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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, this has been an unusual debate for this House because, perhaps I may say, it has lacked the temperance that I have come to expect. In responding, I hope that I shall be able to answer many of the issues raised by noble Lords. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that there is sympathy and understanding in relation to the difficulties that are faced by carers, by siblings and by others. But, contrary to what has been said, this is not a tax Bill, an inheritance Bill or a sex Bill.
The Bill recognises and acknowledges the reality of same-sex partnerships. It has been described in really quite trenchant terms. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, called it "a nightmare", "a convoluted mess" and "a Bill that discriminates against families". The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, went further. He said that it had been prepared in a "monumentally incompetent manner", that it was a "cruel Bill", "an unfair discriminatory Bill" and a Bill that "created difference in treatment and inequality". Those comments are taken very seriously by the Government. I say to those who made them that I wholeheartedly disagree.
This is not a cruel Bill or a discriminatory Bill. It is a Bill that has been long awaited by those who have sought recognition for their relationships. Of course, I hear what noble Lords opposite say about how long it has taken for this Bill to come to the House. I say gently that of course noble Lords opposite were in power for some 18 years: we heard nothing about the rights, the responsibilities and the inequity with which we now seek to deal.
It is this Government who have sought to address that issue. We seek to address it with fairness, with humanity and with compassion. But we need to be clear because many noble Lords seek to suggest, in effect, that in this Bill we rewrite the whole of the legislation virtually in relation to social security and financial support on which those in our country have come to be reliant. Some £90 billion is expended by the Government on social security and financial support. We need to be clear that in civil partnerships, couples will be mutually responsible for each other. We have talked at length about rights, but we have not, I think, underlined sufficiently the responsibilities.
Those who will enjoy the benefits of a civil partnership will enjoy the rights confirmed as a result of the new creation of that relationship in terms of inheritance provision. But they will also have to accept the responsibilities for social security and financial support. These amendments would require the tearing up of all social security law since Beveridge. No pensioner would get an income-related benefit such as pension credit from the state if their civil partner son could support them. No brother could get an income-related disability benefit if his civil partner sister could
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support him. No unemployed adult son could get jobseeker's allowance if his civil partner mother could support him, and no son could fail to pay child support if his mother could meet the Bill. I could go on.
All such benefits would belong not to the individual but to the relationship, which in social security terms would put the clock back to the 1930s. I know that that is not the intention of the noble Baroness. So that is in part why we say, "not this Bill".
The noble Baroness has voiced many issues in relation to those who care. But we must also recognise that these provisions would apply to all families and all estates. The reality of that is that the greatest estates in this country could be passed from father to son or son to sister without there ever being payment of inheritance tax. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, has made it very clear that she would like to see the abolition of all inheritance tax so that no estate would ever be burdened with it. I understand that position and I understand, in tabling these amendments, that that is what she desires. But I say to her, "not in this Bill". It would mark a serious departure from the way in which this country has traditionally looked at inheritance tax and capital gains. This is not a tax Bill.
I hope that I have made it clear that in no way do I wish to denigrate the important relationships that some people have with family members with whom they share a home. Family relationships are of course valuable and society recognises them as such. Parents, children, siblings, aunts, grandparents and nephews all have relationships with each other that are already legally recognised. In Grand Committee I mentioned some of the rights that family members already enjoy such as, for example, recognition in intestacy laws, tenancy succession rights and a general acceptance of the right to visit relatives or attend their funerals.
While there has been discussion of needs and rights, as I said earlier, not enough has been said about the financial responsibilities that are explicit in the Bill. I cite again the example I mentioned earlier of the duty to maintain a civil partner and any child of the family. Moreover, I respectfully point out that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester was right to remind us that family relationships are not usually those of choice, but ones which come about as a result of birth. They can be either a joyous advantage or a somewhat dubious burden, but they are incapable of being thrown off.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. I think that she may be inadvertently confusing the House a little. Would she confirm that this Bill of itself contains no provisions whatever about tax? In whatever form it is enacted, it will be for the Government and the Treasury to decide what they should do about tax. If the amendments tabled by my
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noble friend were accepted, they could decide not to extend the rights of married couples regarding inheritance tax to anyone else. It is up to them how far they go, not up to my noble friend.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not accept that as right because we have been absolutely clear about the basis on which we have brought these provisions before this House. We have outlined the consequences which we reasonably expect will flow from the formation and registration of such relationships, and it is on that basis that we have had our debate.
I have accepted the statements made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that she too seeks to have those issues addressed. She seeks exemption from inheritance tax for those for whom she is pursuing this advantage and, indeed, she would advocate the abolition of all inheritance tax. That is the true basis on which this House is debating these issues.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I am very sorry to do this because I do not want to delay the House any longer. However, at this point I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, that I am very upset at the way she keeps on saying that I am advocating the abolition of inheritance tax. I certainly do not like inheritance tax, but in no way is this a wrecking amendment and in no way is it an amendment to abolition inheritance tax. This amendment seeks solely to right injustice.
I have said time and again that the Government are righting injustice in this Billto same-sex couples. I have not mentioned the words "homosexual" or "homophobia" at all; I refer to same-sex couples. By creating the right to right that injustice, the Government are causing another major injustice. That is it, full square. My amendments say nothing else. I really do not want to be told two or three times that this is a move solely to abolish inheritance tax. I do not like the tax, but there are lots of things that I do not like. However, I am not bringing them into this Bill, and that is a fact.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course I hear what the noble Baroness says and I do not seek to suggest that she is doing anything that she is not entitled to do. But in relation to each of the groups to which she has referred, the consequence would be that they would not be subject to inheritance tax by virtue of their being excluded.
The amendments would allow people in specified family relationships to register as civil partners of each other once they have shared a home for a minimum of 12 years. Since Grand Committee the period of years of continuous home sharing has increased from seven years to 12 years, and it may prove to be very difficult to verify that such a requirement had been met.
But what about a family of three sisters, or two spinster sisters who are joined by their widowed sister? I cannot see how these amendments would help them, and the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, setting out the differences in relation to those relationships were sound. The noble Baroness has said
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that this Bill is highly discriminatory, but how would three sisters living together choose which two of them would form a civil partnership?
I have not heard a great deal about the need for the relatives who come within the noble Baroness's additional categories of civil partnerships to be given special legal recognition for their relationship together as a couple. But this is an important part of what civil partnership offers to the same-sex couples for whom it is designed. Yet we have heard much debate on the financial implications of the Bill, and in particular on their need for exemptions. I am under no illusion about the consequences that would flow. We have already discussed at length our concerns in this regard. The amendment could lead to a sequence of family members forming civil partnerships with other family members in order to continue the situation.
As I said in Grand Committee, the Law Commission's report on home sharers in 2002 concluded that no single solution was possible for all the different permutations of home sharers. My noble friend Lord Alli was quite right to allude to this because it is a difficult and problematic issue. The needs of closely related family members who live together are very different from those of same-sex couples, who lack legal recognition of their relationship together as a couple because they cannot marry.
I recognise the concerns about what some have suggested is the devaluing of marriage and that there is not a significant difference. We have made it clear again and again that we see a very significant difference between the consequences, import and nature of marriage and the civil partnerships that we are now contemplating.
The argument could be made that this kind of arrangement makes the prospect of marriage more difficult for people. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, set out the difficulties involved in ending a partnership when a sibling or another person wishes to enter into a marriage. If a mother and daughter entered into a civil partnership, the daughter caring for her mother would have to go through a court-based dissolution procedure in order to marry.
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said in relation to bringing forward a different amendment to cure the flaws inherent in the amendment of the noble Baroness. However, we do not believe it would be possible to do that within the Bill. I have looked at the detail of what is proposed. I am unconvinced not only of the practicalities of these proposals, even as revised since Grand Committee; but, also, I am firmly unconvinced that the Bill is the right place for them.
I find it highly unlikely that noble Lords would wish to open marriage to people in close family relationshipsI am dealing of course with the issue in terms of heterosexual couplesand, in the same way, it is not appropriate to make civil partnerships available to them either. We believe that opening up such a formal legal relationship to family members
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could lead to questions about the nature of the family unit, blurring the integrity of laws prohibiting sexual relationships within the family.
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