|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it seems to those of us who have listened to this procedural debate for only the past few minutes that the Government have had a collective fit of pique about a decision taken by the House a couple of hours ago to include an amendment against the Government's wishes. On the back of that, the Government are now saying that the amendments that they had proposed, and had wholly intended to move in order to clarify various aspects of the Bill, will now not be moved. That is my understanding of the situation, and I understand that the Bill will now go to the Commons.
Can the Government Chief Whip tell us what will happen to the amendments on the Marshalled List which, I understand from our Front Bench, were all agreed? They were helpful and explanatory amendments and they should be proceeded with. My further understanding is that the Division won earlier does not affect those amendments and does not affect fundamentally the
24 Jun 2004 : Column 1413
substance of the Bill. If the Government wish to behave in what appears to me to be an extremely churlish fashion, they will suffer the consequences.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, I shall try once more, probably in vain, to close down this discussion and move on. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that, far from suffering from a fit of pique or anything else, the only anxiety and stress that I feel in this situation relates to ensuring that we finish the debate before the match starts tonight.
I strongly suggest that this situation is no different from any other, except for the fact that the effect of the amendment that was carried is to redefine a fundamental part of the Bill, and that affects virtually all the other amendments that are to be considered. Is there really anything else that we can find to say? I cannot think of anything.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, perhaps I may speak now. In fact, I think that I am the only person who should be heard under the procedures of the House, and I have behaved with great restraint during this discussion. As I understand it, the Government do not like the amendment, they will keep secret from the House their reasons for not liking it, and they would be obliged if we would just get on and talk to a blank wall. I confess that I do not find that a very satisfactory arrangement.
However, if I may say so, I believe that behind that approach is the fact that there must have been a panicky telephone call from the Treasury. That is at the heart of it. The noble Baronesses opposite say, "No, no. The Treasury? Good gracious me. The Treasury? It would not be the Treasury's concern". The amendment has done nothing to attack the principle of the Bill. All those who would have benefited under the Bill as it was introduced essentially remain to benefit. The earlier vote on the amendment of my noble friend Lady O'Cathain has done nothing to detract in any single way from the privileges or rights which the Bill would extend to certain groups of people. That vote has meant that another group or two of people have been made beneficiaries.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, looks astonished. I thought that she got hold of that idea earlier today. Most of us did, and that is why we voted for my noble friend's amendment. We wanted to benefit another group of people in order to reduce the inequities which the Bill would have created.
I can accept that in respect of certain bits and pieces the Government will want to scratch their headfor example, in relation to the provisions on the rules of evidence and the right which was to be extended to civil partners not to testify against each other. The Bill is, in every sense and every detail, a parody or mirror image of civil marriage. I can understand that.
I could have understood it if the noble Baroness had said that she thought that the House should adjourn early today and that the Report stage would proceed in a week or so after the five departments and however many hundred civil servants involved had gathered together their resources and the bean-counters had
24 Jun 2004 : Column 1414
totted up the sums and made an estimate for the Chancellor of how much it might cost him in lost revenue if these privileges were extended to other people. Indeed, I could have understood it if the noble Baroness who speaks for the Government on social security had totted up on her calculator how much it would save the Treasury because it is a two-way bet.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said this morning, some people might lose if they enter a civil partnership but some might gain. I rather doubt whether people who would lose would be willing to go into a civil partnership, and so the noble Baroness should not worry her head too much about that. But she would want to juggle the figures and we could all understand that.
As I said earlier when I introduced the amendment and did so very brieflyI do not want to make life difficult for the Government. However, that seems to have been a long time ago. I just want to be helpful in any way that I can. I am beginning to feel that it would not be appropriate for me to push this matter to a Division at this stage, but we shall have to return to it at Third Reading. Indeed, we may have to find ways of coming back to it when the Bill returns from the Commons.
But when the Bill reaches the Commons, unless something has changed there, I warn the noble Baroness that a very complex and long Bill such as this will almost certainly be timetabledthat is, guillotined. It is possible that great hunks of it will not be discussed at all in the Commons. Therefore, some of the Government's amendments, which they are now so shy about putting forward, may not be discussed properly.
I said earlier that in my 30-odd years in Parliament I have never encountered such a monumentally incompetently drafted Bill. Bills which have been in gestation longer than a baby elephant now come forward more than 50 per cent longer because pages have been added by government amendments in the Committee and Report stages. But the Government now say that, because my noble friend has secured the agreement of the House to a comparatively simple amendment, they are going to take their bat and ball home and will not even discuss their own amendments.
This is a most extraordinary situation. I now sense that most noble Lords would say to this legislation that it will have to go through as ill considered as it was ill drafted. The Government appear not to want to defend their own legislation in this House because the Treasury says that it cannot count the cost again. The noble Baroness wriggles a lot, but she knows full well, as my noble friend Lady O'Cathain explained earlier, that this Bill is essentially a Bill about money. If the Treasury is the problemI suspect it iswhy do not the Government back off and say that no civil partners of any kind will have the advantages of the avoidance of inheritance tax. That would make the situation much easier. I see the lawyers want to try to be helpful.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, it requires unusual stupidity or courage to interrupt the noble
24 Jun 2004 : Column 1415
Lord, Lord Tebbit, when in full flow. However, as I made the only speech in regard to his amendment, I should like him to reply to the points that I made. He has not replied to a single one.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I must confess that I did not believe that the noble Lord had made any points about this amendment. I know I am getting on a bit and tend towards absentmindedness, but I am sure that he would not want to tempt me to speak on an amendment that was not the one that had been moved. I want to be helpful to everyone. I take the view, which is only a little more extreme than the Government's, that we should all go home. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Duke said: My Lords, this is a fairly brief amendment. If I am not mistaken, it is likely to exclude one group of possible contestants and, to that extent, it might please the Government. The Bill refers on page 1, line 6 to a relationship,
The amendment ensures that the only method of forming a civil partnership will be by registration with the proper authorities. Perhaps it is no secret to your Lordships to find that the amendment was first put forward by the Law Society of Scotland, whose view is that the new statutory arrangements should clearly ensure that there is only one route to establishing a civil partnership. That will reinforce clarity in respect of the new partnership arrangements. Customary routes should not have the capability of emerging over time. The amendment will limit that possibility.
I can see what is in the back of the Law Society of Scotland's mind. As noble Lords are probably aware, in Scotland one can be treated in law as being married by habit and repute. Therefore, one does not have to go through a particular ceremony. It obviously wanted to clarify the fact that, if we introduce this new contract arrangement, it would not eventually be argued that it could be established by habit and repute. I beg to move.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|