Monday 29 March 2010
foreign and commonwealth affairs
The Petition of residents of Bristol and others,
Declares that the Government should fulfil its responsibilities as a high contracting party to the Geneva Convention.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to immediately take steps to institute a war crimes investigation in the UK into Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip between 27 December and 18 January 2009, and for the UK prosecuting authorities to search out and prosecute (or extradite for trial elsewhere) all suspected war criminals identified by the investigation; and urges the Government to seek a binding resolution at the UN Security Council to establish an international commission of inquiry into the Gaza attacks and the referral of potential cases to the International Criminal Court.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Stephen Williams, Official Report, 26 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 781 .]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:
Although under the Geneva Conventions Act the UK has jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes in an international conflict, we consider that it is the primary responsibility of the parties involved to investigate such allegations. The Report of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Fact Finding Mission on Gaza (The Goldstone Report) and the UN General Assembly also made clear that the parties should do. From the outset we have called for the very serious allegations about conduct of the Gaza conflict by both sides to be properly and impartially investigated by the parties to the conflict.
On 5 February, the UN Secretary-General released a report outlining the progress of investigations by the parties. Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) contributed material to this report. The UN Secretary-General’s report highlighted that the responsibility to investigate and prosecute alleged violations of international humanitarian law during a conflict falls first and foremost to the parties to the conflict.
It is clear that Hamas have not conducted anything like the sort of credible, independent investigation required; however, we welcome the Palestinian Authority’s establishment of an Independent Investigative Commission. This and the Israeli 31 January 2010 update document outlining the progress of Israel’s investigations are steps towards the full and credible accountability we are seeking. However, concerns remain and we continue to follow progress closely. It was for this reason that the UK voted in favour of the General Assembly resolution on the follow up to the UN fact-finding mission on the Gaza on 26 February. We have consistently called for full, credible and impartial investigations into the allegations in the Goldstone Report on the conduct of both parties during that conflict which is exactly what this resolution called for.
Homosexuals (Right to Marriage)
The Petition of residents of Bristol and others,
Declares that the Petitioners disapprove of the fact that homosexuals do not have the right to a legal ceremony of marriage.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to bring forward legislation to give homosexuals the right to a legal ceremony of marriage.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Stephen Williams, Official Report, 26 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 780 .]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice, received 26 March 2010:
The Government have no plans to legislate for same-sex marriage. It is important to recognise that marriage has particular historical traditions attached to it. The Government strongly believe that no one should be treated less favourably because of their sexual orientation. We feel that civil partnership provides an appropriate, secular approach to giving recognition to same-sex couples.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced to give same-sex couples the right to gain rights and responsibilities equivalent to those of married couples and as a way for lesbian and gay couples to show their commitment to each other in the same way that opposite-sex couples can through marriage.
The main aim of the Civil Partnership Act was to address the injustices that same-sex couples faced because they had been unable to secure legal recognition of their relationships. Provisions in the Civil Partnership Act comprise both rights and responsibilities, which are on a par with those bestowed by marriage. These include, for example, a duty to provide maintenance to the other partner; compensation under the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act; and the right to survivor pension benefits, to name a few. The Civil Partnership Act does not apply to opposite-sex couples as they have always had the opportunity to obtain a legal and “socially recognised” status for their relationship through marriage, whether through a religious or civil ceremony.
The Government have always maintained that marriage itself is only between a man and a woman. This view has been upheld by the UK courts, most recently in the case of Wilkinson and Kitzinger 2006. Wilkinson and Kitzinger are a British lesbian couple who got married in Canada where same-sex marriage is legal. Under UK law, their marriage is recognised as a civil partnership, but they wanted the court to rule that it should be recognised as a marriage. However, the High Court decided in line with case law, that it could not be recognised as a marriage because they are not male and female.
During the Lords’ Report stage of the Equality Bill on 2 March 2010, an amendment tabled by Lord Alli won a free vote. The effect of this amendment would be to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004, by removing the express prohibition on civil partnerships taking place in religious premises in England and Wales. The intention of this amendment would be to enable same-sex couples to register their civil partnership within religious premises assuming that the particular religious institution permitted this.
This is not same-sex marriage, but would provide the opportunity for same-sex couples to register their civil partnership in a religious setting, accompanied by a religious service if they so wished. The Government made their position clear during the amendment debate but is currently considering their position in light of this vote, and the further clarifying amendments that have since been tabled by Lord Alli.