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Charles Hendry: I believe that my wife, given the choice between a short-term civil partnership with a romantic Frenchman and a long-term loving marriage with me, would have made the same decision. My proposal was made in a French restaurant, so perhaps one can get the best of both worlds.
Earlier, I asked about the cost of the amendment. My hon. Friend has tabled a completely uncosted amendment. He talks about the number of people who may benefit from it but asks us to vote for something when we have no idea how many billions it would cost. Although he makes the valid point that one either believes in equalityand accepts that there is an accompanying cost that must be taken into accountor one does not, tabling an amendment, which is described as serious, without being able to tell us how much it
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would cost, is unfortunate. However, my fundamental objection remains that the amendment undermines the principle of marriage.
Charles Hendry: As other hon. Members have said, there are other ways of dealing with that. I would dearly love inheritance tax to be abolished. [Interruption.] As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald rightly says, that would also benefit homosexual couples. However, it is a separate issue, which can be resolved by a Finance Bill. It does not need to be addressed in the Bill.
Jacqui Smith: We have had a good debate. My hon. Friends have made excellent contributions but, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has commented, it has been our pleasure to sit and watch a tableau of
I want to focus attention on the practical effects of the amendments, which would make changes that, as several hon. Members pointed out, would alter the Bill's nature and character. They would introduce a series of discrepancies in the provisions, which would make it unworkable.
The amendments that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) tabled would allow siblings to form civil partnerships. The amendments that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) tabled would allow unmarried parents and children and unmarried siblings to form such partnerships, as long as they shared a home. He would also extend such provision to cohabiting couples.
On Second Reading, the Bill received a majority of 377 votes on the basis that earlier amendments, which had the effect of including close family relatives, would be removed. In Committee, we voted 13 to one to remove the amendments. The argument for limiting civil partnership to unrelated same sex couples is clear and compelling and has been rehearsed on many occasions on the Floor of the House and in Committee. Furthermore, the hon. Member for Gainsborough said on Second Reading that the amendments that the House of Lords had passed might be unworkable as they stood. I am happy to agree with him about that. Given that,
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I find it difficult to accept his reasoning for tabling amendments to reinstate new categories of civil partnerships for siblings. They are no more workable. Indeed, they give rise to new anomalies.
I do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time reiterating all the detailed arguments about the issue but I want to re-emphasise the clear aim of the Bill. We introduced it with a specific purpose, which is to provide legal recognition for unrelated same-sex couples who do not currently have the option, which is available to opposite-sex couples, to marry. We seek to create a parallel but different legal relationship that mirrors as fully as possible the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by those who can marry, and that uses civil marriage as a template for the processes, rights and responsibilities that go with civil partnership. We are doing this for reasons of equality and social justice.
Mr. Hogg: Would the Minister be good enough to address the question of where the essential difference lies between a civil partnership involving a different-sex couple and a civil partnership involving a same-sex couple? In substance and reality, they are the same, are they not?
Jacqui Smith: As I have just pointed out, we have used civil marriage as the template for creating a completely new legal relationship, that of the civil partnership. We had some discussion about this in Committee, and our view was that, unless there was an objective justification for a difference in the approaches taken to civil marriage and civil partnership, no difference should exist. There are very few areas in which any difference does exist. The whole point, however, is that civil partnership is not civil marriage, for a variety of reasons, such as the traditions and historyreligious and otherwisethat accompany marriage. It is not marriage, but it is, in many waysdare I say it?akin to marriage. We make no apology for that.
Angela Eagle: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when social reform is needed that might be difficult for some people, the best way forward is not to set one group's rights against those of another so that those groups have a fight, but to proceed in a way that both groups can support? Does she agree also that having civil partnerships rather than challenging people's deeply held views, particularly about religious marriage, is the right way forward in these circumstances?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) let the cat out of the bag when he said that his reason for wanting to call this new relationship a gay marriage was precisely to provoke protest out in the country. We have identified a particular issue, and we want a 21st century legal process to resolve the difficulties involved. That is what we are delivering in the Bill.
While that is not a criterion in the Bill, I have said clearly on Second Readingand I intend to say again laterthat the particular difficulty identified
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here involves the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who live together and share their lives, yet have no way of gaining legal recognition for their relationship. I am quite happy to say that, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is somehow a difficult motive to have.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I really would welcome it if the right hon. Lady were honest with the House[Interruption.] The fact is that she is indulging in sophistry. Will she please tell the House what the difference is between a civil partnership, as she defines it, and a gay marriage, as defined by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)?
Jacqui Smith: I resent the hon. Gentleman's comments. I have been absolutely open about what the Government intend to do with this new legal relationship. I have been open about the extent to which it replicates the provisions of civil marriage, where there is no objective justification for it not to do so. But it is not marriage. It is a new legal relationship for same-sex couples so that they can have the legal recognition that they cannot currently get.
David Winnick: When this Bill becomes law, does my right hon. Friend believe that any Member, whether Labour or Conservative, will argue in four, five or eight years' time that it should be changed again? As in the case of previous reforms, however controversial, once such a measure becomes law or is widely accepted, there seems to be no wish to change it again.
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. Clearly, that is because we have identified an injustice for thousands of couples who are sharing their lives and who cannot at the moment find a legal way to have that relationship recognised, and, with that, have the range of rights and responsibilities that go with civil partnerships. That is the justification for this legislation. It is not designed, however, to address the problems for those people who are related to each other. That has been accepted not only by large numbers of Members of the House but by organisations that lobby on behalf of the interests of those people, the Law Society, the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, the Solicitors Family Law Association, the trade union movement, equality groups, carers groups and the leaders of all three main parties in the House.
These and similar amendments have come in various different guises throughout proceedings on the Bill. At one point, in another place, they were ostensibly concerned with protecting carers. Once Carers UK indicated clearly that not only would they not support carers but positively damage caring relationships in many places, people backed off from that justification. Today, we have heard a new justification; the argument about inheritance tax. That is a reasonable debate, but at a cost of £2.8 billion a year to abolish inheritance tax, hon. Members are right that that would not be one of my top priorities. Nevertheless, they can raise that during consideration of the Finance Bill.
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Neither is it the case that the Government have not recognised that there are particular issues not only for opposite-sex cohabiting couples but for others. The argument remains, however, that this is not the right Bill to address those problems. It is not only the Government who believe that. The Law Commission concluded in its report on home sharers in 2002 that one solution was not possible for all the different permutations of home sharers. It stated:
"It is not possible . . . to devise a statutory scheme for the ascertainment and quantification of beneficial interests in the shared home which can operate fairly and evenly across the diversity of domestic circumstances which are now to be encountered."
I will move on to the detail of the amendments and take the House on a short tour of the new absurdities that hon. Members have created in relation to their amendments. First, with respect to the arguments about siblings and other family members, to which the amendment of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) extends, of course, siblings and other family members already have legal recognition of their relationships by virtue of the fact that they are related. They do not need legal recognition in the same way that same-sex couples do. Siblings, for example, are already recognised in law, whereas the law often treats the relationships between same-sex couples as invisible. That is the basis of many of the issues that they face, as was rightly identified by the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry).
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