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Miss Widdecombe: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. What on earth has this got to do with the merits of the Bill?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): That is a point for debate rather than a point of order for the Chair.

Angela Eagle: I am simply attempting, Madam Deputy Speaker, to report to the House some of our proceedings in Committee; that is a perfectly usual way of dealing with Third Reading debates.

Mr. Alan Duncan: I should it put on the record that I did not vote for some 80 clauses in Committee because they were being forced through on the guillotine with no debate. I thought it better to abstain, in order to make it quite clear that I do not approve of such timetable motions.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman can of course do what he likes with his vote, especially when his party has a free vote. But he knows that the practical effect of that vote in Committee could have been to destroy the Bill, and I hope and pray that that was not his intention. The Whip in Committee, the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), mostly abstained but sometimes voted against the Bill. The altogether more predictable hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) ploughed his lonely furrow of total opposition, never losing a chance to belittle, denigrate and trivialise same-sex partners and civil partnerships. When he was not attempting to change the Bill to require same-sex couples to register—

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your ruling in this regard, but it seems to me that this is a speech analysing Conservative thinking on a range of subjects, including this one, rather than a Third Reading speech.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I repeat what I said earlier. The hon. Lady is recalling incidents throughout the Bill's passage in the Chamber and in Committee.

Angela Eagle: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thought that it was part of the nature of debates on Third Reading that we look back on our proceedings. I am merely pointing out that the four Conservative Members serving on the Bill in Committee all did different things.

Of those four, I move on to the best, the hon. Member for Buckingham. Unlike some of his colleagues, he was steadfast, brave and principled throughout the Committee stage; he argued constantly and passionately in favour of the Bill from start to finish. I congratulate him on his open-minded humanity, but he faces a long and uphill battle with his crusade to make the Conservative party begin to remake itself as compassionate and humane. I wish him and his other colleagues in the fight all the best for the future.
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Meanwhile, we have a Bill that is as near perfect as possible, following its Committee and Report stage. I welcome the huge endorsement that the Bill gained on Second Reading, when it was passed by 423 votes to 49 and I caution the other place against further interference in the Bill. I look forward to its commencement next year. Many people are already planning what I know will be joyous celebrations of their civil partnerships in due course when the Bill comes into force and civil partnerships become a reality for same-sex couples who have longed for many years to have that opportunity.

6.31 pm

Mr. Carmichael: First, I associate myself with the expressions of gratitude made earlier by the Minister and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) in respect of House and Committee officials who have assisted the Bill's passage to its current stage. The Minister said that the process has been constructive, and I would certainly want to use the same word. I pay tribute to the Minister, particularly for the manner in which she has handled changes to the pension provisions. As a Liberal Democrat, I am delighted to welcome them.

I am pleased that my cynicism, or perhaps my scepticism, has made such an impression on the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle). She asked whether it has been banished for ever, which sounds like the sort of optimism usually expressed by Liberal Democrats, but let us say that it is banished for tonight.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said in an earlier intervention that if we do not pass the Bill, nothing will change. From my perspective, I have to say that that is exactly why we should pass the Bill, because if we do not pass it, nothing will change. Mixed-sex couples will still, to borrow the Minister's phrase, remain "largely invisible" within the eyes of the law and people will continue to suffer discrimination and disadvantage simply because of their sexual orientation. To my mind, that is simply wrong.

The hon. Member for Wallasey spoke about the House leading the world and being at the forefront of these issues, but I believe that we are engaged in a catching-up process. It is all about recognition of our society, as currently constituted and as it has been for some time.

Several hon. Members have urged us to admit that we are talking about gay marriage, but I cannot admit that because, as I explained earlier, marriage is something uniquely given to mixed-sex couples. What flows from that is recognition of the marriage relationship, which, in turn, brings certain financial and property rights. Having said that same-sex couples cannot be party to a marriage, I believe that they are obviously entitled to the same recognition and the same rights of property as married people are granted.

I often wonder why some Conservative Back Benchers are so obsessed with the use of the "M" word, if I may put it that way. The only conclusion that I can draw is that they argue that way deliberately, knowing that the issue becomes emotive and that, by talking that way, they stand a better chance of stirring up opposition and antipathy towards the giving of these basic rights to
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certain groups of people. I therefore believe that the Government are correct to refer to "civil partnerships" and to leave it at that.

I also have to say that this morning's intervention by the Christian Institute was profoundly regrettable. I shall choose my words with care, but I have been a Christian since I was 14. Christianity has been a formative influence for me and has changed my life, but there are few less edifying spectacles than politicians who preach, so I shall keep this simple.

To my mind, the fundamental factor in Christianity is love. The tremendous thing about Christian love is that it knows no discrimination. That is why, when Jesus told us in the New Testament to love our neighbour, he did not qualify that by saying that we need not love those of our neighbours who are black, gay, fat, thin, tall or short. There are no equivocations about the love that Jesus offers us. That is why I feel passionately that it would be wrong for us to prolong, in the name of Christianity, the discrimination and disadvantage that some people suffer.

Mr. Donaldson: I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but it can be an act of love to point out when someone is going wrong. With all due respect, I point out to him that there is discrimination against siblings in this country. In my opinion, the Christian Institute was right to make that clear. I regret that the hon. Gentleman considers that the brothers and sisters who live together and who suffer disadvantage in the way that was described in the previous debate need not benefit from this legislation in the way that homosexual couples—uniquely—will.

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman began his intervention on a false premise by saying that it was an act of love to point out to people when they were "going wrong". That suggests that a person's sexual orientation is a matter of choice. It is not: it is something with which one is born. Homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals are no more "going wrong" than any other people who choose to follow their particular sexual orientation.

Mr. Donaldson: What about paedophiles?

Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman also asked about my position in respect of siblings. We have rehearsed those arguments at considerable length today. If he was in the Chamber to hear my earlier remarks, he will have heard my opinions already; if he was not here at that time, he can read them tomorrow morning in Hansard.

It is rare to be able to say at the end of a Third Reading debate that the legislation will leave us in a better condition than when it arrived in this House, but that is very much the case today. I hope that our noble Friends in the other place will realise that the Bill enjoys the overwhelming support of this House. Although some minor tinkering may remain to be done—and we will always be open to that—we do not expect to see any significant amendment.
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6.38 pm

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