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Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

Volume 563: debated on Monday 20 May 2013

I beg to move,

That the Order of 5 February 2013 (Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.

(3) Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on the days shown in the first column of the following Table and in the order so shown.

(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.



Time for conclusion of proceedings

First day

New Clauses relating to any of the following:

(a) sex education,

(b) conscientious or other objection to marriage of same sex couples,

(c) equality law,

(d) religious organisations’ opt-in to marriage of same sex couples, and (e) protection against compulsion to solemnize marriages of same sex couples or to carry out activities in relation to the solemnization of such marriages amendments to Clause 2 other than amendments to the definition of ‘relevant marriage’ in subsection (4), amendments to Clause 8, and amendments to Schedule 7 relating to section 403 of the Education Act 1996.

7 pm

New Clauses relating to civil partnership or other kinds of legally recognised relationships between persons, amendments to Clause 1, amendments to Part 3 of Schedule 4, New Clauses relating to referendums, and amendments to Clause 18.

10.00 pm

Second day

New Clauses and New Schedules relating to humanist marriage, remaining amendments to Clause 2, amendments to Clause 5, amendments to Schedule 7 relating to section 46 of the Marriage Act 1949, and remaining proceedings on Consideration.

One hour before the moment of interruption on the second day.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.

A programme motion was agreed to on Second Reading, and it has already delivered a full day on Second Reading, at which more than 70 Members, of all views and from across the House, spoke. It also delivered four detailed evidence sessions and three weeks in Committee; there will now be two days for Report and Third Reading. This motion is self-explanatory, and I look forward very much to debate on the issues, so I commend the motion to the House.

I do not agree. The problem is that if we debate the programme motion, we eat into time that is required for us to debate the subject, but it is absurd that such a major constitutional change is being rushed through under a timetable motion. Today, we should have been able to speak until any hour. This is such an important issue; we should debate it fully, but this will be a joke.

I am intrigued; if the hon. Gentleman believes that no constitutional measure should have a programme motion attached to it, will he make exactly the same argument when and if we come to debate a European referendum?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is fundamentally right that there should not be these programme motions, and I congratulate him on pointing that out. When we divide on the motion, I look forward to him going into the same Lobby as me.

This happens when the three main parties agree on a controversial motion. They try to force it through without proper scrutiny. Tonight, the amendments relating to a referendum will probably not even be reached. It was really appalling when Labour acted in this way, and it is absolutely appalling that we are doing the same thing now.

I agree with the Minister and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), and disagree strongly with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Two days is quite a lot of time in which to get through these stages, and I fear that there will be rather more heat than light thrown on to the issues in some cases. I will not waste time with a long speech on why two days is satisfactory. I hope that the hon. Member for Wellingborough will not take up lots of time with a Division. I hope that we get on to amendment 15 and the other amendments in the same group, which are on transgender issues. They are not the main thrust of the Bill, but they are very important for a number of people around the country.

Such contributions as I make in the next two days, I make in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner. I put on record at the outset of this important Report and Third Reading stage that we are very grateful for the time that the Secretary of State and other Ministers have taken to discuss with me, the Bishop of Leicester and others our concerns about the Bill. It has been a constructive dialogue, and that should be placed on the record.

We still have concerns about some of the freedom of conscience issues that will be part of the first group of amendments to be debated this afternoon, but if we deal with the timetable properly, there is no reason why all the issues of concern cannot be properly discussed over the next two days.

I do not want to take up very much time in opposing the programme motion, but I want to put on record an expression of grave concern on behalf of myself and many hon. Members in the House that we will have less than three hours for the first group of amendments, which contain key issues of conscience and of serious concern not only to us, but to many people across the nation.

May I add to what the Second Church Estates Commissioner said? Obviously, the Churches and faith groups have things to say and things to think about, and decisions that they may have to make, assuming the Bill makes progress.

I had intended, if this had been a livelier programme motion debate, to reflect briefly on some of the other significant changes to people’s lives that have passed through this House, including one of the great reform Bills, which passed by one vote, the frustrations that William Wilberforce had in his time, and the reasons that people gave against extending the vote to women, but I shall confine myself to saying that the programme motion allows it to be understood that those who were among the 400 saying yes on Second Reading have to accord some respect to the 175 who said no. It would be a very good idea if those who comment on our proceedings realised that by more than two to one we were in a majority on Second Reading. If we are going to extend the opportunity and the right to marry to eligible people of the same sex—

I was going to try to finish my sentence, if I may.

If we are going to extend the opportunity and the right to those who qualify and who choose to do so to get married, and recognise the difference between a civil partnership, now accepted, and an equal civil marriage where they are allowed to say “I do” and “I declare”, that is not the biggest thing the House has done. I hope we manage to get through these two days and pass the Bill on Third Reading and that it gets through another place as well. That would be a good programme.

I commend the work of the Bill Committee in examining the Bill in great detail and subjecting it to close scrutiny. It heard from many expert witnesses who discussed many of the issues before us today in the amendments that have been selected, so I would not want to leave the House with any mistaken idea that the Bill had not enjoyed full scrutiny before it reached this stage. I recommend to all Members that they read the transcripts of those debates. We went through many of the issues in great detail and I believe the Bill has had the scrutiny that it deserves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) has been typically generous to those with whom he is not in agreement, but I point out politely to him that although there was a majority in the House in favour of Second Reading, there was not a majority of Conservatives. The majority of Conservatives who voted voted against the measure. It was not in any party’s mandate at the last general election. It is therefore presumptuous of the Government to seek to railroad the measure through the House.

This is a very sensitive issue on which there are profoundly different views and huge concerns about the protections available to those who take a contrary view to that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. So it is unfortunate that we have not had more time to debate the matter, and it is extremely unfortunate that, with one exception, no amendment was accepted by the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who was in charge of the Committee stage of the Bill. That exception was to do with something that he and I have in common—a concern for our armed forces.

The real problem is that we have only two and a half hours to discuss serious issues relating to equality protection. Given that we have a very light legislative Session, surely the Government could have given more time for that.

My hon. Friend, whose elevation I hope you have quite rightly foreseen, Mr Speaker, is absolutely right. The Queen’s Speech did not contain many measures. I happen to be a Conservative who believes that we should be repealing measures and that it is a good thing that we do not have too heavy a Session.

My hon. Friend will have heard the comment that the Bill has had adequate scrutiny in Committee, but the reality is that the people who scrutinised it were the dissenters, rather than the cheerleaders on the Opposition Benches. Is not the purpose of the remaining stages to allow all Members the opportunity to provide effective scrutiny? The other place will certainly be watching with concern as we curtail our scrutiny of the Bill.

I would like to put it on the record, I hope on behalf of the whole House, that my hon. Friend has worked like a Trojan to ensure that the concerns that we believe reflect the views of the majority of people in this country, if not in the House of Commons, have been courteously but firmly made clear. I thank him for what he has done and hope that others will share that gratitude.

It is unfortunate that the Government did not allow the Committee stage to be taken on the Floor of the House, where many of the issues that concern us and many of our constituents and clergy could have been more properly debated, and at greater length. However, we are where we are and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) has said, there is not much time, so I will leave it at that.

Given the state of the country and the huge problems it faces with regard to clearing up the catastrophic destruction of the public finances levied upon Britain by the Labour party, that is the issue we should be concentrating on, not a matter that is very divisive and strikes at the heart of the profound beliefs of a number of Members on both sides of the House. My parting shot is this: I hope that the Opposition Chief Whip will allow her right hon. and hon. Friends a free vote on all the amendments, not just Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.