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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this Bill is very much required. I hope that the House will accept the form in which it has come back to us from the Commons and reject the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain.
The Bill is important because it deals with many of the issues which currently present problems for same-sex couples. At present, no mechanism is open to them for giving their relationships legal recognition or status. Those difficulties may relate to the rights of the next of kin, visiting rights in hospitals, key medical decisions or inheritance or pension issues. Anyone who knows of gay couples in secure, permanent relationships will know of the insecurity, trauma and distress that can be caused because currently no legal recognition is given to their relationship. I have no doubt that if the Bill is passed as it left the other place, it will provide stability to partnerships based on permanent and loving relationships.
I listened very carefully to the speech of the noble Baroness. No one who heard that speech could doubt her sincerity in moving the amendment and no one could doubt the concerns that she has. That is not in question. But I believe that, if we were to pass the amendment, we would, in effect, make the Bill unworkable.
The noble Baroness seeks to develop a parallel scheme for family members on the basis of what is contained in the current Bill, albeit with certain restrictions, as she described. Her amendment follows others which were discussed seriously in the other place and which I believe would have had largely the same effect. Not surprisingly, the Commons rejected those amendments by very large votes. They rejected them for very practical reasons, having been of the view that the Bill was not the right vehicle in which the matters raised by the noble Baroness should be considered. The Government and my noble friend have responded sympathetically this afternoon and have said that they will consider some of the issues raised in these debates.
I turn to the practical reasons why we should reject the amendment. It is a fact that siblings and other family members already have legal recognition by virtue of being related. They do not need legal recognition in the way that same-sex couples do. The amendment is concerned with inheritance and capital gains tax, but what would be the cost? Today, the House of Lords is asked to take a decision which would commit the expenditure of billions of pounds. Today, in relation to inheritance tax my noble friend talked of a figure of £2.8 billion. If that figure is correct, it is a huge amount of government expenditure for the House suddenly to decide to commit. We do not have time to study the figures, and we have not had a chance to scrutinise them.
The noble Baroness has not explained to any satisfaction why her amendment confines the matter to two people. Today, she came to the House with a figure of 12 years, but what is the justification for that figure? Why should the people involved have to be aged over 30? I have five children. What would happen if three of them shared a home, and two of them wanted to enter into partnership and one did not? Those practical difficulties need to be fully explored before your Lordships can decide whether this is a wise course of action.
The amendment concerns practical, difficult and complicated matters of family law. Surely we should not alter the law without careful examination and parliamentary scrutiny of the highest order. Can we seriously commit ourselves to the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness and stop the rest of the Bill being enacted without giving those matters such careful attention?
I doubt very much whether the Bill is the right vehicle to deal with the very legitimate questions raised by the noble Baroness. It is expressly designed to deal with same-sex couples; it has been thoroughly debated and examined on that basis. Why should single-sex couples in stable relationships have to wait for a long time before the legislation can be passed? If the amendment is passed this afternoon, I doubt whether the Bill will ever come into force because of the legal, practical and financial difficulties involved.
This is a revising Chamber, and the Government have said that they are prepared to look at some of those matters. In the best House of Lords tradition, should we not accept that as a sensible way forward? Surely, on the basis that the issues have been raised and the Government have said that they are prepared to look at them, we could pass this Bill without amendment, bring comfort and security to many same-sex couples, and bring to the statute book a Bill that, I believe, commends itself, and ought to commend itself to Members of the House.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support the amendment. It depends how one looks at the issue, like most problems. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, addressed it in one wayfrom the point of view of same-sex couples. I agree that it is right that their status should be recognised. However, I disagree with the noble Lord because he raises no criticism of my noble friend's amendment in principle, or in its intrinsic purpose and value.
I approach it in this way. If one seeks to do what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I both want to do, if what my noble friend Lady O'Cathain wants to do is not open to serious critical objection, and if this is a fair way of looking at the situation, is it not right to have parallel provisions in the interests of justice, so providing a position that does not create disparity between the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, looks at the issue and the way I look at it?
The amendment has a very limited intendment. As I see it, it is not related to the status of marriage, although the lobby appears to think otherwise. It refers only to registrable family relationships. It is an attempt not to wreck the Bill, but to address a disparity and to create a just and fair resolution of a problem that requires resolution. It is inequitable to address one problem without addressing the other. The fact that it came late in the day is, I accept, unfortunate. But the fact that it is late cannot affect the fundamental merits of the argument. If the argument is sound, we have to deal with it.
The amendment addresses the needs of a surviving partner. In an ageing populationI have read the debatewhen there is little prospect of any satisfactory pension structure, when we hear about Land Commission proposalsI have heard about Land Commission proposals all my life and very few of them have ever been implementedand, far more importantly, when there are security of tenure issues,
In a sense, the parallel not only rights the imbalance, but it serves as a humanitarian measure. It is an interim measure. The problem is that, at the moment, the scheme favours only one aspect of the social problem. It is obvious that implementation of the scheme will involve fiscal matters that will have to be dealt with in a Finance Act. Security of tenure will have to be dealt with by amendment to relevant extant legislation in that sphere. But the principle of the amendment is entirely sound and fair and should be accepted as such.
At this stage it would have been wholly inappropriateperhaps it is unfortunate because it is lateto set out detailed provisions of how each relevant extant statute should be amended to give effect to the principle. This is an amendment in principle; it is sound in principle; it is fair in principle; and it is worthy of your Lordships' support.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I fully support the aims of the Civil Partnership Bill. Moreover, perhaps not unnaturally with my equal opportunity background, in June I was one of those who voted for the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. Frankly, that was because I shared, and still share, the noble Baroness's concerns about the oft overlooked difficulties faced by family members living together, and, indeed, although they are not part of the amendment, by carers who often face severe financial and social hardship.
Since we last debated the matter I have studied the many letters that I am sure many of your Lordships will have received and have listened to what the Minister has said and what she has said in letters to those noble Lords who wished to hear about the matter. I am now persuaded that there are substantial as well as technical reasons why this Bill is not suited for the laudableand I do mean thatintentions of those supporting the noble Baroness's amendments.
On this occasion, therefore, I shall, if a Division is called, vote for the Bill as it has been returned to us. That certainly does not mean that the aim to bring family members to equal status with those in civil partnerships should be abandoned. When I say others in similar situations I have in mind, for example, the caring relationship that might exist between three elderly siblings and an elderly parent with more than one child supporting him or her. I am now convinced that a framework based on a partnership model of just two people is clearly inadequate to cope with situations of that kind.
But once this landmark legislation is passed, as I very much hope it will be, the leapfrogging series of laws of the 1960s, 1970s and even later, by which women and ethnic minorities gradually achieved equal rights, sets a possible and important precedent for the way forward.
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