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Mr. Alan Duncan: May I echo the Minister's comments and thank her and her fellow Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire) for the courtesy with which they have conducted all our proceedings throughout the passage of the Bill? I also echo her thanks to the civil servants and to the Chairmen of the Committee, singling out in particular the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who returned from having a hospital operation and, despite being in considerable pain, continued to chair our Committee.

I should like to turn my attention, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) urged the Minister to do, to those who disagree with the Bill. Democracy involves the settling of difference by decent means, and I should like to express my respect for the manner in which those who have opposed the Bill, or elements of it—most, if not all, of whom are sitting behind me—have expressed that difference. Out of that respect, I should like to address the overarching religious objections that have been voiced throughout the passage of the Bill.

Over the centuries, political difference has been defined by various distinct positions: Church and state; Crown and people; rich and poor; left and right; pro and anti-Europe; wets and drys. However, rising nearer to the top of our political deliberations once again is the distinction between libertarian and authoritarian strands of thought. One strand of that debate involves the question of whether it is right for the state to use its supposed power to shape a moral template and to impose it on a country through the force of law.

The recent presidential election in the United States has sparked a debate about whether moral values are an electoral force that can be harnessed for the national and political good, and whether they mean the same thing in the United Kingdom as they do in the United States. We might set ourselves the task of comparing and contrasting the effects of moral opinion on the democratic process in the US and the UK. We have already seen some fairly manic articles on the subject, in which writers on each side of the argument have wilfully misconstrued the position of those on the other side. Each side deserves more respect from the other.

The Bill, with its merits and demerits, lies at the very heart of that debate. Is the change that it offers a threat to the traditional decencies of our way of life, and something that puts the moral fabric of our society at risk? Or is it an overdue recognition of how any society, as it inevitably changes, needs to embrace adjusted patterns of life and behaviour to suit the wishes of people whose qualities and conduct are no less and no more decent than those who readily fit into established mores? At the very least, the entire House, male and—if my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will take it the right way—even female behind me, would agree that we have moved on from the view of the Emperor Justinian, who thought that homosexuality was a cause of earthquakes.

This debate, to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) alluded earlier, was raging 40 years ago in the House. "Law, Liberty and Morality", by H. L. A. Hart, was a seminal lecture given in the early 1960s. It influenced my views on the subject
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that we are debating today. It provoked a blistering riposte from a Law Lord, Paddy Devlin, entitled "The Enforcement of Morals", which, in turn, in an attempt to mediate through a more churchly eye, led to Basil Mitchell's "Law, Morality and Religion in a Secular Society".

Miss Widdecombe: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Duncan: I will give way once, of course.

Miss Widdecombe: I therefore promise not to trespass on my hon. Friend's time twice. He is talking about the state enforcing morality. Nothing will change if the Bill is not passed, inasmuch as two people of the same sex will still be free to enter into a relationship, to set up a household and all the rest of it. Nothing will alter that. The only alteration will be that what is now unique—marriage and the rights and responsibilities that the law accords to marriage—will for the first time be given to one specific group in our community other than the married. That is the essence of this Bill, not anything to do with whether people should be free to practise homosexuality.

Mr. Duncan: But the fundamental premise of my right hon. Friend's comments is that there is a moral distinction to be made, which means that there should not be recognition of same-sex partnerships. If I may, let me trace my argument through, as I am trying to dignify her views with what I hope is seen as a thoughtful response; at the very least, I am making an effort to do so.

H. L. A. Hart, taking a more liberal stand, put the question of whether the state should adopt what he termed "physical paternalism", and asked

perhaps this answers the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald—

Or, in this case, is it sufficient simply to make it not permitted or recognised? Indeed, he asked,

Patrick Devlin, on the other hand, believed that one could justify the use of the criminal law—in this case, any law—to punish deviations from a society's shared morality.

Recognition of homosexual relationships in the 40 years since that classic exchange has become part of this and many other countries' shared morality. Indeed, John Stuart Mill had already set the calculus for our judgments. He said that society could use its powers to protect morality, but by that he meant stopping people doing harm to others. There is no greater harm than the brutal killing, to which the Minister referred, of David Morley, in a homophobic attack, just two weeks ago, a few hundred yards from the House.

This Bill does not do anybody harm. Those who believe in God, and yet believe too in opposing the Bill, risk being seen by others as people who are using the name of God to promote their own earthly dislikes. Faith in God, and one's ensuing conduct, are undeniably matters of personal choice and individual
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conviction. Being forced to do something does not make one moral. It might make one conform to certain moral norms, but only a decision that is taken entirely freely can be totally moral. Conversely, being gay is not a matter of choice. A natural disposition, which does no harm to others, cannot be immoral, however much it might be intensely despised by some.

In "Law, Morality and Religion", Basil Mitchell observed:

which perhaps many here do not like—

The Bill allows the latter.

In the same exchange, Devlin said

Condemnation of gay relationships therefore risks being thoroughly unchristian, and barely hidden disdain combined with professed indifference is the most contemptible attitude of all. The role of the state is to intervene when two people are doing harm to each other, not when they just happen to love each other.

In my view, the Bill is a landmark in the clash between those who want to enforce their own moral code and choose to judge their fellow man and those who say that a couple's mutual love should be permitted and celebrated without the intrusion and interference of the state. We are supposed to be here to build a happier country. If we are to build a monument to decency, fairness, love, equality and all the rich happiness that two people can provide for each other, the Bill should be passed as a cornerstone of the very monument that we want to build.

6.21 pm

Angela Eagle: It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), and to compliment him on his quick philosophical round-up of important social and political issues. I agree with his interpretation of the effects of the Bill.

I welcome this sensible piece of social reform. It recognises that we have moved on socially, and if it is passed it will grant an acknowledgement of the dignity and respect that should be conferred on same-sex couples as well as legal recognition of their relationships should they choose to enter into civil partnerships. It means that the United Kingdom is moving into the mainstream of social reform across the world, as many of us pointed out on Second Reading.

I was privileged to serve on the Standing Committee, along with Members on both sides of the House. I believe that scrutiny and consideration hugely
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improved the Bill, which was a mess when it arrived from the House of Lords. The removal of the Lords' wrecking amendments, which effectively would have allowed grandmothers to have a relationship akin to marriage with their grandsons or granddaughters, was essential to prevent this House from becoming a laughing stock.

A significant advance made in Committee, albeit one less commented on than others, was the Government's decision to grant full pension equality to same-sex couples and allow them to benefit from the contributions that many had made on the same basis as that applying to widows and widowers in the case of both state and private occupational pension schemes.

I asked my hon. Friend the Minister about that on Second Reading, and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) said rather cynically that she was just trying to get through the debate. He did not know about some of the meetings that had been taking place behind the scenes to deal with what my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and I considered a very just cause. I for one was extremely pleased when, at the end of Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was able to grant the first part of our wish—full pension equality in state occupational schemes—thus, I hope, banishing the cynicism of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for ever. In Committee, we were able finally to iron out this issue by eliminating an existing anomaly in private sector pension schemes as well. So the Bill is now ready for the statute book, and I hope that when it returns to the other place shortly, the Lords will respect the large majorities by which it has proceeded through the various Commons stages.

The other very interesting and enjoyable aspect of the process was the spectacle of the Conservatives dealing with the Bill in Committee on a free vote. That prompted some extremely good speeches and passionate argument, but it also demonstrated the Janus face of the Conservative party, which I mentioned on Second Reading. Little did I realise quite how many facets that face has. The four Conservative Members in Committee proceeded in very different ways; in fact, they were all over the place, which is perhaps what free votes do.

After decades of reinforcing every prejudice, playing on every fear and creating legislation such as the odious section 28, there are welcome signs of movement among the Conservatives. Thankfully, a much more enlightened and humane element is emerging, and their support for the Bill is welcome. Particular mention should be made of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who made an extremely good speech. The hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry) made superb speeches on Second Reading, demonstrating this strand of conservatism and, hopefully, its emerging strength.

But for each enlightened, tolerant and respectful speech, the narrow-minded right-wing element of the Conservative party voiced its backward view of the world. In Committee, we had a quite extraordinary spectacle. In general, the hon. Member for Rutland and
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Melton supported the Bill with a great deal of erudition and passion. However, he refused to vote to include its first 80 clauses in Committee—

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