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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, we on these Benches object strongly to all the amendments in this group.
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The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said that this is not a gay marriage Bill. We say that it is not a tax relief Bill either. There is a strongly arguable case for some kind of relief from inheritance tax for family members who have been carers to enable them to continue living in the house where they have carried out their caring duties. But that is a different argument and this is not the place or the time for that argument. This Bill is inappropriate for dealing with that issue.
Even the movers of the amendment do not suggest that it should be possible, at the same time, to combine a civil partnership and a marriage. Among other things, that means that tax relief would not extend to a married child caring for a parent, which is a very common situation. The country is, after all, full of grandparents. That would be so even if the child who was caring was separated but not divorced.
A daughter looking after elderly married parents could not enter into a civil partnership with either of them. She would have to wait until one of them died, by which time the other might not have the mental capacity to enter into one. It would also mean that if one member of a family civil partnership wished to enter into a marriage, he or she could not do so without going to the court to get an order dissolving the civil partnership. A dissolution order must show that the civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. That would not necessarily be the casea daughter might well want to marry a man who is willing to move in with her and to help care for her parents. That shows that the Bill is wholly unsuitable because it shows up all sorts of unnecessary anomalies.
The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, could have proposed that a civil partnership within one of her categories could, unlike other civil partnerships, be dissolved whenever one party wishes, which would overcome that particular problem. But to do that would show that her proposal is something entirely different, not only in detail but in its whole nature, from a civil partnership as envisaged in the Bill.
The only people within the noble Baroness' list of people eligible to enter into the family civil partnership are those who would not be eligible to enter into the kind of civil partnership proposed in the Bill, because they would be within the prohibited degrees.
I fear that the amendment is being used as a stalking horse for those who are basically opposed to the whole purpose of the Bill. I believe that it would be better if some of thoseI am not saying it is true of all of themwho support the Bill were to be more honest about their motives in backing these amendments. We object to the Bill being hijacked for an ulterior purpose that would defeat the objectives for which the Bill was drafted.
Lord Monson: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, sits down perhaps I may ask him a question. He prefaced his remarks with the words,
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"We on these Benches". Does that mean that the Liberal Democrats will not be allowed a free vote on these amendments?
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I must make the position of these Benches clear. This is an issue on which there will be a party Whip, but there will be an exemption on the basis of conscience for those Members who do not feel able to support it.
The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, I support the amendments standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Alli. This is not a wrecking amendment. I think we have passed beyond that.
The House may think that mixed messages come from these Benches. I suppose that from time to time they do. I am glad to be singing in unison with my good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester today. However, I should like to quote from the submission by the Archbishop's Council to the DTI of September 2003, the tone of which is neither one of antipathy nor of aggression. It stated:
I should also like to quote from a statement made by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales on 23 April. I know that this will gladden the heart of the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. It stated:
"We are strongly committed to upholding the unique status and meaning of marriage and its importance for the well-being of society. Whatever the intention of this proposed legislation there is a real danger that the deeply rooted understanding of marriage as a permanent and exclusive relationship between a woman and a man, and as the best context for raising children will be eroded."
We have tried to stop that erosion. If the Government's laudable aim is to right social injustices, is it not perverse that the considerable investment of time, energy and focus applied to this specific legislation at the same time creates greater injustices?
There are situations where family members do not have adequate protectiona matter rehearsed todayin terms of inheritance and property law. The Government should allocate a similar amount of Civil Service time and resources to the issues as has been invested in same-sex couples. Indeed, it could be argued that more people might benefit from such legislation than from the Civil Partnership Bill. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, previously acceded to that point.
Some argue that it is perfectly legitimate to debate the defects in inheritance law, landlord and tenant law and so on, but that the proposed Bill remedies those problems only for a select group of peoplethose who become civil partners under the Bill. In other words, the new legislation is, to my layman's mind, partial, discriminatory and perverse if it stands unamended.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, and I believe also the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, have said that this is not the Bill, not the time and not the place and that other categories will be dealt with in following legislation. In the mean time, I hope these amendments succeed in gaining the support of the House. Is the Minister prepared to give a categorical assurance that the Government will speedily follow up with legislation that benefits other categories of relationship?
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in the debateand I must apologise to my noble friend for missing the first moment or two of her speech. I do so because of the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Alli and Lord Goodhart.
I warmly supported the Bill at an earlier stage for exactly the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, supported it. I had great sympathy with his prime object in the Bill. I therefore was upset by his contribution and the suggestion that those who support the amendment were supporting a wrecking amendment. He made a great mistake in making that suggestion because I believe that many noble Lords have great sympathy with the part of the Bill which was his object, but who also believe that the case advanced by my noble friend deserves support.
I think I was even more shocked by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I find it strange that the Liberal Democrat Party should think that this is the kind of amendment that deserves a Whip to be imposed on its Members. I shall observe with interest how many members of his party support that Whip. Also, for him to suggest that those who support the amendment are supporting a stalking horse is deeply offensive and quite unworthy. Of course he had a legitimate point to make, a point about the practical difficulties of the amendment. Those arguments could
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legitimately have been advanced without casting aspersions on those who take a different view from him. I give way to the noble Lord.
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