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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have had a very full and, on this occasion, temperate debate. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, knows well that I, too, hold her in the highest regard. I—without reservation, as I made clear in my opening remarks—dissociate myself and the Government entirely from anyone who sought improperly to put pressure on any Member of this House. I hope that I made that clear at the beginning.

We have heard a lot this evening about the financial consequences of the provisions, which I construe as being the benefits that are seen by some to flow from them. We have, however, heard very little of the responsibilities. The registration of these relationships does not simply bring benefit; it also brings responsibilities for the partner—to finance, to love, to support, to help and to provide. Those responsibilities are weighty.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford is absolutely right when he says that there is a clear distinction between these provisions and those of marriage. Marriage is not affected in any way by the Bill. The right reverend Prelate was absolutely right when he said that we have to look at the clarity of principle that the Bill seeks to address. If we cannot right all the wrongs, should we not seek to right those wrongs which we can? That is what this Bill seeks to do.

5.30 p.m.

The ills that have flown from the problem, which have improperly impinged on the lives of people of the same sex who wish to have a long-term relationship, have been long standing. To ask for that relief to be postponed because we cannot deal with each and every one of the remaining issues in dispute would be to perpetuate injustice. To that extent, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice,

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was absolutely right. That was echoed by a number of other noble Lords around this Chamber, including the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley.

In my opening address, I sought to deal with the issues of inheritance tax and the provisions that we already have are extensive. The noble Baroness said that all would be left deprived. However, a relatively privileged few are able to take advantage of assets in excess of £500,000, so there is a cushion for those who do have difficulty.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made clear, this issue is one that we as legislators must look at responsibly. She was right when she asked whether it would be responsible to legislate in such haste. In my opening remarks and in the debates that we have had on this Bill I have tried to outline the plethora of complexities that pertain in relation to individual sets of relationships and how the ramifications of those relationships should be examined. When we are looking at a couple who are unrelated to each other joining in harmony and making a life together, that is one set of relationships. The relationship between brother and sister or father and daughter—all those who are referred to in the noble Baroness's amendment—are also complex. I know that by tabling this amendment, the noble Baroness is not saying that those are the only people who need to have their rights addressed. I concur with her on that, but not in this Bill.

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that of course care homes are an issue of future importance. The noble Lord will know well the complexity of how we have to order rights and responsibilities. Those are issues with which the noble Lord has wrestled for more than 20 years. They are complex and each time those individual Bills have come before this House, they have taken time and attention and care. This House and the other place have spent appropriate time on them. We cannot do it all: we have to do that which we can.

I hear the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who raised the delicate issue of the difficulties of those who may have been injured. He described his personal circumstances and none of us could have remained untouched by that. However, when it comes to the noble Lord's suggestion that we should somehow postpone the legislation, I recognise the comments that have been made about the noble Lord in another place. His honourable friend John Bercow said of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, that,


    "cleverly conceived amendments of this kind would . . . cause the Government no end of trouble, and that Gordon's sums would be thrown into disarray, providing the opportunity for a great deal of fun".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D; 19/10/04; col: 17.]

That may have been the sentiment, but that is not how it will feel to those who have been deprived of the rights.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, there is nothing wrong with giving the Chancellor a little difficulty with his sums if he does not have enough already. However, the Minister said earlier that there was a clear distinction

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between civil partnership as envisaged in this Bill and civil marriage. Will she now elucidate what that difference is?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, one of the major differences is, of course, consummation. For a marriage to be valid, it has to be consummated by one man and one woman and there is a great deal of jurisprudence which tells one exactly what consummation amounts to—partial or impartial, penetration or no penetration. If the noble Lord wishes me to give a dissertation on family law, of course I would be more than happy to do so although it will take some time.

There is no provision for consummation in the Civil Partnership Bill. We do not look at the nature of the sexual relationship that enters into the civil partnership. It is totally different in nature. I thought that that was fully and properly understood.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister again. I do not want to prolong this into a family court, but if there is no question in a civil partnership of consummation, why cannot the measure be extended to people who have a close family relationship—two homosexual brothers, for example?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, that would trespass on the bounds of consanguinity. For several years in this country we have recognised that it is improper for those who are related to one another to enter into a relationship that is similar to that of marriage. That is something on which we do not trespass. The right reverend Prelates have made plain that they rightly wish to preserve the distinction between marriage and registered relationships. We have listened to that comprehensively. We think that the right reverend Prelates are right: I do not know whether the noble Lord would disagree.

We have made plain that those who enter into a same-sex relationship should have an opportunity to have their relationship recognised. I also know that the noble Lord's honourable friend, said of him that:


    "We all know the ingeniousness and cheekiness of my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Tebbit of Chingford. When one is on his side, he is magnificent to watch. We all enjoy his actions and egg him on, and he is better at it than anybody else".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D; 19/10/04; cols. 17–18.]

I understand that that may be the function that the noble Lord seeks to play in this debate, but on this occasion it is not fun.

This is very serious indeed. It is serious because the implications for the individuals who will suffer will be serious.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I break the silence that I have kept for 10 months in this House, but I must tell the Minister that her cheap jibe against my noble friend, who made all his comments in the utmost seriousness, deserves an apology.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I regret that the noble Baroness feels that she has to rise to her feet

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because we all welcome very much her return to this House and we have missed hearing her voice. However, I have to deal with matters from this Bench as they arise. The noble Lord made a number of comments with which I have now dealt. I regret that the noble Baroness feels that the remarks were cheap. I am afraid that that is not a view which I necessarily share. However, if any inappropriate connotation was put on them that was not my intent.

To consider our present position, this House has spoken and the general nature of the House seems to be that we support the need for having these rights addressed, but it is not for this Bill. The amendments to which the noble Baroness referred are for another day. I have tried to make absolutely clear the way in which the Government have used every opportunity to address these issues. I have also made clear that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is reviewing the Law Commission's consultation in relation to tenure, which will look at the issues of carers and others and how they will be affected by the legislation.

I remind the House that when this matter first came before your Lordships, not least in the form of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lester, we promised that we would look at this issue and look at it energetically. We have honoured that commitment. Not only do we commend the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for bringing it forward, but I hope he will feel that we on this side can also be commended for honouring our responsibilities. When we say that these issues have been validly raised, that we understand the import of them and that they will be examined, I hope that the noble Lords opposite will be able to take that in the same spirit.

The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, has raised an important issue. She has been a standard bearer for and has shone a light on things that needed to be made light. Knowing her, I know that she will not cease in her campaign on the issues; they will doubtless be brought before this House, and we will deal with them. I know how the House operates, and when it makes a commitment on something, it tends to follow through on that. These matters would come forward, whether the Government wanted them to or no—and we want them to.

The amendment would have the effect of a wrecking amendment, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said. I know that that is not what the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, wants, but we cannot postpone justice for one group just because we cannot derive perfection for everyone else. This is a very important moment for this House, because we must act responsibly in discharging our duties as legislators. We cannot add an additional provision to a Bill which is not made for its carriage; we have to find a different vehicle. The amendment may be an important one, but not for this Bill and not for this day.


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