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Specified degrees of family relationship
(1) Two people are within the specified degrees of family relationship if one falls within the list below in relation to the other. Adoptive child Adoptive parent Child Former adoptive child Former adoptive parent Grandparent
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Grandchild Parent Parent's sibling Sibling Sibling's child (2) In the list "sibling" means a brother, sister, half-brother or half-sister."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment concerns Clause 41 which details provisions on attempts at reconciliation of civil partners. The clause would allow a court hearing an application to dissolve a civil partnership to adjourn proceedings if it appears that the civil partners have a reasonable possibility of achieving reconciliation. The clause states that the court must make provision for the applicant's solicitors to certify that they have discussed with their clients the possibility of reconciliation and to provide the applicant with details of persons qualified to help the civil partners effect reconciliation.
In Grand Committee, I first raised our concerns regarding this clause in a general clause-stand-part debate, but have now drafted an amendment which is more suited to the point we are trying to make. Our amendment would ensure that the applicant's solicitor raises the possibility of a reconciliation with his client,
We are looking for a way of ensuring that reconciliation is raised by the solicitor as early as possible and not at the courtroom door. An early reconciliation will save the applicant money and both the applicant and the court system time. As I have said on many occasions, civil partnerships are not something which should be entered into lightly and they should be given all the chances that can be given to reconcile such a relationship. I beg to move.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, this may be a very decent and well intentioned amendment and, under other circumstances, it may be the kind of amendment that the Government would want to consider. But, as I understand it, it is designed to deal with the situation where a civil partnership between a same-sex couple is breaking up and those involved are going through a process, which, had they been an opposite-sex married couple, would be called divorce.
Given the amendment that was agreed to this morning, it is very difficult to see how one would apply any such vocabulary to the ending or dissolution of a
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civil partnership between, say, a mother and son or a brother and sister who remain mother and son or brother and sister even after the civil partnership is over.
Therefore, the noble Baroness will understand that I simply cannot engage in this debate, much as I would wish to do so, because the context within which the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, perfectly decently, would otherwise have been discussed is now completely different. Therefore, I am afraid that the Government cannot make any further response.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, following the events earlier today, I entirely understand the Government's difficulty. However, on the assumption that Parliament will, by one route or another, get its act together and sort out the confusions that have arisen, perhaps I may say that the clause that we are debating is a very interesting piece of legislation. I am delighted to see it, and I have some sympathy with the amendment because it also has an implication for matrimonial law and practice.
The language of reconciliation is used on the face of the Bill. I know that the noble and learned Lord who was Lord Chancellor, and who introduced a very important Act of Parliament, Part 2 of which the Government decided not to fulfil a while back, made some efforts to get that into matrimonial law.
If we sort out the messI believe that we are in a mess with regard to this Billand we find a way of proceeding, perhaps I may say to some noble Lords opposite that this is not just about gay and lesbian couples; it is about same-sex partnerships. Can we keep the language clear so that we include all those who may potentially benefit if we get our act together? However, I should like to encourage the Government to "roll on" if we reach that point and to think about the implications for matrimonial practice as well.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the Minister's response to me. However, I had written down "civil partnerships, same sex" and I hope, too, that at some stage we shall be able to consider this amendment. I am extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. I was a little confused earlier and I hope that he will excuse me as I nearly referred to him as the Bishop of Guildford. He is right. We are talking about same-sex couples here, and I am delighted that we can at least place that on the record in Hansard. I hope that at some point we shall be able to return to the amendment in some form to see whether we can take it further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Duke said: My Lords, this is one of several Scottish amendments which have been put to us by the Scottish Law Society. This amendment ensures that the parties to a civil partnership clearly agree to enter the partnership. The reason given by the Law Society is that the Bill infers that parties agree to enter the civil partnership by, for example, contemporaneous inscription of the civil partnership schedule. However, there is no specific requirement for agreement between the parties. The amendment provides for that agreement. It would also allow for avoidance of the partnership if a party lacked capacity or was induced to enter the partnership through fraud or under duress. I beg to move.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, in view of the changed nature of civil partnership following the earlier amendment, I am unable to contribute to the debate on this amendment at this stage. In common with the rest of the Bill, the Scottish clauses are fundamentally altered.
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