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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I certainly do not have the skill to approach the debate on this Bill with the clarity employed by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, but I rise to support wholeheartedly the points that she made.
Again, I am certainly not a master of euphemism and, hence, there are one or two things that I think I must say bluntly to your Lordships. The first is that it
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is virtually impossible for anyone to understand a Bill which appears to me to be brought to this House on the back of a demand by a very vocal minority of society and which is so flawed that the Government must come back again and again with page after page of amendments. That strikes me as a very good reason why the Bill should be taken away by the Government and, if it must come back, it should be brought back in a form that many of us can begin to understand. Looking at last month's election results, I wonder how the general public could vote for a party that brings forward a Bill that even Members of your Lordships' House cannot properly understand.
Secondly, to my mind, the Bill undermines the traditional family in two ways: it creates a form of gay marriage and it ignores family relationships in the way that it distributes benefits. I know that it will be denied that the Bill does, in fact, create a form of gay marriage. But I have just listened to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who said that the problems that have been identified by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, are entirely different from the problems that are being tackled by the Bill. The Bill deals with couples who want to indulgeagain, I apologise; euphemism is not a strength of minein a relationship which most likely involves unnatural sexual practices. That is the reality of the situation that we are addressing here today.
The amendments at least address the difficulties which the noble Lord, Lord Alli, wants to put on the long finger. He is saying, "No, because these people are not indulging in an unnatural sexual practice and because they are brothers, sisters, aunts or grandparents, they should not be included in a Bill which, ostensibly, is to do with benefits and equal treatment for people within society".
The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, would add family members to the list of beneficiaries, and they are very straightforward. Doubtless the Government will raise some technical issues against them. Perhaps they will take the Stonewall line and say that they would overcomplicate family law. But we are engaging in a wholesale rewriting of family law. Laws which, for centuries, have guided what we hope to achieve in resolving tax and inheritance difficulties and so on relating to the family are being rewritten wholesale. We are already complicating family law with a Bill which is 400 pages long.
Are homosexuals to be the only beneficiaries? Why must we go through this whole legislative process with our eyes closed to the plight of family members who could benefit and who deserve to benefit? We are talking about a very deserving group of people. The amendments state that they must be close relatives who have lived together for 12 years and they must be over 30 years of age, which means that they have lived together as adults. Living together as minors does not count.
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One notable thing that strikes me about the Bill is that there is no residential requirement for homosexual couples to register a civil partnership. Because I do not understand the Bill with the clarity that others do, I ask whether any couple anywhere can form a civil partnership if it is to be financially beneficial. I would guess that that is not the case, but I do not understand why it is not if, in fact, there is no such residential requirement for homosexual couples.
The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, require proof that the relationships that are to be rewarded are long-term, committed relationships. Many people have been able to call to mind an example of the kind of case about which we are concerned. We know about sons who live at home for all their adult life, looking after an ageing parent; we also know of brothers and sisters who have lived together for 30, 40 or 50 years and who, to be blunt, have left it too late to get married. When one says to such people who have lived together in normal, loving, family relationships that they could lose their home to pay inheritance tax, they are shocked. If one were to tell them that there is a Bill before Parliament that could help them, but instead helps only homosexual couples, they would be appalled. I am.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, it is not my intention to speak for as long as the previous speaker. I shall move from the somewhat incendiary atmosphere of that speech back to the comparatively tranquil waters of the speeches of my noble friends Lady O'Cathain and Lord Tebbit. Straightaway, I ask my noble friend Lord Tebbit not to condemn the Grand Committee because it was sparsely attended. Surely, it is the quality of the Members who attend a Grand Committee and their dedication that is important.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way and for the implied compliment, as I was one of those who attended. Almost throughout the Grand Committee it seemed odd to me that the number of members of the public exceeded that of the number of Peers present and on occasions the number of advisers exceeded the number of Peers present.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, whatever my noble friend may say and may regret, perhaps I can remind him that there were only 12 Apostles, which is slightly fewer than the number of Peers who attended Grand Committee sittings.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, that is the detail, but the principle is the same. In any case, my noble friend Lord Tebbit was, as he kindly informed me, a former Secretary of State for Trade and
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Industryan office that he held with such great distinction and seemingly interminable lengthand he will know that St Franc"ois de Sale said that one soul was diocese enough for a bishop. So one member of a Grand Committee dedicated, informed and learned is quite sufficient.
I shall leave that peripheral point and say that I have much sympathy with the point raised by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. Many cases of injustice arise within family relationships. I do not see why the matter should not be dealt with in this Bill. I believe that organisations such as Stonewall, which has written to most Members of this House, do not do a great service to their own cause by resisting the remedying of injustice to the family. It is likely to make the homosexual community more unpopular rather than less.
I know of a case in your Lordships' House, for example, involving siblings. For many years a Peer had lived happily with his brother and sister, but on the death of his brother, he and his sister were obliged to sell the family home, which they did not want to do, and move into other accommodation which was not as satisfactory. This is a problem that should concern us and be seen as such.
While I applaud the intention in the amendment, it seems to me that a half-baked drafted amendmentif one can have such a thingdoes not remedy the injustice fully. It adds another injustice. Why should members of a family have to live together for 12 years and be over 30 before they can have such a right? Surely, that is another form of discrimination. Those are provisions that I believe would be much better removed.
On the point made by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain that there would be greater expense for the public purse in certain circumstances, I say so what? If one is remedying injustice, one should not confuse money and morals. They are very different matters. That used to be an argument used against the abolition of capital punishment: it is more expensive to keep people in prison than to execute them. We should abandon that.
Perhaps I can suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, a way out of this dilemma. Would it be possible for her to return with a form of words, different from that proposed in the amendment, with which the Government agree and which they believe would be acceptable to the House? That would be of service both to the general cause that she supports and to human rights and human compassion in general. Let her not fall into the same trap of confusing money and morals, in which my noble friend dipped her toes, because money and morals are totally different. They are not connected, as anyone who knows life in the City will have observed. Yes, I have gone too far. I withdraw that remark. They are not connected, as anyone who has observed certain sections of life in the City will know. I hope that the Minister will take this as a serious suggestion because clearly many people in the House feel deeply about it.
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