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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have made it plain that all the amendments which we seek to bring forward will be predicated on the definition of same-sex couples entering into the partnerships, not any other definition. All our amendments were predicated on that basis. It would be impossible for those amendments to be reconfigured in order to reflect the new construct which must be put on civil partnerships as a result of the amendment your Lordships have just passed.

I am sure that noble Lords opposite understood the consequence of what they did because I cannot imagine that it would have been done without them fully understanding that it would fundamentally alter the whole nature of the Bill—the whole nature of the Bill.

We wish the Bill to be speedy in its transit through this House so that it can be properly considered. It was a matter for noble Lords to take the view and approach that they did and the consequences that flow from that. We now face those consequences.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, it is difficult on Report to sort out a confusion of this kind because one is supposed to speak only once. However, perhaps I may pose one or two questions to the noble Baroness. She said that the Government do not propose to move the government amendments. However, a considerable number of amendments on the Marshalled List are not necessarily affected by what has happened and it would seem sensible to progress with them. Indeed, on Amendment No. 7, which I hope to move later, it may be possible to clarify many of the consequences of what has happened.
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Secondly, if the Government simply intend to sit on their hands at this stage, intend that the Bill will then go to the Commons where the amendment will be reversed and then come back here, what will be the procedure for considering the Bill further? We cannot do so simply on a rejection of an amendment by the Commons. That would be quite inappropriate. The Bill would be in an even bigger mess than it is now.

We need to know. It is all very well standing up and saying, "Oh, well, we don't propose to move our amendments". We need to know what the procedure is which the Government propose and, in particular, whether there is any precedent whatever for a Government making the kind of statement that the noble Baroness has just made.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as a consequence of what the House did, the House chose not to scrutinise those issues because it fundamentally disagreed with the Government's view that civil partnerships should be restricted to same-sex relationships. The consequence which flows is that of course noble Lords can table any amendments they choose. They will be debated and the Government will participate to the extent they feel able. I have indicated, as a matter of convenience for the House, that we will not involve ourselves in the details of the debate but say simply that we will oppose the amendments.

We are not seeking to deny the House the proper opportunity to scrutinise. The House has chosen to act in the way that it has. That means that in relation to certain matters the House has lost the right to scrutinise. That is our right. Noble Lords went through the Lobbies and voted on that basis. Now we have the consequences. It is a matter which has not been of the Government's making.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, with the leave of the House—it is difficult on Report to try to sort out the problem—can the noble Baroness comment on the second point I raised? How do the Government now propose that the Bill will proceed? Does she propose that it will go to Third Reading or does she have some other procedure in mind? If the Government do not move any of their amendments and the Bill goes through totally unamended to another place, it will not be satisfactory for the other place simply to reverse our amendment and then for the Bill to return here merely on that reversal. We would need to have a completely new arrangement to cover the return of our amendment if, as seems likely, the Government succeed in reversing it. We need some view from the Government, either from the Chief Whip or otherwise, on the procedure which we will now follow.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the procedure is absolutely and precisely as it always is; that is, the Bill goes through Report stage and Third Reading and then proceeds to the Commons. It is a Lords starter so it will go through all its stages in the Commons where the Government will put forward whatever amendments they want to put forward. The Bill will then return here
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and we shall deal with Lords consideration of Commons amendments in the normal way. The effect of our earlier vote, without wishing to be repetitive, has a knock-on effect on virtually everything on the Marshalled List for consideration today.

The Bill will proceed in the normal way; that is, any Member of the House can move the amendment down in his name; they can be debated and the Government will give whatever response they feel appropriate. We have indicated that it might be minimal in view of the decision made earlier today. The short, simple and precisely accurate answer is to say that the Bill will continue to be considered in exactly the same as any other Bill.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House exactly what we are discussing at the present time? I understand that an amendment has been moved and spoken to and the Minister has wound up. According to the rules, that should be the end of the matter.

If we are going to have a discussion about procedure, many of us will want to take part in it. That is why I ask the Chief Whip for clarification of the present position.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, we have moved seamlessly into a procedural discussion from a discussion on an amendment. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who was a long-standing and, perhaps I may say, tough Whip in the other place, knows that perfectly well. I strongly suggest to the House that we proceed precisely in the old familiar track in the old familiar way. We should put forward amendments for discussion, move them or not, withdraw them or not and vote on them or not. Why do we not get on with the business?

Lord Higgins: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I am trying to be helpful. I do not understand what the Government Chief Whip is saying. He is saying that the Bill will go through the normal procedures in this House, then go to another place where the amendment we have just carried is likely to be reversed and then return to us here. However, I am not clear how we in this House can possibly discuss the detail of the Bill simply on a government amendment to an amendment we have carried in this House. As I understand it, there is not the scope to discuss all these issues.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I need to remind the House—this is a point on which I feel strongly—that the Bill is a Lords starter, as was the Constitutional Reform Bill. Both were strongly argued for by my noble friend the Leader of the House and myself as being desirable to be Lords starters. It is important that this House has important Bills to consider first and foremost.

I shall confine my remarks to this Bill and not include the Constitutional Reform Bill. If a fundamental change has been made in this House to
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the nature and substance of a Bill, as in this case, clearly, the sooner we can get it to the other House which can consider it properly in the normal way—not considering Lords amendments but considering it through all its stages—the better. Frankly, I cannot see the problem or the difficulty in the Bill coming back here with a series of Commons amendments for us to consider in the normal way. As the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, suggested, it is possible that the process will take longer. I fully understand that, but it seems to me that the procedure is simple.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, perhaps I may respectfully suggest—I do not move—that the House adjourns for a few moments to try to resolve this problem. It is wholly unacceptable that we should continue on the basis which the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has, with the best intentions, set out. He had to say what he said because of the procedures to be followed. But I suggest, without moving, that the House should adjourn for a short time to see whether some accommodation can be made.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I really do think that that would waste everyone's time. We need to proceed with this Bill. No change in procedure or normal practice is being suggested. The vast majority of amendments that come before this House are not put to a vote. Quite frequently, amendments which appear on the Marshalled List are not moved. That is precisely and exactly where we are at the moment. Numerically the balance may be a little different and it is possible that rather more amendments may not be moved than is normally the case, but I do not think that anyone in the House does not understand or appreciate that. The sooner we get on with the business of this very important Lords starter, which we want to continue discussing, the better. We should get on with it and complete the various stages of the Bill without having an extended debate which, I suggest, is unnecessary.

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