Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

[back to previous text]

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I echo the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with regard to the Justice 1 Committee. The draft Bill was originally placed before the Scottish Parliament and the level of pre-legislative scrutiny that the provisions received was a textbook example from which pre-legislative scrutiny in this place could learn a lot. As a result of that, the amendments that have been introduced by the Government, from the Scottish Executive, have made the passage of this Bill a great deal easier for those of us who represent Scottish constituencies and have an interest in such matters.

I want to pick up on the important point just made by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). He asked why we should have this provision on separation, but in fact it is not on separation but on judicial separation, which is a quite important distinction in this context. In all the years when I was in practice and doing court work, I never came across anyone who opted to undertake judicial separation, but it is an important part of Scots family law.

Hearing the hon. Gentleman trampling over Scots family law in a pair of tackety boots sold only with prejudice and ignorance reminds me of all the reasons why we considered it necessary to have a Scottish Parliament in the first place. The arguments that he made would apply equally to judicial separation for those who are parties to a civil marriage. The fact is that rightly or wrongly, we have this curious animal of judicial separation in Scotland, in much the same way that those of you south of the border have the curious arrangement that if a 16-year-old wants to enter a civil marriage—and hopefully some day a civil partnership—they have to go and ask their mammy and their daddy first. That does not make any particular sense to me, but clearly it is an important part of English marriage law, and if that is what people in England and Wales want, that is for them to decide.

Judicial separation is an important right available to people in Scotland who are parties to a civil marriage, and I can see absolutely no good reason why it should not be extended to those who enter a civil partnership. To remove that provision while retaining clause 118 would make nonsense of the whole Bill. Not to reinstate this provision would leave us with incoherent legislation.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab): I, too, rise to support the Government amendments. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) correctly stated, there has been a great

Column Number: 132

deal of pre-legislative scrutiny in the Scottish Parliament on these provisions. In addition to a three-month consultation period with responses from more than 300 parties, there have been four separate evidence sessions held in Committees during the past six to eight months to consider in great detail the provisions of this part of the Bill.

I concur with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we appreciate and respect Scots law principles on family law matters. Like him, I was a practising solicitor, and I came across only one or two judicial separation actions in 18 years' experience. Nevertheless, that has been an established element of family law in Scotland for a considerable time, and if anyone were to change that principle, it should be the Scottish Parliament. This Parliament, which created the Scottish Parliament, should respect its rights over marriage law. We have differences on separation. We have maintained the two and five-year periods of separation and the difference in consent for 16 to 18-year-olds in Scotland, on the basis that it is for the Scottish Parliament to make differences in family law as and when it requires.

That also applies to the law on succession, and I particularly welcome new clause 4, which contains a matter that I raised on Second Reading. It seeks to provide for same-sex couples the principle of equivalence to couples in marriage, and it will be important for many couples in same-sex relationships. We have respected the Scottish rights of succession and the Scottish laws on succession, and the principles on which they are founded, and again, quite rightly, it will be for the Scottish Parliament to decide, if and when it decides to review the succession law, whether there will be any subsequent amendments when, as I hope, this Bill becomes law. I congratulate the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament on their thoroughness during their participation in the scrutiny process and on their valuable amendments, which much improve the Bill.

9.30 am

Mr. Duncan: I should like to seek some clarification from the Minister about the mathematics and language of new clause 4. I am trying to grapple with it and I am not sure that I totally understand it. As I understand it, in new clause 4(1), where a partner dies, the other partner has a claim on the deceased's estate to a minimum of half.

Mrs. McGuire: Movable.

Mr. Duncan: Movable estate, which perhaps for clarity the Minister will define. If that person has issue, the partner would have a claim on a third. I do not understand what happens if the partner who remains alive has issue. How does the division scrape up? If they are civil partners with a joint estate, how is the estate assessed and divided?

I do not understand the language of new clause 4(2), perhaps because I am not a lawyer. I do not understand the grammar of:

    ''That circumstance is that the person is also survived by issue''.

It needs parsing, and I quite simply cannot make sense of it. It looks as though other Members can, and, if it

Column Number: 133

can be translated from the Scottish, as a Scot I would very much appreciate it.

Mrs. McGuire: The law of succession is a very complicated piece of Scots law. There is a good Scots phrase, which the hon. Member for Christchurch should learn when meddling, dabbling or seeking to comment on Scots law, which is, ''Wha daur meddle wi' me.'' For the uninitiated I will translate. It means: ''Don't meddle with me too often.'' Before my Scots colleagues get in first, the second part of the phrase is, ''There's gaye few an' ther' a' deid.'' It means: ''Very few meddle with the Scots and those that do usually end up—''

Mr. Chope: In hospital.

Mrs. McGuire: ''—in another place,'' and I am not talking about the House of Lords.

That leads me neatly to state that I will write to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton.

Ann McKechin rose—

Mrs. McGuire: A lawyer to my rescue. I never thought I would see the day.

Ann McKechin: May I say that the wording of new clause 4 follows that of the Succession (Scotland) Act 1964? The Act uses exactly the same wording, and that is why the wording has been used in the legislation before us. It matches that in the Act, which has been in force quite successfully for 40 years.

Mrs. McGuire: Well, there we have it. I am so glad that Government Back Benchers are so multi-skilled that they can remember all that.

On the substantive point made by the hon. Member for Christchurch, judicial separation is appropriate for some couples who may not wish to dissolve their civil partnership because of beliefs or the impact it may have on any children. Judicial separation is an option for marriage couples and it should similarly be an option for civil partners.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that he was not aware of any cases of judicial separation in his legal life. Will the Minister tell us how many instances there are of judicial separation in Scotland at the moment?

Mrs. McGuire: It is fair to say that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland operated in one part of Scotland. It is a big country. I am unable to provide the hon. Member for Christchurch with the exact number, but regardless of whether judicial separation is used it is part of our judicial regime and it should be read across into civil partnerships. The amendment was moved on those grounds.

Column Number: 134

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 1.

Division No. 41]

AYES
Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Love, Mr. Andrew
McGuire, Mrs. Anne McKechin, Ann Simon, Mr. Sion Smith, Jacqui Stewart, Mr. David Watson, Mr. Tom

NOES
Chope, Mr. Christopher

Question accordingly agreed to.

The Chairman: I have a reputation for being somewhat pedantic at times. I shall now demonstrate why I have that reputation. Just to be precise, I am informed that the only languages that are permissible in the House are English, Latin and ancient Norman. The introduction of strange tongues can be somewhat confusing.

Secondly, on a much more serious point, I must draw to the Committee's attention the fact that it is customary for a right hon. or hon. Member to rise in their place, not simply to lift an eyebrow, to indicate to the Chair that they wish to make a contribution to the debate. Do be co-operative with the Chair.

Amendment proposed: No. 7, in

    clause 84, page 38, line 37, leave out subsection (2).—[Jacqui Smith.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 2.

Division No. 42]

AYES
Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Love, Mr. Andrew
McGuire, Mrs. Anne McKechin, Ann Simon, Mr. Sion Smith, Jacqui Stewart, Mr. David Watson, Mr. Tom

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

Question accordingly agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 53, in clause 84, page 39, line 42, leave out 'following modifications' and insert

    'modifications specified in subsections (7) and (8)'.

No. 54, in clause 84, page 39, line 45, leave out 'those provisions' and insert

    'subsection (5) or those paragraphs'.

No. 55, in clause 84, page 40, line 15, at end insert—

    '( ) For the purposes of this section, a degree of relationship specified in paragraph 1 of Schedule 11 exists whether it is of the full blood or the half blood.

    ( ) Amend section 41(1) of the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 (c.28) (application to determination of forbidden degrees of provisions of that Act relating to the status conferred by adoption) as follows—

    (a) after first ''marriage'' insert '', to the eligibility of persons to register as civil partners of each other'', and

    (b) for ''and incest'' substitute '', to such eligibility and to incest''.'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 135

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 2.

Division No. 43]

AYES
Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Love, Mr. Andrew
McGuire, Mrs. Anne McKechin, Ann Simon, Mr. Sion Smith, Jacqui Stewart, Mr. David Watson, Mr. Tom

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

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 84, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 26 October 2004