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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful for the support that our amendments have received from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. I also understand the concerns, particularly about Amendment No. 1, that have been expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Alli and Lord St John of Fawsley. The Government's proposals in their Amendments Nos. 18 and 21 potentially go a long way towards meeting the problems that led us to table our two amendments in this group. In the circumstances, we will of course support government Amendments Nos. 18 and 21. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 2:
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment arises from debates that we had in Committee where we sought to argue that the wording of the Bill as it stands is not satisfactory as regards same-sex couples entering into a partnership. I listened with great interest to the remarks made a moment ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. It seems to me that they were wholly inconsistent with her rejection of the arguments put forward in favour of this amendment in Committee. We argue that a civil partnership is a contract not a relationship. That issue gave rise on the one hand to highly emotional statements by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and others and, on the other hand, to comments by others who considered that legislation was a matter of logic rather than emotion.
I believe that we were all influenced by the speech of my noble friend Lord Elton at Second Reading. He spoke of the importance of loving relationships. However, I fear that we cannot legislate for love. We need to set down very precisely that a civil partnership is a contract. Everything that the noble Baroness said about registration a moment ago seemed to imply the registration of a contract, not the registration of a relationship. Indeed, it is quite possible for there to be a relationship between same-sex couples which is neither a civil partnership nor a contract. Yet the Bill seems to assume that all civil partnerships constitute relationships. Of course, in one sense that is true, but there are also relationships that are not civil partnerships. That is why it seems to us more appropriate to insert the word "contract" than "relationship".
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I shall not delay your Lordships much longer. However, in the course of our discussions in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who I see is not present, raised several issues in the context of this amendment with regard to the legal situation in a number of cases in Canada. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, replied to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in a response covering several pages. I do not think that either the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, or your Lordships would wish her to repeat several pages of commentary on the Canadian cases.
At the end of the day, this is quite a simple point. However, it is more than a drafting point. It is a matter about which we need to be clear and it is something that we ought to amend. I hope that on reflection the Government, particularly in the light of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, a moment ago, will be prepared to accept the amendment. I beg to move.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I always feel a certain sadness at disappointing the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, but I shall disappoint him on this occasion.
As the noble Lord indicated, we had a very useful discussion in Grand Committee on Amendment No. 2. I listened very closely to what was said then and to what has now been said by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. First, I shall clarify what we mean when we use the word "relationship" and why we resist the word "contract".
When two people register as civil partners of each other, they form a civil partnership that is a new legal relationship established by this Bill to give the civil partners legal recognition of their life together as a couple. It is the civil partnership that is a new legal relationship between the people. I respectfully suggest that the noble Lord should not confuse the new relationship of civil partnership with any pre-existing personal relationship between a couple, although a loving and committed personal relationship would be the very reason that a couple might decide to form a civil partnership in the first place. The new legal relationship of civil partnership begins only when two people register as civil partners of each other.
The noble Lord wishes to describe civil partnership as a contract. However, civil partnership is not governed by the law of contract and there is no room for individual variation of the statutory rules governing eligibility, or governing formation or dissolution of a civil partnership, nor of those setting out its consequences.
The change of status from single person to civil partner affects a couple's relationship with each other. After the formation of their civil partnership they would have an entirely new legal relationship with each other. Forming a civil partnership also affects their status; in other words, their position as an individual in relation to everyone else. Each would now be a civil partner. This change of status is permanent in that on the ending of a civil partnership, civil partners do not revert to being single people. They
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will be marked by having been in a civil partnership in that they will be former civil partners or a surviving civil partner. Civil partnership is a new statutory relationship that provides same-sex couples with legal recognition of their life together as a couple.
It is very important for us to understand that what same-sex couples seek is an acknowledgement that their relationship is real, has legal significance and carries rights and responsibilities. It is not a commercial contract; it is something very different. With that explanation, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. Nothing that I have just said contradicts what I said in support of the earlier amendment.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, your Lordships will reach their own conclusions. We have much expertise in this House but, so far as I know, we do not have a professor of logic, which is what we need in the context of what the noble Baroness has just said.
The noble Baroness mentioned legal recognition. However, the word "relationship" does not give that legal recognitionit is the registration that clearly forms a contract. The noble Baroness said that same-sex couples want legal confirmation of their new status. That is surely best put forward as a contract. They may have had a relationship for many years prior to this legislation, but it is not the same thing as confirming that in a legal and registratable form.
The noble Baroness said that she is always sad to turn down an amendment that I propose. That is entirely reciprocated; I am always sad when she is sad that she has turned down an amendment of mine. I shall withdraw the amendment but I am not at all sure that we should not sort this out and return to it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 4, after "relationship" insert "between two people in the categories set out in section (Categories of civil partners other than same sex couples) or"
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 8, 10, 12, 22, 23, 40, 43, 66, 68, 69 and 70 which stand in my name and those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and the noble Lords, Lord Weatherill and Lord Maginnis.
I have received many letters from members of the public who share my concern, and, indeed, a great many letters and messages from noble Lords from all parts of the House who support what I seek to achieve.
This group of amendments would extend the benefits of the Bill to family members who have lived together on a long-term basis. Under my amendments, two sisters or any two close relations who have lived together for 12 years would be able to register a partnership and take advantage of the provisions of the Bill. These are benefits which are currently unique to married couples and under the Government's Bill will be extended only to one other group; namely, those in same-sex relationships.
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If a daughter gives up her job to look after her elderly mother for 20 years, should she be denied the same rights, including the financial benefits, which the Bill gives to same-sex couples? If a niece goes to live with her disabled aunt and looks after her for 15 years, is her love and commitment for her close relation considered to be less important than that of a same-sex couple? The niece has to pay inheritance tax if she inherits her aunt's estate, but the survivor of a same-sex couple in a registered partnership would not. Is this situation fair and just? I think not.
In order to meet the demands of same-sex couples who want to be treated in exactly the same way as married couples, the Government are proposing inheritance tax exemption, pension rights, next of kin rights and the right to take key medical decisions for a partner. Those are all rights enjoyed by married couples. If they are to be extended, why should they not be extended to others in long-term caring and stable relationships?
All those rights could have been dealt with on an issue-by-issue basis rather than wrapped up in the Bill, which has proved a complete nightmare for the Government in terms of complexity. Even now, five government departments are dealing with it. There were 120 pages of government amendments added after the Bill had its first day in Grand Committee, and two days ago we had a further 150 government amendments. I have been a Member of this House for 13 years, and have never witnessed such a convoluted mess. Frankly, it makes nonsense of attempts to perform our scrutiny role. Is that really an efficient legislative process?
My contention is that the Bill will give rise to greater injustice than it claims to address. If it remains as it is, it will without doubt make the situation even more unjust. I emphasise the point about justice, as we are told that the Bill is not a gay marriage Bill but one about removing injustice. The Government insist that a civil partnership is not gay marriage. The name is clearly different, but anyone with any nous can see that the legal rights are the same. If the amendments are accepted, the House will be making it much clearer that the Bill is not a gay marriage Bill. If civil partnership were to become an arrangement open to close relations, the Government could have greater confidence in their assertion that the Bill was not a gay marriage Bill but only one to remove injustice.
Leaving aside all the arguments about gay marriage, I recognise that many support the Bill because they are concerned that the law deals too harshly with people in a long-term same-sex relationship. I understand that position clearly, but such problems are not unique to same-sex couples. They are commonplace in family relationships, too, yet such people are excluded from the legislation.
The Government have raised two principal arguments in favour of the Bill. The first is that it is a means of giving legal recognition to same-sex couples, and the second that it is necessary to address cases of hardship. Recognition and the issue of hardship
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cannot be separated. Legal recognition under the Bill means essentially the same legal rights and privileges that married couples hold. Civil partnerships give to same-sex couples the legal means to address the issues of hardship, which have been well rehearsed before the House. However, under the Bill, family members will be denied access to civil partnership. It follows that they will be denied the very remedies in cases of hardship that would have been available had they been a same-sex couple.
I contend that the Bill as drafted will lead to great injustice and discrimination against the family. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that, on 17 January 2001, the noble and learned Lord the then Lord Chancellor told the House that,
"support for families is at the core of this Government's policies".[Official Report, 17/1/01; col. 1160.]
Let them prove that they believe it; that is all I ask.
The Bill sends out the message that long-term caring family relationships do not matter as much as same-sex relationships, irrespective of their duration. Ministers have argued that same-sex couples in long-term relationshipsloving, committed, celibate and so on, as my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley saidwere discriminated against in law and suffered serious hardship. However, the cases of hardship of which we have heard in this House and in Grand Committee applying to same-sex couples also apply for the most part to family members who live together. Their position in terms of inheritance tax, joint assessment for income-related benefit and tenancy succession rights is essentially the same as for single-sex couples. The Bill provides legal remedy for same-sex couples, but not family members.
A son caring for his widowed father who has Alzheimer's disease has to pay tax on his inheritance, despite the fact that he has given up his job to care for his father and could well be regarded as unemployable as a result. That could mean being forced to sell the family house to pay the tax. Most of us will know of family members who share a house on a long-term basissons or daughters who live with their elderly parents, providing care and companionship; sisters who move in together after they are widowed and live out their old age together; nieces and nephews who give up well paid jobs to move in with aunts or uncles, to nurse them in long-term illnesses; and so on.
The Government say that the Bill is not the place to deal with relationships other than same-sex ones. Where then is the place for dealing with them? What prospect is there that the Government will introduce a Bill specifically to deal with the needs of two family members to live together? We have been given slight and vague promises, but we need more categorical statements about if, when and where. I suggest frankly that there is no realistic prospect of such a Bill. If we want to protect such people, we must amend this Bill today.
The amendment to Clause 1 is a paving amendment, which makes it clear that civil partnerships can be extended to any two people in accordance with the
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proposed new clause. Under that new clause, any two family members closely related to each other can enter into a civil partnership, the proviso being that in order to apply they must have lived together for a continuous period of 12 years, and both be at least 30 years of age. Proposed new Schedule A1 in Amendment No. 23 sets out the family relationships covered by my amendments. It is the standard list of close relationships of affinity and consanguinity, which is used in the Bill and in marriage law. It covers sibling, parental and grandparental relations, and aunts and uncles. Under my amendments, the two people do not have to be of the same sex, so may be of opposite sex.
The amendments to Clause 3 are consequential, and the amendment to Clause 35 permits the Secretary of StateI ask which Secretary of State; it is not clear as five of them are involved in the Billto lay down regulations requiring proof that there has been a 12-year period of living together. Under tax law, gifts given to an individual more than seven years before death are exempt from inheritance tax. Any family that merely wanted to avoid inheritance tax would not use my amendments to do so, because of the 12-year rule.
In Grand Committee, I tabled much broader amendments that sought to protect carers and friends who live together for a minimum of seven years. I underline the fact that the amendments today are even more tightly drawn and cover only those in close family relationships. It is those relationships where much of the real hardship arises. The 12-year period in my amendments makes it clear that the living arrangement must be a long-term one. It is a significant period, of course; 12 years is a long time, but putting forward that threshold test ensures that only the most sympathetic cases are covered. In practice, the beneficiaries will very often be older people who have lived together for many years. The 12-year home-sharing requirement also reduces the number of potential beneficiaries, which will greatly lessen the impact on the public purse.
The Government's Bill states that no member of a civil partnership can enter into a marriage or another civil partnership without dissolving their current partnership. That provision would also apply to my amendments. So, if two sisters entered into a civil partnership and one of them later wished to marry, she would be free to do so provided that the civil partnership was dissolved. The Bill's mechanism, already in place for dissolution of a civil partnership, would give to each party a legally regulated way of dividing the assets and property.
The Minister may say that the mechanisms for entering or exiting civil partnerships are inappropriate for, say, two sisters. If that is the objection then either the Government or I could table amendments at Third Reading to rectify that objection. But the principle at stake is whether a daughter who sacrifices many opportunities in her life to care for a parent deserves recognition. The question for today is whether two sisters who devote a lifetime of care to each other should be ignored by the Bill, with only same-sex relationships meriting the benefits that currently only apply to married couples.
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It is true that close relations already have some legal rights in relation to each otherfor example, hospital visiting rights or inheritance in the case of intestacy. Family members are currently broadly in the same position as same-sex couples regarding the succession of a tenancy. But it is important to remember that close relations are not exempt from inheritance tax and capital gains tax.
When the noble Lord, Lord Alli, spoke in support of a Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, inheritance tax was the first issue that he raised. He read from a letter written by the partner of Lord Montague of Oxford for whom the issue of inheritance tax was critical. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, told us that Lord Montague had to sell his possessions to pay the inheritance tax and said:
"Surely this cannot be right. It is unfair to make people sell their family homes".[Official Report, 25/1/02; col. 1697.]
The Bill provides that those people in same-sex relationships through taking out a civil partnership will be able to obtain many more rights than those in family relationships. A central part of the Government's case for the Bill is the unique difficulties that arise for those in committed long term relationships. They have the problems of inheritance tax, the questions of tenancy, obtaining a survivor's pension, and so on. Such difficulties may arise in same sex relationships, but they also arise in ordinary families. Ordinary families are no less deservingagain, let us remember this Government's commitment to the family. Ordinary families' difficulties are no less serious and their legal status should not be inferior.
Many noble Lords agree that it is unfair to discriminate so blatantly against family members. There are many noble Lords who strongly support the Bill, but who still wish to see it amended to benefit family members. My noble friend Lady Wilcox made that clear in her speech on 12 May 2004, at col. GC119. Alan Duncan, who speaks on these issues for Her Majesty's Opposition in another place, also made that point in an article in the Evening Standard on 30 March 2004.
In summary, under the Bill same-sex couples in a civil partnership are given a higher status than family relationships. That is unfair and is certain to lead to blatant injustice against family members who all their lives have shown sacrificial love and commitment. It is right to correct this anomaly now. I beg to move.
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