HL Deb 01 July 2004 vol 663 cc391-418

12.38 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that she, having been informed of the purport of the Civil Partnership Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 1 [Civil Partnership]:

Lord Higgins

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 4, leave out "relationship" and insert "contract"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Bill is in a constant state of confusion. I am never quite sure what is going to happen next. In that context, I was not expecting a statement on the prerogative. Perhaps, at some stage in the proceedings, the Minister will be kind enough to explain exactly why it is necessary in this case.

We have debated Amendment No. 1 on previous occasions, both in Committee and on Report, but the context in which it is now relevant has changed quite significantly as a result of the other amendments which have been passed by your Lordships. Since the Bill now defines civil partnerships much more widely than before, the expression "contract" rather than "relationship" seems even more appropriate, not least because it will not necessarily offend the sensibilities of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in the same way as it was previously going to do.

Perhaps I may say a word about the interventions which I made in the speech of the Government Chief Whip the other day. It is very difficult in such exchanges to make one's position absolutely clear. I was trying to be helpful. I am concerned that if the Bill now goes to another place, we will be able to debate it on its return only in the context of the amendments which have been carried in another place. Therefore, other amendments to which we might have expected a response from the Government in this House will not be possible. I think that that is the situation which now exists. In particular, there will be no opportunity to cover some of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was going to make. Therefore, it is not a very satisfactory way of proceeding. That is why I was concerned to establish from Chief Whip exactly what the position was. His simply saying that we would proceed in the normal way did not take fully into account the way in which we were now likely to proceed in the context of the Bill as it now stands.

The Government seem to have changed their position also with regard to responding to amendments. The other day, their basic position was that they were not going to respond at all to amendments and, generally speaking, were not going to move their own amendments. They seem to have changed their position as far as that is concerned. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what is going to happen. A number of government amendments now appear on the Order Paper. Are they the only ones which would be unaffected by the amendment which your Lordships carried last week? Are all the others affected by it?

Nevertheless, as far as concerns Amendment No. 1, the arguments which we put forward previously are, if anything, reinforced and I hope that they will find acceptance in your Lordships' House.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I want to make it clear that I retain the utmost respect for the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and I acquit him entirely of responsibility for what occurred on Report. As he rightly said, it is precisely because his party and others have transformed the Bill away from the concept of loving couples and of a relationship that he can—

Lord Higgins

My Lords, I made it absolutely clear on several occasions that whereas the noble Lord's party and the government party were whipped, we were on a free vote. Therefore, he is wrong in saying that the change was introduced by my party.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, in that case, I apologise for that mistake. However, the noble Lord is perfectly logical and correct in saying that once one moves away from the notion of couples, the notion of a relationship becomes a strange one, because one can move from the notion of status and relationship to one of simple contract. That debases the entire purpose of the Bill. It is because we on these Benches strongly object to the way in which the Bill has been wrecked that we object to this consequential amendment.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I shall deal first with the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. He asked me why we had moved the Queen's consent statement. The Queen's consent was required for Clause 59(2) of the current draft of the Civil Partnership Bill. The clause makes provisions that correspond to those in Section 58(2) of the Family Law Act 1986. Clause 59(2) states: Any declaration under Section 58 binds her Majesty and all other persons. A declaration under Section 58 is one which is about whether a civil partnership was, at its inception, valid and whether it subsisted on a specified date or about whether it has been dissolved, annulled or is the subject of legal separation. The Queen's consent was signified to what became Section 58(2) of the Family Law Act 1986 at Third Reading in both Houses. There is sufficient provision for Northern Ireland in the Bill at Clause 177. I hope it is now clear why we need that provision.

I turn to the second question to which the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, asked me to reply. It related to the Government's position that was expressed last Thursday and today. I should make a number of points clear. We have always believed, and we believed that noble Lords opposite accepted it, that the Bill was a good Bill, because it sought to address an issue of unfairness and lack of parity of treatment and all appeared to agree with it. It was very carefully drafted. It was drafted so that all the provisions interrelated one with the other. Noble Lords will remember that consultation on the Bill started almost three years ago. During the period of preparation, we have had to trawl through a huge amount of legislation. Some of it goes to back 1681; that is, the Declaration Act, which is dealt with in Scotland. Your Lordships might have heard reference to it.

The provisions of the Bill were therefore all part of one construction. That construction was predicated on there being a same-sex couple civil partnership and not broadened out to others. The Government remain committed to the Bill as originally drafted.

In accordance with parliamentary procedure, we must of course scrutinise each Bill as it comes before us, but by going forward with Third Reading today, we hope to make clear our commitment to the continuance of the Bill and to take forward work on the Bill in a manner that is coherent and consistent with our convictions and the choices made by this House.

As noble Lords opposite failed to lay consequential amendments predicated on the change that was sought, the proposal that was put before this House was changed in one degree, but did not take into account all the other changes which would flow from that significant amendment. The Government's case was that we did not agree that the definition of civil partnership should be so widened for all the reasons that I gave previously. The amendments—your Lordships will know that there were hundreds of them—were so interlinked that it was very difficult to disentangle them. Of all the amendments, we have managed to identify only 21 which remain wholly unaffected by the amendment which was passed by noble Lords last week.

Perhaps it is right that I give some examples. Noble Lords will appreciate that the change which was voted on last week brought about some internal inconsistencies and anomalies for the scheme; for example, because of the change which your Lordships passed last week, a woman who formed a civil partnership with her grandfather would, under Clause 238(1), have her own mother as a step-daughter. Such unintended consequences run throughout the Bill as a result of the change made last week.

The Government are sensitive to that because we must speak to the Bill, not as we crafted it, but as it currently stands. To do otherwise would be to fail to respect the decision made by this House. We will participate in debate as far as we are able but, at times, we will be limited by the context of the House's decision on Report. That was not of our making but it is the position with which we now have to deal.

As noble Lords know, the Government decided not to move our amendments on Report. For the same reasons, we have decided not to bring many of those amendments back now. They would have elaborated or altered provisions concerning how people would be treated as a consequence of forming a civil partnership that was restricted to same-sex couples. Noble Lords opposite may have had a free vote but, if I may respectfully and very gently say so, it was significant that they seemed to me to vote in the same direction. That brought about changes.

I shall give just one other example. Under the Bill as amended, a grandfather could leave a survivor's pension to a civil partner grandson. Of course, aside from the fundamental change to the principles underlying the pensions system in this country, this would have significant cost implications. Our estimate is that the cost would be in the region of £2.25 billion a year. I am, of course, aware that noble Lords opposite have expressed the wish, and the intention, to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. If that is seriously contemplated, one wonders how the dramatic increase in costs will be funded. We must look at consequences and deal with them.

So, although we do not feel able to put down some of our amendments, the Government do want to respect this House and its decision. Therefore, we have brought back only those amendments that now make sense. If noble Lords opposite wish to move some of the amendments that the Government brought forward on Report, that is their prerogative, but it is a nonsense. If they do that, they will find that the synergy that was in the Bill has gone. As the concept of civil partnership has now been fundamentally redefined, the Government no longer consider it appropriate for civil partnership to entail all the consequences originally envisaged because we now have a different Bill.

The Government also have serious concerns about the effect of the amendment on Report. We are considering the matter further, but we believe that it may mean that the Bill would not be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights because of the onerous restrictions related to age, cohabitation and consanguinity that they impose on this new category of civil partner.

Furthermore, many of the registration and dissolution procedures now make little sense when applied to the new group, in the same way that some of the rights and responsibilities consequential on the formation of a civil partnership are no longer appropriate. I shall give noble Lords other examples: if a son entered into a civil partnership with his elderly mother, with whom he lived and for whom he cared, he might lose entitlement to jobseeker's allowance, based on his mother's ability to support him financially. Should a daughter in a civil partnership with her mother wish to marry, she would have to go through a formal court-based dissolution of the civil partnership first. If her mother had become mentally incapable, or objected to the marriage, she would have to live apart for five years. These are serious disincentives to marriage. Moreover, if she did seek a dissolution, the daughter would be entitled to a share of her mother's property, which might mean that the elderly mother would be dispossessed of her home because it would have to be sold and shared to make provision for her civil partner. So depending on the circumstances, this might require the mother to sell the family home in order to provide a settlement. I am sure that noble Lords did not have that in mind. She would also have to prove irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. That is very difficult to prove when it is with your mother. It might be that there is not an irretrievable breakdown. The mother might agree that the daughter or the son could live with the new partner in her home. How will that be dealt with?

I regret to tell your Lordships that the amendment made a nonsense of the Bill in the form in which it was considered. So our decision was not pique or temper but acceptance. We accept the nature of this House. We accept that this House can make decisions and that we are bound by the choices that it makes. But we are all bound by the consequences of the decisions we make. The Government accept those consequences. But we do not agree that this is the right Bill. We have said time and again from this Dispatch Box that we have sympathy for the concerns noble Lords opposite have raised. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised some of those issues with his Bill. There has been assent from these Benches about those concerns, but fiscal arrangements cannot be turned back to the 1930s. It is for that reason that we were not able to respond. Today we will respond as we are able but we will take into account the reality of the decision that this House knowingly took last Thursday. We are a grown-up House and we must accept the responsibility for our action.

In relation to Amendment No. 1, we still believe that "relationship" is of real importance and signifies a difference from a mere "contract". We are dealing with intimate connections between people and we do not think that "contract" accurately expresses what we are seeking to uphold. The very nature of last Thursday's amendment emphasised that we are talking about the tender relationships that can happen within families, relationships of support. They are relationships. They are not contracts and we think that it would be inappropriate to describe them as such. It demeans the quality of the relationships that we hope that people in these partnerships will be able to enjoy.

Lord Elton

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, she has touched on a great many subjects. As a Back-Bencher who was fully involved in the proceedings in this House, I assure her that there was no Whip on these Benches, formal or informal. I voted voluntarily, as a friend to the Bill, because I believed, among other things, that the change would remove from the people who the Bill is supposed to help the resentment by others who did not share the same benefits.

I welcome the full way in which the Minister has explained the Government's conduct last week. That has removed a good deal of anxiety on our part. Normally, this House does not send Bills to the other place in a defective state. Efforts are usually made by the Government and the Opposition to remedy defects that occur. Of course, that would be a major operation on this occasion and I presume that that is the Government's reason for not doing it. But I welcome the Minister's explanation.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the number of amendments would have meant a wholesale redrafting that could not have been undertaken without many months' work.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, I join with my noble friend Lord Elton in expressing our thanks to the Minister for her explanation, including the explanation with regard to the Royal prerogative. She said that the Bill had been very carefully drafted. None the less, given the legislation with which we are faced, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the number of government amendments. I understand that some changes had to be made at the last moment with regard to Northern Ireland. However, generally speaking, as regards areas affecting pensions and so on, a great many government amendments to Bills are tabled the subject of which one might reasonably expect to have been dealt with before the relevant Bill was published.

1 p.m.

I am grateful for the estimate of costs. I am astonished at the figure of £2.25 billion. However, if one wished to extend the provisions of the Bill at a later stage, as the amendment that was carried last week does, it would be helpful if the Minister would place in the Library the calculation that establishes the figure of £2.25 billion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Duke of Montrose

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 6, after "is" insert "only"

The noble Duke said:

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will understand why I have tabled this amendment again. It was tabled as Amendment No. 5 on Report. The arguments that I put forward today are exactly the same as the ones that I put forward on Report. They can be found at col, 1415 of Hansard of 24 June. I put forward the same arguments today as we had a sense that the Government were slightly gagged in terms of what they were able to say on Report. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, this amendment seeks clarification that the relationship of civil partnership is formed only at the point when two people register as civil partners to each other. In responding to the amendment I speak to the overall principle set out in Clause I and also refer to a specific issue relating to Scotland raised by the noble Duke.

The provisions in Clause i make it clear that a civil partnership is a new legal relationship formed in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Bill. Put simply, the new legal relationship of civil partnership which is created by the Bill can be formed in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland only by registration. It comes into being once the second proposed civil partner signs a civil partnership document. Couples who register an overseas relationship under the law of another country will, subject to certain conditions, be treated as having formed a civil partnership under Chapter 2 of Part 5 of the Bill. Again, this can be done only by registration.

I hope that the noble Duke will understand, therefore, that there is no need for the insertion of the word "only" as it is clear from the Bill that there is no other way to form a civil partnership than by the procedure referred to in Clause 1. I hope that that will suffice.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that explanation. I hope that in future years any Scottish lawyers who feel a little too contentious will read the Minister's remarks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 9, after "4" insert "(subject to section 253(3))"

The noble Lord said:

My Lords, it is refreshing to note that noble Lords on the Front Bench are somewhat less liverish than they were on Thursday of last week. That, none the less, does not prevent my drawing attention to the original drafting of the Bill and to what it has become.

My basic objection to the Bill is well known; I have not sought to hide it. Noble Lords may be interested if I point out that the Bill arrived here as a single issue Bill so to speak—atleast, that is what we thought it was—with 258 pages, but we now have a Bill of 383 pages. The Bill arrived as a government Bill to which, subsequently, in Committee, the Government tabled 171 amendments. The Government tabled those amendments to their own Bill. Noble Lords managed to table 116 amendments.

On Report the Government tabled 150 amendments to their own Bill. Noble Lords managed to table 55. Here we are today at Third Reading with another 22 government amendments. With respect I believe that that is an indication of government incompetence. It is a case of take an idea, table it and then build a Bill round it by means of 343 government amendments in total. I know that there is an overlap but that is really what it means in essence. Not only do we have a Bill with which I profoundly disagree, but we also have a decision and an insistence by the Government that despite what the majority of people in Northern Ireland feel about this, and the need to have the substance and the consequences of this Bill debated in Northern Ireland, the matter will be left to a fairly brief and formal introduction by the Secretary of State. I believe that that is wrong. Northern Ireland's culture is very, very different from what I call the London club scene. I could say the same for other areas throughout Great Britain. Their overall culture is somewhat different from what I call, for want of a better phrase, the London club scene.

As well as beginning to recover from 30 years of terrorism Northern Ireland is in the process of recovering from years of systematic sexual abuse of children. As a consequence there is a sensitivity among the people of Northern Ireland in respect of that particular abuse.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland

My Lords, with great respect I interrupt the noble Lord. I am not sure whether procedurally I am doing the right thing, but someone will surely tell me if I am not.

If the noble Lord is linking the idea of civil partnerships with child abuse, that link therefore suggests that homosexual people abuse children. I have carried out a considerable amount of work in Northern Ireland through Childline. The statistics show that on the whole heterosexual people are far more likely than homosexual people to abuse children. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive my asking him to correct me if I am wrong in assuming that that was not the connection he intended to make. I have not taken part in proceedings on the Bill but I wanted to clarify that point.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that intervention. I do not in total seek to disagree with her. I used the term "systematic abuse" of children. Without wishing to open up old wounds that affect institutions which have been guilty of that kind of systematic abuse, I cite but one example; that is, Kincora. That is probably the best known case. There is no doubt that those involved in the Kincora scandal are homosexuals.

It is not my wish to open old wounds and make things more difficult for people who indulge, for whatever reason, in abnormal sexual activity, but what happens behind closed doors and what is systematic abuse are two entirely different matters. As someone from Northern Ireland, I would be wrong not to draw attention to the fact that—

Lord Alli

My Lords—

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I will give way in a moment.

Noble Lords


Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I want to finish this point. Cases can always be made. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, wrote me a letter on a remark that I made about there not being systematic indulgence in "gay bashing" in Northern Ireland. It drew my attention to the fact that a Democratic Unionist Party councillor was convicted a couple of months ago of harassment of a colleague. That is a very poor argument. For anyone who had been involved in politics in Northern Ireland, such as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, or myself, harassment would be the least that we would expect of some members of the Democratic Unionist Party. Many of us have suffered physical abuse and attacks from members of that party, so it does not make the argument for the noble Lord, Lord Alli.

Lord Alli

My Lords, I shall deal with some of the noble Lord's points on a more substantive basis during the debate. I simply want to tell him how offensive his contributions, both last Thursday and today, have been to many gay people up and down this land, given the kind of language that he has used twice in the two different debates. I suggest that he think very carefully about the tone that he adopts during the debate. We have all agreed that, hitherto in this House, the debates in the area have been sensitive and co-operative, with a sense of consensus prevailing. He is breaking that consensus, and should think wisely about his words.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I have listened very carefully, and I recognise the difficulties that exist. I have indicated again and again that the last thing that I have in mind is to provoke any antagonism towards people like the noble Lord, Lord Alli. Those of us who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong and offensive from a religious perspective to many people in the United Kingdom also feel that we have at least an equal right to put our opinion, as he puts his.

The noble Lord raises the issue of being offensive. I respond by asking him whether he read the article in the Sunday Times last Sunday for which the headline stated: British Airways flies into a gay boycott". That article specifically cited intimidation and threats against someone who did not agree with the Bill. There is no doubt in my mind that the threat by Stonewall—

1.15 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I may be able to help the noble Lord and the House. Am I not right in thinking that the purpose of his amendment is to see that the Bill does not have effect in Northern Ireland until the Assembly, having reconvened, has the ability to express its opinion on it? That is a question of devolution, not of all the issues being raked over now. Will he bring us to discuss that, because that is the basis on which I shall take my decision on which Lobby to go into, if he decides to divide the House? What he says now does not advance his cause at all, so far as I am concerned.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord and agree with what he said. However, I find myself as a voice for Northern Ireland, ultimately suggesting that the Bill not be extended to it, as he commended to me. I felt that I had to try to indicate why the Bill should not be extended.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that, under the Northern Ireland Act, one matter not transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly is responsibility for compatibility with the human rights convention? Like the government of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland's devolved Assembly cannot breach basic human rights, including those of homosexuals, if that would be in breach of the European convention. Is that not the position under the devolution legislation?

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, the noble Lord is no doubt better versed than I am in European legislation. I accept what he indicates, but "human rights" must surely apply to the people of Northern Ireland as well as to individuals. When there is a conflict, decisions have to be made. I do not want to pursue the issue any further, but I was distracted for a moment when I mentioned the article in the Sunday Times, which displays a degree of aggressiveness from that small group of people. They are not saying that they want human rights; they are saying, "If we don't get our way, we will take action that will penalise other individuals".

Northern Ireland is in a difficult period of transition. It has had to grapple with systematic abuse of children, and—be I right or wrong; someone can contradict me—I have seen a degree of organised abuse by homosexual elements. Imagine that I open my door and, on my left-hand side, my next-door neighbours are living in a civil partnership. Imagine that, when I open the same door and look on my right-hand side, I find a 60 year-old lady who has spent her life looking after her 90 year-old mother. Imagine that my children or grandchildren walk out and look at the situation that will be brought about by the Bill. What will the implied situation be when same-sex people have privileges denied to the mother and daughter?

Finally, I listened to the noble Baroness and heard her explain how a daughter would become a mother-in-law of her own mother. She was referring to a grand-daughter living with her grandmother. The mother in that family would become the daughter-in-law. I thought that the Government told us that the Bill had nothing to do with marriage and the relationships brought about by marriage. In an earlier amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, also indicated the cost factor. I thought that she had said at an earlier stage that this matter did not relate to cost.

So, on the basis of what I have heard so far, I believe that Northern Ireland should not be included—that, such an order must not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly".

I beg to move.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, the House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, because he has introduced a degree of transparency into his arguments and made clear the real purpose of the amendment, which is fundamentally to oppose the whole purpose of the original Bill, rather than the question of devolution.

I shall restrain myself from being seduced by the noble Lord into wandering into the various by-paths of his argument and I shall stick as closely as possible to the content of the amendment itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has advised. There are a number of serious problems with the amendment. First, it puzzles me that I have heard a Unionist Peer speak about excluding Northern Ireland. I recall many Unionist colleagues—not the noble Lord, although he may have done—protesting, as I did, about the anti-terrorist legislation that restricted many people to Northern Ireland for the protection of the rest of the United Kingdom. It was a form of internal exile. I and many Unionists protested against that as well as an overwhelming number of nationalists. Yet, we have a suggestion that would introduce a form of relationship, partnership or contract between two individuals that could be entered into by Northern Ireland citizens if they were living in this part of the United Kingdom, but they would be unable to live peacefully in Northern Ireland. They would be in a form of internal exile within the United Kingdom. I should have thought that that was a curious proposition for a Unionist in particular.

Another colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, rightly describes himself as "a voice" from Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord is not the only voice from Northern Ireland. I suspect that if the matter could be discussed in the Northern Ireland Assembly there might not be the degree of unanimity across all the parties suggested by the noble Lord's speech. I shall speculate a little as to what might happen, given the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, who is a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the Bill were to be passed in its original form, one might say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, "Well, as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly you could perhaps bring forward a Private Member's Bill to reverse this". But he could not, because before a Private Member's Bill can be presented for First Reading in the Northern Ireland Assembly the Speaker has to ascertain whether or not the Bill conflicts with the European Convention on Human Rights. It would ill-befit me to speak for any future Speaker that there might or might not be, but I can say with some degree of surety that such a Bill would not have been given a First Reading during my own period as Speaker because I have no doubt that it would contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. It would also contravene Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, makes much play of the huge number of amendments that the Government brought forward and I have some sympathy with what he says. However, I recall that when the Northern Ireland Act was being passed there was a massive number of amendments, many of them occasioned by deals that the Government made with his party and his leader to ensure that they would go along with the Act. So, one always has to be a little cautious about making accusations. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the amendment would contravene Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act which specifically forbids any kind of discrimination on sexual grounds. That means that when the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, says that this is not a matter of human rights but a matter of devolution, he is entirely wrong in law. It is a matter of human rights.

That brings me to the question of human rights and to the question of culture, religion and the views of local people. I do not presume—and it would be improper for anyone to presume—the outcome of a debate in any legislative assembly. That would not be proper, as the assembly would speak for itself. However, let us assume that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was correct. I have struggled greatly with the notion of human rights for a number of years and one matter seems fundamental. It is about human rights—not Northern Irish rights, not Irish rights, not European rights. As the deputy president of Liberal International and the chairman of its human rights committee, I have spent much time confronting oppressors in Asia who describe "Asian rights" as being something culturally different from human rights and the West. I do not accept that. Human rights are rights that people have by dint of being born as human beings. So the idea that there should be a different set of human rights for people in Northern Ireland because of the culture is, to me, problematic—to the point where I have considerable doubts about a matter which I would otherwise support, the notion of a bill of rights for Northern Ireland. The strength of human rights is that they transcend local communities and national states and that those who abuse human rights should not be able to find sanctuary behind national boundaries. That is part of the purpose of this whole exercise, as far as I am concerned.

I look at the position of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, and his colleagues, who have religious convictions which I would share in many circumstances; and I look at Christian communities in states which are dominated by fundamentalist Islamic governments who wish to introduce legislation that would be wholly in accordance with the views of the overwhelming majority of people in those countries, but which would be oppressive of Christian minorities. I do not doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, would quite rightly use the opportunities of this House to demand that Her Majesty's Government made strong representations against any government that would do such a thing in respect of Christian, Jewish or whatever other minorities in other parts of the world. Yet, we cannot make fish of one and flesh of another. We cannot say that other countries should respect the rights of those with whom we share an affinity, but then say that we have the right to set aside the human rights of others on the grounds of cultural and religious thoughts and sensitivities in Northern Ireland, in the rest of the island or in the UK as a whole. I have great difficulty in seeing the rationale—the legal, thoughtful, reflective argument—in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, because they do not fit his Unionist commitments.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I shall not detain the House for long, but he and others make much play of human rights. I would not advocate intrusion into the human rights of people because they were homosexual, but the Bill, although it is paraded as an extension of human rights, is nothing to do with fundamental human rights. It is about financial implications for homosexuals. That is the sole purpose of the Bill as I see it and I should be interested to hear the noble Lord's explanation of that aspect.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, I hesitate to enter into the debate. Knowing the noble Lord as I do, I fear that were Ito answer he might wish again to interject and I would not want to say no.

It seems to me that one of the most fundamental rights of all can be set even beside the right to life and not to be murdered—and the noble Lord is familiar with the breach of that right in our part of the world. It is the right to have close, confiding, lasting, intimate relationships. Without them, no place, no money, no property, no ambition—nothing—amounts to any value. Life is about relationships or it is about nothing at all.

We do not choose all our relationships. We tend to acquire our parents and siblings too late to make choices about them, but they are our relations. We live and work with them, we value them and they enrich our lives. However, we also have the opportunity to choose our relationships. It seems to me to be a fundamental human right to be able to choose the person with whom you wish to spend your life and with whom you wish to have a real bond. I suspect that we may differ, but for me this is a question of fundamental human rights. It does not matter how large the majority that is against or how small the minority that is satisfied, for me it is fundamental matter.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. I know that there are concerns about carers and others and I hope that at the next election we will see in the manifestos of all the parties a commitment to address this difficult question. I do not want to make myself my own grandfather or some other complicated piece of nonsense out of a piece of otherwise reasonable legislation.

However, as I listened to the argument and tried to follow its rationality, I reached the conclusion that the opposition to the original Bill was less to do with rational argument and more to do with fundamental feelings. Those are important matters, but it is perhaps not the best way for us to construct legislation. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, to consider whether he really wants to presume upon the vote of the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I had not intended to speak today, but I feel that I must, for two reasons. First, as I said on Report, I did not then move my amendment relating to Northern Ireland solely because the Assembly, which is in suspension, should have the right to discuss the Bill. I said that purely on the basis of knowing something about the Northern Ireland situation and knowing quite a lot about the situation in the island of Ireland. I know the sensitivities and I am totally aware that no one in this House does not want the Assembly to be reinstated. It seemed to me that that would show the people of Northern Ireland that they had some say in their future. That was all—that was the only reason.

Today I was deeply moved by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I have always had the highest regard for him, and his remarks about relationships made me quite emotional. And of course he is right—life without close relationships, be they familial, same-sex or whatever, is not one worth living.

Secondly, much has been said today about the Bill being emasculated—no one has used that word, but it seems to me that everyone believes that to be the case—by an amendment which I moved and which was carried by a substantial majority in this House last Thursday. If the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had been here last Thursday, he would probably have been very sympathetic to that amendment because it hit exactly the point he made about relationships.

I want no unpleasantness about the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, began to allude to that today. I have been at the receiving end of a great deal of unpleasantness—and, pleading my own case, I believe it is unwarranted and unjustified. However, that is the way it is. If you agree to take a role in your Lordships' House as a parliamentarian, if you have the honour to be appointed, as I was, you have the right and the duty to contribute to the proceedings of this House on the basis of your experience and expertise. And I believe that it is rather unfair then to be targeted just because you, in all conscience, have tried to contribute to the best of your ability, experience and expertise.

I do not want to make special pleading on this issue, but I hope that by standing here now and saying what I have said I have shown that in everything I have said on the Bill I have wanted the best for legislation in this country. In particular, when I brought forward the amendment last week on Northern Ireland, it was to allow the people of Northern Ireland also to have their say. That was the only reason and that is why I have intervened now.

Lord Henley

My Lords, a week ago, I spoke from this Dispatch Box on a free vote in support of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady O'Cathain on Northern Ireland. A week later—perhaps a week is a long time in politics—I cannot offer the same support to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. I am sympathetic to the picture he paints and to the fact that matters are different in Northern Ireland. I believe—and perhaps many others will agree, however they wish to vote—that the Government could have handled the matter with slightly greater sensitivity in terms of consultations in Northern Ireland. However, I accept that it is not a devolved matter and that if the Bill is to be enacted it should be on a United Kingdom basis.

Having said that, I stress again that on these Benches this is a matter for a free vote and that I would not be able to offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, in relation to what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, I deeply deplore the way in which she has been subjected to targeted abuse and the way in which a boycott of British Airways is being advanced by some who, like me, strongly disagree with her views. Attempts have been made to persuade shareholders that she should even be removed from the board of British Airways and that people should not fly with British Airways.

All of that I regard as quite disgraceful. She has the same rights to freedom of speech as anyone else. When debating the matter, we are covered by the great privileges of this House and Parliament to enable that to happen. I hope that my words will be heeded, as one of the great supporters of the Bill, by members of the gay and lesbian community who so deplore what the noble Baroness has done that they have resorted to what I believe to be base tactics which should not be pursued.

Secondly, in the light of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Alderdice, it would be a gross anticlimax for me to say much at all, except by way of footnote, but I want to make a few brief points from these Benches. First, it is not fair to attack the Government for incompetence in tabling a large number of amendments in relation to Northern Ireland. It would be especially inappropriate for the Conservative Party or the Liberal Democrat Party to make that attack. It has not been made this morning by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. It is unfair because we were offered by the Government detailed pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and I both agreed, and said, that pre-legislative scrutiny would not be necessary. We were warned by the Government on behalf of our parties through the usual channels that, if there were no pre-legislative scrutiny, a shoal of amendments would have to be tabled later in order to deal with Northern Ireland for the good reason that there had to be very detailed consultation within Northern Ireland. Therefore, it would, indeed, be a case of double standards if we were now to criticise the Government.

My third point—I speak as a lawyer and a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights—is that there is no doubt that the Bill seeks to give effect to a basic human right. I suppose that it is a right to equal treatment without discrimination in one's private life. That is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the Human Rights Act.

As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who, in view of his office in the Assembly, has spoken with enormous authority—I speak as a lawyer—there is no doubt that the devolution legislation in the Northern Ireland Act limits the powers of the Assembly and the Northern Ireland administration, compelling them to act compatibly with the European convention. This is not a transferred matter. Therefore, if these amendments were passed, there would be a blatant denial of equal protection in the law across the UK. That would be incompatible with the European convention and the Human Rights Act.

For 50 years, Parliament was unable to eliminate religious discrimination in Northern Ireland and was even unable to debate it because of the curious convention in the other place that this was a devolved matter to Stormont and therefore could never be discussed in the Westminster Parliament. That convention led to enormous injustice in Northern Ireland but, happily, that is no longer the case under the devolved legislation.

I have to say that sentiments of the kind expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, were the same as those that were responsible for the United Kingdom having to be taken before the European Court of Human Rights in the Dudgeon case. There is no doubt that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland and, I dare say, in the Republic—they, too, had to be taken to the European Court—believe that male adult consensual sexuality between homosexuals should be criminalised, as it had been in the middle of the 19th century. It took the European Court to change that in both the north and the south.

We are now in the happy position of being the legislature not only for England, Wales and Scotland but for the whole of the United Kingdom. As lawmakers, we are responsible for ensuring that the basic rights and freedoms of all British citizens and of everyone within the jurisdiction of the whole of the United Kingdom are guaranteed and that equal protection exists.

As my noble friend Lord Alderdice said far better than I am doing, those fundamental rights of the individual apply to everyone on both sides of the Irish Sea, as well as north and south of the Scottish Border. Both islands are bound by the same standards—thank heavens—and it is now time that we enacted legislation that frees homosexual people in this whole country from an ancient form of discrimination.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can I ask him to make one matter very clear? It appeared to me that he linked my opposition to this Bill and to its application to Northern Ireland with religious discrimination in Northern Ireland. Does he acknowledge that, during my entire public life and before I was involved politically, I was an arch opponent of religious discrimination? I would resent any implication otherwise.

1.45 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I am happy to make it absolutely clear that I was not making any such implication. I was saying that the argument for leaving everything to a devolved legislative body has great dangers, and for 50 years—long before the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was an active politician in Northern Ireland—arguments made on behalf of the majority caused the House of Commons to refuse to debate the issues at all.

Of course, nothing whatever that I am saying has anything to do with the record of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, in opposing religious discrimination. But it was that history of deferring to an Assembly that was seen to represent the wishes of the majority, rather than the Westminster Parliament doing its job, that exacerbated the tragedy that became the divided communities of Northern Ireland. I say that as a great friend of Northern Ireland who enjoys everything about the place except the tragedy that befell it.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the first point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, concerned the number of government amendments. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for clarifying the position on that. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that the Government made it absolutely clear at Second Reading that there would have to be a substantial number of amendments.

With regard to the noble Lord's amendment, the continuing suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly is unfortunate, and the Government continue to work with the parties in Northern Ireland to reach an agreement which will lead to the restoration of the Assembly. But we have said previously—I repeat the point—that good governance of Northern Ireland must continue. The people of Northern Ireland expect it and they are entitled to it during the period of suspension. We have made that commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and we shall not go back on that pledge now.

When we discussed this matter in Grand Committee, I believe that I made it clear that the reasons for legislating in Northern Ireland relate to fairness and social justice. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made an extremely powerful and deeply moving speech about the human rights dimension in that respect.

Government have a responsibility to lead. They also have a responsibility to challenge bigotry, discrimination and prejudice. I have to tell the House that I am very proud of what this Government have achieved by establishing a framework of equality and rights in this country. I hope that this House is equally proud of that achievement. While the Assembly remains suspended, legislation for Northern Ireland must be made by this Parliament. During the current period of suspension of the Assembly, this Parliament has passed a considerable body of new legislation applying in Northern Ireland, whether by Order in Council or by an Act of Parliament. On no occasion has it been put to the Government that commencement of legislation for Northern Ireland should be delayed until the Northern Ireland Assembly is restored. If it had, we would have resisted such a move, as we resist this attempt to delay the implementation of civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.

The issue of delay has been raised in relation to this Bill only. If Members of this House really thought that the views of the elected Members of the Assembly were critical to the legitimacy of legislation applying to Northern Ireland, the issue would have been raised before when we discussed other pieces of legislation. If we were to accept that commencement of legislation for Northern Ireland passed by this Parliament should be subject to an indefinite delay, how would noble Lords explain to the people of Northern Ireland why they were being denied the benefit provided by recent legislation? I strongly oppose the amendments.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, she will remember that she said both in Grand Committee and on Report that the Northern Ireland Assembly would have a power to repeal this legislation in so far as it affects Northern Ireland if it reconvened and if it so chose to do. However, the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has just indicated that the Assembly would not have that power. Can the Minister say who is right?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I repeat that when the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive are restored, they will be able to decide on transferred matters. There is a very long list, which I went into in Grand Committee, setting out those areas where powers have been transferred and those areas which rest clearly with the national government. As regards the European Convention on Human Rights, clearly, that is an issue which is not transferred.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I have listened carefully and with interest to what noble Lords have said. I am perhaps a little less convinced about what I have heard from the Government Front Bench. I shall simply make the point that good government is government that comes in response to the needs of the people. As to the way in which the Bill will be implemented in Northern Ireland without consultation with the Assembly, which I admit is now suspended, I do not believe that that is a good response to the people of Northern Ireland. However, I do not intend to waste the time of your Lordships' House and at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, before my noble friend moves the government amendments, perhaps I may remind the House that this is Third Reading. The Companion states that arguments fully deployed at an earlier stage should not be repeated at length at Third Reading and also that the debate must be relevant to the amendment before the House. To put it in the vernacular, stick to the subject and to the point.

Clause 9 [Notice of proposed civil partnership and declaration]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 5, line 14, after "of" insert "proposed"

The noble Baroness said:

My Lords, I shall try to obey that stricture. I hope that I explained earlier today why the Government chose to bring back only the few amendments which your Lordships see before us today. In the main, the amendments are minor and technical. They seek to correct errors or omissions or improve the existing drafting of those parts of the Bill which are unaffected by the decision made last Thursday.

We have not felt it appropriate to table any amendments which would affect the substantive provisions on formation, ending or recognition of civil partnership or the substantive rights and responsibilities that would apply to civil partners. First, we have to remember that this is Third Reading—I am trying very hard to do that—and even more importantly, the difficulties we would now face in moving those other amendments. It has never been the Government's policy to apply these provisions to the wider group who can form a civil partnership as a result of last week's amendment.

The Government are not able to give an adequate explanation of the policy underlying these further or additional changes or their legal effect and consistency with other provisions on the statute book or in the Bill. A further difficulty is that before introducing the Bill, the Government consulted widely about their plans for the new legal relationship and the legal rights and responsibilities which should attach to it. This fundamental change, without any additional consultation, deprives the Government of important background to policy making.

Those considerations will also make it difficult for the Government to comment on other issues raised by the Bill and other amendments which have been tabled today. However, we shall attempt to describe the crucial issues in outline. In a few cases that has meant that we have not been able to table minor amendments because they are closely linked to the substantive amendment, which the Government have decided not to move, for the reasons that I have just explained.

It is the Government's intention to overturn last week's amendment in another place and then to table the remaining government amendments to the Bill, which have had to be put on hold for that reason. It will be a decision for the other place whether it feels it wants to do that.

The amendments in today's group are all very minor drafting changes, which do not involve any significant change in legal effect. I do not propose to describe those in detail. I wrote to noble Lords about the amendments when they were tabled on Report. I hope that that explanation will have prepared colleagues opposite to comment as appropriate. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation. I am in a particularly benign mood after the Minister announced that we are a grown-up House and the Government have withdrawn from their fit of pique as described by the right revered Prelate last week and tabled their own amendments. Therefore, on this occasion I shall not seek from the Minister a detailed explanation of those amendments because I appreciate that we have received some explanation in one of the mysterious, undated letters—one of which I believe should have been dated 17 May—that the Minister kindly sent to us on an earlier occasion.

I wonder whether she can help me a little. I am rather intrigued about the grouping. As the Minister will remember. when the little local difficulties arose last week I moved what was then government amendment No. 13, which was in a group of seven other amendments. No Tellers were appointed by either side on that occasion and Amendment No. 13 was therefore lost. I understand that government Amendment No. 4 is the second from that group; which was Amendment No. 15 last week. Presumably some of the others belong in that group and some in other groups. I appreciate that those are all very minor amendments, but it is very difficult to work out exactly which ones are from Report stage as opposed to those that are now before us at Third Reading.

I wonder whether it might be good practice for the Home Office in terms of getting their letters right—perhaps they would remember to date them on this occasion—if the Minister were to write to me and to other noble Lords setting out which amendments these are so that I can follow in slightly greater detail what it is the Government have put before us. 1 have no intention of opposing the amendments on this occasion.

As I said, I am in a benign mood and therefore I shall not move my Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 25 and 26, which were originally government amendments. It might be that if the Government still wish to go ahead with those amendments, if they are valid, that they could move them. However, if they do not want to go ahead with them, I shall not move them and shall leave things in that position. Perhaps the Minister could give me the assurance of another brief letter from the Home Office.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am more than happy to write to the noble Lord. If one scrutinises the letters that I have sent, one would find each and every one of these amendments outlined. That does of course mean that one has to read them.

Perhaps I may also say to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that I am most grateful that he is in a benign mood because I do not think that I should like to see his expressions if he were not in a benign mood. I hope I made clear at the first intervention that this was not the Government acting in pique; it was the Government accepting the consequence of the amendment passed last Thursday and behaving in a responsible and responsive manner. The one thing I have learned in this House is that the House does not wish to be unnecessarily wearied by long explanations about why every provision moved by the other side is arrant nonsense. So the Government behave, if I may respectfully say to the noble Lord, with calm and I believe with a degree of dignity.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

2 p.m.

Clause 23 [Evidence to be produced:]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 11 line 31, leave out "But"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 42 [Attempts at reconciliation of civil partners]:

Baroness Wilcox

moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 19, line 27, after "applicant" insert "at the first available opportunity"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we have returned to this amendment at every stage in the Bill. It was first raised as part of a clause stand part debate in Grand Committee, which seems a long time ago now.

Amendment No. 6 is a simple amendment which would ensure that a solicitor acting for a client who seeks to dissolve his civil partnership would have to raise the possibility of reconciliation with him at the first available opportunity. The Bill as currently drafted does not state when a solicitor should raise such a prospect and provide him or her with details of persons qualified to help effect this. It seems common sense that the earlier the matter is raised the more chance there is of reconciliation.

Both the Minister and I have expressed our concern to emphasise the seriousness of the proposed civil partnerships. Such partnerships are for the committed. I suggest that raising the possibility of reconciliation at the start of the prospect of a relationship breakdown would reflect well the Government's serious intent in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the amendment serves to highlight why the extension of civil partnership to close family members is entirely inappropriate; not just in this one area of the dissolution process concerning reconciliation, but in every area of the dissolution process proposed by the Government. The amendment would place a duty on solicitors to discuss at the first opportunity the possibility of reconciliation between civil partners seeking dissolution of their civil partnership. Reconciliation would involve details of people who can provide relationship support, such as Relate, to be provided to civil partners. In order for attempts at reconciliation to be worth while, the relationship concerned must be a suitable one. Under the amended Bill, however, a civil partnership between family members offers a very different premise to that provided for by a same-sex civil partnership.

Let me take one example. A person in a civil partnership with his brother would need to dissolve that civil partnership in order to marry. A person in this case would hardly need reconciliation with the brother he has formed a civil partnership with. His decision to dissolve the civil partnership is simple and uncomplicated: all he wants is to be able to marry his fiancée. I am sure noble Lords would not think it necessary to advise him on, and possibly dissuade him from, this course of action. I know that noble Lords are very supportive of those who wish to enter into marriage.

Turning to the wider picture on dissolution, the amendment to extend the scope of the Bill to family members would result in a number of wholly undesirable consequences; consequences that I am sure noble Lords opposite would not wish to see.

The procedure that the Government set out for the dissolution of a same-sex civil partnership is based on the court being satisfied that one of the following facts has occurred: unreasonable behaviour or desertion and separation for periods of either two or five years. We do not, however, see the package of provisions relating to dissolution as being remotely appropriate to the reality of family members' lives.

Perhaps I may illustrate again some of the absurd consequences that may follow if the current dissolution provisions were applied to family members who want to dissolve a civil partnership. A daughter, for instance, wishing to marry, but having formed a civil partnership with her mother, would be unable to marry until the civil partnership was dissolved in a formal court-based procedure. That could take over a year to complete.

Alternatively, the daughter may well decide not to marry at all if the financial benefits associated with her civil partner status were greater than if she were to marry. Clearly, the Government would strongly resist encouraging situations where people decline to marry for fear of losing out financially; for fear of leaving their close relatives in a worse financial position; and/ or for fear of creating tensions within their wider family. I would hope that noble Lords agree with me on that.

We might also have the situation of a daughter, who had formed a civil partnership with her father which had been subsequently dissolved, being liable not only for maintenance payments to her father, but also for any of her dependant brothers and sisters who had been treated as children of the family. As I said last Thursday, this could turn the clock back to the 1930s when daughters were held financially responsible for their father and others in the household, leading to their lives being restricted in a totally unacceptable way. Of course such applications for compulsory maintenance between family members would lead to great ill feeling between the applicants if the arrangements for them to live together broke down. Last week's successful amendment would also encourage property disputes between family members where only two have become civil partners. Civil partners have increased rights to apply to the court in respect of property disputes, as opposed to relatives who live together. Under the current Bill an elderly mother could be forced to sell her house, as was said earlier.

The examples go on and on. We are faced with a situation where this formerly reasonable court-based dissolution process, which sought to support same-sex civil partnerships, has now changed to the extent that it actively undermines relationships between family members; it undermines the integrity of the wider family unit; and it undermines the entirely acceptable role of the state in seeking to support families as the most valuable unit for social cohesion. Nor are these effects easily remediable as some noble Lords might suggest. They form both the foundations and the structure of the dissolution process.

So I understand why the noble Baroness wished to move the amendment in relation to same-sex partners. However, when one seeks to use the reconciliation model to the wider group, it becomes clear that some very difficult decisions would have to be made by family members which are inherently incompatible with the overall scheme we have for dissolution.

However, when all that has been said, I wish to put on record that the Government have sympathy with the intention behind the amendment in respect of the Bill as originally presented. Clearly, it would be important that attempts at reconciliation should be started as soon as possible. The Government would not, however, wish to be too prescriptive about how solicitors discharge their responsibilities in connection with reconciliation.

The Law Society's protocol for family proceedings requires solicitors to ensure that their clients consider the possibility of reconciliation and are made aware of the relationship support facilities available locally at appropriate stages in divorce proceedings. My noble friend Lord Filkin wrote to the noble Baroness regarding the current provision of relationship support in divorce proceedings. It is intended that corresponding duties will be placed on solicitors in civil partnership proceedings. The responsibility on solicitors to consider the possibility of reconciliation is continuous and remains throughout the proceedings. The Government believe that solicitors should be allowed to use their discretion on how to raise this possibility with their clients. This amendment has helpfully served to flag up the difficulty that we all face when discussing the Bill in its current state.

I hope that, on the basis of the consequences that I have outlined, the noble Baroness will accept the explanation that the Government have given of their original intent on reconciliation for same-sex civil partners, and that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Wilcox

My Lords, that was a lengthy response, for which I am extremely grateful. Even though we have been exhorted not to take too much time at this stage, given the circumstances under which we are working at the moment, I am extremely grateful for any extra help that the Minister feels that she can give us by way of explanation. Obviously, things have changed, and one must listen. I have listened carefully to the Minister.

At one stage I thought, "What if two homosexuals had entered into a civil partnership and one of them had decided to get married. Surely the civil partnership would break down then, and they, too, would then be looking at that?" I can see that there is a lot to discuss. I am very grateful to the Minister for her reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.]

Clause 83 [Formation of civil partnership by registration]:

The Duke of Montrose

moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 38, line 27, after "has" insert— (a) freely agreed to enter a civil partnership, and (b) The noble Duke said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11, which are consequential. The amendments would ensure that parties to a civil partnership must clearly agree to enter the partnership. I hope that I will be taken to have complied adequately with the strictures of the Companion when I say that the reasons for the amendment were outlined on Report, as reported at col. 1442 of Hansard. Noble Lords present are probably well aware that events have conspired to render it impossible for the Minister to reply to any such amendments either in Committee or on Report. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I was unable to reply to these amendments in Committee because they were tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, who did not turn up to move them.

From the outset, the Scottish Executive has strongly supported the aims of the Civil Partnership Bill in seeking to provide legal recognition to same-sex couples in long-term, committed relationships. On that basis, the Scottish Executive, like the rest of the UK, carried out public consultation. The results were positive: 86 per cent of respondents agreed with the proposal to provide legal recognition to same-sex couples in Scotland and 74 per cent agreed with the proposed use of a Sewel Motion.

As with the UK Government, the Scottish Executive does not support the new definition of civil partnership; it, too, considers that it will make the Bill unworkable. Unless the amendments are reversed, the Scottish provisions in the Civil Partnership Bill will be placed beyond the scope of a Sewel Motion and the Scottish Executive will have to consider whether it needs to gain fresh authority.

As with other parts of the Bill, the government amendments to the Scottish provisions have not been laid, as they are consequential on the creation of a form of legal recognition for same-sex couples and do not reflect the current definition of civil partnership. As I have said before, the parts of the Bill that relate specifically to Scotland achieve the same effects as exist elsewhere in the Bill but have been drafted to reflect the special characteristics of Scottish law.

I shall now respond to the amendments that the noble Duke has moved. Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11 are to Clauses 83, 84 and 90 respectively. These clauses have been modelled on the procedures that exist for civil marriage, which we consider appropriate for such a long-term relationship. We do not consider that that should automatically hold true for family members wishing to form a civil partnership. I ask the noble Duke to withdraw the amendment.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the situation of the Scottish Executive. We are at an interesting stage in that the Bill does not have to be fully Sewel-ed until it has left this House and been taken on in another place, so perhaps we have a little more liberty than being totally constrained by the Sewel Motion passed in the first instance. In the mean time, I thank the Minister for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 84 [Eligibility]:

[Amendment No. 10 not moved.]

Clause 90 [Objections to registration]:

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Clause 111 [Civil partners: competency of interdict]:

The Duke of Montrose

moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 56, line 43, leave out subsection (1) and insert— (1) It shall be competent for the Court of Session or the Sheriff to entertain an application by one civil partner in a civil partnership for a relevant interdict. The noble Duke said: My Lords, this is another amendment that I moved on Report. It relates to the competence of the Court of Session. The amendment reworks Clause 111 to make it a positive statement of competency for interdict proceedings in the Court of Session or sheriff court. Noble Lords will remember that the argument was about the current employment of a double negative and the Scottish Law Society's view that the wording in my amendment clarifies the position. I beg to move.

2.15 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, Amendment No. 12 applies to Clause 111, which is modelled on an equivalent provision in the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981 that exists for spouses. Before the 1981 Act, it was thought arguable at common law that an interdict could not be obtained by one person against another living in the same house—an interdict in Scottish law is the same as an injunction in our law. Their option would have been to remove themselves from that house.

The purpose of Section 14 of the 1981 Act, which Clause 111 replicates, is to remove that doubt and to declare that it is not incompetent to grant an interdict between parties living together. Although I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Duke's dislike of the use of a double negative, the clause has been drafted to mirror the equivalent provision in the 1981 Act. The noble Duke's amendment will not change the meaning of the clause, and it is arguable whether it clarifies the purpose. I hope that the noble Duke will be able to withdraw his amendment.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, it is an interesting reply. It presupposes that we do not wish at any point to see any improvement to a Bill passed previously, even if we can see that there is a better approach. The fact that the noble Lord has taken the time to explain how it is arrived at will be helpful to those who must look at the legislation in the future. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 [Dissolution]:

The Duke of Montrose

moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 60. line 8, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Duke said:

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 14 and 15, with which Amendment No. 13 is grouped. The aim of the amendments is to tie up what we are considering in this House with the current state of the law in Scotland.

Amendment No. 13 deletes the provision for dissolution on the basis of desertion. As noble Lords will be aware, the Scottish Law Commission, in its Report on Reform of the Ground for Divorce in 1989, recommended that desertion as a basis for establishing the irretrievable breakdown of marriage should be abolished. Accordingly, it seems appropriate that this thinking is reflected in the law on civil partnership. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 13 to 15 seek to make changes to the Civil Partnership Bill to pre-empt changes to marriage law in Scotland that may occur as a result of a Family Law Bill in Scotland. The changes proposed would mean that dissolution with consent could take place within one year and without consent after two years.

These amendments are inappropriate. There is no date as yet for the Family Law Bill. If these amendments were accepted and the Family Law Bill did not proceed, or proceeded with significant changes, it would give rise to differing provisions for ending a legal relationship depending on sexual orientation. That goes against the policy intention of the Civil Partnership Bill as we planned it. As I have said on a number of occasions, the policy intention is that civil partnership is modelled on provisions for marriage. The Scottish Executive's proposals to reform family law have just been consulted on; in fact, the consultation period closed last Monday. If and when the Family Law Bill is passed, any changes to provisions for spouses will be reflected in the Civil Partnership Bill. In this way, we ensure parity between spouses and civil partners. I hope that the noble Duke will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, I hear what the Minister says, and I am conscious that we were looking at the intention of the Scottish Parliament if the Family Law Bill were passed. I am interested to hear him say that if the Family Law Bill does pass, matters will be brought into line. Will the Minister clarify whether there will be clauses in the Family Law Bill in Scotland that will be reckoned to amend the Civil Partnership Bill? That seems to be a funny way around for things to happen.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, although this is Third Reading, the position that I took was that as there is no date for the Family Law Bill—I did not actually say this—it would be inappropriate for me to discuss any aspect of that Bill or its relationship to any other Act.

The Duke of Montrose

My Lords, I thank the Minister, although he has not clarified the point. Perhaps it is not possible to clarify it at the moment. 1 was never sure that it was possible for the Scottish Parliament to include legislation that would affect a UK Bill and bring this Bill into line with the Scottish legislation. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Clause 157 [Powers to make orders and effect of orders]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

moved Amendment No. 16;

Page 76, line 33, leave out from "court"" to end of line 35 and insert "has the meaning given by section 183."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 165 [Supplemental provisions as to facts raising presumption of breakdown]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 80, line 21, after "period" insert "during"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 179 [Supplementary provisions as to declarations]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 87, line 18, leave out "and section 148" On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 185 [Transfer of proceedings]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 90, line 24, leave out "(3)" and insert "(4)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 220 [Meaning of "the court"]

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 106, line 3, leave out from "court"" to end of line 5 and insert "has the meaning given by section 183."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 222 [Proceedings for presumption of death order]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

moved Amendments Nos. 21 and 22:

Page 106, line 44, leave out "court" and insert "High Court"

Page 107, line 6, leave out "court" and insert "High Court"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 243 [Civil partners to have unlimited insurable interest in each other]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 118, line 34, leave out subsection (3).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Higgins

moved Amendment No. 24:

Before Clause 244, insert the following new clause—