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Baroness Wilcox: I thank the Minister for that clarification and her answer. When I started considering this Bill, I decided to try to avoid the word "marriage" wherever possible, because it seemed so emotive. But every time that I stand up to ask a question I seem to have that word thrown back at me. I am unable to avoid it. "Civil marriage" it isand we are mirroring civil marriage in these amendments. I thank the noble Baroness for that clarification and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This clause is concerned with the fees that may be charged. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, is not in his place, as he would certainly be worried if any reference were made to financial matters where the words "Chancellor of the Exchequer" appear. Given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not appear anywayexcept, perhaps, in the backgroundI am not clear why he should suddenly appear at this stage. The Bill is not a Treasury Bill. Indeed, it seems appropriate that the "Secretary of State" should instead be the expression used. Of course, that does not refer to any specific Secretary of State, it refers to whichever Secretary of State is relevant to this particular clause. That would seem to be a better way of approaching this matter with regard to these fees.
I shall make one other point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is apparently to be over-ridden by the Registrar General in circumstances where the fee, in the view of the Registrar General, would impose hardship if it were to be paid by the proposed civil partners.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, already said that those fees would be moderate. It is very strange that the fees should be able to be remitted by the Registrar General. Perhaps the noble Baroness can give us some indication of the size of those fees, which are so great as to cause hardship in any case whatever. If the circumstances are that tight, all kinds of wider issues are raised about what is happening. In all events, it seems more sensible to have the Secretary of State doing that rather than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I beg to move.
Baroness Crawley: I can be brief. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the Government Minister who has ultimate responsibility for the Office for National Statistics. The Registrar General's office is part of the Office for National Statistics. The Chancellor is not a Secretary of State, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, will know. Because of his particular relationship as the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the Registrar General's office, that power needs to be given expressly to him by name, which is why it states Chancellor of the Exchequer at that point.
As regards the other question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, about the Chancellor being overridden by the Registrar General. That is not the position. He cannot be overridden by the Registrar General, who can vary a fee order made by the Chancellor.
Lord Higgins: If the Registrar General can vary the fee order made by the Chancellor, he can overrule the Chancellor. I do not see how that can be argued otherwise. I am astonished at the reply that I have got to this amendment. I can think of various possible
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explanations about why the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the relevant Minister, but the fact that he is in charge of national statistics is wholly irrelevant. I cannot imagine what national statistics have to do with the charging of fees for same-sex partnerships.
Baroness Crawley: Perhaps I may help the noble Lord. As I said, the Registrar General's office is part of the Office for National Statistics. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has overall charge of the Office for National Statistics.
Lord Higgins: That raises the issue of what are the responsibilities of the Registrar General. Certainly, it seems difficult to believe that they have anything to do with national statistics. Be that as it may. I do not want to delay the Committee unnecessarily on that particular point. I shall look into the structure to which the noble Baroness has referred. She has not replied to the points about hardship, what the fees are likely to be and whether they will be so extreme that the level would be such that they may cause hardship to anyone. Again, I must ask whether there is a similar arrangement for remitting fees for normal marriages.
Lord Higgins: We may have made an economy in government expenditure by the noble Baroness not having to write me a letter. In undertaking something so important as either a normal marriage or a civil partnership, are we really saying that the fee of £97 is a sum that would be a deterrent to the individual concerned or that he or she would suffer grievous hardship as a result? I find that extraordinary to believe. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 38 to 41 would alter Schedule 1 which fleshes out the bones of Clause 3, which deals with the issue of who is eligible for a civil partnership. Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 would remove from the list of prohibited relationships those who have shared an adoptive relationship. We have tabled this amendment to understand exactly the Government's thinking. Those would be people with no blood ties. Therefore, there is the question of whether they should be included in this category.
Finally, Amendment No. 41 would omit the table of "relationship" and "relevant deaths" set out in Schedule 1. As we know, the Government have gone into great detail in the Bill. They have tried to cover pretty well every eventuality. However, I need more. I should like the Minister to explain exactly how that table would work in practice and to whom it would apply. I beg to move.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: This follows on earlier debates. When the Government decided to equalise the treatment of homosexual and heterosexual couples in marriage and registration, they had to be very careful to match, as far as possible, the rights and responsibilities of married couples. They had to be careful to do that because if there are any differences between the treatment of married and homosexual couples, an argument could be raised that that was unlawful discrimination under the Human Rights Act. A gay or lesbian couple could point to that difference of treatment and there could be litigation. People like me would find themselves making far too little money, but having to spend futile days arguing such issues.
Therefore, on looking at what appears to be a highly technical schedule, the purpose of it is to put my profession out of business in that area by making it absolutely clearI should not mix my metaphorsthat what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. In other words, there is identical treatment.
That leads me to my second, related point. Should the category of beneficiaries be widened beyond gay and lesbian couples to other people in need, there
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would be a really complicated situation of trying to equalise all of that without the comparators between a homosexual couple and a heterosexual couple. That is why I said that the moment one tries to widen the provision to people who suffer hardship, it would really kill the Bill, although that is not the intention of the mover of the amendment. It has taken two years to produce this legislation, which is relatively simple; namely, putting homosexual couples in the same position as heterosexual couples. In starting to deal with other categories, other forms of discrimination may be created that would have to be dealt with.
That is why I am not sympathetic to widening the categories. It also explains why something that looks like a dull rigmarole is necessary in order to copy across what is there in the Marriage Act and related legislation.
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