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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I have a very quick question on cross-compliance, which both the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and I mentioned. If it will be part of the scheme, which we accept, is the Minister confident that there will be vets there to carry it out? That is the question that has been raised.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, the requirement under the inspection is that 1 per cent of farms will be inspected every year. In terms of checking on one's entitlement to cross-compliance, a considerably higher number of farms are inspected for veterinary purposes in random or intelligence-led checks. I do not therefore expect a significant increase in the load on the State Veterinary Service as a result of that. If problems arise, we will clearly have to take them into account.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 11. These are simple amendments to remove the blatant sexual discrimination inherent in the Bill by removing the words "of the same sex". The argument is clear and simplethe Bill is discriminatory in its nature and will almost certainly suffer a legal challenge sooner or later. I offer these amendments in a spirit of helpfulness to the Government to get them out of a future problem. I beg to move.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, at an early stage I indicated in Grand Committee that while I had sympathy with the object of the amendment if it was that stated by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbitnamely, to seek justice for heterosexual couples who are excluded from the Bill; that is why the Bill dealt with that matter originallyI was persuaded that this is not a Bill in which that should be sought. I shall explain why.
The matter is well put by the Solicitors' Family Law Association, which is a distinguished body of over 5,000 family lawyers, in its briefing for today's debate. Not only does it explain why the amendment that has just been carried was in its view most ill-considered, but it also explained that heterosexual couples should not be eligible to register as civil partners. They already have available to them the legal equivalent of civil partnershipnamely, civil marriageand by getting married the same legal rights and responsibilities are given to lesbian and gay couples who register a civil partnership. That is the first and unanswerable point.
"The broader and more complex problems faced by unmarried heterosexual couples relate to the increasing numbers who live together outside marriage. Many wrongly believe they have the same legal rights as married couplesa recent social attitudes survey found that 56 per cent of those questioned were unaware of the legal distinction between married and unmarried couples. In our role as legal advisers we have found that people's frequent reliance on the misconception of the 'common law marriage' makes them extremely vulnerable when the relationship ends, particularly women with children. A public information campaign alone will not address this problem. Urgent reform is needed to the law on cohabitation, but this should be dealt with by separate legislation".
"We welcome the commitment made by Lord Filkin to consider legislative reform and ask the Law Commission to re-examine the issues. The SFLA has developed proposals for a separate new law which would provide safety net protection for cohabitants made vulnerable at the breakdown of a relationship. With colleagues at the Law Society we have drafted a Cohabitation Bill which we hope can form the basis for further reform. We look forward to discussing it with Ministers and will make it available to the Law Commission. This should be the Government's next stage of reform, to follow the enactment of the Civil Partnership Bill".
I never know whether the House is at its best or its worst when strong, emotional and psychological forces act upon us. I never know whether reason or information make the slightest difference to the verdict of the jury that is this House. But if information and reason have any relevance to this debate, I hope that noble Lords think
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that those points, made by an independent body of family lawyersnot by politicianswould explain why this amendment is, with respect, ill founded.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, in view of the changed nature of civil partnership following the amendment passed earlieralthough I agree with what the noble Lord has just said and we would have adopted those viewsthe Government find themselves unable to contribute to the amendment at this stage, except that we oppose it.
The decision that the House has just made amending Clause 1 fundamentally alters the basis upon which the Government have brought forward the whole Bill and on which they have consulted widely before doing so. In those circumstances the Government feel unable to proceed with any of their amendments previously tabled and to contribute to the debate on other amendments, except to indicate that we oppose them.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, we entirely agree with that view. We regard what has happened as a torpedoing of the Bill in the guise of noble motives. Personally, I am most disappointed, since it was my Private Member's Bill that began the matter in this House and the only proper course is to bring it before the democratic Chamber as soon as possible.
Lord Henley: My Lords, that is the most extraordinary statement that I have ever heard from the Government Front Bench in all the years that I have seen Bills pass through this House. The Government have lost one amendment, which has changed their Bill. They have every opportunity to put that amendment to another place, should they wish to change it, because the Bill will go to another place in due course. They are effectively seeking not to take the Bill any further.
Lord Henley: My Lords, the Government have said that they will not now bring forward any of the amendments that they have tabled. There is a large number of those and some of us have objected to the number of them, as we did in Committee. Can the noble Baroness tell us a little more about the Government's thinking. Why, on this occasion, do they intend not to do anything further?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I shall first deal with the issue of amendments. At Second Reading we made it clear that in order to make the Bill consistent we would have to table a number of technical amendments. Those amendments were predicated on the understanding that "civil partnerships" referred to relationships between same sex couples of either gender and to no other groups. The consequences of the amendment that your Lordships have just passed mean that that termthat definitionno longer applies. A
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"civil partnership" would now refer to a group of people considerably greater than single-sex relationshipsmothers, children, fathers, grandparents and a whole series of other relationships.
Bearing that in mind and knowing that in each and every instance where we will now consider civil partnerships within that context we do not feel that we can helpfully explore the amendments, except to say that we oppose them and that we hope that the Bill will go speedily through this House so that it can go to another place.
Lord Henley: My Lords, with the leave of the HouseI appreciate that we are on Reportwe do not know what another place might do. Obviously, there is a free vote there for both the major parties, although not for the Liberal Democrat party. Another place might decide to reverse our decision.
The Government have tabled a large number of amendments which it is right should be considered at some point. Should another place reverse our amendment, is the noble Baroness saying that we will not have adequate opportunity to discuss the vast array of amendments she has put before us today and the 130 pages of amendments which were discussed in Grand Committee?
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