My Lords, this is a procedural matter, which is why I have leapt to my feet in advance of my noble friend Lady Stowell. I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, has consented to place her interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
1: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes
(1) The Secretary of State must arrange for a review of the following matters relating to occupational pension schemes—
(a) relevant differences in survivor benefits;(b) the costs, and other effects, of securing that relevant differences in survivor benefits are eliminated by the equalisation of survivor benefits.(2) For the purposes of this section, each of the following are relevant differences in survivor benefits—
(a) differences between—(i) same sex survivor benefits, and(ii) opposite sex survivor benefits provided to widows; (b) differences between—(i) same sex survivor benefits, and(ii) opposite sex survivor benefits provided to widowers;(c) differences between—(i) opposite sex survivor benefits provided to widows, and(ii) opposite sex survivor benefits provided to widowers.(3) The review must, in particular, consider these issues—
(a) the extent to which same sex survivor benefits are provided in reliance on paragraph 18 of Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010;(b) the extent to which—(i) same sex survivor benefits, and(ii) opposite sex survivor benefits,are calculated by reference to different periods of pensionable service.(4) The arrangements made by the Secretary of State must provide for the person or persons conducting the review to consult such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) The Secretary of State must arrange for a report on the outcome of the review to be produced and published before 1 July 2014.
(6) If the Secretary of State, having considered the outcome of the review, thinks that the law of England and Wales and Scotland should be changed for the purpose of eliminating or reducing relevant differences in survivor benefits, the Secretary of State may, by order, make such provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate for that purpose.
(7) An order under subsection (6) may amend—
(a) England and Wales legislation;(b) Scottish legislation.(8) In this section—
“occupational pension scheme” has the same meaning as in the Pension Schemes Act 1993 (see section 1 of that Act);
“opposite sex survivor benefits” means survivor benefits provided to surviving spouses of marriages of opposite sex couples;
“same sex survivor benefits” means survivor benefits provided to—
(a) surviving civil partners, and(b) surviving spouses of marriages of same sex couples;“survivor benefits” means survivor benefits provided under occupational pension schemes.”
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 2 to 5, on the subject of occupational pension benefits. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lester, the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for adding their names to this group of amendments.
The Government have listened carefully and understand the concern that has been expressed that same-sex married couples will be in a different position from opposite-sex married couples as regards occupational pension benefits. The effect of the difference in treatment, which is permitted under the exception in Schedule 9 to the Equality Act 2010, is that currently civil partners and, by virtue of the provision made in Schedule 4 to this Bill, people married to someone of the same sex may not benefit from their civil partner or spouse’s pensionable service prior to 2005 in respect of any survivor benefit payable on the death of their civil partner or spouse.
We discussed this issue at some length in Committee and on Report, when we had a full debate on Amendments 84 and 84A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli. I am grateful to him and other noble Lords for highlighting this important issue and for engaging in constructive discussions during the passage of the Bill, which have led us to bring forward this group of amendments.
I will begin by making clear that we are talking here about which period during which contributions were actually made to a pension scheme will be taken into account when calculating survivor benefits on the death of the pension scheme member. Therefore, this issue does not affect people whose pensionable service began in 2005 or later. For those whose pensionable service began prior to 2005, the concern is that contributions that they have made will not benefit their partner on their death. I should also make clear that if the Government were confident that equalising these benefits was straightforward and sustainable, we would be happy to support a move towards equalisation. But as a matter of principle, and as I have explained previously, successive Governments have avoided imposing retrospective costs on pension schemes, particularly private sector pension schemes, which have not been taken into consideration in their funding assumptions.
It would be irresponsible of any Government to commit themselves to imposing potentially significant costs on businesses and the taxpayer without first undertaking an assessment of all the implications and knock-on effects, and assessing the scale of the costs involved. This group of amendments therefore requires the Government to arrange a review of the differences in survivor benefits in occupational pension schemes between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples in legal relationships, both marriage and civil partnership. It will look at the issue in the round and will include looking specifically at the effect of eliminating differences in treatment because of sexual orientation in terms of survivor benefits between people married to someone of the opposite sex and people married to someone of the same sex. I can therefore assure the House that the review will include an exploration of the issue which is the focus of the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Alli.
As I have said, we must also look at the full costs and implications of any change. This means looking at the effect of equalisation across the board, because any changes made for one group could have significant wider implications. The review will therefore also consider the differences in treatment between widows and widowers of marriages of opposite-sex couples and the impact of removing the current exception permitting these gender-based differences of treatment provided by Section 67 of the Equality Act. It is important to emphasise, however, that these existing gender-based differences in treatment for widows and widowers in relation to survivor benefits arise from changes that have been made over time as a result of societal change. These longstanding differences reflect the historical fact that in the past many women were not economically active and relied on their husbands for their pension. These differences are therefore not consequences of the measures in the Bill, but it is important that the review considers all the interdependencies between the arrangements for different groups in occupational pension schemes in the round.
It is also important that interested parties are consulted and that all relevant voices are heard. The review will also therefore include consultation with those interested parties that the Secretary of State considers appropriate. This point was raised by my noble friend Lord Higgins. I can assure him and the House that consultation will include, for example, pension scheme trustees and industry bodies, as well as organisations representing the interests of lesbian and gay employees.
Following this comprehensive review, the amendments require the Secretary of State to publish a report of the outcome before 1 July 2014. The amendment also includes an order-making power. This ensures that if on consideration of the outcome of the review the Secretary of State thinks that the law needs to be changed in order to reduce or eliminate differences between survivor benefits, this can be achieved through secondary legislation, subject to the affirmative procedure.
I hope that these amendments reassure the House that we have listened to the strength of feeling on this issue and have responded in good faith with a sensible and measured way forward. The Government’s amendments will ensure that if we were to make any changes to the existing arrangements for differences in survivor benefits we would do so with an understanding of the full implications of such changes and of the potential costs both to schemes and to the taxpayer. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon for making this amendment possible. I am glad that the Government will re-look at this issue and that if they can they will change the law.
This is also my last opportunity to speak on the Bill. I want to say thank you not just to the Front Benches on both sides of the House but to the House. I have been truly humbled to have been part of the Bill in this place. This week will mark the 15th anniversary of my entry into your Lordships’ House. As a gay man, over those 15 years you have changed my life. You have given me dignity where there was sometimes fear, you have given me hope where there was often darkness and you have given me equality where there was sometimes prejudice. Those who want radically to reform this place come with their plans. Let me say this to them: witness this day; witness this Bill; judge us on the creation of the liberties that we protect and extend.
This is a special place and I am proud to have figured in it. My life and the lives of many others will be better today than they were yesterday, and I thank the House for that.
My Lords, I am glad that I put my name to these amendments. I add my support to the Minister for the wisdom of the amendments. It is an open-ended consultation that is not prejudged, it is time-limited so there will not be undue delay, and if there are changes it will be subject to affirmative procedure, which means that Parliament will be able to be properly consulted, as the public and all the interested groups will have been.
To add a further point, if change is brought about it will avoid the need for further litigation that could finish up in the European Court of Human Rights, as I read its case law, because if there is to be change it will remove a source of discrimination that, it could be strongly argued, is not compatible with convention rights. For all those reasons, I am very glad to support this.
The noble Lord, Lord Alli, has described me in the past as a lone ranger, but I was not sure that that was a compliment. I sit among my Liberal Democrat tribe not as a lone ranger; we are full of support for that team. I should say, though others will also say it from these Benches, that we are very proud of the fact that we were the first to think of civil partnership, to do civil partnership in a Private Member’s Bill and then to support the admirable Equality Act, so I do not think that I am a lone ranger. Anyhow, I do not watch cowboy films because I am too frightened of what will happen to the horses of the Indians.
I join in the tributes to the Minister and her extremely skilled team. Part of that team was responsible for the Equality Act 2010, which I have described as the best civil rights legislation in the world, and that I believe to be the case. The Minister has had to deal with the Bill in difficult circumstances; there are some in the House who are strongly opposed to it. However, the way in which amendments have been considered and debated across the House honestly and transparently has been extremely important, and I have learnt a great deal from listening to those debates.
I joined the House 20 years ago and I can tell those who are a bit younger that it would have been quite inconceivable for the House to have been able to approve this measure then. It would have been fairly impossible 15 years ago. What has changed for the better has been the modernisation of this House through appointments, and I pay tribute to the previous Government for the appointments that they made that I think have secured a House that is truly countermajoritarian and truly concerned with individual rights and with protecting minorities against the abuse of powers by the tyranny of the majority.
My Lords, I rise to make a brief contribution—my one and only contribution to the Bill—because listening to the debates and reading the correspondence has brought vivid memories back to me of voting at 4.27 am, 46 years ago this month, by 99 votes to 14 for Mr Leo Abse’s Sexual Offences Act decriminalising homosexuality. I was a 27 year-old Member of Parliament who had only been elected the year before, totally unexpectedly so because I was not expected to win a Conservative stronghold. That brief political experience did not prepare me for the vehemence of the reaction to my stance in that year. I have never since come across anything quite like the level of abuse and vehemence that I received in certain quarters of the constituency because of my support for that Bill. How could I possibly legitimise such horrid, heinous and sinful practices? The church, at that time, took rather a curious position on the Bill. It kind of supported it because it could help in the mission to save the sinful souls of homosexuals. The Bishop of London of the time said that it would allow,
“the reformation and recovery … of those who have become the victims of homosexual practices”.—[Official Report, 13/7/67; col. 1291.]
I do not know how well that mission has succeeded since.
I have alluded to this past experience for two reasons. First, I have been impressed and pleased by how much more measured, more sensible and more mature a debate we have had this time on such sensitive issues as opposed to way back in 1967. It shows that society itself has matured and, I believe, become more capable of handling such issues in a sensitive and helpful manner. Nevertheless, passions and fears have been aroused by the Bill. Therefore, the second reason why I have referred to this past experience is that, in such situations, I have always found that a bit of historical perspective is helpful. Has anyone ever tried to repeal that heinous, horrible Bill of 1967? No. Did all the dire consequences, which my constituents at that time said would happen to society if we supported the Bill, come to pass? I do not think so. Therefore, I believe that, with the passage of time, we will also find with this Bill that some of the fears that have been expressed will prove unfounded, as they were after 1967.
In my personal relations, I am as old fashioned and strait laced as can be. I had a 35-year marriage to one woman until death did us part, so I have had the experience and joy of a long and happy marriage. I do not believe that I should deprive gay people of that same opportunity. It is about equality before the law. As I said, the vote to which I referred earlier took place at the uncivilised time of 4.27 am. We can support the Third Reading of this Bill at a civilised time because the Bill itself is civilising.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend the Minister on the Front Bench on the way in which she has handled this Bill throughout. Indeed, I join all those who expressed appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and others who have carried on the debate in such an eloquent and satisfactory manner. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for saying that the review will take into account the position of pension fund trustees and other beneficiaries in ensuring that equality is maintained. I would ask particularly whether the position will be protected so that those in a same-sex marriage do not gain access to a closed pension scheme in a way that would prevent members of the company’s other scheme entering it. Perhaps that point might be taken into account by the review. Can my noble friend say what the composition of the review is to be? I am at rather a loss to understand what interests of Her Majesty are involved in this; that came straight out of the blue. Can my noble friend clarify that particular point?
Finally, I am glad that the order resulting from this review is to be subject to a resolution so that the House will be able to debate the result of the review without having to resort to a prayer. Overall, I think that we have made significant progress. I still have grave reservations about the position of registrars and so on, which I understand was a whipped vote on the other side. In any event, on this particular aspect of the Bill, the Minister has certainly done an excellent job and I am very grateful to her.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments. A review of the benefits accruing to all survivors under occupational pension schemes is both desirable and necessary. The principle of equity under the law for those whom the law holds to have the same status in relation to the deceased is a sound one. Hard-pressed pension schemes must be tempted to limit benefits, and the complexity of some schemes may hide inequity, so this principle is clear and just and I support it. Indeed, the Church of England pension scheme already treats surviving civil partners in precisely the same way as widows and widowers.
There is a wider reason for supporting these amendments. It is no secret that the majority of Christian churches and other world faiths do not believe that same-sex marriage accords with their understanding of marriage itself. However, many of us, including on these Benches, welcome the social and legal recognition of same-sex partnerships and believe that our society is a better and healthier one for such recognition. That is why I support this group of amendments. This point has sometimes been obscured in public commentary on what has been taking place here, but not in the debates in your Lordships’ House. The courtesy and clarity with which your Lordships have listened to each other represent our very best traditions, and I echo all that has already been said in this brief debate.
I, too, thank the Minister for her work and the Government for accommodating the needs of the Church of England and other faith traditions, and for wanting to do so. That has also been a characteristic of this House as the Bill has been debated. While the Bill is necessarily complex as a result of meeting many needs—and we are making it a bit more complex again—it will serve very well both its supporters and those who are still unconvinced about it, and that is a signal achievement.
My Lords, I was very pleased to add my name to this group of amendments. I thank the Government for listening and recognising that action should be taken in order to get rid of this last inequality, which in my view is an anomaly. However, it is of course right that consultation, a review and an assessment should be undertaken before any final action is taken. I especially thank the Minister, who steered through the discussions on the compromise with her usual aplomb, skill and understanding. I am glad that we can all agree that this is the best way forward.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, since there is no opportunity for a Back-Bencher to join in after that, and she sprang rather quickly to her feet, I wish to say that I welcomed the attempt to produce equality in this aspect of the Bill at each stage and that I am particularly glad to support it now. Perhaps it is best to pass over the rest of the debate we have heard.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and for their support for these amendments. I will respond to some of the questions that were put by my noble friend Lord Higgins. He asked whether those who are currently excluded from a defined benefit scheme would not get access to such a scheme to a greater advancement than anyone else as a result of this review. I can assure him that that is not the case. The purpose of the review is purely to look at the contributions that people made before 2005. The noble Lord asked about the composition of the review. We will publish terms of reference in due course, and at that time we will be able to offer a little more detail.
As to the role of Her Majesty the Queen and the comments of my noble friend Lady Anelay before I moved Third Reading, I do not have a comprehensive response to that question except to say that that was just a formality that is sometimes necessary on the government Chief Whip’s part before a Bill passes on to the Commons. It is all to do with various, specific interests that Her Majesty may have in a piece of legislation. In no way does it pre-empt proper process or the granting of Royal Assent. It is a pure formality and there is nothing unusual in it.
I will respond more broadly to this debate and to those that we have had on the Bill in your Lordships’ House over the past few weeks. At Second Reading, I urged the House to ensure that the protections that allow the church and other faiths to maintain their legitimate belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman should work properly. I also said that this House should debate and scrutinise whether the Bill protects freedom of speech. Your Lordships have done that, and I am grateful to all who have contributed. Those of us who have supported the Bill in principle, and those who have been concerned about protections for those who did not, have together made this an even better Bill.
While the amendments we have made were all tabled by the Government, they have all been inspired by your Lordships and by the debates we have had in this House or through the work done in its committees, particularly the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. During the passage of the Bill through both Houses, the Government have made 23 substantial amendments, 17 of them while the Bill has been in this House. The most significant include the reviews to which we are committed—on civil partnerships, humanist marriages and the equalisation of survivor benefits for same-sex and opposite-sex married couples—as well as the amendment to the Public Order Act, which is a significant protection for freedom of speech.
We have also made amendments on religious protections, in particular one that clarifies the word “compel” in Clause 2. Religious faiths, notably the Catholic Church and others who are neither the Church of England nor the Church in Wales, and who did not wish to opt in to marrying same-sex couples, wanted us to strengthen further the clause in the Bill that states that a person may not be compelled to conduct a marriage of a same-sex couple. This matter was also debated in the Commons and the movers of the amendment there were defeated by 321 votes to 163. Even though the will of the Commons was clear on this point, the Government said that they remained open-minded and would continue to listen. We did so, and were persuaded to come forward with our own amendment on Report. The Bill is now clearer, and says:
“A person may not be compelled by any means (including by the enforcement of a contract or a statutory or other legal requirement)”.
I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, whom noble Lords will remember was critical of the Bill at Second Reading, commended the amendment, saying that it dealt with concerns about public functions comprehensively. He said:
“I cannot remember seeing in a statute—certainly not in one of this kind—the words ‘by any means’. That is an all-embracing, protective phrase and I commend the Government doubly for such a courageous use of language to achieve one of the protections that they said they wanted to achieve: institutional independence”.—[Official Report, 8/7/13; col. 105.]
I am sorry to interrupt, but is it not the case that registrars will effectively be compelled, even if they have conscientious objections, to marry same-sex couples?
The amendments to which I am referring concern religious protection. The point that was made during our debate on registrars was that they are public servants, carrying out a public function, and are therefore not in the same position as people of faith as to the requirements if they are conducting a marriage in their own church. They are employed to do a job as public servants.
Our debates have provided evidence to support something else I said at Second Reading. It is possible for us to allow in law something that not everyone agrees with, and to respect our differences of view. In particular, I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, about the contrast between our debates and those of the past on previous gay rights legislation. I note, too, what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said when he paid tribute to the way in which we have debated the Bill in your Lordships’ House.
I thank everyone who contributed to our debates during the Bill’s various stages, whatever arguments they advanced. The fact that we have debated and scrutinised the Bill carefully is what matters. I am particularly grateful to the range of colleagues on my Conservative Back Benches who have provided me with much guidance and wise counsel. There are too many of them to mention. Noble Lords should not be fooled by the lack of pink carnations on my Benches.
I hope that the House will indulge me in putting on record—not to make a party-political point but to record an important fact—that in five out of six Divisions in your Lordships’ House, more Conservative Peers voted in support of the Bill than against it. I am aware that that did not happen—my Benches were evenly split—in the Division on registrars that my noble friend Lord Higgins has just mentioned. I am hugely proud of and grateful for that. We do not go in for emblems on these Benches, but many of us on this side of the House very much support the Bill. I pay particular tribute to one of my noble friends for helping me so much over the past few weeks. Without her support, my job would have been so much harder. She is my noble friend Lady Noakes.
As always, I have enjoyed working closely with my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and with my noble friend Lady Northover. All of us on the Front Bench have enjoyed fantastic support from a brilliant team of officials. I cannot name them all, but I mention in particular Melanie Field, Suki Lehrer, Wally Ford and Philip Bland. I will also give a shout-out to the special advisers who worked so hard in supporting us in this House. I will not say their names, but they know who they are.
I thank noble Lords from all four quarters of this Chamber who played a pivotal role in the passage of the Bill, in particular the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who is not in his place, and my noble friends Lady Barker and Lord Lester on the Lib Dem Benches. I was very pleased that my noble friend Lord Lester contributed to the debate and reminded noble Lords how much he has done to advance civil rights over many decades. I pay tribute to many noble Lords on the Cross Benches, including the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Also, while we have been on opposing sides, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and his colleagues for their commitment to their cause.
Finally, I pay tribute to the Labour Benches. It is often said that politicians should try harder to work together for the greater good. On this important, historic piece of legislation, I am proud to say that that is what the government and the opposition Front Benches did. It has been a real pleasure over the past few months to work with the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Thornton. It was characteristic of the noble Baroness to pay me such a generous tribute, and I am grateful to her. I have great respect for both noble Baronesses and will always be hugely grateful to them for their full support during the passage of the Bill. Although we will not agree to the same extent on all legislation that comes before the House in future, through the Bill I believe that we have strengthened our mutual understanding and personal trust. I am sure that that will be of great benefit to the work of the House.
I cannot pay tribute to the Labour Benches without mentioning the noble Lord, Lord Alli, who today gave a very moving speech. The other day, in a meeting with me, he declared in frustration at one point when I was disagreeing with him about a request he was putting forward, “But I am a gay rights campaigner”. Never was a truer word said, and, based on his record of achievements, he is undoubtedly one of the—if not the—very best. He has been a very active participant in the passage of the Bill and I am grateful to him.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Alli, I cannot claim to be a gay rights campaigner, but I am a firm believer in justice and fairness. My belief comes from two guiding principles that my parents taught me: that you are as good as anyone who thinks that they are better than you, and that you should always stand up for anyone who is treated worse than everyone else. Therefore, it has been a privilege to be part of a Bill that puts right something that is wrong: namely, the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. I am delighted that, very soon, it will be possible for gay couples to marry. They will be able to affirm publicly their commitment to each other, and accept all the responsibility and joy that comes with it, just like any other couple.
I say to any noble Lord who remains concerned that some gay couples will not take seriously the responsibility of marriage that it is likely that some will not. However, they will be no bigger in number than the small minority of straight couples who sadly end up disappointing each other and their families. Most importantly, we should celebrate and congratulate every gay couple who embarks on this special enterprise of shared endeavour in exactly the same way as we do straight couples, wishing them a long and happy life together, but knowing that that requires effort as well as the love and support of family and friends. As for me, I shall continue to wait for George Clooney before I give it a go myself.
I am very grateful to the many noble Lords who have paid tribute to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for his leadership in bringing forward this important piece of legislation. I do not think it is presumptuous for me to say on his behalf how grateful this coalition Government are for the support and challenge we have received from the Labour Front and Back Benches, the Cross Benches, the Bishops’ Benches and my noble friends on both the Lib Dem and Conservative Back Benches.
As I said at Second Reading, the Bill is a force for good. It remains that and I am delighted to be sending it back to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State Maria Miller, scrutinised and improved yet further by the House of Lords. I hope very much that the other place accepts all the amendments we have made and that it soon receives Royal Assent and becomes a great Act for good by this Parliament.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Clause 17 : Orders and regulations
2: Clause 17, page 14, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) an order under section (Survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes);”
Amendment 2 agreed.
Clause 19 : Extent
3: Clause 19, page 17, line 3, leave out “and 15” and insert “to (Survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes)”
Amendment 3 agreed.
Clause 20 : Short title and commencemen
4: Clause 20, page 17, line 21, after “15” insert “and (Survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes)”
Amendment 4 agreed.
In the Title
5:In the Title, line 6, after “partnership” insert “, for the review of survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes”
Amendment 5 agreed.
That the Bill do now pass.
I understand that this is the time that one would make a brief contribution on this Motion. I am very sorry to be doing it now in a sense because my noble friend the Minister in effect wound up the proceedings on the Bill when she was answering the amendments. However, I was not to know that she was going to do that. I want to make a very brief speech and congratulate all those who have campaigned for this measure on their success. However, in doing that, I ask them to bear in mind that although this may be a day of unqualified rejoicing for them, many in our country, who by no stretch of the imagination could be called either homophobic or bigoted, are unhappy about this Bill. They are unhappy about it because it changes the structure of society by changing the definition of marriage.
I hope that all those who enter into marriage under its new definition will, indeed, live happily every after, but the sincerity of that wish in no sense prevents my saying to them, “I understand that you feel euphoric today but please have a thought for those who have different views and for the many, not just thousands but millions of people in this country, for whom marriage will always be equated with what remains in this Bill the Christian definition of marriage”. I hope that in recognising that, they will also remember the great Churchillian motto: magnanimity in victory.
Those who support the Bill have won; there is no doubt about that. It would be churlish and ridiculous to pretend otherwise and I, for one, would never do so. I hope that the divisions in our society which I fear will not come to pass. For my part, I will do my best, in whatever way I can, to ensure that they do not. However, if we are to have a society that is not embittered, and bitterness is the most corrosive of all emotions, it is important that both sides of this argument recognise the validity of the other side. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, for whom I have developed a very real regard during these debates, is, indeed, a doughty campaigner and has every right to feel pleased with the result of his campaign. However, I say to him, and through him, “Please remember the millions of decent people for whom this is not a day of rejoicing”.
My Lords, I, too, wanted to make a brief contribution, having sat through all the remaining stages and the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I am one who does not think that it should.
Today has the potential to be deeply sad for this House and for millions of people—children, parents, families, teachers, clergymen—indeed, anyone who believes in the traditional family unit and its fundamental role in the life and cohesion of our country. If this Bill in its present form becomes law, a large number of people with understandable aspirations will be given new freedoms and be made very happy. But surely it must be right and only fair that your Lordships’ House should give some consideration to a much larger number of people, running into millions, whose lives will be less happy and whose concerns and problems will be increased by this legislation.
Have we got the balance right? I think not, particularly as the opportunity to adjust the balance was spurned by the Government’s complete rejection of any meaningful amendments. Happiness won at the expense of other people’s happiness is rarely trouble-free in the long term.
The questions that many are asking are: why now and why the haste? The simple truth is that the coalition Government have colluded with equal love campaigners and the European Court of Human Rights in bringing a case—an appeal—against our country’s long-established and settled position on marriage. There was a suggestion—some would call it a threat—that if legislation were not brought forward by June this year then changes would be forced on us. The House of Lords Library tells me that as legislation is proceeding the case in the European Court of Human Rights will probably not now be pursued. What outrageous, behind-the-scenes arm twisting.
The result is that not one meaningful amendment has been accepted, not because none has been worth while but for the sake of entirely contrived deadlines, which suit campaigners in a hurry and a Government who want it off their plate well before the next general election. How cynical and how dangerous. Given the huge effect the Bill, if passed, will have on millions of people, what an abuse of the parliamentary system to put speed before truth. So many important issues causing great concern have been left unresolved and hanging in the air, such as the effect on teachers, faith schools, the issue of adultery, consummation, the effect on registrars, which has already been referred to, and the use of premises—issues touching the lives of thousands every day, not to mention the effect on marriage itself.
Those of us who have sat through all the stages of the Bill and have watched the Government knock down amendment after amendment have despaired at their intransigence. This House prides itself on being a revising Chamber. On this Bill it has been a bulldozer. We are being used to bulldoze through an ill thought through Bill, the ramifications of which the people have not begun to understand. All great issues are essentially very simple. We make them complicated when we do not want to face them or when we are anxious to hide their true meaning and purpose. This Bill is built entirely on pretence. It pretends that there is no difference between a man and a woman. From this deceit have sprung all the problems we have been wrestling with—problems we have failed to resolve and which will bedevil generations to come. How can we possibly give our blessing to legislation built on pretence?
To those noble Lords who simply voted for this Bill at Second Reading for constitutional reasons, to those who have come to understand during our scrutiny its far-reaching measures, to those who are dismayed at the lack of concern for the worries of millions of people by the rejection of all the amendments, to those who believe that rushed, ill-thought-through legislation is dangerous, and to those noble Lords who prefer scrutiny to bulldozing—I realise that I am asking too much at this late stage—I was going to plead with your Lordships to vote against this Third Reading to defend this House’s integrity and to grant adequate time for Parliament and the people fully to understand what is going on and, I believe, to receive the thanks of millions of people.
My Lords, in some humility, I say that I disagree with both my fellow Conservatives who have just spoken, and in particular with the last speech. I do that in the context of paying tribute to the very high standard of the debate that has taken place. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and his colleagues for the way it has been conducted.
It is never ever been our case—those of us who want reform—that opposition is homophobic. That is not remotely the case that we have been putting. There is a central division between us. When opponents of the Government’s legislation have said, “Remember what people outside are saying”, that goes two ways. We might remember also what many tens of thousands of gay and lesbian people outside are saying. It is important to them, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, so movingly said, in personal terms. I am struck and touched by the numbers of people who have been in touch with me to say what an important decision this is. It is, of course, after years and years of discrimination. That is what makes their support so moving.
The second point is that it is important in another way. During the passage of the Bill, I have been, as it happens, to a range of countries where discrimination against gay and lesbian people is not only an underlying feeling, but it is set out either in legislation or in official attitudes of those countries. I think in particular of a country I am recently back from—Russia. I think of Ukraine and Uganda. Personally, I hope that the message of this House of Lords is that there is a better way of doing these things than the way that those countries are doing them. It is a plea for equality and for non-discrimination. That is the hope and the message that I hope goes out from this House. I believe that, very shortly, the Government will have done a great thing here and I congratulate them on it.
My Lords, I start my brief but sincere comments by thanking very much the Minister for the compliments she just paid me. I am grateful to her. I also thank all of those who have spoken on all sides of the House in the numerous debates that have taken place about the Bill, and especially those who supported me in the passage of the Bill through your Lordships’ House. All of us from my side were more than a little surprised at the level of support that the Bill has attracted within the House. If one looks at the opinion polls taken outside among the general public, it runs at about 57% in favour of the Bill. The votes in your Lordships’ House ran 20% or so ahead of that. I make no comment about that except that it surprises, and others will take considerable pleasure from that.
All I say, very sincerely, is that despite the serious doubts that some parts of our society harbour about the wisdom of the Bill, I—and I am sure I can speak on behalf of my supporters—fully recognise the parliamentary process and willingly accede to it. We all hope very sincerely that if passed by the House of Commons, the Bill will prove to be a success.
Earlier today in your Lordships’ House, there was a reference to grandchildren being able to teach those of us who are grandparents about information technology. I have also found through listening to children out in the country that, unlike some of us from our generation, we are not actually changing what is happening in the country, we are recognising it. As a 12 year-old said to me, “What is the problem with that? Two people love each other”. Our grandchildren’s generation, and many of our children’s generation, live in what the Japanese call the house of tomorrow. I thank all my colleagues around the House who have been involved in steering the Bill through, but in particular the Minister, who, if she does not get George Clooney, perhaps could be on her way to sainthood because of the patience she has shown during the passage of the Bill.
My only worry comes from my experience in the education service, where stories appear which say that a school is going to ban Christmas or going to do this or that. I am proud of this House for the trust it is putting in trustees, governors, local vicars, parents, communities and teachers through the passage of the Bill and make a plea to all concerned for when the stories start appearing, as they will. Fortunately, in August, which is known as the funny month, most schools are not sitting—with the exception, I believe, of those in Scotland—so the press stories will not start just yet. However, my plea to anybody who reads a critical story connected with the passage of the Bill, such as one saying, “We told you so” or that it is not working, is to remember the story of the local vicar in Lancashire who was castigated in the press for saying that you could not put “gran” on a monument in the churchyard because it was not serious enough. That turned out not to be true and the poor man spent the rest of his clergyman’s life being castigated for something he had never done. When the stories start, as they will, please wait to hear the outcome of the due process and whether somebody is found guilty of something by the governors through appeals and the disciplinary procedure. Do not get caught out by the knee-jerk reaction that the media will try to create in certain circumstances. Let us make certain that this Bill is a success and that this House has done a good thing. Yes, there are people who do not want change—there are always people, of course, who do not want change—but we have recognised change and we should be proud of it.
My Lords, the passage of the Bill has been a remarkable thing. Having sat through every bit of it, I have to say that the discussions in your Lordships’ House have been not just of the highest calibre but deeply thoughtful about the nature of the society that we wish to pass on to future generations; none more so than the contributions from the Bishops’ Benches. The Bill represents a real sea change for gay people and for our society—a good one that heralds the start of a new relationship between minority groups and faith groups. All those groups have an important part to play in building strong communities for the future and that is why we on these Benches have supported this Bill at every stage.
We have been helped enormously by the Front Bench team in dealing with some quite difficult, tricky and intricate issues. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that, no, there is no room for triumphalism. However, he will perhaps allow some of us today to celebrate what for us is a really important step towards equality and equal treatment. There is no room for intolerance but this House should be very proud.
My Lords, the custom at this stage of the Bill is for all of us to look at each other and congratulate ourselves on the piece of legislation that we are just about to sign off. Of course, I realise that not all noble Lords feel the same sense of satisfaction at a job well done that the Minister, other noble Lords who have supported the Bill and I feel at this moment. I regret that they are not sharing the sense of joy and happiness that some of us are experiencing. Certainly, if the London Gay Men’s Chorus’s tuneful offerings outside the House are anything to go by, very many others feel the same. Some of us, indeed, could not resist wearing pink carnations. However, I note that even the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is somewhat resplendent in pink himself.
To noble Lords who opposed the Bill I say that you have tested the Bill to within an inch of its life, and for that I congratulate you. No one expected that getting the Bill through your Lordships’ House would be a walk in the park, and I think that noble Lords have done their job as they see it with dedication and commitment.
There were moments at midnight when we were again discussing adultery when I thought we were never going to reach this point. Those moments were made all the more memorable by the description by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, of what is adultery and what is not. I refer noble Lords to col. 146, 8 July 2013, if they are in any doubt. I wish her well with George Clooney, and I myself do not think that he is anything like worthy of the noble Baroness.
I very sincerely hope that time will change the views of noble Lords who are still concerned about the Bill. I hope that the happiness the Bill will bring to thousands of same-sex couples will persuade everyone that, after all, Parliament was right in its huge majorities on free votes, which led us to where we are today. I hope that your own marriages will indeed come through this change unscathed and as whole as ever, and that marriage itself will actually be strengthened and deepened by the Bill.
We must recognise that when the Prime Minister, to whom I pay tribute for his steadfast support, my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats all speak in unity, then the issue has powerful friends. However, even with those powerful friends, free votes ran through the Bill on all the major votes, and were won all the way through with huge majorities.
I pay tribute to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for the way in which she steered the Bill through the House. Patient, energetic and always ready to listen, she never lost her sense of humour or proportion. Ditto her helpmates, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Indeed, we worked together on this Bill, and I am glad of it. The Bill team were always helpful and friendly, and are to be congratulated on their very hard work. I know that the demands that were made on humanism, pensions and a host of other issues meant that they and the Ministers had to go back and persuade their colleagues in government that they needed to revisit or revise matters they thought already settled. I know how hard that is.
Across the House there has been remarkable work by groups of Back-Bench Peers, co-operating to win the free votes on the Bill. My noble friend Lord Alli has been remarkable; not only did all of us on the Labour side receive bulletins and information about what was going to happen and when votes were taking place, but he also organised some light entertainment for Labour colleagues. On Monday the actor Richard Wilson and last Wednesday evening Paul O’Grady, aka Lily Savage, joined us in Committee Room G. I thank them for their support and generosity. My noble friend Lord Alli has talked to everyone all the time, which I think helped the good humour and tolerance which characterised the debates even when we fiercely disagreed.
There are other Members one should thank. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, fought the corner for humanist weddings. The noble Lady, Baroness Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, helped to find a way through on humanist weddings. My noble friend Lady Gould explained with great clarity the issues faced by transsexual people, matters not yet resolved and to which we may return some time in the future, but not on this Bill. Many of my colleagues have been here all the way through. I thank you all.
I personally have been blessed with support and equal sharing, as it should be, by my noble friend Lady Royall, who fitted the Bill in with her many other duties. I thank her. My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe sat next to me all through the Bill, and kept us to time and calm while under duress. I also thank the back room: Bethany Gardiner-Smith from the Opposition Whips’ Office, whose research, political management and inspired amendment-drafting made many things possible.
Across the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, has been with us every single step of the way and played a blinder with her Lib Dem colleagues, whose voting record has been magnificent. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Jenkin, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, from the Cross Bench, to whom I pay particular tribute. I treasure some contributions from other noble Lords: the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord Deben, my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth and Lady Brinton. All their contributions bear re-reading.
We should not forget the contributions from the Bishops’ Benches. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made a very important speech at Second Reading. Many other right reverend Prelates have joined in the debates throughout, always with elegance and thoughtfulness. The meetings that we on this side have had with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and his colleagues have been helpful and always friendly. I cannot remember another Bill that has merited such attention from the Lords Spiritual.
Alongside us all, we have had the help and support of Stonewall and the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem LGBT groups. I also thank the British Humanist Association for its support. I particularly appreciated the tweets late at night. I was conscious that thousands of people were watching us all over the country. I sometimes felt like saying, “Get a life”, and they were certainly puzzled by some of our customs, but they were willing the supporters of the Bill to keep going.
The same-sex marriage Bill is a historic Bill. I am proud to have led these Labour Benches during its passage and to have helped ensure its safe passage on to the statute book. I am proud that the House has done its job well and thoroughly.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for ensuring that everybody got a fair mention in tributes. Having spoken at some length at the end of the previous debate, I shall keep my remarks brief. I am sorry if my remarks then seemed to pre-empt a debate on Bill do now pass, but I was not sure whether there would be a debate on that and felt that there were some important things that I wanted to get on record, which is why I took the opportunity when I did.
I said at Second Reading, and have done so a couple of times since, that we all move at different paces when faced with change. I most certainly respect anyone who has a different view about whether couples of the same sex should be able to marry, and I would never seek to criticise anyone who disagrees with me on this point. I have been pleased to say repeatedly that the belief that marriage should be between only a man and a woman is legitimate; people are free to express that view; and the protections in the Bill ensure that religious freedoms cannot be called into question. That is so important. I am grateful to my noble friends for making the points that they did and for giving me the opportunity to restate that, because I cannot say it too often.
The amendments on which the House divided during the time that the Bill was in this House were not agreed, but I do not agree with my noble friends that no meaningful amendments have been made to the Bill while it has been here. I spoke at some length in responding to the previous debate about the changes that we have made, so I shall not go through them all again in detail. However, as I said, 23 substantial amendments have been made to the Bill—that does not include any consequential amendments. Seventeen of them have been made while the Bill has been in your Lordships’ House. Even though amendments brought by other Peers have not been accepted by this House, the Government have brought forward amendments to the Public Order Act to ensure the protection of freedom of speech. As I have said previously, we have clarified issues around the word “compel”, because we thought that it was possible to do that without introducing any other uncertainty in the Bill or diluting its principle. I am pleased that we were able to do that, and that it was received and accepted so graciously by those who sought those changes.
It is so important to say how much I respect all noble Lords and their views on this Bill. I believe that we have brought forward a Bill that is a force for good and that the change it brings about is right and reflects the change in society. However, there is no question whatever that anybody who disagrees with it should in any way feel that their views have not been properly taken into account during our debates. I said before that I wanted to see that it was possible to put something into law that not everyone agrees with, while respecting our differences of view. I think that this is what we have achieved. On that note, there is probably little more to say, except how grateful I am to all noble Lords for their contribution to the passage of this Bill.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.