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Lord Dearing: My Lords, I want to introduce a different dimension to the debate. We have been concerned about taxation and about carers, but I should like to speak on behalf of those who are in need of care. I come to this debate as a trustee of a body called the Home of Compassion. It is a place that cares for people in physical distress and infirmity.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has had to leave her place—although I see that she has not left the Chamber—because I want to refer to the Care Standards Act 2000 which changed so substantially the requirements on care homes that, with the kind of finance that is available for indigent old folk, they are finding it difficult to continue in being and provide care. As the noble Baroness will know, many hundreds of care homes have had to close. I understand that in the year up to April 2004 some 500 homes had to do so, resulting in the loss of something approaching 10,000 places; and over the years the loss has been much greater.

It seems that there is a squeeze on the ability to provide care in care homes for those who need it. That filters through to the financial disadvantages visited on those who undertake to care for relatives. I had an aunt who, as the youngest daughter, devoted her life to caring for others. Such people are heroes in our society. We owe them so much. However, if on the one hand we are putting a squeeze on the provision of places in care homes and on the other hand not

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providing the kind of support and fair deal that would encourage people to continue in their caring roles, then we are doing a great disservice to those in need of care.

There is a lacuna in the Government's thinking on this. Where do they stand in supporting and helping those in need of care? I align myself with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. We want more than an undertaking from the Minister to consider these issues. We want a commitment from the Minister that the Government will bring forward proposals, perhaps in a White Paper within the year, to address this urgent and important problem in our society.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, on bringing this matter to our attention from her standpoint, but I hope that the Minister will reflect on the other issues I have raised and see if she can go further—tonight—and give us an undertaking that the Government will not only consider the matter, but will also bring forward a White Paper containing proposals.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I rise to say only that I take exactly the same position on this Bill as my noble friend Lord Elton. I support it and I think that its provisions are good, but it would be utterly wrong not to support my noble friend Lady O'Cathain in sending this Bill back to the Commons with her amendment. We all know that the Commons can override us, but it would be wrong not to take the opportunity to make them think about this issue. Moreover, I am afraid that I do not have much faith in the proposal to see some interesting proposals five years hence. It is time now to remind them that there are other issues as well as the important one—which I fully support—of recognising the problems of single sex relationships.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, we welcome back the Bill in a much healthier state than when it left the House. I should like to record our thanks to the Ministers and their team who have worked so hard to make this reform a reality. I should also like to pay tribute to the late Lord Williams of Mostyn who did not live to see the fruition of a measure which he supported with great personal conviction. We miss him greatly.

In the other place, the previous amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, powerfully supported, was removed by a majority of five to one, with firm and welcome leadership from the Opposition Front Bench. We share some of the stated aims of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, but not her means of achieving them, for reasons that have been repeated again and again throughout the House.

The new amendments are narrower than the original version, which was overwhelmingly rejected by all political parties in the Commons, but, if enacted, they would still be wrecking amendments, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, in particular, has so clearly explained. They are alien to the central purpose of the Bill and would make it impossible for the Bill to come into force.

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The new amendments would prevent the Bill coming into force until a voluntary registration scheme, or schemes, had been established by the Secretary of State which would entitle only relatives over 30 years of age who had lived together for 12 years to be treated in the same way as same-sex civil partners as regards what the noble Baroness describes as "four crisis areas".

Last Tuesday, 9 November, the Times published an advertisement by the Christian Institute under the banner headline,


    "I have lived with my sister for 15 years. When she died I had to sell our home to pay the inheritance tax. Why should I have less house-sharing rights than a gay couple?".

The advertisement carried a photograph of a sad lady with a wistful expression. But in the fine print it emerged that she was not a real person but what was described as,


    "an image posed by model for illustrative purposes only".

I am sure it was none the worse for that. The Minister has explained very clearly the legal protection already given to sisters living together which is not available to homosexual couples.

A further answer to the question posed by the Christian Institute's advertisement, and a short answer to these amendments, is that two sisters living together are not in the same position as a married couple any more than they are in the same position as a same-sex couple who register their partnership under the Bill, if it becomes law. As we all know, a homosexual couple living together cannot marry because they are homosexual. Two sisters living together cannot marry, not because of their sexuality but because they are sisters, just as a father cannot marry his daughter even though they are of the opposite sex.

In other words, this is not a case of what is sauce for the goose being sauce for the gander. Those whom the Bill is designed to protect—same-sex couples who are willing to enter into a partnership with rights and responsibilities as if they were married—are not comparable to two sisters who have lived together for 12 years. So, when the amendments state that two sisters are to be treated no less favourably than two people who are civil partners—that is, a same-sex couple—they are making a false comparison; they are not treating like with like.

5.15 p.m.

The Bill does not undermine marriage by treating registered homosexual couples in terms of their rights and obligations as if they were married couples. But it would indeed undermine marriage if two sisters, or perhaps more, were treated as if they were married to one another.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, is right to emphasise the need not to confuse civil partnership with marriage. I have always made it clear ever since my Private Member's Bill that I would not wish to do so. I am very glad that we have not followed the position taken, for example, by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, which led to certain consequences, perhaps, in the presidential election in the United States.

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The arguments about inheritance tax, capital gains tax and so on, and other family relationships and connections, are irrelevant to the central aim of the Bill, although not to the noble Baroness's other aims. The aim of the Bill, I repeat—it has been said again and again—is to give same-sex couples, who cannot marry and will not be able to marry, the protection of their relationship and the rights and responsibilities that will result from registration. It is a long-overdue measure of simple justice.

There is a legitimate case for extending some degree of relief from inheritance tax to family members or non-family carers who shared a home with the deceased, but that is a matter for a future Finance Bill, not for this Bill. The sole purpose of this Bill is to give legal recognition to same-sex unions. Relief from inheritance tax on property which passes to a surviving partner is a consequence and not a purpose of the Bill. Indeed, as has been said, the Bill does not provide relief from inheritance tax at all. The Government have said that that will have to be dealt with by the next Finance Bill.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, as the noble Lord has underlined to the House, the financial questions are not part of the Bill. But they are proving a difficulty which could be removed if the noble Baroness—and, I hope, the noble Lord—will agree that there should be no movement on the tax aspects which would apply to civil partners unless the injustice to those other groups of people, of whom we have all spoken, is remedied at the same time.


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