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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I rise simply to point out that I clearly did not say that all those who support the amendment were using it as a stalking horse. I did sayand I stand by thisthat in my view, some of them are.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I can only suggest to the noble Lord that he would have done his cause more justice if he had put greater emphasis on the worthiness of the cause advanced by my noble friend before moving on to the technical difficulties.
I have only one other point to make to those who say that the amendment is in the wrong Bill and the wrong place. If one looks back over the whole history of reform down the centuries, one discovers that one needs to pursue reform pretty relentlessly. It is the immediate response of a government who do not want something to say, "Well, at some time in the future, we will look at that and introduce legislation", but it may be many years before we see that legislation. If we really want legislation; if we want a government to move; we must carry an amendment such as this. If the Government then do not think that it can be amended satisfactorily later, they may be forced to come back with some serious proposals for legislation that will cover the point.
So I hope that my noble friends and noble Lords in all parts of the House will not be led astray by that argument, which was the case behind the stalking horse point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I hope that the House will support my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, as King Henry VIII said to each of his many wives, this will not take up much of your time. First, I support the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I was interested to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in which he identified that the Bill is clearly a Bill to facilitate same-sex partnerships and that it indeed discriminates against ordinary family members, but said that he thought that that discrimination should continue on the Government's assurance that they will consider it at some time away in the future. It would be wrong to continue with that discrimination against ordinary family members. We should not be making a distinction like that in favour of same-sex relationships and at the same time discriminating against ordinary family members.
I am in the unusual position of being not only a Member of your Lordships' House but still being elected by universal franchise to a constituency in the United Kingdomnamely, Strangford in Northern Irelandas a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which, being suspended, will not have a say in the matter. I recently received a letter from a constituent in Killyleagh in County Down. That lady looked after a handicapped child for 14 years. She then went back to work. She then had to look after her
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mother for another 16 years. She then reached pension age and, instead of receiving a pension of £77.45 a week, she was reduced to £61.47 per week because she had failed to apply for attendance allowance while she cared for her handicapped child. She did so at her own time and expense; she applied for no grants or allowances. She was then discriminated against when she reached pension age.
Under the Bill, a person in a same-sex partnership would not be discriminated against. Ordinary people will lose out under the Bill if enacted. More than 90 per cent of the people of the United Kingdom will be discriminated against if the Bill becomes law. I am astounded that the Liberal Democrats, of all people, want to discriminate against 90 per cent of the people of the United Kingdom.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I do not want to delay the House, but I should like to make one brief point that has not been made, which is that committed birth families are not an inert constituency. I am concerned that the Bill as drafted will be seen as the Government once again sidelining those birth families who are dedicated to caring for their childrenwho are, after all, the nation's childrenand to the mutual care of the vulnerable in their family. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester drew attention to the sacrifices that many people in such positions make.
I draw the attention of Members on the Government Front Bench, who, sadly, are not listening, to the fact that there are about 15 or 16 million parents in this country who represent a significant vote. Many of those parents are getting fed up with the Government constantly sidelining them. The Bill could have been draftedand still could beto include many of those people. The noble Lord was right to say that the exact wording of the amendments may not be right. Let us put the amendments in place so that the Government can go away and have the opportunity to think again.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, I rise briefly to give my total support to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I know that on occasions such as this, when anything relating to sexual matters is debated in this House, Northern Ireland Members who are former MPs but now represent their constituency in another way are put down as being to some extent homophobic. I have heard that said repeatedly. In fact, once when going through the Lobby when voting on a Bill such as this, I heard a Government Whip saying, "Here comes the Pope's brass band".
I do not see it that way. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, has made an unanswerable case for including families. The Government repeatedly say that they want to bring about inclusiveness. The reason for the Bill is that they want to include that minority of the population whom they feel have been victims of discrimination. In so doing, they have excluded the vast majority of the normal population in Northern Ireland. As an Opposition Member said, if the Bill is passed as it stands, it will create antagonism against the homosexual community in Northern
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Ireland. By the way, I want to put on record that I resent how the homosexual community has hijacked that very good word, "gay". Why not call them homosexuals? Referring to them as gays lets them off a particular hook.
By her amendment, the noble Baroness has brought to the attention of the House the total exclusion of family people. She has received letters; I know of members of my own extended family who would like to be included with the family under the Bill, but they are not and they feel bitterly resentful about that. I can see no reason for excluding families. I do not go along with the line that, this year, next year, sometime or never, the Government will legislate to right that wrong. Now is the time to right that wrong. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and Members on the Liberal Benches, say that those who support the noble Baroness were supporting wrecking amendments. I do not see it that way at all. I do not believe that they are wrecking amendments.
Lord Alli: My Lords, perhaps I may pick up my noble friend on one point. One thing that has been pretty amazing about the Bill is that the word homophobia has not been used at any point. In my recollection, no one during all the days in Grand Committee and all our debates in the House, has said that the noble Baroness, by putting forward a case for carers, was homophobic. What we disagree about essentially is whether this is the place to do it. It is a bad construction, which serves no one well. In my view, it undermines the Bill. Neither I nor anyone else has said that any of the motives behind such amendments are homophobic. I hope that my noble friend will at least accept that reassurance that the House has moved on.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, it is suspected that many people who claim to support this Bill are sotto voce opposed to it. It may not have been said within this House, but it has certainly been said in these corridors and further afield that anyone who is opposed to this Bill has homophobic tendencies.
I do not see where the Government would find any difficulty whatever in including the categories that have been so ably put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I have received hundreds of letters from all over Northern Ireland, many of them from people of a different religion than my ownfor example, evangelical Protestants and Presbyterians. They certainly would not support the noble Baroness on other issues, because she has an Irish pronunciation of her name; but on this occasion there is a certain unanimity among all the people from Northern Ireland who have corresponded with me. Many of them do not like this BillI do not particularly like this Bill, and I have no hesitation in saying that. I do not put a tooth in it. Many people in Northern Ireland do not like this Bill. Putting aside my ownwhat some people would refer to asprejudices, there is a great
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injustice and inequality being brought about by this Bill in the way that it totally excludes people in a family.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. I declare an interest as the vice-president of the Princess Royal's Trust for Carers. A good number of those who would be affected by these amendments are carers, who at present relieve the state of heavy responsibilities.
I can claim to have had some part in the development of family justice in this country over some time. Certainly, I would not wish to be a party to disrupting or damaging that general body of law. On the other hand, the situation of members of families who live together in a supportive family relationship over a period of 12 years and more should be recognised and acknowledged by this House. It is said that this is not the Bill in which to do it. I take exception to that, because this is a competent amendment. We know that the resources of five great government departments are behind this Bill, and I do not believe that they would have much difficulty in drafting the necessary amendments to give effect to the thrust of this principal amendment if it is passed. It is not right for us to let an opportunity pass to rectify an injustice in this area. We owe it to the people who give devoted sacrifice as carers in family situations to take this opportunity of a competent amendment to deal with that matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Alli, pointed out that the Law Commission had said how difficult it was to deal with the various situations of shared ownership. Of course, I am conscious of that fact. This is a modest amendment in that sense; it does not try to deal with everything. It deals only with a fairly small group, by comparison with the whole, of those who are disadvantaged; namely, those who are have lived together for 12 years and who are over 30 years of age. That will not encompass everyone, but it is a good start. Your Lordships should support these amendments and leave it for later stages of the Bill, if the Government wish, to seek to cater for the detail in a different way to these amendments. The five great departments involved are able to do that.
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