Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

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The Chairman: Before we proceed, I inform the Committee that I have had an indication from the hon. Member for Christchurch that he wishes to press amendment No. 193 to a Division. That will fall at the appropriate time in the proceedings, which is not now.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division No. 5]

Abbot, Ms Diane Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bruce, Malcolm Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan
Eagle, Angela McGuire, Mrs. Anne McKechin, Ann Simon, Mr. Sion Smith, Jacqui Stewart, Mr. David Watson, Mr. Tom

Chope, Mr. Christopher
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Categories of civil partners other than

same sex couples

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

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The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 14.

Division No. 6]

Chope, Mr. Christopher Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M.
Selous, Andrew

Abbott, Ms Diane Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bruce, Malcolm Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan
Eagle, Angela McGuire, Mrs. Anne McKechin, Ann Simon, Mr. Sion Smith, Jacqui Stewart, Mr. David Watson, Mr. Tom

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2 disagreed to.

Schedule 1 disagreed to.

Clause 3

Formation of civil partnership by registration

Mr. Duncan: I beg to move amendment No. 14, in

    clause 3, page 2, line 19, at end insert

    'and has made a spoken declaration of commitment as may be prescribed by order'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 17, in

    clause 3, page 2, line 20, leave out 'and (4)' and insert 'to (4A)'.

No. 16, in

    clause 3, page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (5) and insert—

    '(4A) Each of the civil partners shall, either before or after signing the civil partnership document under subsection (1) and in the presence of the witnesses and the civil partnership registrar—

    (a) make one of the following declarations: either ''I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, AB, may not be joined in civil partnership to CD'' or ''I declare that I know of no legal reason why I (name) may not be joined in civil partnership to (name)''; and

    (b) say to the other civil partner either ''I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, AB, do take thee, CD, to be my civil partner'', or ''I (name) take you (or thee) (name) to be my civil partner''.

    (4B) Subject to this section, the registration of a civil partnership may be accompanied by such form and ceremony as the civil partners may see fit to adopt.'.

No. 184, in

    clause 3, page 2, line 32, leave out from 'used' to end of line 33 and insert

    'for or in connection with the formation of a civil partnership by registration'.

11 am

Mr. Duncan: Essentially, this is a continuation of the previous debate. The amendment that I tabled with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry is an attempt to include provision for a spoken declaration. We are saying not that that is compulsory and that we will determine the declaration now, but that there should be provision for some turn of phrase such as ''as may be'' determined by order. The key word is ''may''. We are not saying as must be, or as will be. There remains much discretion as to the exact form of words—we will be able to debate that on another occasion—but the amendment specifically includes in the Bill provision for a verbal statement when two people commit to each other.

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One of the key points is that in any contract of this sort uniformity is of value, because through that uniformity the nature of the contract receives widespread and universal recognition. If the decision is left to the arbitrary discretion of the registrar or the local authority, we will end up with a variety of different forms of ceremony. There is profound value in giving shape to the nature of the ceremony that will record the commitment that we are allowing for in the Bill.

We all know—the hon. Member for Rhondda more than most, because he has married many couples—the turns of phrase, whatever form of the prayer book they be from, that govern a marriage ceremony. Indeed, those words are the contract. In this case, the signatures rather than the words are the contract, but none the less it is part of an important, emotional day that there is a memorable moment. Spoken words are a far more memorable way of recording a commitment, a ceremony and a change in the phase and stage of two people's life, than a simple signature on a piece of paper.

If some shape and uniformity can be introduced into the manner in which the clear commitment that we are providing for is recorded, so much the better. If we include a verbal statement—picking it may require much thought about the language, the poetry and the memorable nature of its turn of phrase—we will be adding to the removal of discrimination, and the provision that the Bill makes, something that will remain in the minds of the two partners for ever and a day.

The debate has been shifted down the line from amendment No. 13 to amendment No. 14, and now to amendments Nos. 14 and 25. The Minister would appear to prefer to see this provision as an option in some form of licence. At the moment, I do not sense that that would suffice. However, I shall move on to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Rhondda, which are in this group. There is the question of whether there should be any religious content. We have all been at pains to say that the Church should be allowed to determine what the Church wants to do and that we will not impose on it anything that might fetter its decision. It has enough problems as it is trying to come to terms with this difficult issue.

At this stage, however, there remains in most of our minds the attempt to try to segregate the secular from the religious so that this is exclusively a secular arrangement. I think that I can see what the hon. Gentleman is trying to do. He is saying that if someone in their heart feels that they have a religious belief that goes hand in hand—[Interruption.] He is shaking head, but that is my understanding of his amendment. He will speak to it later. If someone feels that they have a religious belief that goes hand in hand with their commitment, that should not be forbidden, because that would involve us telling them what their religious parameters should be. It is one thing to allow an individual to say, ''I think I am doing the right thing in the eyes of God'', but quite another to say that the Church should be instructed on how to behave or what to believe.

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With regard to amendment No. 14, the fundamental point is that if we are to ascribe to the moment a civil partnership is entered into the value that most of us in Committee feel attaches to the arrangement that is being made, the absence of a recognised and understood verbal commitment, in a form which in itself becomes increasingly recognised and valued, is a weakness and an omission in the Bill. If we can find by agreement some route to establishing such a recognised verbal commitment, we will have added to the Bill something that it is implicitly thirsting to contain, but somehow does not. I hope that we can find a way of doing that in either amendment No. 14 or amendment No. 25. At present, amendment No. 14 is a better and more positive, assertive vehicle for doing so. Amendment No. 25 appears to contain an arbitrary and permissive element that could allow for all sorts of variants where uniformity would be of great value.

Chris Bryant: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the direction in which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton is moving, and while I was intrigued to hear what the Minister said about Government amendment No. 25, some specific issues still need to be addressed.

Clause 3(5) is more or less, though not directly, lifted from section 45(2) of the Marriage Act 1949, which specifies that no religious service can be used at all when a civil marriage is being officiated. That was introduced for a specific reason; people wanted to differentiate between holy matrimony, which was consecrated in a church, and civil marriage. The difficulty is that many registrars throughout the country now interpret that as meaning that there cannot even be a reading from the Bible or the Torah, or from someone such as Kahlil Gibran, at a civil registration of a marriage—an outdated and bizarre prohibition. I am sure that many of us would not want the law to state that churches should register ''holy matrimony'' in civil registration of a marriage, but to proscribe someone from having any form of religious words being used at all in a civil marriage, such as the use of the word ''God'' or a reference to Jesus.

Similarly, although the Government have carefully worded their subsection to say that no

    ''religious service is to be used while the civil partnership registrar is officiating at the signing of a civil partnership document'',

I still think that it is bizarre solely to proscribe the use of religious forms of any sort. I presume that the Minister will say that while the registration is happening there should be nothing of that sort, but the moment the registrar has gone, people can do whatever they want. If that involves bringing in a clergyman, that is entirely up to the clergyman. If people want to have readings or make vows, that is entirely up to them.

The phrase that we should be taking from the Marriage Act 1949 is the permissive one, which says explicitly that the form and ceremony that people choose to use at a civil marriage is entirely up to those who take part, apart from a couple of elements that have to be present in the civil marriage. The first of those is the declaration that there is no lawful

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impediment why those two people may not marry, and the second is the declaration of consent. The 1949 Act has those in more or less prayer book English, along with more modern versions that were added in the 1970s. They are the two elements that I seek to insert into the ceremony. It is not providing a lengthy ceremony; it is simply ensuring that the declaration that there is no lawful impediment to these two people being joined together in a civil partnership, and that they do actually consent, is made in a spoken declaration.

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