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Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has a great gift for making what I call the penultimate speech, the speech that is designed to draw forward the Front-Bench speakers, because everything that must be said has been said. Most things that must be said have been said, but just a little has been left out. I ask your Lordships' indulgence for a brief speech. I have spoken only once before during these proceedings. That was on Second Reading, to say that, on balance, and with some regret, but with honest intention, I was in favour of the Bill. I remain so.

I do not accept the argument that the amendment would wreck the Bill. There is plenty of time for the other place to send it back without the amendment and an opportunity would then be provided for Members of the other place also to say something that has not been said that should be. We have all been schooled throughout all these debates to regard this as something distinct and separate from and not related to marriage. So be it, let us accept that it is so.

In that case, all the issues in the Bill must be dealt with as not pertaining to marriage. One of them, probably the most delicate and therefore the least referred to, is the relationship between those whom the Bill is principally designed to benefit and the rest of the community. At present, the Bill is designed to benefit them outside marriage in a way that other couples, such as those that my noble friend has described, who are, let us admit, far more numerous, are not to benefit. That will be seen as unfair and will attract hostility.

I expect that your Lordships will test your feelings on the matter in a Division; I shall support my noble friend. Whether the amendment goes back to the other House or falls here, the Government must accept that, in engendering the Bill, they have brought on themselves a duty to secure a perception of fairness between those who benefit from it and those who are excluded from those benefits. I remain a friend of the Bill, but my friendship is tempered by the imperfection that my noble friend is trying to remedy. If she fails, as I fear she may, that must be tackled by the Government, and soon.

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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, following a series of extraordinarily elegant speeches, I want to pick up on two issues and respond to the noble Baroness's question of justice. There are many injustices in this nation and this world. I have spent most of my working life struggling and working against those injustices as a social worker, a carer, and in many other roles. Speaking from the Cross Benches, I am clear that, if we vote for the noble Baroness's amendment, we will wreck the Bill, and therefore will not alleviate one injustice but create another.

For all the eloquent speeches that we have heard, the Bill is about a real justice: equality for people who choose to live in same-sex couples and to spend their lives together in fidelity, honesty and caring. My many friends in such relationships, whom I know well, who have brought up children—I have worked with children in those situations—show many of the wonderful characteristics that one finds in a good marriage. I do not equate those relationships with marriage.

I plead that we do not lose the Bill. Many hope that it will confer on them a status that means that, when they go into hospital, the person with whom they live can make decisions about their treatment if they are unconscious, not parents who have been hostile to them for 20 years, since they began to live with their partner. They hope that they will not have the worry of inheritance—I accept that many others have that worry—and that they will not find themselves making difficult choices between their family and their partner, for practical rather than emotional and loving reasons.

I know that many noble Lords will have voted for the amendment at the previous stage, believing that they were supporting many other people in the community. Regardless of what the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, says, there are other issues to be addressed. If we try to address them in this Bill, we will have laid down a marker for those people, but we will have lost equality for same-sex couples.

I wish to reinforce the point made by the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Much of my work has been in contentious family situations. We must remember that many caring situations and family situations—noble Lords know their own families—are not benign; people live in hostile and difficult situations. The amendment could put them into a chained situation. I have had to intervene where dominant, aggressive, old fathers have been determined to keep their daughters caring for them. The amendment would give such people a real opportunity to continue that.

I am relieved to hear that we are not focusing on carers, but they are an important element. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, cannot attend the debate because of a family difficulty. But she would have been careful in saying, with her grace and authority, that carers, carer organisations and family organisations are all anxious that the amendments are not agreed. Those of us who deal in family law know that the complications would be horrendous for ordinary families, and many legal groups have told us so.

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I recognise that, depending on what we do, we will send out a different message. I do not believe that the message will go out that we do not care for people who live together. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I think that the combinations in the amendment are extraordinary—if you were living for four years with someone for whom you cared, or if you lived with three siblings for five years, you would receive these benefits. I cannot understand the package that creates these odd benefits. I would like the Government to think the matter through in detail. If we agreed the amendment, we would send out the message that we do not believe that gay people in a relationship have the right to establish themselves in equal households.

These days, many noble Lords are afraid to use such words in the House because of the difficulties caused in the previous debate, but I say with great gentleness that the people in those communities who feel that homophobia is still rife in this country will receive another message if we wreck the Bill: that we are a homophobic society which does not care that these groups of people have a right to love, justice, care and tenderness. The amendment would wreck the Bill, although I am sure that the noble Baroness does not intend it. I therefore deeply hope that noble Lords will reject the amendment and keep the Bill.

4.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, is to be in a formidable position, because she speaks with great knowledge and understanding. I hope that I may be permitted to make just a few observations, despite the fact that my noble friend Lord Elton, in that engaging way that he sometimes has, says, "I fancy that this is a penultimate speech, so I shall make my speech and everyone else can keep in their place".

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in a most engaging and impressive speech, tried virtually to remove from its place the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, suggesting that it was impossible and unusable. My noble friend was right to table the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said that they had tried to rewrite the whole basis of family law; that is a very impressive and formidable task. Part of the trouble is that the Bill has produced an inequality, which my noble friend Lady O'Cathain is trying to address.

The Bill is specifically designed, as the noble Baroness said, for same-sex couples. That is fine, except that it happens to have upset the balance with ordinary couples. We heard the story of two sisters who had lived together for a number of years. One died and the other was obliged to pay inheritance tax. That would not apply to a same-sex couple who had lived together for two weeks. My noble friend is trying to point out that that is not fair. If the law was wrong previously, we have tipped it over into being wrong again now. It is hard when that happens.

It has been said that there are 40,000 couples living in a same-sex relationship, but it is reckoned that only 5 per cent—2,000—are likely to take advantage of the

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provision. One wonders whether it is right to introduce a law which specifically benefits 2,000 couples but equally specifically does not benefit others in a similar set-up, in so far as they live together but do not have the particular business of being in a same-sex relationship. That is the point that my noble friend makes. If we alter the law for same-sex couples, that is fine, but we should not prejudice the law against those who are not of that particular persuasion. If the time comes, therefore, I will vote for my noble friend's amendment.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Earl has frequently told the House that it is entirely wrong to pass the Hunting Bill because it has had insufficient consideration. How, then, does he think it right to agree to this amendment, which first saw the light of day yesterday?


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