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Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords—

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords—

Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, I always give way to a bishop. We bishops are courteous to each other.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, the noble Lord is very kind. I thank him.

I think that all noble Lords around the House very much share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I believe that that places us in a difficulty. However, I want to suggest two principles that are at stake that might suggest to the noble Baroness and to the House that the Bill is not the vehicle within which to achieve her aim.

Let me put the matter in another context. Let us suppose that the Minister had come to this House with a Bill to set right the issues of civil justice for people of the same sex who are living together. Under the terms of matrimonial law I would have had real difficulty. This Bench and people more generally would have had difficulty. Matrimonial law is a parallel, but it is a different field of law. Perhaps I may say to the Minister that it would be good to have on record that the public understanding of marriage held in the law of this country is not affected by this Bill. That would help us enormously in getting the matter clear.

I said in the Third Reading debate that the mess we got ourselves into at the end of the day was also about the principle. In this House we should not pass Bills that lack clarity of principle. The clarity of principle of this Bill is that it deals with relationships between people of the same sex. That is the central principle of it. It is different from marriage but it has this parallel. One of the reasons people in my office and the clergy encourage people who are living together to enter into marriage, recognising that marriage is a relationship between the two of them and not just a statement in the law, is in order that the community as a whole should be clear about the relationship that they are in. The Bill achieves that for people of long-term relationships of the same sex. It is not just about gay couples; it is about people of the same sex. That is very important because a whole variety of relationships are covered under this matter. I believe that it is important that we hold to the integrity of the Bill.

The third thing to say—and here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe—is that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, would be better served by dealing separately with the complex matters of law that surround family relationships. There is a sense in which this amendment does not achieve all that needs to be achieved in that area. I think that we would be helped if the Government were a little more upfront in saying that they recognise that a whole field of relationships and consequences in human rights needs

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to be addressed. If the Minister were able to give us a little more encouragement in that area, I think that we might be able to progress with this Bill.

However, what I am not happy to see is our losing the Bill around this issue. It is important that we do not lose the Bill at this stage in the Parliament.

Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, I am grateful to right reverend Prelate for that contribution. I am glad that I observed the convention of this House and gave way to him because I agree with almost all that he has said. My one caveat is on the question of marriage. I think that people who equate—I know the right reverend Prelate did not—this Bill with marriage do a great disservice to the Bill and to marriage. Marriage is quite a different relationship. It is the union—one hopes for life—of a man and a woman. It has a special place in our tradition because it has been sanctified by the sacramental tradition of Christianity. It is very important to preserve that. Those who either support or oppose the Bill obfuscate the whole issue when they talk about gay marriages.

We do not have to take our theology from the tabloid press; we do not even have to take it from the compact press. That is an arcane tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, who unfortunately is not in his place because he is having a tooth out. While I agree entirely in principle with the noble Baroness—and, indeed, said so on Report—I have my doubts about the matter because of the risks that this amendment poses to the success of this Bill, which has been achieved with so much sacrifice and with so much preparation.

So my objection to my noble friend's amendment is not that it is wrong in principle—it is right in principle. If the Government really want to see this Bill get through, I would very much welcome some firmer words, as the right reverend Prelate has said, as to what would be done for these families. I should be very happy to join my noble friend Lady O'Cathain in an ecumenical effort—ecumenical in these circumstances because we are in disagreement on this point—to do something positive, concrete and real to help not only relatives but also carers.

The amendment is wrong not in principle but in practice. It is the wrong time and the wrong place. To take the time first, to produce an amendment of such importance and complexity for the whole of our family and constitutional law at the last moment surely cannot be right. It cannot be right for the House, without the supporting documentation, research, knowledge and all the preliminary work that must be done, to accept the amendment.

Secondly, it is in the wrong place. My noble friend said that the Bill would right an injustice and create others, but we can look at it in quite a different way. There are all sorts of injustices in these complex relationships. The Bill does not create a new injustice; it gets rid of one of the injustices, which is a very important advance. Therefore, we can support the Bill in good conscience while wanting other measures to be proposed to right other wrongs.

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No one could disagree with my noble friend's principle, but the effect of the amendment could be to wreck the Bill—she does not intend that, but I am considering not her intentions but the effect—which rights an injustice and which carries the hopes of many people with it.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, it is the mark of a skilled, astute and experienced parliamentarian to be able to use a measure proposed for one purpose in order to bring to the attention of the House and the country at large another matter of enormous importance. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, has clearly done that.

There is little doubt in anyone's mind that the noble Baroness has pointed up a matter of injustice and enormous and widespread importance. There is no doubt about that. However, it is also clear that what she has raised is a separate matter—she herself described it as a parallel matter. The right reverend Prelate clarified for the House in a marvellous way why it is such a separate matter. The matter that we embarked on with the Bill was the way to address the question of same-sex relationships between two people and the fact that there was no legal standing for such relationships and it was important that legal standing be given not just for financial reasons but for a range of important compassionate reasons.

When the noble Baroness raises this further question, she ventures into an area of enormous complexity, because it is not just about the relationship between two people. Many families involve many more than two people, and the two who are living together may not necessarily be the two who are closest together by relationship.

Perhaps because of the average age of the House, there has been a good deal of concentration on elderly couples who may be living together—two older sisters, or whatever. But a very common situation is that of a woman or, indeed, a man in her or his 30s or early 40s with an ailing elderly parent. Were there such a system, there might be pressure to enter into an arrangement for practical, personal and other reasons. Then, someone else important comes along for that relatively young person, in her or his 30s or 40s, which complicates the issue. It complicates the issue in any case, but it will complicate it a good deal further if questions of registration, finance and so on have been brought to bear.

I do not raise that as an argument for not addressing the question. I am simply saying that the noble Baroness has encouraged us to consider a question even more complex than she has perhaps been able to address in her amendment. The difficulty is that in an attempt concisely and perhaps a little briskly to address a particular injustice—injustice there undoubtedly is—one can create a worse situation, which is not what anyone wants to do. Matters of family and relationships require consideration; they require us to think them through. Of course, no matter how deeply we think them through, we will not remove all difficulties, complexities or injustices,

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but we owe it to those who may be affected to give them serious consideration and ensure that, as far as possible, we remove complexity, difficulty and injustice.

For myself and, I suspect, for most Members of your Lordships' House, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that question. When she says that she thinks that it will be prolonged beyond next year, she is perhaps being a little despondent about what results next year may bring. The matter that she has raised should not be forgotten, but nor should it be given short shrift, either by being set aside or by being too readily adopted. That might not only disadvantage the Bill on which we have embarked but not do the service that she would wish to the many people who deserve our attention on that other side of complex family relationships.


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