Civil Partnership Bill [Lords]

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Clause 123

Regulations

Amendment made: No. 8, in clause 123, page 63, line 31, leave out subsection (3).—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 123, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 124 to 132 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 133

Formation of civil partnership by registration

Mrs. McGuire: I beg to move amendment No. 65, in clause 133, page 67, line 22, leave out 'civil partnership'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 8—Restriction on publicity of reports of proceedings.

Mrs. McGuire: I am delighted that we have moved on to part 4 of the Bill, which makes provision for civil partnerships in Northern Ireland. Part 4 is very much a mirror image of part 2, which deals with England and Wales, given the great similarities of legislative style and history between the two jurisdictions.

There are very few Government amendments. With the exception of a single drafting amendment, the other amendments as well as the schedule of minor and consequential amendments for Northern Ireland and two ancillary technical amendments were all taken for debate on Report in another place. Because of other difficulties, they were not moved and it was necessary to seek their inclusion in the Bill at this stage.

As I indicated, amendment No. 65 and new clause 8 deal with Northern Ireland. The first amendment is a textual one. It is a technical drafting amendment to remove certain unnecessary words from clause 133(5). The term ''registrar'' does not need to be qualified by the words ''civil partnership'', given the definition in clause 156.

New clause 8 inserts a new clause at the end of part 4 of the Bill to deal with a Northern Ireland law. The new clause extends section 1 of the Matrimonial Causes (Reports) Act (Northern Ireland) 1966 to civil partners. Section 1 of the 1966 Act makes it an offence to publish certain details in connection with judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage or judicial separation; proceedings relating to a declaration as to whether a civil partnership is valid; any proceedings by one spouse against the other for financial provision; or proceedings concerning another order made in connection with any such cause or matter. The amendment makes it an offence to disclose similar details in respect of civil partners involved in comparable judicial proceedings under the Civil Partnership Bill.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I do not propose to say much at this stage about the

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clauses of the Bill that relate to Northern Ireland. I have a later amendment, which I hope we will get to this afternoon. It will afford an opportunity to discuss in more detail the views and concerns about aspects of the Bill that relate to the part of the United Kingdom that I represent.

However, I want to put it on the record that when the Government carried out a consultation in Northern Ireland prior to tabling the Bill before Parliament, the clear majority of responses were against their proposal. As my party leader pointed out on Second Reading, the 2001 census found that there were only 288 same-sex couple households in the whole of Northern Ireland. As the Government say that at most only 5 per cent. of same-sex couples will commit to civil partnerships, only 14 of 288 households in Northern Ireland would seek to benefit from the arrangements for civil partnerships.

Frankly, we have other priorities in Northern Ireland and other issues for which we would like legislation before we get down to this kind of arrangement. That is why I shall oppose the Government's amendments. I do not believe that the Bill should apply in Northern Ireland, and the amendment that I will move this afternoon, should we come to it, will seek to make an arrangement whereby the Northern Ireland Assembly will have the right to the final say on the application of the Bill in Northern Ireland.

Mrs. McGuire: In response to the hon. Gentleman, I wish to put it on the record that, since the consultation, we received an additional 403 letters from same-sex couples in Northern Ireland and from their friends and families when some doubts were raised about whether Northern Ireland would be included in the Bill.

Mr. Donaldson: If the hon. Lady's statistics are correct, they are at variance with those in the Government census in Northern Ireland. The hon. Lady hinted at the end of her remarks that the letters were from the family and friends of same-sex couples in addition to same-sex couples. Some clarity is needed on that matter.

Mrs. McGuire: I wanted to put it on the record that when it appeared that the provisions would not extend to Northern Ireland, we received, I repeat, 403 letters from same-sex couples, from family and friends. That would properly reflect opinion and it deals with some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in respect of consultation. I hope that that clarifies the matter; we have had representations from more than 14 people in Northern Ireland.

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Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division No. 61]

AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Eagle, Angela
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.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division No. 62]

AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Eagle, Angela
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 133, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 134

Eligibility

Amendments made: No. 9, in clause 134, page 67, line 25, leave out 'Subject to subsection (2),'.

No. 10, in clause 134, page 67, line 33, leave out subsection (2).—[Jacqui Smith.]

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division No. 63]

AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Eagle, Angela
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 134, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

11 am

Mr. Duncan: On a point of order, Mr. Cook. Perhaps I missed it, but I do not recall agreeing to schedule 12 remaining part of the Bill.

The Chairman: We dealt with schedule 12 some time

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ago.

Mr. Duncan: I apologise for not paying attention, Mr. Cook.

The Chairman: As Chairman, I find it rather comforting that I am not the only one who falls asleep.

Clause 135

Notice of proposed civil partnership

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division No. 64]

AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Eagle, Angela
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 135 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 136 and 137 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 138

Objections

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 14, Noes 2.

Division No. 65]

AYES
Abbott, Ms Diane Bercow, Mr. John Borrow, Mr. David Bryant, Chris Carmichael, Mr. Alistair Duncan, Mr. Alan Eagle, Angela
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 138 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 139 to 141 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 14 agreed to.

Clauses 142 to 154 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 155

Regulations

Amendment made: No. 11, in clause 155, page 75, line 29, leave out subsection (2).—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 155, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 156 to 169 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 170

Grounds on which civil partnership is voidable

Mr. Chope: I beg to move amendment No. 243, in clause 170, page 83, line 33, at end insert—

    '(ca) at the time of its formation, the respondent was suffering from a communicable sexual disease;'.

The amendment mirrors amendment No. 227 to clause 50, which we could not debate in the previous sitting because of the guillotine. My hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and I have refrained from voting against many clauses in this part of the Bill because we want to get on to debate some of the amendments.

This is one of the amendments that I tabled so that we would have the opportunity to debate the subject and tease out the Government's thinking on it. I am sure that I will be attacked for saying that the amendment is a recognition that we are talking about same-sex marriage, when I am against same-sex marriage. However, I recognise that that is what the Bill is about and if we are going to have nullification of same-sex marriage, we might as well have the same grounds for voidability as we have for what I would call proper marriage.

The amendment would add a new ground and would make a civil partnership voidable if at the time of its formation the respondent was suffering from a communicable sexual disease. That is nothing new under the law in the sense that that is already the law as it applies to marriage under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. For those who do not have the terms in front of them, section 12 of that Act provides that a marriage celebrated after 31 July should be voidable ''on the following grounds'' only. Many grounds are set out and ground (e) is that at the time of the marriage the respondent was suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form.

The amendment is intended to put the provision in the Bill on a par with what happens under the law of marriage as it stands under the 1973 Act. Of course, the provision would be subject to the following clause, as it is under the 1973 Act. If the other party to the partnership—or, in terms of the 1973 Act, to the marriage—consents to or connives at this, that remove the grounds for nullity. However, in the absence of the other partner's knowledge, that would remain a ground on which a civil partnership would be voidable. It must be in the public interest to prevent a party to a civil partnership from finding out that the other party was carrying a communicable sexual disease at the time that the partnership was formed, without his or her knowledge. The provision is a necessary protection to be applied in those circumstances.

We do not need to go into the crisis in sexually transmitted diseases among people of all ages. However, you may be familiar, Mr. Cook, with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology note No. 217, issued in April of this year and headed ''Teenage sexual health''. One can see from that the trends in sexually transmitted infections in 16 to 19-year-olds. To say that they present a horrendous picture is to understate the situation. We can see that

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there have been percentage increases in the incidence of various sexually transmitted disease diagnoses that range from more than 50 per cent. to doubling. We are talking about quite small numbers, but there was a fivefold increase in one sexually transmitted disease.

 
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Prepared 26 October 2004