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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Viscount can bring the hunting law into the debate on this Bill. This Bill has been considered for a very long while, and there is an injustice in it. It is my noble friend's endeavour to remove that injustice.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, made what I think was a very good Second Reading speech on a proposed Bill to set up arrangements to deal with couples and family members who live together in relationships other than marriage and civil partnerships. But inherent in that Second Reading speech was the problem inherent in the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain.

I urge the noble Baroness to look at the success that she has had in raising consciousness about inequalities and injustices that undoubtedly exist. What has been achieved so far should be used as the basis for taking forward a parliamentary campaign in which we can give, as legislators, proper scrutiny and consideration to the immensely complex issues involved, even in the skeleton arrangements outlined in her amendment.

I would urge that we should behave as responsible legislators in this revising Chamber. It is not responsible to try to legislate in haste and on the tailcoat of other legislation that is dealing with a specific issue on areas of complexity and importance that other parliamentarians need to consider in great detail.

The noble Earl just spoke about the Hunting Bill. It seems to me that that is a very good Baldrickian cunning plan for dealing with all sorts of related issues to different legislation. We could have an amendment on the Hunting Bill proposing that it should not come into force until the Secretary of State has brought forward a scheme to deal with factory farming or fishing or all sorts of other animal welfare issues that people think need to be addressed. We do not have time—I hope that there is not time—for anyone to take this forward as a manuscript amendment.

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The withdrawal of the original amendment shows that we do not have a situation in which a Bill can simply be extended to deal with another category of cases. If we do not have that, we should not attempt to deal with it in this legislation. We should accept that a great deal has been achieved in highlighting injustices and take that forward in a separate way.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, on the issue of responsible legislators, would not the simple remedy be for her Front Bench to give a commitment to bring in the necessary legislation?

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I do not imagine that the noble Baroness will answer.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I cannot answer for my Front Bench. But every one of us is able to put pressure on the Front Bench. It is not as if the Government have not moved already and signified their intention to take those matters forward. The exact detail and proposals have to be done as proper legislators and policy makers. Every one of us is capable of participating in that process.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, in the context of the previous two speakers, I should like to put a proposition to the House. When any government introduce legislation to right an injustice against one group of society and inadvertently in doing so introduce an injustice against another group in society, it seems to me that that government have an obligation to right that wrong.

If, as in this case, the first group are powerful and a well organised lobby and the second group are weak and have no voice—the subject of a voice for parents is very close to my heart—the Government have a double responsibility to care for those who are disadvantaged. I am sorry that they do not seem to be taking seriously their responsibility in that respect. I was grateful to hear such assurances as the noble Baroness gave, but they did not to me carry great conviction. I would hope for a very much stronger assurance from the Front Bench before I would be prepared to let up on the pressure that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is bringing on the Government, quite rightly in my view, to take the matter further—whether through or beyond this Bill.

It is with a great sense of regret that I have to say that over the past two or three years—entirely contrary to their assurances on the subject—the Government have taken a number of actions which suggest that they are less conscious of the huge debt that we as a nation owe to families, to the work that they do, to the mutual caring that they carry out and to their job in raising children. The Government are much less conscious than they ought to be. They are not leading us in the direction of appreciating the role that families play in our society.

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I shall not delay your Lordships for more than about another minute. Turning to the Bill, I take a different view to a number of speakers. There is plenty of time for the Government to come back tomorrow if they want to. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, is capable of being amended in such a way that would overcome quite a number of the objections that the Minister has put forward. It is right to vote for the amendment and to try to force the Government to go at least one stage further either in accepting the amendment, and amending it in a suitable way, or in giving us much stronger assurances that they will really address this problem.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, perhaps I may briefly make another penultimate speech in your Lordships' House. I am grateful for the assurances of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Chelmsford that the Bill before us does not introduce same-sex marriage. I am grateful for the assurances of the Government at earlier stages. But the difficulty is that the details of the Bill as it stands so closely parallel the arrangements for marriage that there is a real danger of a de facto introduction of same-sex marriage by that process.

The history of social legislation in this country is often that the consequences are not quite those that are stated as intended. One sees that in all sorts of areas, including divorce and abortion in family law. In some ways, that makes it difficult to accept the amendment before us. The range of relationships that ought to be dealt with under a Bill, as has been stated so eloquently, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is very persuasive.

However, if the Bill is left standing alone, without any other measures being introduced at some point, paralleling so closely the provisions for marriage, de facto we will have a perception of same-sex marriage. If that situation simply continues without the other provisions pressed for by noble Lords, it will look very anomalous and even more unjust than many noble Lords have suggested.

I should like to ask the Front Bench to offer at least some indication or assurance that the range of issues raised today will be taken seriously. The logic of the Bill before us demands that.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, in response to what my noble friend Lady Howarth said about equality of family households comprising same-sex or opposite-sex couples, I have been very reassured from what I have heard today about the distinction between marriage and what we are proposing here.

My concern is that we must avoid confusion about the desirability of same-sex couples having children. I know that most research so far suggests that that is not harmful for children. But I would like to put on record that I am concerned that if a boy is born into a family where both parents are women that may leave a boy quite confused

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when he grows older about what it is to be a man and how a man and a woman relate together. I should like to take this opportunity to convey that concern.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, perhaps I may follow what the right reverend Prelate said about the nature of the Bill. A little while ago, I asked the Government in a Written Question:

    "In what respects, other than its availability to persons of the same sex, a civil partnership as envisaged in the Civil Partnership Bill differs from a civil marriage".

The noble Baroness gave me her Answer:

    "There are a number of differences between civil partnership and civil marriage; for example"—

this is the sole example that she gave—

    "a civil partnership is formed when the second civil partner signs the civil partnership document, a civil marriage is formed when the couple exchange spoken word".—[Official Report, 16/7/04; col. WA 161.]

I leave noble Lords to decide whether that is a very clear and emphatic distinction between the two.

5 p.m.

I want to say something immensely personal about this amendment. Twenty years ago my wife and I were severely injured. Had the IRA been a little more successful, and had I died, I have no doubt whatever that one of my children would have put aside their life and career to care for my wife. Under the law as it is and under the law as the Government intend to leave it, there would be no option, when my wife then died, but for that child of ours to be forced out of the family home by the need to sell it in order to pay inheritance tax.

Had I been so deeply affected by that bombing, and had my wife died, that I should have chosen to enter into a civil partnership with someone I had known for only a few weeks, when I died my civil partner would not be in the position in which one of children would have been put. That answers the question of whether there is any injustice in this Bill.

Most noble Lords accept that there would be an injustice. I regret that so many who have spoken say that they are in favour of removing that injustice, but not yet. It is of course entirely wrong to say that the amendment of my noble friend is a wrecking amendment. It would make no change whatever to any provision of this Bill as it affects same-sex partners. I repeat: none whatever. Therefore it cannot be a wrecking amendment.

I have before me all 400 pages of the Bill in which not a single mention of inheritance tax is made; not one word. Yet the debate we are now having centres not on society's regard for those who enter into the sacred contract of marriage as opposed to those who form a civil partnership; rather, the debate we are having is about money, and nothing else.

As ever, I like to help people out of problems into which they have got themselves. Therefore I offer a solution which would enable my noble friend to withdraw her amendment and for the Bill to go on its way. The solution is very simple; that is, for the

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Government to state that in subsequent Budgets they will not make changes to the arrangements for inheritance tax as a consequence of the passage of this Bill. Civil partnerships would be accorded whatever standing people like to give them while marriage would go on in the same way. And there would be a blessed interval during which all those who are anxious about what they, Ministers and all of us see as an injustice in respect of taxation towards children, parents and siblings would be able to correct it.

The Government could undertake not to bring forward in any Budget arrangements affecting civil partnership which did not extend to the categories of persons broadly encompassed by those affected either by the amendment passed by this House and rejected by the Commons, or those who might be affected by my noble friend's amendment. That would get us all off the hook. If the Government choose not to do that, I hope that noble Lords will see that this is a matter about money and taxation, and that it is a question of introducing a new inequality between the very large numbers of parents, children and siblings who would suffer an injustice and the very small number of same-sex partners who would benefit financially from the kind of Budget we may envisage in the future.

This Bill can go through, but I want to hear the Government say that they will not give a tax advantage to civil partners which they will not give to others who are equally deserving. The problem would be resolved and I hope and believe that my noble friend would be willing to withdraw her amendment.

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