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Lord Alli: My Lords, I could not quite understand what the noble Baroness was getting at, in terms of the protection that she seeks to gain by not allowing the Billin her viewto write a blank cheque. Can she indicate what issue she is trying to pursue with the amendment?
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I am awfully sorry; I thought that I had been very clear. We have already discussed the question in Committee, but I am very happy to repeat what I said if that will help the noble Lord.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, gave quite a clear statement, as the Bill is so big, and as we are taking so much trouble to put so much into it, this noble Baroness is suggesting that
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it would have been helpful to put the information into the Bill. That is what I ask for at this stagenothing more than that.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I am naturally disappointed in that response. Having ploughed through the Bill in Committee and as I am now ploughing through it on Report, I am quite prepared to take my amendment away and return with it at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment relates to a clause concerned with the power to require evidence of the details of people who wish to become civil partners. It is becoming apparent that some of the amendments are significantly affected by the amendments agreed earlier, and some are not. If amendments are not affected significantly by those amendments, or would be relevant whether those amendments had been accepted or not, it may save time later and anyway be a sensible way of proceeding if the Government respond to them.
We discussed the matter in Committee. At that time, the Minister said that the Government would look at the points again. I merely inquire whether they have come to any conclusions as a result of doing so.
Perhaps I may raise an additional matter that has arisen since we discussed the matter in Committee. In marriages special procedures exist for immigrants or asylum seekersI am not clear which. They will be required to go to a special office if they wish to be married. That is designed, no doubt, to avoid marriages of convenience which overcome the immigration requirements. That may be relevant whether or not the amendment carried earlier is acceptable. In addition to the points that I made in Committee, can the Minister say whether or not the provisions for civil partnerships will be specified in a similar way to those that apply to people wishing to marry? That would seem sensible. Perhaps the Minister could outline the Government's intention at this stage. I beg to move.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, the amendment illustrates as well as any the difficulty that we are in, because the amendments were tabled before we made the fundamental change to the Bill. All of these amendments would have to be reconsidered if the Bill were to remain as amended.
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I introduced my Bill two and a half years ago and it rightly took the Government two years to produce an extraordinarily long Bill. That length of time was also right because the Bill had to cover the whole of marriage law in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales and apply it mutatis mutandis to same-sex couples. If one were now to seek to alter the amendment and all of the other amendments to accommodate a wider range of relationshipsan extraordinarily wide range that goes well beyond the object of the Billthe consequence of that would be that it would take a team of Government lawyers, Ministers and their advisers not less than two years to produce not two volumes, but probably five volumes of a single Bill, even though the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, suggested that I was clever and could somehow do it. It would become an omnibus Bill, a portmanteau Bill, into which had been packed a wide range of other social relationships that were well beyond the needs of same-sex couples.
That is why I oppose the amendment and any other amendment predicated upon the Bill that has been changed by this debate. The Official Opposition have told us from the beginning, through their leader, the right honourable Michael Howard, that they were in favour of the Bill, that they were a new party in favour of gay rights for the first time in their history and that they would accelerate the Bill by having no pre-legislative scrutiny. But they are now saying to same-sex couples, "You can forget about that, because we will filibuster when the Bill comes back from the Commons. We will keep this going as long as we can because we do not really believe in its objective".
Lord Higgins: My Lords, we have not the least intention of filibustering the Bill. My party's position is clearin fact, not my party, because, unlike the Liberal Democrat Benches, we are on a free vote. But the leader of my party has made the position clear: we are anxious to put the Bill on the statute book.
One of the ways around the problem that we have encountered today would be to cover the points about which the House is concerned in the finance legislation. Then we could proceed with this Bill without those matters. That does not mean that it is not reasonable to move the amendment, particularly to clarify the situation with regard to immigrants and asylum seekers, which I raised with the noble Baroness. In Committee she said that she would look at the matter again. The points that were raised then are in no way affected by the amendment carried earlier and it would be reasonable for the Government to respond. There is no question whatever of filibustering the Bill. On the contrary, we are anxious to make progress.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I have no wish to be disrespectful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, as I am sure he will recognise. However, as he was looking for a detailed response from us, I have to disappoint him. The Government have nothing to add to the
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arguments made in Grand Committee, save to say that it is simply not necessary on the face of the Bill to list all the documents that would be acceptable evidence of these different types of information. We therefore oppose the amendment.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, that is a clear answer to the points made in Committee. The noble Baroness said that she would look at the matter and we now have her considered view on it. However, I hope that we can clarify the other point that I raised, to which there was no response. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, may be prepared to give a clearer view at Third Reading and I may well table an amendment to that effect to cover the point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, some amendments are affected by that which was carried earlier and some are not. This amendment is now even more relevant, but one would need to consider the implications of what has happened in deciding whether it is drafted in precisely the form which would cover the points we want to raise. I shall not move it now but will return to the matter at Third Reading.
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