Just to be clear, a humanist, roughly speaking, has come to mean someone who trusts the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works; rejects the idea of the supernatural, and is therefore probably an atheist or agnostic; makes ethical decisions based on reason, empathy and concern for human beings and other animals; and believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same. That definition is important, because we have heard a lot about how Jedi knights and

21 May 2013 : Column 1109

so on will be able to do this. We have also heard other definitions and talked about tiddlywinks, but it is important to realise that these are real, strong, belief cultures.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech in favour of humanist weddings. I agree with him in principle, but is he not concerned, being a believer in equal marriage—as I know he is—about the Attorney-General’s advice that if we accepted the new clause, we would threaten the religious guarantees that we have given the Church of England?

Mike Weatherley: Of course I have total respect for the Attorney-General’s opinions, but as we all know, in law and legal advice, there is no firm decision or certainty until something goes to court. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, I have yet to hear a cohesive argument for why what my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) describes would be the case. Just saying it time and time again does not make it right. If someone can say why that would happen, we would of course listen. The last thing I want to do is delay the implementation of same-sex marriage, as my hon. Friend will know, but we are in danger of missing a huge opportunity to extend equal marriage to a huge section of our population who at the moment are being ignored.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should ignore the advice and legal opinion offered by the Attorney-General? Does he think that we should just put that aside and push ahead with this provision?

Mike Weatherley: People ignore legal advice for all sorts of reasons. I am saying that I would like that legal opinion to be put to the test. We should not simply say, “Oh well, if that is the case, we will just sit back and not do this.” It is up to us to find a way of doing it. I do not happen to think that that interpretation is the correct one, and I would like to see it put to the test, as would many other people.

It is evident from what is happening in Scotland that there is a huge latent demand for humanist marriages, as well as for equal marriages. If humanism was right for my father, I for one would like to see equal marriages extended to include humanist marriage ceremonies. I would find it odd if those who supported same sex equal marriage did not also support equal marriage for others, which is why I am supporting the new clause.

Dr Huppert: It is a great pleasure to follow the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley). I also want to pay huge tribute to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). It has been a great pleasure to work with her during the passage of the Bill, and her speech today set the scene extremely well. I pay tribute to her, although I am not sure whether that will help or hinder her future plans. I thought that she did extremely well.

There are two issues that we need to debate today. One is the principle of whether we should allow humanists to conduct weddings; the other relates to the process of

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how we might get there. This is all made much more complicated because our marriage laws are incredibly complicated. They have exceptions and exemptions all over the place. The Second Church Estates Commissioner, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who speaks for the Church of England, and who I imagine knows the Marriage Act 1949 quite well, has spoken of how the rules are all tied to places. Section 26 of the Act states that marriages may be solemnised in

“a registered building…in the office of a superintendent registrar”,


“on approved premises”.

It also permits

“a marriage according to the usages of the Society of Friends (commonly called Quakers)”


“a marriage between two persons professing the Jewish religion according to the usages of the Jews”.

So we already have an exception and, as far as I can tell, the world has not fallen apart since those provisions were passed in 1949. They have worked without any problems. There are other areas of marriage law that are just complicated. We do not have a simple, clear system, and we are not going to get one as a result of any legislation that we pass today. That will involve further work.

Let me turn first to the question of principle. Is there a desire to allow humanists to conduct weddings? This was mentioned by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt). If any Member here in the Chamber disagrees with the principle of humanists being allowed to conduct weddings, I would be grateful if they intervened on me to say so. If no one expresses such a view, we will take it that there is no dissent on that principle.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is presuming; the fact those people who are currently in the Chamber do not express disagreement with him does not mean that he is right or that they all agree. That is blatantly obvious.

Mike Weatherley: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment. He is absolutely right to suggest that we cannot speculate accurately about the views of the people who are not in the Chamber. It is clear, however, that no strong views have been expressed that challenge the principle of holding humanist weddings, and I hope that that will be useful if this is discussed further in another place. There has not been a strong chorus of speeches here expressing disagreement with the principle. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the views of all 650 Members have not been taken into account, however. It would be helpful to know whether the Secretary of State supports humanist weddings in principle. She is welcome to intervene on me to give me her view on that. There is a desire for this change among the general public. Indeed, most people I have spoken to have been surprised to learn that humanist weddings are not allowed.

There are problems with how the process would work. People who had a humanist wedding would have to have a register office wedding first. Some registrars are very helpful, and make it easy for that to happen. They make it a seamless experience. Others, however, are difficult. They ensure, for example, that the events

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take place in different locations, thus breaking up the ceremony, to the detriment of people who should be having one of the happiest moments of their life. Some people who have a humanist wedding celebration do not have a legal wedding. I presume they know that they are not legally married, but that can cause problems for them. So there are concerns about the way in which the process works at the moment.

We know that this is a pro-marriage step. We have heard a lot from the Government and the Minister to say that the aim of the whole Bill is to support marriage. We know that that is what it does. We know that in Scotland between 2005 and 2011 there was a very large increase in the number of humanist weddings—the figure I have for the increase is 2,404—and there was a small decrease of 418 in civil weddings. Overall, that is a very large number of extra weddings. That is surely something that a pro-marriage Government would thoroughly want to support.

3.45 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman is making some strong points. Anecdotally, in my constituency, a former member of the Welsh Assembly who is a humanist celebrant tells me that from her experience, if the provisions were made legal, the numbers would increase. She certainly sees a demand from the people of Cardiff South and Penarth.

Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I should declare that I am a member of the British Humanist Association and an officer of the all-party parliamentary humanist group, and I have spoken to a number of people who have confirmed that there is a demand for this to happen. People wish to do humanist marriage and there does not have to be a majority before we think that it is the right thing to do.

What are the problems? This takes us to the process of how to get there. The Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury, and others have asserted that this would unpick the lock. What I never heard—perhaps we will hear it from the Minister—is exactly why the locks that protect faith groups would be unpicked by allowing humanists to act as registrars for a wedding. It is really not clear. I have heard it implied that it is because this would involve celebrants and it would not happen at a registered place. We have heard that Jews and Quakers are already exempt from the requirement to have a registered place. If the lock has already been unpicked by that, why should it be a problem? We have simply not heard any detailed analysis; it seems that people are saying things because they have been told that they are true. That is not really good enough.

I am concerned about the process that has brought us here. The Second Church Estates Commissioner—sadly, he is not in his place—suggested that the proposal was put through at the last minute and there was not enough time to deal with it adequately. I tabled my amendment initially on 5 February, immediately after Second Reading. I vividly remember it because I was slightly annoyed that somebody else had tabled another amendment before I had even got to the Table for mine. I was delighted that it received support from across the House

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and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) led on it in Committee with the support of the Labour Front-Bench team.

There was time from 5 February to make comments, and comments were made. There was detailed discussion, for example, between the British Humanist Association and Government officials. A couple of comments were made about how the provision would fit in with the locks and, interestingly, about its breadth. My original amendment would have allowed all approved organisations to participate, with a few safeguards, and did not specify humanism. The Government advice from the meetings with officials was that that should be changed. I know that the Minister disagrees, but it is entirely consistent with the letter and I was very specifically told by the BHA that it was given the advice to limit the provision to humanism.

I am happy to read out again the relevant section from the Minister’s letter:

“I note the changes that have been made to narrow the scope of the amendments to cover humanist organisations only, as we discussed.”

The letter went on to say that

“we remain of the view that”

humanist ceremonies

“cannot be dealt with in isolation”.

That is simply not consistent with the idea that the Government had no role in this.

Maria Miller: I am sorry, but I must complete what the letter sent by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), said. It went on to state clearly that

“the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is the wrong mechanism to effect the changes to marriage law that you desire. Therefore the Government is unable to support your amendments.”

I am quoting directly from the letter. That clearly shows no opaqueness in the situation. I think that the hon. Gentleman’s previous comments were not entirely consistent with what is written in the letter.

Dr Huppert: I thank the right hon. Lady for reading out the rest of the letter, and I am happy for anybody to see it; I see that her Parliamentary Private Secretary has copies of it. She is right that it did not say that the Government supported the amendment or that they had another way of delivering it; it does not say, “Here are amendments that could make it work.” It says that the Government do not support the change because it is the wrong mechanism; it does not say, “We see you have now reduced the scope and we are very worried about this because we think you should broaden it back out again to be ECHR-compliant.” It is quite clear that the strong impression formed by the BHA from the meetings—I am sure there will be minutes—is that it was given strong advice to tighten the amendment. If that is not the case, it is hard to understand why it would choose to change the original version, which is obviously available for anyone to read. There has been ample time for the Attorney-General to consider the new clause, to be consulted on it and to be asked for his ruling on whether it would accord with the European convention on human rights. Strangely, however, that did not happen until the very last moment.

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There have been other meetings. For instance, we had a detailed discussion with the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), and I thank him for his time. As he will no doubt recall, the objections that were expressed did not centre on the fact that the new clause would make the whole Bill non-compliant with the convention, but there was talk of the cost of updating the computer system to allow an extra field for humanist weddings. He is nodding. A number of other issues were raised: for example, concern was expressed about the possibility that the measure would allow humanists to conduct weddings out of doors, which members of other faiths are not allowed to do under our marriage law unless they are Jews or Quakers.

I find it truly bizarre that if there is concern about challenges with regard to the proposals before us, there is not fundamental concern about challenges to legislation under which the rules governing Jews and Quakers differ from those governing any other group. We have plenty of legislation that singles out the Church of England and the Church of Wales, because they are, or were, connected to the state. I would be grateful if the Minister, or anyone else, could tell me how many times the fact that Jews and Quakers are listed, but not Hindus, Sikhs or any other group, has been subject to a legal challenge. In fact, that simply has not happened.

I respect the Attorney-General’s position, but I do not understand how he can have formed his opinions. I hope that we will be able to see a detailed analysis, from him or from the Minister via him, explaining exactly what the objections are. Above all, however, I believe passionately that the law could be constructive. The Government do not have to agree with humanist weddings, and they do not have to agree that this is the best way to legislate, but if they are acting in good faith in relation to the concerns that are being raised, I hope that they will say not just what the problems are but how they could be fixed, because many of us want them to be fixed.

I do not mind whether this wording is retained or other wording is introduced. I do not mind if an amendment is tabled that merely adds an extra line specifying humanists beneath the words

“professing the Jewish religion according to the usages of the Jews”.

I do not mind if the Government present, or find time for, another Bill to deal with the issue. I simply want humanist weddings to take place. I hope that the Minister and the Attorney-General will not just erect barriers, but will help this Parliament to do what it clearly wants to do.

Stephen Williams: I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) in paying tribute to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). In Committee, the debate took place the other way around: I spoke to the amendment first, and she spoke second.

It has been a pleasure to work across and among parties on this issue, because it is not a divisive issue. We all genuinely want to correct what we consider an anomaly in the law. I am, however, deeply disappointed that we have found ourselves where we are today. As my

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hon. Friend said, the Second Reading debate took place on 5 February, and the sitting of the Bill Committee during which I proposed the original amendment took place on 12 March. I know that two Departments are considering the Bill, and that No. 10 and the Deputy Prime Minister have been involved as well, but there has been quite a lot of time for the issues to be resolved.

It is disappointing that today, almost at the eleventh hour and 59 minutes, the magic bullet, or nuclear weapon, of the Attorney-General has been wheeled out to tell us that the new clause falls foul of the European convention on human rights. That was never put to us on Second Reading or in Committee, or during the many bilateral private discussions which have taken place between the various parties and Ministries that have been involved in putting the new clause together.

Other, spurious, objections have been made at various times. It has been said, for instance, that the new clause would create an exception. However, as a number of people have pointed out, the law in England and Wales already makes exceptions for the Jewish community and for Quakers. Even more spurious objections have been presented, and leaked to the Daily Mail. Another thing that I find deeply disappointing is that both the Daily Mail and The Sun specifically named both the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston and me as being in favour of Jedi weddings—or the pagan ceremonies in Scotland about which we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who speaks for the Church of England.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): The force is not with them.

Stephen Williams: Indeed; the force is not with those arguments!

The other argument that has been put forward is that this Bill is the wrong vehicle at the wrong time. I ask this of the Government Front-Bench team: if not now, when? Marriage Bills are not introduced in this place very often. I am sure the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will correct me if my chronology is wrong, but I think that since the Reformation there was a marriage Bill in the reign of George III to deal with clandestine marriages, there was civil registration in 1837, divorce was legalised in 1857 and there was one marriage law in the 20th century, which was in 1949—and that is it in the whole sweep of hundreds of years of history of this Parliament debating law. This is our opportunity in the first decade of this century to try to get it right.

Chris Bryant: There was more legislation before that as well, not least the Book of Common Prayer, which lays down specific aspects. My main point, however, is that the Hardwicke Act of 1753 tried to rectify the situation that people did not need a Church of England vicar, a minister of religion or a building in order to get married, and that all they needed to do was plight their troth. That is why the situation was tidied up. Unfortunately, a near-monopoly was then given to one religion, and the Quakers and the Jews were allowed in at that point.

Stephen Williams: I suppose I did tempt the hon. Gentleman to intervene, although I did also say “since the Reformation”. As a genealogist in my spare time, I am also very familiar with the Hardwicke Act of 1753.

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So, to return to my point, if not now, when? The Government have not addressed that question to our satisfaction. Instead, we are left with a suspicion that there is no good will and no intention to allow a clear pathway towards humanist weddings being given legal status.

The new clause has been very carefully drafted and redrafted since the Committee stage to take account of the objections, of which we were aware at that time. It clearly says that this right will only be granted to an organisation that is a

“registered charity…advancing…the non-religious belief known as humanism”.

It also says the registered charity must have existed for five years and the Registrar-General must be satisfied it is “of good repute.” We have heard of many other locks in the course of our discussions of this Bill, but this is surely a triple-lock that ought to satisfy everyone.

When we were considering whether opposite-sex couples should be allowed to enter into civil partnerships, it was asked where the evidence was that people would want to do that. In the context of this new clause, there is clear evidence that there is demand for humanist weddings north of the border, where they are now the third most popular means of getting married, and some of the people who are getting married in Scotland are from England and Wales, because they cannot legally do so in Bristol or anywhere else in England or Wales. This new clause certainly meets a need, therefore.

Our current law is completely out of step with society. Sometimes Parliament has to give a lead and bring the public with it. In this instance, however, we are in danger of being seen as behind the grain of public opinion and of public demand for humanist marriage to be legalised. I hope that at the last minute, when the Secretary of State speaks in a few moments, we will grasp victory out of the jaws of defeat.

What I do not want to hear from the Secretary of State is the same old situation from the Government of “Heads we win, tails you lose.” I hope we do not get into that situation. There is good will among parliamentarians of all parties to legalise humanist weddings, and I hope we will take a step towards achieving that today.

Maria Miller: We have had a robust and impassioned debate on a subject about which people feel very strongly. I must make it clear from the start that it is not, and continues not to be, the objective of this Bill to extend marriage to belief groups, which is, to all intents and purposes, what many of the amendments in this group would do. I do, however, join other Members in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who is representing the Opposition on these proposals, because she spoke with passion and eloquence about the importance of humanist ceremonies in celebrating marriage.

The hon. Lady is right to say that for many people who undertake such ceremonies, they can be an important way of marking and celebrating such an event, but it is important to make the point that neither is this the time nor is the Bill the place to make the sorts of changes she is advocating, unless she wants to risk the objective of the Bill, which is to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

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Humanists can already marry, but same-sex couples cannot, and that is the unfairness that the Bill is designed to remove.

4 pm

I shall have to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) by saying that I think there is some principled opposition to the amendments in this group. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) stated some strong and principled objections. The Government’s argument, which I will set out, also contains principled objections.

New clause 15, new schedule 1 and amendments 19, 20 and 21 are intended to enable humanists, but no other belief organisation, to conduct legally recognised marriages in ceremonies according to their beliefs. That is not a simple change but a fundamental shift in the system of regulation that safeguards the institution of marriage. The amendments would create a manifestly unfair and inequitable position that was vulnerable to legal challenge—a point that the Attorney-General made eloquently in his interventions. They would also undermine the quadruple lock in the Bill designed to protect religious organisations that do not want to conduct same-sex marriages, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury pointed out.

The amendments would create a new route to marriage—a two-tiered system—and we simply cannot support them. They would unravel the foundations of marriage law and require the introduction of a celebrant-based system for marriage, instead of the current buildings-based system. There would be far-reaching consequences to making such a fundamental change. For example, a move away from a premises-based system to a celebrant-based one would mean that any organisation that successfully applied could hold marriages wherever it wished. In Scotland, where there is a celebrant-based system, members of organisations that we in England and Wales would not traditionally associate with undertaking marriage have been given the authority to do so. Hon. Members have already mentioned the White Eagle Lodge, pagans and the Spiritualists’ National Union, which have been able to conduct marriages. It is entirely up to the authorities in Scotland to enable that to happen, but the House must understand that that would be the potential outcome if the amendments were incorporated into the Bill.

The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) made several important points about Scots law, the Council of Europe and whether there would be an issue for Scotland. Scots law is not incompatible with the ECHR, as other belief organisations can conduct legal marriages. That is our point, and in a way he has proved my point for me: the amendments would not enable that, that is why they would leave the Bill in a very difficult position.

Dr Huppert: There are many points on which I would love to tackle the Secretary of State, including the idea that the amendments are allowing everybody in one version, and not enough people in another, and that either way they fail the Goldilocks test. She makes the case, as I understand it, that if we allowed a route that was not premises-based, it would mean completely redoing marriage law. Does she accept that marriage law already

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has routes for Jews and for Quakers that are not premises-based, and that to have a route that is not premises-based simply cannot fundamentally weaken marriage law, as it would have done so since 1949 and before then?

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend reads my mind, because I was about to go on to that very point. He is right: it is important that we recognise that those of the Jewish faith and Quakers have a particular position, and we have been accommodating their needs since marriage was first regulated in this country back in 1753, as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned. That is a long-standing historical arrangement designed to respect and accommodate ancient and religious traditions. My hon. Friend will understand that because it has been established in time, it cannot be changed retrospectively and it is therefore entirely consistent with the position set out by the Attorney-General.

Kelvin Hopkins: I do not follow the right hon. Lady’s logic. She says that the Jews and the Quakers have a particular position, which has been accommodated. Why cannot we have a particular position, which is accommodated too?

Maria Miller: Because the existing arrangement pre-dates the European convention on human rights, as the hon. Gentleman knows. That is the anomaly. Furthermore, it is not legally possible to restrict—

Mr Blunt: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Maria Miller: May I make a tiny bit of progress before taking my hon. Friend’s intervention?

Furthermore, it is not legally possible to restrict the approved organisations approach only to humanism. There can be no basis to justify a difference of treatment between one belief organisation and another, and if we did so we would be vulnerable to legal challenge—the very point that the Attorney-General made. If the amendment were accepted, I would have to consider whether I could sign a section 19(1)(a) statement, indicating that in my view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the European convention on human rights, on the introduction of the Bill in another place. I would probably have to sign a section 19(1)(b) statement that I cannot state that in my view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the convention, because of the different treatment of humanists and other belief organisations. That is clear, it is a statement of fact and it is entirely consistent with the situation outlined by the Attorney-General.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said, the amendment would clearly make the Bill incompatible with the European convention on human rights. This is a complicated issue that could be looked at further in the other place, but I want to make it clear to the House today that if the issue is discussed in the Lords, further information can be provided if that is requested and required. I am happy to write to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, and to place a copy of my letter in the Library, setting out the legal objections offered to the House today. I hope that

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would help to inform proceedings in the other place. I would be happy to copy the letter to the Liberal Democrat spokesman.

Kate Green: May we ask that that letter sets out in detail the Government’s objections in the context of the convention on human rights, and that there will be no gaps? It seems to us that new objections have emerged even in the course of the debate this afternoon, so I would be grateful for the right hon. Lady’s assurance that that will be a comprehensive statement of the Government’s concerns in relation to the European convention on human rights.

Maria Miller: I am happy to say that the letter would be a comprehensive statement of the concerns that I have. I have covered many of those today, but I will consider whether there are any that I have not included for reasons of time. I am happy to be as helpful as I can.

Mr Blunt: My right hon. Friend has advanced the rather preposterous proposition that the United Kingdom’s accession to the European convention on human rights is now acting to limit the rights of members of our population—humanists—to conduct marriages. That goes to the central point. I will be happy if she can give the House the assurance that the Government are in principle in favour of humanists conducting marriage, and that they will use the resources at their disposal to find a way of getting that on to the statute book. If it is not going to happen in the course of the Bill—I do not want the Bill delayed, any more than anyone else—at least the Government can make that statement of policy intent.

Maria Miller: My hon. Friend may not have fully understood the argument being put forward by the Attorney-General. The issue is that the amendments discriminate in favour of one group over another. Humanists are being singled out for particular treatment. I am very happy to set out the argument fully. This is a different situation from—

Mr Blunt: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Maria Miller: Will my hon. Friend allow me to respond to his intervention before he intervenes on me again?

This is a particularly difficult area. Marriage law and the principles behind it have evolved over many centuries, as the hon. Member for Rhondda pointed out. Yes, there are anomalies in some areas, but we are talking about a particular set of amendments relating to humanists and the problem that would be faced if they were incorporated in the Bill. It is not the Government’s policy to extend marriage in the way that my hon. Friend is talking about. Humanists can already get married. The Bill is all about ensuring that people who cannot currently get married—same-sex couples—are able to do so. That should be the focus of our discussions.

I also draw hon. Members’ attention to the confusing and contradictory nature of the amendments. Is humanism non-religious, as suggested in the definition of approved organisations in new clause 15? If so, would the protections in the Bill for religious organisations apply? There was some confusion about that, particularly as to whether

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this would allow the marriage of same-sex couples. Or is humanism religious, as suggested in amendments 20 and 21, which add reference to approved organisations to the definition of a “relevant religious organisation”? Are we clear what humanism means in legislative terms, and who the definition would catch? The amendments simply highlight some of the problems that would arise from trying to shoehorn a new category of marriage into the current legal framework.

Dr Huppert: I do not think that the Secretary of State quite addressed the question put by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), which was whether in principle—if there was a way that did not involve the Bill, did not have ECHR problems and did not cause any other problems—she and the Government would support the concept of humanist weddings.

I am really rising because I am so shocked at the concerns about the extra amendments, which again were inserted at the suggestion of Government officials. The BHA has changed this to suit the Government, and the Government then complain about the changes.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Mr. Huppert, it is not necessary to restate at length a previous question. I remind you that interventions should be brief, not a series of questions. It would help enormously if we stuck to those conventions.

Maria Miller: I can be very clear. It is not coalition policy to undertake the actions that the hon. Gentleman outlines. I have already dealt with the comments made about the work of my officials. Most individuals who have been dealing with my officials have found their work incredibly diligent and helpful. I am sorry that he does not feel that that has been the case in this instance.

New clause 14 would create a new status of civil union and repeal the Marriage Act 1949. That would prevent the creation of any new marriages: put simply, England and Wales would no longer recognise marriage within the law. It seems that the intention here is that civil unions would replace marriages—a change that would affect everyone who wants to marry in England and Wales in the future. That is simply not a position that the Government can support.

Conversely, the Bill is about strengthening marriage, and the Government strongly oppose any measure that would undermine marriage. New clause 14 would damage the important institution of marriage beyond repair. It would to all intents and purposes abolish it. I therefore note and welcome the intention of the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) not to press the new clause to a vote. It is not something that we could support if he were to do so.

Greg Mulholland: I thank my right hon. Friend for that kind acknowledgment. The new clause was very much an attempt to show that we should be separating the state recognition of marriage from the religious. That is the point, not what it is called in the end. We are changing the institution of marriage through the Bill anyway, so to do so properly and more succinctly is something that should be explored in the other place.

Maria Miller: I do not believe that we are changing marriage. Marriage is one state, which we are enabling a new set of individuals to access, so I do not agree with

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my hon. Friend’s argument. This is not about changing marriage; it is about ensuring that more people can get into it.

4.15 pm

Greg Mulholland: Will my right hon. Friend give way, briefly?

Maria Miller: I will make some progress, because we have another string of amendments to get through.

The effect of new clause 18 and amendments 58 and 59 would be to require all marriages not conducted through a religious ceremony to be called civil marriages. The intention seems to be to separate marriage conducted through civil and religious ceremonies into two distinct institutions. Let me be clear that there is one legal institution of marriage in England and Wales that couples —all couples, we hope, as a result of the Bill—can join through either a religious or a civil ceremony. The new clause would create a separate type of marriage without any consideration of the legal impact. The legal consequences of such a new distinction are completely unclear.

New clause 18 contains no reference to same-sex couples, so it does not seem to require that such couples should be limited to access to civil marriage only, which might be thought to have been the purpose of distinguishing between religious and civil marriage for legal purposes. That is simply not something the Government can support. We all want couples to be able to access the important and single institution of marriage, and that is what the Bill is about. The Bill has one clear and straightforward purpose: opening up the existing institution of marriage to same-sex couples. It is not designed for the sort of fundamental changes proposed in the new clause.

Simon Hughes: Does the Minister not accept, however, that there are many people who believe that the civil status of coming together in marriage should be open to straight and gay couples alike, but that people of faith and faith groups should be free to define what they understand as marriage? Some of them would permit same-sex marriage, but some of them take a different view and would not.

Maria Miller: I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend says and think that is what the Bill delivers. It delivers the ability of civil marriage to accommodate same-sex couples and enables religious organisations that wish to opt into that to do so, but allows others not to if that is what they choose. That is an important and fundamental principle of the Bill that I think reflects what he has just said.

I believe that the changes proposed in the amendments are an unnecessary and potentially unhelpful diversion from the important objective we are trying to achieve: removing the unfairness that excludes same-sex couples from being able to marry. We must remain focused on that objective and not be sidelined into discussions on other issues at this point. I ask hon. Members not to press these amendments, so that we can proceed to discuss the next group.

Kate Green: I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this interesting and, at times, passionate debate. I pay particular tribute to the hon.

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Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who tabled the amendment that led us to new clause 15, and the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), who first tabled it in Committee, for the work we have been able to do across parties to bring the proposal to the Floor of the House this afternoon.

Despite the fact that the proposal has been before the House in some form or other since 5 February, as the hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out, it seems that the legal doubts expressed this afternoon by the Attorney-General have come to us rather late in the day. That does not mean that we do not take them extremely seriously; of course we do, but it would have been helpful to know that discussions were taking place with officials, whether or not they were proactively suggesting that such changes to the original proposal would help to strengthen it. The fact that discussions took place some weeks ago means that it is a matter of particular regret that the legal difficulties with the proposal were not highlighted earlier.

The Secretary of State said that my amendment and, I think, others in the group were unnecessary. For humanists, it is not unnecessary at all. Yes, they can choose to have a civil marriage and a humanist ceremony, but they do not have available to them a ceremony that they feel would properly recognise them as marrying one another and making that public commitment in front of family and friends. That is the discrimination that we seek to address. However, I take very seriously her wish, which she knows we share very strongly, to see this Bill proceed. We do not want it to be delayed or have its development and progress inhibited by arguments about these proposals.

I want to pick up on one or two of the objections that were raised not only by Ministers but by other hon. Members around the Chamber, suggesting that there are still genuine uncertainties about what is and is not provided for in current law and what we now seek to achieve. If the Secretary of State is willing to come forward with a statement of the Government’s legal concerns, that would be extremely helpful in properly facing off all the objections that have been raised in time for them to be understood and considered before the Bill is debated in the House of Lords. We do not want a re-run of objections arriving late or being raised without justification. It is clear from what has been said today that many hon. Members would like the Government’s position to be fully argued in good time for a fully informed debate in the House of Lords.

Some Members, particularly the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) and the Secretary of State, have said repeatedly that these proposals in some way undermine the quadruple lock that has been put in place. The Secretary of State suggested that that is because it is not clear whether the protections that it affords would apply to humanists, and if so, that might undermine the protections for religious organisations. If so, it would be extremely helpful to understand exactly how that is. We would be grateful if the Secretary of State fully clarified that in the letter that she says she will make available to the House.

A misunderstanding has come up repeatedly this afternoon. We recognise that the system in England is different from the system in Scotland, which registers

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celebrants. The system in England is not based only on the registration of premises for Jews and Quakers, for example. There is no requirement for them to hold their ceremonies in certain premises, but they are required to hold ceremonies in accordance with their usages. What is more, the amendment would not attach registration to celebrants. It is about registering organisations, and one form of organisation in particular—that which is a belief organisation, a charitable organisation or a humanist organisation that secures the approval and authorisation of the Registrar General. It is very clear which kind of institution we are trying to cover.

The most serious objection is the human rights objection, which, sadly, only emerged at the beginning of this afternoon. I would be grateful if any hon. Member who participated during the earlier stages of the Bill and who remembers differently could correct me, but I do not recall the human rights objection being raised at any point before this afternoon. Of course it is vital that we take account of the Attorney-General’s concerns and advice on this matter; it would be utterly irresponsible of us not to do so. However, even the Attorney-General’s advice changed over the course of this afternoon. At the beginning of the afternoon, he said that there was a problem with the proposal because it could apply so widely that any organisation, including a society for the promotion of tiddlywinks, might potentially be discriminated against if it were not authorised to carry out marriages as well. I think that he rowed back from that later on and acknowledged that only belief organisations would be authorised. He was right to say that the possibility of discrimination between different belief organisations is the central human rights issue that must be addressed.

The Attorney-General: Let me make it quite clear that it has to be a belief organisation because unless there are some grounds for belief, I assume that there is no reason for carrying out a ceremony. I am sorry if my point sounded flippant, because it was not intended to be. My point was that belief organisations can be very wide in their scope and are certainly not confined to humanism.

Kate Green: I appreciate the Attorney-General’s concern that there could be human rights challenges on those grounds. It would be useful to know how he assesses the chances of such a challenge being successful and to understand on what basis a challenge might be argued. It would also be useful to know what precedent there is of such challenges being successful elsewhere.

I am prepared to wait for the fully analysed opinion to be presented to the House. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to provide that in good time before the Bill proceeds through the House of Lords. I hope that she will take note of our interest in having a proactive opinion, as the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) said, that identifies how any defects in the proposal could be cured, as the Attorney-General has mentioned. Given the commitment from the Secretary of State, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9

Conversion of civil partnership into marriage

Dr Huppert: I beg to move amendment 15, page 10, line 24, at end add—

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‘(9) Where a civil partnership formed under part 1, section 96 of the Civil Partnership Act (Civil Partnership with former spouse) is converted into a marriage under this section—

(a) the civil partnership ends on the conversion, and

(b) if both partners so elect, the resulting marriage is to be treated as having subsisted since the marriage dissolved under Schedule 2 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was formed.’.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 25 to 39.

Amendment 49, in schedule 4, page 33, leave out from line 42 to line 4 on page 34 and insert—

‘(2) Omit sub-paragraph (1).’.

Government amendments 40 to 47.

Amendment 13, in schedule 5, page 36, leave out lines 10 to 37 and insert—

‘Section 4 (successful applications): for subsections (2) and (3) substitute—

“(2) The certificate is to be a full gender recognition certificate if—

(a) the applicant is not a civil partner and does not request an interim gender recognition certificate,

(b) or the applicant is a civil partner who does not request an interim gender recognition certificate and the Panel has deceided to issue a full gender recognition certificate to the other party to the civil partnership.

(3) The certificate is to be an interim gender recognition certificate if either—

(a) the applicant is a party to a protected civil partnership and the other party to the civil partnership has not made an application under section 1(1).

(b) the applicant is a party to a protected civil partnership and the Panel had decided not to issue a full gender recognition certificate to the other party to the civil partnership,

(c) or the applicants is party to a protected marriage, requests an interim gender recognition certificate and the application includes a statutory declaration of consent from the applicant’s spouse.

(3A) If a gender recognition panel issues a full gender recognition certificate under this section to an applicant who is a party to a marriage or civil partnership, the panel must give the applicant’s spouse notice of the issue of the certificate.”.’.

Amendment 14, schedule 5, page 39, line 39, leave out

‘(by virtue of section 4(2)(b) or (4A)’.

Amendment 18, in schedule 5, page 40, line 18, at end insert—

‘One-off compensation payment to couples whose marriages were annulled to permit a person to obtain a gender recognition certificate

9A Schedule 4 (Effect on Marriage): at beginning insert—

“(1) This section applies to a formerly married couple whose marriage was annulled in order to permit one or both partners to that marriage to obtain a full gender recognition certificate, provided that—

(a) the marriage was annulled following the coming into force of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and

(b) the formerly married couple either—

(a) (i) formed a civil partnership with each other within six months of the annulment of their marriage, and continue to maintain their civil partnership, or

(ii) have continued to live together as a couple in the same household since the annulment of their marriage.

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(2) The couple shall be compensated from public funds to the amount of £1,000 by way of apology for the distress and costs incurred as a result of the annulment of their marriage.”.’.

Amendment 22, in schedule 5, page 40, line 18, at end insert—

‘Reinstatement of marriages annulled to permit a person to obtain a gender recognition certificate

9A Schedule 4 (Effect on Marriage): at beginning insert—

“(1) This section applies to a formerly married couple whose marriage was annulled in order to permit one or both partners to that marriage to obtain a full gender recognition certificate, provided that—

(a) the couple have continued to live together in the same household since the annulment of their marriage, and

(b) both partners to the former marriage give notice to a registrar that they wish their marriage to be reinstated.

(2) When notice is given under (1)(b), the marriage shall be reinstated with effect from the date the couple give notice to have it reinstated.”.’.

Amendment 16, in schedule 5, page 40, leave out lines 30 and 31 and insert—

‘(a) the registration of qualifying marriages,

(b) the registration of qualifying civil partnerships,

(c) the issue of replacement marriage certificates displaying the new details of the parties to the marriage but maintaining the original date,

(d) the issue of replacement birth certificates where the application is shown on the certificate, with the consent of the other parent named and—

(i) where the child has reached 16 years of age, the consent of the child to whom the birth certificate relates,

(ii) where the child has not yet reached the age of 16 years, the consent of the other parent named on the birth certificate, where present.’.

Government amendment 48.

Amendment 12, schedule 7, page 50, line 37, at end insert—

‘24A Section 12 (grounds on which a marriage is voidable): omit paragraph (h).’.

Dr Huppert: We now move on to a rather different subject, but it is still an important one that affects a number of people greatly. A range of issues apply specifically to people who change their gender, who transition between genders or who are transgender. There may not be a huge number of people in that category and they may be a small minority, but they have been subject to some of the worst discrimination over many years and decades. Indeed, that has happened partly because there are not as many people in that group as in other groups.

Another group that we will not talk about specifically today is that of people who are intersex and who do not associate with one gender for a range of reasons. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has tabled some amendments to clarify the position for such people. I assume that it is clear that the Government’s intention is that marriage will be equal and will not exclude those who do not identify as male or female. I assume that there is no intention to discriminate. We therefore need to focus on the specific issues for the small group of people who are transgender.

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Last Friday was IDAHO—the international day against homophobia and transphobia—and I spoke to people who have suffered such discrimination at an event in my constituency. My constituency is perhaps uniquely blessed in having not only a number of people who are out about the fact that they are transgender—many people, for understandable reasons, are cagey about admitting that they are transgender—but a number of transgender people who have been elected to the local council. Indeed, we had the first transgender mayor in the country. She was very proud of that role.

There is far too much transphobia, which many people have to face. Like other hon. Members, I have worked with Trans Media Watch, which keeps an eye on the truly disgusting articles that appear in the press about people who are transgender. I heard a number of awful stories at a recent event. To give one of the many examples, Lucy Meadows, a primary school teacher, killed herself after a very nasty article came out in the Daily Mail shortly after she transitioned. That is not acceptable in society, and we need to make a stand against it.

Sometimes, such things happen because people wish to be actively nasty. Sometimes, problems are caused for people who are transgender because of problems with the legislation that we produce. We do not always think of people who are transgender when we are writing legislation and there can be unintended consequences. I do not believe that this Government or the last Government have ever intended to discriminate against people who are transgender, but it has happened by accident.

We have had a few specialist debates—for instance, about which gender of police officer should search people who are transgender. I proposed that we should just ask people whom they wished to be search by, which would resolve the problem.

4.30 pm

One problem that many transgender people face is when their marriage is stolen from them. A number of people are in a perfectly stable and loving married couple, one of whom wishes to transition. I know a number of people in that category. As it happens, the ones I know have been male to female transitions, but that is not uniquely so at all. Under the current law, for somebody to transition, they have to end the marriage. We, the state, say to people who still love each other, “You must get a divorce and break your marriage.” They were allowed a civil partnership when those were introduced, but they still have to go through that process, which is quite an upsetting thing to do.

There is some good journalism about transgender issues. There was a piece in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago about one of my constituents, Sarah Brown, who is a city councillor in Cambridge. She and her partner Sylvia, who were married, still live together and are still in a loving couple. The article states:

“For Sylvia, the toughest part of Sarah’s transition was being forced to replace their marriage with a civil partnership. ‘I thought it wouldn’t make a difference,’ says Sylvia. ‘I’m a scientist, I’m rational. It’s just a bit of paper, but it made us cry.’ In contrast to the poetry of the wedding vows, they found the language of the civil partnership ceremony like a business arrangement.

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Sylvia and Sarah hope to remarry when the marriage (same-sex couples) bill becomes law, but their original marriage can never be restored in the eyes of the law. ‘When the registrar pronounced us civil partners it felt like the state was kicking us in the teeth,’ adds Sarah.”

That is what we as a country did—not deliberately in any way, but by accident—and many people feel the same. That is why I have tabled a range of amendments and worked with colleagues who care about these issues, of whom there are a number in all parties, to see what we can do to fix this.

We can now make some amends, because some of the couples affected will now be able to move to a marriage, as Sylvia and Sarah talked about doing. Amendment 15 simply argues that when such couples convert back from a civil partnership into a marriage, if both wish to do so, they should be able to count the marriage as having continued during the gap. In that way, we would be saying that, because we took their marriage from them for that period, we would let them count as having been married even though in fact they had to go through a civil partnership and then back again.

The amendment might have all sorts of effects, including on pensions, although I do not think it would have any financial consequences on a scale that the Government should be concerned about. Mostly, it would have a moral effect on the couples involved. It would say to a couple who stayed together through a transition that their relationship continued and that we value it as such. I do not intend to press it to a vote, but I expect the Government to consider it carefully and I hope that some progress will be made either here or in the other place, so that we can provide some restoration for the people whom we forced to go through the process.

I support amendments 18 and 22, which I believe that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) will discuss later, as they would also take some steps in the right direction. Amendment 18 would provide £1,000 in compensation to people who lost their marriage, not because we value that stolen marriage at £1,000—that is not the point in any way—but to acknowledge that we forced people into something that we should not have forced them into, so causing them genuine emotional hardship. Amendment 22 is an alternative way to restore the lost marriages and does not go quite as far as amendment 15. The point that I wish to make is not about the exact details; it is that we need to make restoration for people who went through the process.

None of the amendments is quite perfect. One person in a same-sex couple in a civil partnership might transition in future, in which case they would not be allowed to continue in that civil partnership. They would have the route of changing to a marriage available to them, so it is less of a concern, but it is a small anomaly.

Amendment 15 seeks to right a wrong that we have caused. I fear, however, that we may make errors in the Bill, not because of any intent to get things wrong, but because of the consequences of complex issues working together. Amendments 13 and 14 deal with one such issue. Where a couple are married and one transitions, there is a requirement to have a gender recognition certificate. Under current provisions, their partner would have to agree to allow them to get that certificate. Therefore, if I am married to somebody and wish to transition and change my gender, they get to veto whether that is fully legally recognised. Why should that

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be? A relationship might have terminally broken down for some reason, in which case it is possibly heading towards divorce, but that may not be so. The couple might not wish to go through that, yet one person is allowed to say to the other, “You may not do this; you may not legally change your gender fully. You will have to force through a divorce, which can take a very long time.” We should try to avoid the spousal veto.

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree it is bizarre that a man or woman who is transitioning can have surgery and change their name but cannot have a gender realignment certificate without spousal approval?

Dr Huppert: I find it very bizarre. There are a number of anomalies in the whole process because of how it is set up, but a gender recognition certificate may be applied for only two years after someone has transitioned into the acquired gender full time, so there has already been quite a long time to try to sort out other issues. Amendments 13 and 14 would simply end the spousal veto, so that people who transition do not have to rely on their spouses to give approval. Some spouses will not give permission for that to happen.

Amendment 16 deals with marriage and birth certificates when there are transgender issues. It argues that replacement marriage certificates should be available for people who have transitioned, so that we do not force them to be outed every time they have to show a marriage certificate. We would reissue a marriage certificate with the original date and new names. That is a simple thing, but it will make a big difference. Not everybody who has transitioned wants to be known as somebody who transitioned. Many people just want to be known by their new name and new gender, and they do not wish to explain their past in every case. They already face that often enough when dealing with various institutions and medical issues. We should not force people to out themselves every time that they need to present a marriage certificate.

Bob Stewart: There will be problems with police records, for example, if people change names like that, and that will cause a big problem.

Dr Huppert: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. In many cases, of course, there is no problem, and there are technical ways in which the issue has been resolved. It is already possible for people to transition and the state manages to cope—income tax, HMRC and other systems manage to cope and each have detailed arrangements. I do not think that would pose a problem for somebody transitioning to avoid their previous criminal record, but it would avoid their being outed inadvertently or accidently, which is a genuine fear for a large number of transgender people.

At the moment, a child’s birth certificate cannot be reissued on the parent’s transition. Again, that raises concerns about privacy and outing, not just for the transperson but for their families, for example, when applying for school places. Under the amendment, replacement birth certificates could be issued with the new gender and with the consent of the child once they have reached an age at which they are able to consent. Older children should clearly have some say in this.

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Such a provision would protect the privacy of the person who has transitioned where such information should not be revealed.

Clause 12 relates to an interesting aspect of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which gives grounds to void a marriage. It states that a marriage can be voided if

“the respondent is a person whose gender at the time of the marriage had become the acquired gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.”

If somebody marries somebody who has already transitioned, they can at any point cancel the marriage on that ground. Technically, that applies only if the person did not know that their partner had transitioned, but the problem is that, if someone is not public about the fact that they have transitioned, they are at risk of their partner, at any time, saying, “I did not realise.” There would be little proof, unless we expect transpeople always to tell others.

We could get rid of that anomaly and still allow normal divorce proceedings to be started. The marriage could still be ended if there was an incompatible breakdown when a person discovers the history of their partner—there would still be a way out for them if they feel they cannot continue—but we should remove the automatic sense that somebody has done something wrong simply by being transgender. That is a real concern. There have been such cases in Scotland—they were not to do with marriage, but with other sexual interactions—and there have been sex-by-fraud cases simply because somebody was transgender. We simply should not allow that to happen. Those are small and specific issues, but the proposals will make a difference to a persecuted minority within our country.

Government amendments on pensions and transgender people are welcome. I thank the Government for making that step, which is welcomed by the trans community and is to be supported.

Before I conclude, I want to highlight amendment 49, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). I hope she does not mind my speaking to it before she does. The amendment would end a bizarre anomaly. If I marry somebody and die, they get a survivor’s pension related to the amount of time that I have spent in work. However, if I have a civil partnership with somebody and die, the payment they receive is related not to the time when I started work, but to the time when civil partnerships came into existence. That is bizarre. Any insurer would not know whether I would choose a marriage or civil partnership. It seems odd that one pension is backdated to when I started work, and the other goes only part way. It would make sense if both pensions dated back to the date of the marriage—I can understand the logic, although I do not believe that that is the right solution—but there is a blatant and odd inequality.

Most employers pay no attention to the anomaly because they are keen to be helpful to their employees. Many of them can nominate people to whom they are not married to receive the survivor’s pension. However, we should not have such inequality written in law. I apologise to the hon. Lady for saying that before she has had a chance to do so.

I hope that the Government take those issues seriously, because we can fix anomalies of the past and avoid making further ones in the present.

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Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). I will address many of the issues he has raised. As he said powerfully, the amendments seek to provide some small right to the dreadful wrong that has been done to those couples who were forced by the state to annul marriages in order for one of them to avail themselves of their most basic civil rights.

Amendments 18 and 22 are in the name of the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), who is unable to be in the Chamber today because he is attending the spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I gladly agreed to speak to the amendments as the second signatory, because I have long been concerned to see that injustice rectified.

I shall provide the House with the case example that led the hon. Gentleman to table the amendments. His constituents have been married for 35 years as man and wife. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 forced them to annul their marriage, which they did in 2007, so that the male-to-female transsexual in the relationship could obtain a gender recognition certificate in her acquired gender and get on with her life. The legislation did not allow the couple to continue to be married even though they wanted that. Both were extremely clear that they wished to stay together and did not want a divorce. They had cared for, supported and loved each other as a married couple for more than 30 years, and wanted the care and support they mutually offered each other to continue in the years ahead. They wanted to keep their family together for their own sake and for the sake of their children.

Since being forced to annul their marriage, the couple have lived together as two women in a civil partnership. They entered into a civil partnership on the very same day their marriage ended and still live together, but they should never have been made to annul their marriage, even if an alternative legal mechanism was available in the form of a civil partnership. They have lived together continuously for 44 years and it is their marriage anniversary that they still celebrate. For many couples, annulment was deeply distressing and not something of mere technical and legal significance.

As I think we would all recognise, reasons for marrying and making a public commitment are intensely personal and varied. For some, marriage is not just about legal practicalities, and the blunt replacement of one legal mechanism with another is not the end of the matter. Other hon. Members will have similar cases. The number of people involved is not large—a point I will come on to in a moment—but the injustice done to them is real. We ought to take this opportunity to go some way to righting the wrong done.

What can the Government do to make amends? Amendment 18 proposes to require the Government to make a one-off compensation payment from public funds to couples whose marriages were annulled, to permit a person to obtain a gender recognition certificate and enter into or continue to maintain a civil partnership; or to those who have continued to live together as a couple in the same household since the annulment of their marriage, but who did not choose to go down the route of a civil partnership. It is a simple principle: married couples forced by the state to have an annulment that they did not want should be compensated by the Government by way of an apology for the distress and

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cost incurred as a result of the annulment of their marriage. The amendment proposes a nominal sum of £1,000. The public expenditure implications would be negligible—we know the numbers are small, as I will go on to explain in a moment. The £1,000 compensation payment would be far less than the cost for couples who have had to pay for a divorce and a civil partnership ceremony.

4.45 pm

A written question, answered by the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), the Minister with responsibility for equality, confirmed that 151 interim gender recognition certificates were made—the certificates given when someone seeking full legal recognition is in a pre-existing marriage. The interim certificate could be used as grounds for annulment. After annulment, a full certificate giving the long sought-after civil rights could then be issued. Some of those 151 couples will have gone on to divorce and continue to live with, or form civil partnerships with, their former spouses. It is only they who would be eligible for compensation under the amendment, so the cost would probably be no more than tens of thousands of pounds and could not, at the absolute maximum, be any more than £151,000. The financial implications of the amendment, therefore, are tiny to the point of being negligible. This is about a symbolic apology: the state apologising for having, as the hon. Member for Cambridge put it, stolen those marriages.

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene on what is a very interesting contribution. Will she clarify a small point, but one that is of great significance to those in Northern Ireland? I am following the logic of her argument. Under schedule 2 to the Bill, those in England and Wales can avail themselves of same-sex marriage. As soon as they go to Northern Ireland, however, that marriage would have to be treated as a civil partnership. Is the logic of her argument that the state that passed the legislation must also compensate those who regard themselves as married couples in England and Wales, but become civil partners again in Northern Ireland?

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Given that we are talking about a symbolic apology, it would be generous and appropriate for it to be offered in Northern Ireland too. My argument is not a narrow legal argument. A wrong was done. To the extent that the wrong was done by the Government, one can make an argument that the measure is relevant only to those who were living in the country at that time.

Lady Hermon: It is very generous of the hon. Lady to take a second intervention. Just to be clear, I was not making a recommendation that compensation be paid by the state. I was simply asking the hon. Lady whether her amendments would oblige the Government to pay compensation in the circumstances she outlined. Is the logic of her argument that she would advocate compensation in Northern Ireland? I certainly am not doing so.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification. In that case, my answer is simple: yes, I would.

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Amendment 22 would remove any reference to compensation and deal specifically with the reinstatement of marriages in cases where couples had their marriages annulled, so that a person could obtain a gender recognition certificate and continue to live together without forming a civil partnership. In cases where civil partnerships were formed after forced annulment, I am pleased that the Bill provides some assistance. Under clause 9, a couple are permitted to convert their civil partnership into a marriage to be treated as having subsisted since the date the civil partnership was formed.

Couples who were forced to annul a marriage and enter into a civil partnership will not be able to rewrite history—at least not legally—but it will almost be as if there was no break in their marriage, which of course they never wanted to annul in the first place. These are not the only cases, however, and we must ensure that all cases are covered. As a result, amendment 22 is designed to help couples who annulled their marriages so that one person could get a gender certificate, but who did not then enter into a civil partnership. As far as possible, the injustice that they have also faced must be addressed.

When the issue was discussed in Committee, the Minister expressed sympathy for couples who had been required to make the difficult choice of whether to end their marriage to enable one of the parties to obtain gender recognition, but she said that she could not support an amendment that sought to reinstate marriages from the date they were annulled because of the difficulties that could be caused with any rights and responsibilities that the couple had accrued since their marriage was annulled—for example, retrospective entitlements to benefits and taxation.

In order to help the Government and make some progress, in this version of the amendment, I and the hon. Member for York Central are proposing that reinstatement of the marriage be from the date that the couple gave notice to have it reinstated. This would address Ministers’ concern about retrospective legislation. It is not ideal. I would much prefer a fully retrospective measure, but given what the Minister said in Committee, it would be better than nothing for this small but greatly wronged—I still believe—group of people. Couples were forced to make a distressing and appalling choice, largely because policy on same-sex marriage was lagging so far behind what was right and just. I hope that we can use the window of opportunity in this historic Bill to do the right thing.

Margot James: I congratulate the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on their work in this important area. A couple in Stourbridge came to me two years ago, one of them having undergone gender reassignment treatment and surgery. They were very distressed that their marriage had been annulled and did not want to enter into a civil partnership, for their own reasons. Does this not underline the benefit of the Bill? People who are in this position having had gender reassignment surgery will have the choice, whether they are gay or heterosexual.

Caroline Lucas: Yes, I think it does underline the benefit. As we have said, the numbers are not huge, but for the individuals involved, it was very distressing, so I think it appropriate that we take this opportunity to address the situation.

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My amendment 49 would address the continuing discriminatory hurdle in the Bill around pensions. The Bill allows employers and pension providers to award gay spouses and civil partners a fraction of the survivor benefits payable to a partner in a mixed-sex marriage. It is an unnecessary and counter-productive anomaly in a Bill that otherwise makes landmark progress in furthering the fundamental human rights of gay people. The amendment would give same sex couples entering into a gay marriage entitlement to the same pension rights as married opposite-sex couples. It removes both existing discriminatory provisions in the Equality Act 2010 and the subsequent extension of that discrimination in this Bill.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): In tabling amendment 49, the hon. Lady has identified an anomaly that deserves to be rectified in the way she suggests. If the Government and the House want to give complete equality to same-sex relationships, they must address the pension question, otherwise we will have this extraordinary anomaly that if a person in a same-sex relationship today chooses to enter into a heterosexual marriage tomorrow, their new spouse would have full pension entitlement, whereas their former same-sex partner, whom they might have had a relationship with for many years, would get a fraction of that pension entitlement. If the Government and the House want same-sex relationships to have full equal rights, her amendment must be the right course of action.

Caroline Lucas: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention. I know he has had first-hand experience in his constituency of exactly this issue.

Paragraph 18 of schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010 allows employers and pension providers to ignore the service and contributions of gay employees made before 5 December 2005 when it comes to assessing survivor benefits for their civil partners and occupational pension schemes. Paragraph 15 of schedule 4 to the Bill would extend that discriminatory provision to same-sex spouses.

As we saw in yesterday’s debate on opening civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, the Government are comfortable arguing that unforeseen costs to pension schemes are a legitimate justification for sanctioning discrimination, yet their warning that the equalisation of treatment in the provision of occupational pension benefits will cost too much simply cannot be substantiated. No pension provider can accurately predict how many individuals in a pension scheme will be gay, never mind how many of them will marry or form a civil partnership with an individual who outlives them by a significant period of time.

Dealing with uncertainties around length of life, the possibility of illness, the decision to marry and many other issues is second nature to pension providers. Gay married people pose no more uncertainty than their straight counterparts. What is more, according to the Government’s figures, two thirds of pension providers already do the right thing, so any additional liability to pension schemes will surely be minimal. The financial implications of perpetuating discrimination could be very grave indeed, though, for those individuals who

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have paid into their pension schemes in the same way as other employees, yet will be denied the survivor benefits available to married mixed-sex couples.

One recent employment tribunal found that an occupational pension scheme was directly discriminatory because it provided a civil partner with only the benefit from pension rights accrued since 2004—in other words, when civil partnerships became available in the UK. John Walker and his civil partner have been together for 20 years and registered their civil partnership at the first possible opportunity, yet the pension scheme sought to restrict the survivor benefits available to John’s partner to just £500 a year. If John dissolved his civil partnership and married a woman today, she would be entitled to £41,000 per annum in the event of his death.

With the help of Liberty, John challenged that discrimination and recently won his legal battle to secure equal pension benefits for his civil partner. The employment tribunal relied on European Court of Justice rulings, which concluded that treating married and same-sex couples differently over the pensions payable to a survivor when national law recognises the relationships as equivalent in other respects breached the framework directive on equal treatment in employment. My amendment 49 would ensure full compliance with that directive and, crucially, ensure that the equality rulings made by the courts are applicable to all marriage relationships.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady agree that if people are to have parity before the law, they must have not just emotional parity, but financial parity? Anything less would not be equality in any shape or form.

Caroline Lucas: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. We are talking about genuine equality. That means legal equality, as well as symbolic or any other kind of equality.

That tribunal was a landmark case. Interestingly, the Government lost the case, so one could argue that agreeing to my amendment 49 might save them money, as they would not need to pay out in future legal cases that might go against them. If the law remains as it is for civil partners and that inequality is extended to those in same-sex marriages, it could be several decades before gay couples achieve real equality in pension provision. I see no justification for continuing to permit discrimination in this area. I hope very much that colleagues will support amendment 49 and join me in overturning an anomalous and discriminatory provision.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): It is a pleasure to participate in this important debate on this group of amendments.

I have been quite conflicted over this entire subject. I am a godfather to a lovely little boy who has been adopted. His parents are in a partnership and they are both gay. I see myself very much as a progressive Conservative, and I certainly recognise that society’s attitudes have advanced, which is reflected in the fact that we are debating the amendments in such detail today. Of course we do not send children up chimneys any more, or allow only privileged landowners to vote, and we got rid of slavery long ago.

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5 pm

Now that we are debating the final set of amendments to the Bill, however, I have to ask where the call is for the details that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) mentioned. Where are the demands to drive those changes? There is certainly a trajectory in society that suggests that the amendments should be debated as part of the wider Bill. Like other MPs, I have had a full postbag and inbox, and I am grateful for the correspondence on these issues. Some of the language has been quite creative and provocative.

Mike Freer: Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. Speaking as a gay man in a civil partnership, I had no idea that my pension rights could be curtailed until someone wrote to me about it. The reason my hon. Friend might not have had much about that in his postbag could be that most gay people in a civil partnership have no idea that they are being discriminated against if they are in a contracted-in scheme.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The question is whether the Bill should be the vehicle for making those changes, but I very much respect his views.

I represent the beautiful, very diverse constituency of Bournemouth East. It has a substantial elderly population—some Members of Parliament have chosen to call Bournemouth “God’s waiting room”—as well as a vibrant town centre with a huge gay population. It is also a university town. So it has an elderly population and a young generation, as well as a large gay community. I have talked to members of the gay community about the Bill. I have also made an effort to speak to religious groups, individuals and organisations across the town, not only about pensions but about matters such as gender recognition. We debated those matters in schools as well. I have to say that I heard no significant call for these proposals generally, and certainly not for the provision in amendment 15, tabled by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). There were no planned demonstrations or pent-up anger because the issues had not been addressed.

Many people in the gay community like the general proposals in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has just pointed out, certain aspects in life need to be corrected, and this debate has been helpful in that regard. In general terms, however, most of the people I spoke to said, “Go away and focus on the economy.” They suggested that this was an important issue, but wondered why we were dealing with it right now.

The Bill was not mentioned in any Queen’s Speech, and I believe that the Government could have helped themselves by following the normal protocol of announcing that the measures would be introduced in a particular legislative period. Given that backdrop, I take my hat off to the Secretary of State and her Ministers for their stamina in pursuing the amendments they have tabled. They must have known from the start how controversial the amendments and the Bill as a whole would be. I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s assurances, especially on Government amendment 25.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend, as I always do. The Bill as a whole has certainly been controversial—it has divided the parties

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and the country—but does he agree that amendment 49, tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), is not controversial and should attract widespread support across the House and outside in the country? It represents a bit of unfinished business from the Civil Partnerships Act 2004.

Mr Ellwood: I understand what my hon. Friend says, but I step back and wonder whether all these amendments are required right now and whether this is where society wants to go right now. Many Members have been forced to make a decision, and there is naturally a tendency to want to support the Bill and not to view it as out of place. My question is why these issues are being brought to our attention at this moment in time. As I say, I did not see the deluge of calls for this measure, although the trajectory of society moving forward means that this is very much how we would anticipate the Bill and its amendments.

I am pleased that we have this opportunity to conduct this debate, which has prompted us to think about the wider issues of the role, purpose and values of marriage in our society. We are debating amendments relating to gender recognition and so forth, which has educated us about the historic role of the state in respect of the Church.

The Bible is full of commands that are unknown or ignored by many Christians today. That reflects how society is very much moving forward. Wives used to be subject to their husbands; children arguing with their parents used to be taken out and stoned to death; women used to have to cover their heads in church. Those things are either unknown by Christians today or simply ignored because they have no place in modern society. The Church has changed its views over the years—indeed, the Bill has changed as we have debated it over these last few months.

The Church remains divided on many subjects: the burning of witches, abortion, contraception, the status of illegitimate children and so forth. On a wider perspective, it is the role of Parliament to challenge the Church on these issues and through the Bill and amendments, as we did on the grander issues in the past. Slavery was indeed defended by many bishops because of the Bible; the Old Testament regulated for slavery; divorce was clearly condemned by Jesus in the Gospels, and those who had divorced were not permitted to remarry. In the Church of England, marriage was “Till death us do part”; it was long thought to be lifelong and indissoluble, yet divorce was formally introduced in this place in 1857.

What, then, are my thoughts on this Bill? I am absolutely supportive of the concept, but, like many of the Government amendments, it is ahead of its time. That puts many of us in an awkward position. Do we support the Government amendments and the Bill, which I believe to be somewhat messy and not well handled, albeit on a subject to which I do not object. Should I vote against the Bill and the amendments for which many of my constituents have called? A significant number of them were moved enough to call me to make sure that I did not support specific amendments or indeed the Bill as a whole. Then there is the final option, which is to abstain on the amendments and the Bill, thus honouring many of the calls not to support the Bill’s proposals while ensuring that my vote is honest to myself.

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I shall conclude because I know others wish to participate in this important Report debate. I hope I shall not digress too far from the subject matter by mentioning that the FTSE 100 yesterday recorded its highest value in 24 years; despite being a significant economic indicator, it got no mention in this place. I hope that after Third Reading later today, we can back to considering the economy. The subject of gay marriage is significant and should be brought into law, but I remain to be convinced that it should be a priority for now. Those who will benefit from the change in the law are calling for the change now.

Jim Shannon: I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to amendments 27 and 28. It will not be a surprise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to hear that I am deeply unhappy about the Bill. I have said that in Public Bill Committee and in this Chamber in the earlier debate, I said it yesterday and I will reiterate it today.

I want to thank the Government for at least listening to me and my party on one issue. The Bill proposes that same-sex marriages formed in England and Wales should be recognised as civil partnerships in Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is consistent with the way in which overseas same-sex marriages are currently recognised in the House.

I was a member of the Committee that scrutinised the Bill. When I say “scrutinised”, I mean that the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) scrutinised it very thoroughly. Most of the Committee’s members, however, sat in silence throughout the five days of our debates on the clauses, and most of them tabled precious few amendments. They seemed to see themselves as cheerleaders for the Bill, rather than the scrutinisers that they should have been. Never before, during my short time in the House of Commons, have I known members of the official Opposition to abdicate their responsibility to hold the Government to account quite so thoroughly.

Some of us did table amendments, and took the time and the trouble to speak. I pointed out to the Committee that Scottish Ministers were to be asked to give their consent to legal changes allowing recognition of English same-sex marriages, whereas Northern Ireland Ministers were merely to be consulted. Amendments 27 and 28 give us an opportunity to align the law with that in Scotland, which is good news.

As I said in Committee and have said in the Chamber, the Bill has generated the biggest single postbag I have received on any issue in all my years as an elected representative—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am trying to be as tolerant as possible, but we are discussing this group of amendments, not previous amendments and what happened in Committee. I am trying to be fair, but we are in danger of not remaining where we should be.

Jim Shannon: Amendments 27 and 28 provide for “consent”, Mr Deputy Speaker, and remove the reference to consultation. Why is that important? It is important to the people whom I represent in Northern Ireland because it introduces accountability to the process. Some 1,700 of my constituents have contacted me about the

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issue: members of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterians, Methodists, members of the Elim Pentacostal Church, Baptist Brethren, evangelical groups, Roman Catholics, Sikhs and Muslims. Members of faith groups throughout Northern Ireland have asked us, as Members of Parliament, to push for consent rather than consultation, and we have done so.

I believe that when we convey opinions about the importance of faith and religious persuasions, as we have in the House today and as we did in Committee, those opinions cannot be ignored. It has grieved me when some members of the Committee, and perhaps some Members in the House, have brushed aside the opinions of those with hard-held religious views.

Several of my fellow Northern Ireland Members have received similar amounts of correspondence from constituents, all of them pushing for consent rather than consultation. Only 17 of my constituents who contacted me were in favour of the changes. Theirs was very much a minority view, but it is one that we must respect and take on board.

The Northern Ireland Assembly will make the final decision on the issue, which is why amendments 27 and 28 are important. The Assembly has rejected same-sex marriage on two occasions under the consultation process. The first occasion was on 1 October 2012, when it was rejected by 50 votes to 45. Then, on 29 April this year, it was rejected by 53 votes to 42.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I have been generous, and have allowed what I thought was a kind of preamble, but we are actually discussing a group of amendments entitled “Gender, benefits and miscellaneous”. That is the problem that I am facing. I thought that the hon. Gentleman must be getting there. I am sure that he is, and will confine himself to the subjects under discussion from now on.

Jim Shannon: I may have been a wee bit over-ambitious in trying to express some of my points of view, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I appreciate your generosity. I will return to the issues directly.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), confirmed to me, in a letter that I received yesterday, that

“Amendments 27 and 28 to clause 15(6) of the Bill make all orders and regulations made under the Bill subject to the consent of the Department of Finance and Personnel if those amendments would otherwise fall within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

The amendments have clearly given the Assembly the authority to make a final decision on the issue. That is very significant, and I thank both Ministers for what they have done.

This issue is immensely important to us in Northern Ireland, and has given rise to a massive postbag. I thank Ministers again for enabling consent rather than consultation to be enshrined in legislation.

5.15 pm

Mike Freer: May I return to the topic of amendment 49, which I was very pleased to co-sign with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)?

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Let me start by reassuring my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) that building a stable and cohesive society is one of the most fundamental roles of Government, so to be doing that today through debating this Bill is a highly appropriate use of parliamentary time. To those who ask whether we should be doing something else, I say that I can, perhaps unusually for a man, multi-task, so I think I can manage both to speak in this debate and to deal with other pressing issues.

Turning specifically to the amendment, it is important to distinguish between contracted-in and contracted-out pensions. This is quite a technical change and it does not apply to contracted-out pensions; it applies only to contracted-in pensions. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said, two-thirds of pension schemes already allow spousal survivors in civil partnerships equivalent widow or widower benefits without having to be forced to do so by the law, but one-third of them are discriminating. What is worse, that is an optional discrimination; they are choosing to discriminate against surviving civil partners in contracted-in pension schemes.

Let me try to explain why that is so fundamentally wrong. The hon. Lady gave the example of John Walker. Had he married a woman, she would have got a pension on his death of £41,000, but his civil partner got a pension of just £500 per annum. That diversity is the wrong kind of diversity; that is pure discrimination. Let us assume two men or two women join a pension scheme on the same day, and they both have the same level of service, and they both enter into some form of partnership, but one gets married and the other goes into a civil partnership, and let us also assume that the day after they get married or enter their civil partnership, they are both, by some quirk of fate, killed in a car accident. The pension of the widow in marriage will be go back to the date her former husband joined the pension scheme, let us say some 20 years previously, but the civil partner only gets to go as far back as when civil partnerships came into law. That cannot be right by any stretch of the imagination.

When researching why the Government were resisting this amendment, I was told that one of the issues is the cost factor. Everything we as a Government do has a cost, so I thought there must be some huge cost—perhaps £4 billion, which was a ready price-tag yesterday. In fact, the cost of giving equal pension rights on contracted-in pensions to civil partners is £18 million—not £80 million or £80 billion, but £18 million. It is true that that is a lot of money, and I certainly would not mind having £18 million in my bank account, but let me put that into perspective. The assets under management of the pension industry amount to £360 billion, so the cost of removing this anomaly is 0.006% of assets under management. I do not think that is a price we cannot afford.

I was also told that it is wrong to force pension providers to make retrospective calculations on which they did not base their pension actuarial decisions. That, too, is a flawed argument. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said, the actuaries behind a pension scheme make a whole variety of assumptions about longevity, how many of their pensioners will die in service and how many of them will die as a pensioner, and how long they will stay in the pension, and the accrual rate will be based on an assumption that most of their members will get married. It is complete nonsense

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to suggest that pension providers cannot allow civil partners who survive to get the same benefit as a widow or widower because it has not been accrued, as there is absolutely no evidence that the actuaries have not been able to make that calculation. If they made the calculation that X% of their pensioners would get married, they could simply make assumptions about a man in a civil partnership. They will have had no knowledge of whether that man or woman would have decided to get married or to enter a civil partnership and there is no logical or financial reason why the anomaly cannot be removed.

I hope that the Minister will give some commitment from the Government that the anomaly will be reconsidered. I know it was mentioned in Committee and that the Government are resisting the amendments, but I urge my ministerial colleagues to address the issue.

James Duddridge: I totally support the comments my hon. Friend is making about removing the anomaly. Is there a list of companies that are already doing the right thing and, crucially, those that are doing the wrong thing? Are those companies named and shamed? Often, when we flick through the glossy corporate reports they say lots of glowing things and that the company is doing the right thing, but are they putting their money where their mouth is and supporting equal rights?

Mike Freer: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I have tried to dig around to find out the size of liabilities and which companies are doing this, but unfortunately I cannot find that information. It is fair to say that many corporates take great pleasure in trumpeting in their annual reports what they would regard as their social responsibility, but I think that they should be saying loud and proud—to coin a phrase—that they are treating civil partners in the same way as heterosexual widows and widowers.

I hope that my ministerial colleagues can give some ground and say that the Government are willing to reconsider the matter. The cost is not even a rounding error in the Government accounts or for the pension industry, but the benefit to the recipients is beyond value.

Kate Green: It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), whose contributions to our debates on this Bill at every stage have been exemplary, moving, powerful and reasoned.

I am very pleased to welcome warmly many of the amendments on transgender issues. I particularly welcome Government amendments 40 to 47, and I thank Ministers, who I know have taken on board issues raised in Committee about pension protections for transgender couples. I am pleased that the concerns raised in Committee have been addressed in the amendments. They will create no new liability for pension funds and will remove for some couples the hideous decision about whether a member of the couple should proceed with gender reassignment and, in the process, remove the pension rights of a much-loved spouse. I know that following the debate in Committee, transgender people and their partners are pleased by the Government’s response and I want to put on record my thanks to Ministers for that.

I also welcome the other amendments on transgender issues in the group. Although I have some concerns about the compensation provision, the calculation given

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to us by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) suggests that there is relatively—indeed, microscopically—little cause for any Chancellor to be concerned. I hope that the Government will consider very carefully the whole package of amendments on transgender issues proposed by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and others. As I think the hon. Gentleman said, many of the injustices that the amendments seek to address are probably inadvertent injustices, but they are none the less deeply wrong injustices suffered by transgender couples. I invite Ministers to look, even as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament, at ways in which we might put rectifying action in place.

On amendment 49, on pensions, I too recognise the anomaly that exists between the treatment of pension rights for married couples and same-sex civil partners. I also recognise that resolving this anomaly is not without difficulty. We have always accepted the estimate of £18 million potential additional cost to private contracted-in occupational pension schemes, and I agree with hon. Members who have already said that in the scheme of overall funds under management for pension companies, that seems a very small amount indeed, although I also accept the concern that extending pension rights to civil partners could have a disproportionate impact in a very small number of cases, particularly in small and often charity employer schemes.

In relation to other schemes and the possible wider effect, for example on contracted-out occupational pensions, where Ministers have suggested a potential impact of £90 million, or in relation to public sector schemes, I must say that I am still puzzled as to why we think there is any further implication. In February I obtained a note from the House of Commons Library which pointed out that civil partners are already entitled to survivor benefits in contracted-out and public sector schemes in relation to benefits going back to 1988. That is a result of the Civil Partnership (Contracted-out and Appropriate Personal Pension Schemes) (Surviving Civil Partners) Order 2005. The Library said that the same was true of public sector schemes, as I say. So I am not clear how the exemption would affect those contracted-out and public sector schemes.

Although I have great sympathy for the amendment, the Government should come forward with a full analysis in order for Parliament to take an informed decision on what the cost implications would be. That is why I tabled new clause 17, which was not selected for debate. I understand the reasons for that, but it would have asked for the full report of the pensions costs implications for all forms of occupational pension and the impact on pension funds and pensioner poverty to be presented to Parliament. Although the new clause has not been selected for debate, I join the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green in asking Ministers to present the fullest possible information to Parliament so that we can make a proper decision. I recognise that if we get it wrong, we could drive very small pension schemes out of business, which would exacerbate inequalities in other ways.

As things stand, we are without a proper review of the cost. Ministers have expressed concerns that it could be more—potentially considerably more—than £18 million, and on the basis of the information before us, I regret that I cannot support amendment 49 today. However, I

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want to place on record my strong support for the principle that underpins it, and I very much hope that information that will enable us to move forward will be available to the House as soon as possible.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): It is nice to be able to make a contribution at last to this important debate, after sitting on the Front Bench for quite a few hours.

I will first speak to Government amendments in the group. This is a large group of amendments that, in broad terms, concern pension entitlements, gender reassignment, devolution and a number of miscellaneous matters. Government amendment 25 ensures that the protection for the Church of England in the Bill is both full and clear. We have been continuing our discussions with the Church since we knew that it had doubts about whether the power provided in clause 11(5)(c) would be sufficient to enable us to provide full protection for Church of England ecclesiastical law from the effect of clauses 11(1) and 11(2). It is an important part of the protection that Church of England canon law should not be affected by the provisions in the Bill and that references to marriage shall continue to mean marriage between a man with a woman only. Having consulted the Church of England, we have decided to provide further protection by referring to ecclesiastical law in the Bill. The amendment affects only law applying to the Church of England in the limited cases where the effect of marriage is at issue.

5.30 pm

The Government’s devolution amendments clarify and make improvements to provisions on the control of secondary legislation affecting legislation within the competence of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. These changes follow constructive discussions with the Scottish and Northern Irish Administrations, which have sought additional reassurance on the extent to which the Secretary of State will, under the Bill, be able to amend or introduce legislation normally within their competence.

In respect of Scotland, we are extending the current requirement in clause 15(6)(a) on the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor to obtain the consent of the Scottish Ministers prior to making orders that amend legislation within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. That will broaden the consent requirement to regulations as well as orders, and will additionally require such consent when orders and regulations make provision under the Bill that is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

In respect of Northern Ireland, we are proposing arrangements that essentially mirror those for Scotland. Rather than a requirement to consult the Department of Finance and Personnel, we now propose a consent requirement that would apply to regulations as well as orders, and to measures creating new legislation within the competence of the Assembly.

Government amendment 48 relates to marriages in overseas consulates and armed forces bases, and means that if an Order in Council made under schedule 6 contains provisions that would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish

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Parliament must be consulted before such an order is made. Similar arrangements are proposed for Northern Ireland.

Lady Hermon: My intervention relates specifically to Northern Ireland and harks back to the useful advice given at the beginning of the debate by the Attorney-General in relation to the risk of discrimination. The Minister will know that under the Bill as drafted, if it is enacted, schedule 2 means that a couple who avail of the facility of a same-sex marriage will be fine in England and Wales, but as soon as they go to Northern Ireland it reverts to a civil partnership. My concern, mirrored by the Attorney-General’s intervention in relation to an earlier amendment, is that within the United Kingdom, surely that is discrimination on grounds of different status in Northern Ireland as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mrs Grant: I could not quite hear everything that the hon. Lady said, but my consideration is that it is down to Northern Ireland to respond. I am assured that that is right, but if that is not correct I will write to her to clarify that.

Jim Shannon: Perhaps the Minister’s correspondence could clarify the matter. I believe that the authority lies with the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps she might like to reply, if that is in order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mrs Grant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am being reassured from both flanks, and from much higher authorities than me, that that is the situation.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on these devolution matters and for the work the Government have done to ensure that we have our own separate legislation for same-sex marriage. Can she assure me that she will do all she can to work with Scottish Ministers and ensure that everything required for a legislative consent motion will be approved by the UK Government so that we can go ahead with our own process in Scotland?

Mrs Grant: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We will certainly work very hard on that together.

I turn now to Government amendments 30 to 32, which are purely technical and simply ensure that the use of the phrase “existing England and Wales legislation” is entirely coherent, so as to remove any possible doubt as to its meaning. Government amendments 33 to 39 are technical and make changes to the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 to ensure that it works entirely properly for same-sex marriages. Amendment 33 makes changes to the 1973 Act in relation to what applies to opposite-sex and same-sex marriages and to give effect to schedule A1.

Amendments 34, 35, 36 and 38 make changes to ensure consistency of language with the 1973 Act. Amendment 37 inserts a provision into schedule A1 to enable applications for an order to end a marriage because one of the couple is dead to be made under the Presumption of Death Act 2013. Amendment 39 enables schedule A1 to work using the presumption of death

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provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 if the 2013 Act is not in force when the Bill comes into force. Amendment 39 also amends schedule 1 to the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 provisions on staying—meaning halting—matrimonial proceedings in England and Wales when there are other court proceedings at the same time outside England and Wales about that same-sex marriage. That will ensure that such proceedings on the same divorce, judicial separation or annulment do not give rise to conflicting decisions, which would prevent resolution of the issue.

Lady Hermon: I am listening intently to the Minister and am sorry to interrupt her at this stage, but I must bring her back to Northern Ireland. I really want an assurance from the Government that we in Northern Ireland will not see legal challenges on the grounds of breaches of the European convention on human rights by those who, if the Bill becomes law, avail of same-sex marriage in England and Wales. It is specifically paragraph 2 of schedule 2 that concerns me. It states:

“Under the law of Northern Ireland, a marriage of a same sex couple under the law of England and Wales is to be treated as a civil partnership… (and accordingly, the spouses are to be treated as civil partners).”

I just need reassurance from the Minister.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are getting to Third Reading points and I would not want the hon. Lady to use up the points that would be better made then.

Mrs Grant: I am afraid that, as this is a devolved matter, it is impossible for me to give the assurance that the hon. Lady is asking for. Northern Ireland, rightly, has to look at the issue itself.

Government amendments 40 to 47 deal with pension entitlements. They amend part 6 of schedule 4, which provides for same-sex married couples to be treated in the same manner and to be entitled to the same survivor benefits as civil partners. As drafted, that includes couples in same-sex marriages who have preserved their marriage following the change of legal gender of one of the spouses, and it is designed to ensure that all same-sex couples are treated alike for this purpose. We recognise that our policy of treating same-sex marriages in the same way as civil partnerships for occupational pension survivor benefits may create a problem in relation to survivor benefits for a very small group of individuals whose spouses change gender during their marriage. We understand that this could deter a transsexual person from seeking to change their legal gender because of the financial impact on their husband or wife. If the amendments are made, widows of marriages that become same-sex as a result of the husband’s change of legal gender during the marriage will still be treated as widows for the purpose of calculating survivor benefits in a contracted-out occupational pension scheme; and for schemes that are not contracted out, in calculating any entitlement to survivor benefits, the marriage will continue to be treated as opposite-sex marriage.

Mike Freer: If I heard the Minister correctly, she said that any transgender couple who transition will keep their full entitlement from the date of joining the pension scheme, but a civil partner survivor will still be restricted

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to the point at which civil partnerships became law. Does not that create yet another anomaly?

Mrs Grant: I think that I have made the position clear. The concession is intended to target a very small group of people, and we do not intend to open it up any further. The main reason for giving the concession is that there has been no break in the marriage.

Amendment 49 would remove the exception in the Equality Act 2010 that allows occupational pension schemes to take into consideration only accruals from 2005 for the purpose of survivor benefits for those in a civil partnership. It would also remove the provision in the Bill that extends the exception to same-sex married couples. When civil partnerships were introduced, an exception was added to equality legislation that allowed schemes to restrict access to survivor benefits for those in civil partnerships, so that schemes are required, when calculating survivor benefits, to take into account only accruals from 2005, when civil partnerships were implemented.

We have a responsibility to balance the interests of all parties involved in a pension, so while we are of course absolutely committed to equality for same-sex couples, we do not believe that it would be right to put on schemes the significant additional and retrospective financial burdens that would arise from removing the Equality Act exception. We are very conscious that defined-benefit schemes already face difficult economic conditions.

Mike Freer: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs Grant: I would like to make a little headway, as I have a fair way to go.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) referred to the recent case of Walker, which was supported by Liberty, in which an employment tribunal found that a pension scheme had discriminated against a member by using that exception. The Government do not agree with that finding. The decision of the tribunal is not binding and there is nothing in it that leads us to question our policy. We intend to challenge the decision robustly. The Government have recently been added as an interested party in the appeal. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion not to press the amendment.

5.45 pm

Caroline Lucas: Will the Minister explain what the situation will be if the Government lose the appeal, which seems entirely likely given the legal case?

Mrs Grant: As an optimist, I would prefer to decide what action is appropriate if that happens. I do not want to prejudge the appeal.

I shall now deal with the non-Government amendments on gender reassignment. Amendment 15 would enable a marriage to be held to be continuously valid from the date of the original marriage solemnisation, effectively restoring the original marriage. Amendment 22 would allow couples who have continued to live together following the annulment to apply to have their marriage reinstated from the date on which they notify the registrar of their wish to have their marriage reinstated.

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I understand the concerns that prompted hon. Members to propose those amendments, and the Government have great sympathy for couples who felt required to make the difficult choice to end their marriage to enable one party to obtain gender recognition. However, it is not possible to reinstate a marriage that has been lawfully ended by an order of the court. It will be possible to backdate converted marriages to the date of registration of the civil partnership, as the civil partnership will not have been lawfully ended.

Couples who have continued to live together will be able to marry by virtue of the changes in the Bill. I realise that that will not be a reinstatement of the original marriage, but I sincerely hope that couples will feel able to make use of these important provisions. I realise that some transsexual people in this situation may be disappointed, but we need to ensure that a person’s legal relationship status is completely clear at all times in the eyes of the law.

Amendment 18 would enable a one-off payment of £1,000 from public funds to be made as compensation for the distress caused to and costs incurred by couples who had their marriages annulled to enable one or both parties to get gender recognition. I cannot support that amendment because we have to take the law as we find it. It is not fair arbitrarily to compensate couples who decided to end their marriage under the law that applied at the time. There will be other couples who felt unable to end their marriage and who may have suffered distress as a result of not being able to obtain gender recognition. We have taken on board the issues that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) have raised, and we will continue to listen carefully.

The first part of amendment 16 would provide a power for the Registrar General to make regulations about the issuing of new marriage certificates to couples in which one or both parties have obtained gender recognition that reflect the trans party’s acquired gender, but retain the original date of registration. That could include the date of registration of a marriage that had been annulled. I assure the House that that part of the amendment is unnecessary because the power provided in the Bill is wide enough to deal with those matters. We will give serious consideration to the registration date that should be referred to on any new marriage certificate issued to a couple who are to stay married following gender recognition. We will also need to ensure that the certificate does not inadvertently reveal that one party has gender recognition.

The second part of amendment 16 would provide a power for the Registrar General of England and Wales to make regulations providing for amended birth certificates for transsexual people’s children to reflect the transsexual person’s acquired gender. The amendment does not seem to be directly related to equal marriage, and in any event I cannot accept it as section 12 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes it clear that gender recognition does not affect the status of a transsexual person as the father or mother of a child. That section is necessary to ensure the continuity of parental rights and responsibilities and to protect the right of children to know the details of their biological parents.

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Amendment 12 is intended to remove the provision in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 that makes a marriage voidable when a transsexual person marries a non-trans person but does not inform that person of their trans status prior to the marriage or at the time when it takes place. I cannot accept the amendment, because the current provision in the 1973 Act and the corresponding provision in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 provide important protection for the non-trans spouse. If a non-trans person finds themselves in a marriage to which they did not fully consent, it is only right that they should be able to apply to annul the marriage rather than have to wait to bring time-consuming and often costly divorce proceedings.

Amendments 13 and 14 would require the Gender Recognition Panel to issue full gender recognition certificates to all applicants in protected marriages, irrespective of the non-trans spouse’s views. It would then be open to the non-trans spouse to issue divorce proceedings. I understand that the amendments are intended to remove the so-called “spousal veto” in schedule 5. However, let me be clear that non-trans spouses will not be able to veto their spouses obtaining gender recognition. I also understand that the amendments are intended to deal with the problem of hostile or obstructive non-trans spouses who deliberately seek to delay nullity proceedings. I have not seen any evidence that that is a widespread problem. If the grounds for the marriage being voidable are met, the hostility or absence of the non-trans spouse should not delay a court in issuing a decree of nullity. If there is evidence that unnecessary delays are occurring, we believe that it should be a matter for the court.

It must be remembered that a marriage is contracted between two people who should have an equal say in the future of that marriage. We consider that it would be unfair to remove the right of every non-trans spouse to have a say in the future of their marriage before gender recognition takes place. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press their amendments relating to gender reassignment.

Finally, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this important debate. I am conscious of time and know that I need to leave a little time for the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) to respond, so I will conclude my remarks.

Dr Huppert: We have discussed some important and detailed issues that matter intensely to a range of people. I am grateful for the tone in which the debate has been conducted by almost everybody; it has been productive. I know that people from the trans community and other minority sexual communities who have been watching are impressed that Parliament is able to discuss these matters.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who is no longer in his place, said that there is no pent-up anger about some of these issues. I would quote comments sent to me by some of my transgender colleagues, but I suspect the language would be rather unparliamentary. There is certainly pent-up anger among people about their stolen marriages.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, I disagree on some of the detail about these amendments and I maintain that there are some concerns. I was worried by some of the language about not fully consenting to a marriage, although I am sure the Minister did not mean to imply

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that people need to be protected from transgender spouses or transgender people—I am sure that is not what was intended. I was grateful to hear her say that the Government will continue to listen carefully on such issues. I hope there will be further discussion in another place and that the Government will reflect on what more they are able to do.

There has been some progress and I acknowledge some of the Government amendments. On stolen marriages, amendment 15 was always an ideal, and I am well aware of the Government’s objection to backdating. It would be wonderful if it were possible to do so, and I am sure the Attorney-General is a good enough lawyer to find a way to do that. The Minister highlighted the fact that couples will be able to backdate their new marriage to the date on which their civil partnership was formed, so there is some form of backdating, which is welcome. In many cases, there will be a one-day gap between two otherwise identical marriages, which is slightly odd, but I am grateful for that progress. Amendment 15 was always somewhat optimistic, but I hope we can make progress on some of the other issues.

Amendment 49, tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), is critical. It has been noted that the current position gives rise to some truly odd anomalies. We are introducing—quite correctly—protection for someone who is transgender and transitions, so that they do not lose out on pensions by virtue of that, but we are leaving in place a slightly bizarre anomaly, mentioned by the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), regarding people who have a same-sex relationship, because we are not backdating that to before 2005. That seems deeply anomalous and I am sure the Attorney-General will give clear advice about discrimination on that basis.

Mike Freer: I raised that question because of the anomaly that a gay man or a straight man joining the pension scheme will pay contributions at the same rate but receive different benefits, which is discrimination.

Dr Huppert: It is absolutely discriminatory. It is also the case that a bisexual man or woman would pay at the same rate and would get a different pension transferred depending who they happen to end up with. That seems truly bizarre. The position is not at all sustainable and if the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion presses her amendment to the vote, I expect that I and my colleagues will support her. It is a free vote but I promise my support. However, given that Opposition Front Benchers have said they will not support the proposal, I will understand if the hon. Lady wants to leave her amendment for consideration in another place. The situation is completely unsustainable and it should not last the passage of this Bill. Amendment 15 is right in principle, but I accept that it will not win support, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11

Effect of extension of marriage

Amendment made: 25, page 11, line 8, leave out from ‘other’ to end of line 10 and insert

‘ecclesiastical law (whether or not contained in England and Wales legislation, and, if contained in England and Wales legislation, whenever passed or made).’.—

(Maria Miller.)

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Clause 15

Orders and regulations

Amendments made: 26, page 12, line 36, leave out from ‘order’ to ‘would’ in line 38 and insert

‘or regulations under this Act, except an order under section18(3), containing provision which’.

Amendment 27, in clause 15, page 12, line 40, leave out ‘consult’ and insert ‘obtain the consent of’.

Amendment 28, in clause 15, page 12, line 41, leave out from ‘order’ to ‘would’ in line 42 and insert

‘or regulations under this Act, except an order under section18(3), containing provision which’.—

(Maria Miller.)

Clause 17


Amendments made: 51, page 14, line 1, at end insert

‘, except for section (Review of civil partnership)’.

Amendment 52, in clause 17, page 14, line 5, at end insert

‘, except for section (Review of civil partnership)’.—

(Maria Miller.)

Schedule 2

Extra-territorial matters

Amendment made: 29, page 21, line 26, leave out sub-paragraph (5).—(Maria Miller.)

Schedule 3

Interpretation of legislation

Amendments made: 30, page 23, line 30, leave out from beginning to ‘legislation’ in line 32 and insert

‘In existing England and Wales’.

Amendment 31, page 24, line 7, leave out

‘which has effect as indicated in section 11(2)’.

Amendment 32, page 24, line 21, leave out

‘which has effect as indicated in section 11(2) and’.—(Maria Miller.)

Schedule 4

Effect of extension of marriage: further provision

Amendments made: 33, page 26, line 28, leave out from ‘courts)’ to end of line 30 on page 27 and insert

‘is amended in accordance with this paragraph.

‘(2) Subsection (1): after “entertain” insert “any of the following proceedings in relation to a marriage of a man and a woman”.

(3) After subsection (5) insert—

“(5A) Schedule A1 (jurisdiction in relation to marriage of same sex couples) has effect.”.

(4) Subsection (6): after “Wales” insert “(whether the proceedings are in respect of the marriage of a man and a woman or the marriage of a same sex couple)”.

7 Section 6 (miscellaneous amendments, transitional provision and savings), subsection (3): after “Act” (in the first place) insert “, or by virtue of Schedule A1 to this Act,”.

8 Before Schedule 1 insert—

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