Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as this is the last group of amendments, I do not want to add to what my noble friend the Duke of Montrose has just said, but to say that, like my noble friend Lord Higgins, in the 30 years that I have been in Parliament I have never experienced an afternoon like the one we have had today. The Government's response to the defeat,
24 Jun 2004 : Column 1458
which, admittedly, they clearly did not expect, was highly unsatisfactory. I refer to their refusal even to explain what their amendments meant, even when there was a great deal of sympathy both for the Bill generally—as was known from the earlier stages of the Bill—and for the particular amendment under debate. The fact that they refused even to explain what they were doing on some but not all of the amendments was highly unsatisfactory.

There has been no attempt to filibuster. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, accused us of that a little earlier but I think I am right in saying that he made about the longest speech of anyone in the course of the whole discussion. That is not unusual, but he did so today.

I remind the House that the amendment which was carried earlier was carried entirely on a free vote, at any rate so far as my party was concerned. So far as I know, that applied to other parties. I believe I am right in saying that noble Lords of different parties went through different Lobbies. I have not studied the Division List in detail as yet but there were noble Lords from different parties in different Lobbies.

Lord Alli: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not accept that following what happened this morning with the relevant amendment, on which the House rightly voted as it saw fit, for those of us who sat through Grand Committee the concept of the Civil Partnership Bill had been fundamentally changed? Therefore, all the amendments that we were discussing, and had discussed in Grand Committee, gained wider ramifications that made every single one of them incompatible with the broader scope of the Bill. Does the noble Lord accept that the Government have allowed proceedings to move forward—we have had discussions on a whole range of issues—but that the amendments that the noble Lord was seeking to discuss seem to be inappropriate given the change in circumstances and scope of the Bill?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord was intervening in my speech or making his own. However, from the way he expressed himself, I believe that he was intervening in my speech.

Lord Alli: My Lords, for clarity, I was intervening in the noble Lord's speech; I was not making my own.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that clear. I understand the point that the noble Lord made from his own point of view, but I certainly do not think that it applies to anything like all the amendments that we have discussed this afternoon. In any case, I see no reason why the Government could not have explained what various amendments would have meant had the Bill not been amended. That would have been helpful to the House and no doubt to the discussion of the Bill, which will proceed both in this place and in another place.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, in the light of the previous contribution, I am making my
24 Jun 2004 : Column 1459
own speech. I offer it as we helpfully become reflective on this extraordinary afternoon—or so I thought at the start of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

When the noble Lord, Lord Lester, brought forward his own Civil Partnerships Bill in January two and a half years ago, I made the point that some of us who were not at all happy with it might have been markedly happier had it looked at a much smaller number of people, been a much smaller Bill, and looked at a number of the clearest points where there were manifest injustices and sources of real distress and anxiety. That advice has not been followed by the process that has brought us to this point.

One plank of what the Government and others have said is that responsibility for the position in which we find ourselves lies with those who were in the majority this afternoon. However, a significant element of responsibility seems to lie on those responsible for the character of the Bill. The Bill has become enormous and spread because of the intention—perhaps as a result of a particular element of human rights legislation—to replicate painstakingly everything there might be concerning marriage. The position in which the Government have found themselves largely stems from that astonishing exhaustiveness of the Bill.

Might there not be a question of remembering the advice that some of us gave two and a half years ago—that the Government might more easily get a much more straightforward Bill through, one that addresses some of the most critically and obviously distressing, disadvantaging and, frankly, wrong elements of the present system? If it is the responsibility of the majority this afternoon, which I question, it is not simply our responsibility, because the whole character of the Bill—its scale, shape and exhaustive replication—has got us where we are.

Lord Roper: My Lords, I am not speaking to respond to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about the contribution of my noble friend Lord Lester to Amendment No. 87. However, given that the whole debate on that group took only 15 minutes, it cannot be said that he was speaking at excessive length.

The situation is very unusual. In my experience in both Houses of this Parliament, I have never known such a radical change to a piece of legislation; it may be an unprecedented change. It would probably have misled the House had the Government attempted to use material prepared to discuss amendments that it was assumed would be considered in a different context. It is right that that material was not put on record. The Government have behaved in the correct manner in this extraordinarily unusual situation. However, I hope that we will have an opportunity at a later stage—when amendments come back from the Commons—to give amendments the consideration that we have not been able to give them this afternoon.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I want to add a word or two to the remarks of my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester.
24 Jun 2004 : Column 1460
Whatever mess we have got ourselves into today, we as a House need to bear two things in mind. First, the Government started this legislation here. It is entirely appropriate that such legislation be started in this House. Therefore, we have to watch how we conduct ourselves, and not hand across to the other place legislation that is clearly in a principled mess. If we do not watch that, the Government might be tempted not to take such a route, which has implications for the practice of this House.

My second point is that we have to have legislation that is rooted in principle. All those in positions of political responsibility need to consider that, whatever their point of view. There is a variety of points of view on these Benches as well as elsewhere in the House. Given the damage that has been done today there has to be coherence in terms of principle. We have lost that today. I hope that those that are here every day through negotiation will help us to recover the situation.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, like others I deeply regret the situation in which we find ourselves. It was not created by any act of Government; it was a consequence of a vote that was taken earlier today that the Government have to respect and act upon as though it happened. With the best will in the world, what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, seems to suggest is that the Government should respond to amendments as if that vote had not taken place, as though the will of the House had not been declared and as though the Government had not been overturned in a straight debate about the core concept of the Bill, which is, "What is a couple?". That concept of partners living as though they were husband and wife has now been changed radically and fundamentally out of all recognition, as the noble Lord, Lord Roper, said.

As my noble friend Lord Alli said clearly, in consequence, most of the government amendments and the Government's response to the amendments moved were based on one concept of the Bill, which has now been completely, dramatically and fundamentally changed. If the precepts of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, had been followed we could have been described as being arrogant, as disregarding the view of the House, of ignoring it, of being confident that the Commons would overturn the vote and of pretending that it had never taken place.

We could not do that. We were in an extremely difficult position. I entirely respect some of the amendments and positions taken by noble Lords opposite—as well as noble Lords on the Bishops' Bench. The Government have tried to act in a clean, straightforward and transparent manner. I hope that we will have an adequate opportunity at a later stage to do what this House does best, which is to scrutinise the Bill carefully. Maybe we will make time to do that at some point in the proceedings, but the situation was created by the vote today. It has fundamentally changed the Bill. We could not act as though that vote had not taken place and therefore we took the most
24 Jun 2004 : Column 1461
honourable way forward, which was to recognise that fact, expedite the proceedings and allow us, perhaps, at a later stage to have further scrutiny of the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page