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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes. Thirdly, I should like to expand on pensions. Noble Lords will realise from what I have said that any rule that gives married couples preferential treatment over gay couples can be discriminatory. In spite of the comments of my noble friend Lady Turner, outside the state schemes the Bill would have far-reaching implications for occupational pensions which paid survivors' benefits. If schemes were required to pay survivors' benefits to same sex couples, the provision might need to be extended to all unmarried couples. The impact needs to be considered carefully. There could be very significant cost implications for all contributors and all schemes' funding. In the Civil Service alone the Government estimate that this would cost some £20 million a year.
One problem is that one cannot prejudge the result of the Government's current wide-ranging review of benefits and pensions. We have received representations that occupational pensions should be required to pay survivors' benefits to all partners irrespective of marriage. We shall consider those representations as part of the review, but at this stage we are unable to give a commitment. Meantime, it is perfectly possible for occupational schemes to extend survivors' benefits on a voluntary basis, and an increasing number choose to do so. Even though the state social security schemes may not be covered by the Bill, it would raise highly important issues, especially in regard to the potential differences between contracted-in and contracted-out pension benefits. The Green Paper on pensions to be published by DSS Ministers later this year will open up debate. We believe that that is the right time to deal with this discussion. Beyond pensions, eligibility for certain benefits such as income support and family credit are based on the definition of the family unit. One would need to look carefully at those very wide benefit issues.
I have already mentioned the Armed Forces. In spite of the advice given to my noble friend, I am advised that not only serving members of the Armed Forces but civilians would be affected. For example, the MoD does not allow its civilian staff to be accompanied by unmarried partners, whether heterosexual or homosexual, on overseas tours. This is a long-standing convention with certain host nations and invariably reflects host nations' religious or other laws about marriage.
I have already referred to what is often described as the family unit. Currently, non-married couples are excluded from jointly adopting a child as marriage is seen as an indication of permanence and commitment of the couple. It also helps the child's legal status if the relationship breaks down. These are not systems to be dispensed with lightly. We are currently considering the introduction into the UK of the Parental Leave Directive. I am aware that Stonewall has informed the
In housing, at present certain succession rights to tenancies are given to the surviving member of a heterosexual partnership but not of a same sex partnership. The Government have undertaken to consider, in the light of comments made in the course of a Court of Appeal judgment, how far that legislation may be amended, but this must be done carefully.
At this stage therefore I can promise that the Government are committed to giving serious consideration to the issues raised by this Bill. I should like to make clear that our reservations are about scope and timing, not about the good intentions of the Bill. I am glad to say that the Equal Opportunities Commission is currently consulting on proposals for extensive changes to the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act. We are looking forward to seeing the recommendations of the EOC after consultation and we shall consider them carefully and positively. Its present consultation proposes a new right to equal treatment encompassing sexual orientation.
I can assure noble Lords that all of the issues that I have outlined will be thoroughly analysed in the context of changes to current sex discrimination and equal pay legislation. I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept that it is reasonable to await the final views of our specialist equal opportunities body.
However, fortunately there is increasing recognition that this kind of discrimination in the workplace should be addressed, and many major employers incorporate sexual orientation in their equal opportunity policies. I want therefore to repeat that the Government are committed to looking seriously at the issues raised in the context of the wider review of equality legislation. I hope that I have made clear that the Government deplore unfair discrimination. I hope that I have also made clear that they have good reasons for reservations about the scope and timing of the Bill. Nevertheless, the convention of the House is that the Bill should be given a Second Reading.
Lord Richard: My Lords, before my noble friend Lady Turner rises to wind up the debate, perhaps you would allow me to say a few words. I listened with great interest to some of the speeches made on this Bill today, although not to all of them. I was very surprised to see that a number of noble Lords have indicated that they may well divide against the Second Reading of the Bill. While it is of course procedurally possible and technically in order for them to do so, I hope your Lordships will not mind my pointing out that it is perhaps somewhat at odds with the current procedures of this House for there to be no less than six speeches in the "gap", when on the original list there were only eight speakers.
Certainly during my short time in the House I have known no such precedent; in this case, until the speeches in the "gap" took place, there was no notice that this Bill would not be given a Second Reading in the usual
I really would put this appeal to the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale: he has heard the issues, he has made his point and I hope that in all the circumstances he will not divide the House on the Second Reading of this Bill. In the event that a Division is called, my ministerial colleagues will abstain, as my noble friend the Minister has made it clear that the Government do not support the Bill. However, as the Leader of the House, in the circumstances of this case I have to say to your Lordships that in my view it would be wholly in accordance with the present usual practice of your Lordships' House to allow this Bill a Second Reading today. I hope that in all the circumstances the noble Earl will not seek to divide the House.
Lord Richard: My Lords, of course the noble Earl is entitled to say that he is not content. The rules are perfectly clear that on the Second Reading of any Bill any Peer is entitled to say that he is not content. However, I am saying that the way in which this has been dealt with this afternoon is, first, peculiar; secondly, not in accordance with the normal current practices of your Lordships' House; thirdly, that it would be unsatisfactory, to put it mildly, if there were to be a Division on this Bill in these circumstances; and, fourthly, I think that perhaps one or other of the "gappers" could have put down a Motion on the Order Paper. In those circumstances I hope that the noble Earl will not divide the House.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, with the leave of the House, from these Benches I would like to give my entire support to what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said with regard to the procedure to be adopted on this Bill.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for making clear the constitutional position of the House. I should like also to thank all the noble Lords who have participated in what I think was an extremely interesting debate. In particular, I thank those noble Lords who have been kind enough to support the Bill. There have been a number of them on all sides of the House.
Contributions were made by a number of noble Lords on such issues as exhibitionism, and so on. Those have been dealt with very adequately by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. We are concerned here again with people who simply want to lead their lives with as little intervention, bullying and harassment as possible. I wish to provide them with a remedy should they feel that they are being discriminated against.
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