance and his contributions.
I want to place on record my appreciation of all my hon. Friends who served on the Committee and perhaps especially of my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Wallasey, who have ensured an informed and passionate debate inside and outside the Chamber. They brought all the force of their argument to bear in the discussions, which led to a Government amendment that was agreed today and will ensure fair and equitable pensions treatment for civil partners.
I thank our Committee Chairmen for the excellent way in which they chaired our proceedings, the parliamentary officials who served during the Bill's
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passage and the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who played an important role in ensuring that we kept to order.
Sir Patrick Cormack: In a spirit of conciliation, will the Minister also pay tribute to those who have honourably opposed the Bill and are not in any way at odds with her comments about the community who will benefit but simply believe that the measure is the wrong way to proceed? Some of us have not been able to take a great part in the proceedings but my hon. Friends the Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) deserve the thanks of the House for the dignity and force with which they have advanced arguments that many people support. Will the right hon. Lady acknowledge that?
It is indeed ground-breaking, in that it is the first Bill of its kind to include comprehensive international recognition provisions that could be used as a template by other countries in the years to come. The Bill also provides equality in pension rights.
This is a Bill to be proud of and this House has done an excellent job in salvaging it from the unfortunate state in which it arrived here. It is perhaps no surprise that it has received massive support from the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities. What is truly heartening, however, is the level of support that has come from the population at largefrom trade unions, religious groups, legal experts, groups such as Age Concern and Carers UK, and the hundreds of individuals who have written to express their delight that, at last, an important injustice is being addressed.
Many same-sex couples will be very keen to avail themselves of the Bill's provisions, once they come into effect. It is expected that the Act will take effect roughly a year after Royal Assent, to enable the necessary secondary legislation to be introduced and other operational changes to be made. I have no doubt that many people will want to take advantage of its provisions at that point. Many of us who are married know well how our lives have been enriched beyond measure by the support of our husbands and wives. Indeed, our achievements are all the greater and all the more enjoyable because we have someone to share them with. Our lesbian and gay family members, colleagues and friends deserve an equivalent chance, and they deserve the current legal injustices to be put right. The Civil Partnership Bill remedies those injustices and provides that opportunity, and I commend it to the House.
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