HC Deb 23 November 2001 vol 375 cc639-41

Order for Second Reading read.

2.21 pm
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

The hon. Lady should say "now".

Jane Griffiths


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I should explain. I am now calling the hon. Lady to move the Second Reading of her Bill if she so wishes.

Jane Griffiths

Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Since I sought leave to introduce the Bill in this House on 24 October last, there has been considerable publicity surrounding the issue that it addresses. Some of it is intended, I suspect, to misinform right hon. and hon. Members about the nature of the Bill. I have seen letters from certain organisations stating that it relates to gay marriages. It does nothing of the sort—it is not about marriage and would have no effect on the institution of marriage.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

Would it not have assisted in clearing away some of the confusion surrounding the Bill if its terms had been more clearly defined? For example, it is rather unusual to have "registrar" defined, but not "relationship". Perhaps if the hon. Lady had defined the kind of relationship that she wanted to cover, it might have been easier for those of us who take an interest in the Bill to be clear about what she was trying to change.

Jane Griffiths

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not understood the terms in which the Bill is couched. I believe that the term "relationship" is quite clear as the Bill has been drafted.

The Bill would introduce legal protection for people who live in partnerships with each other, especially at times of bereavement when they suffer inhumane, unfair and degrading treatment. If they have suddenly and tragically lost their life partner and are prohibited from registering the death, they may have to seek out their partner's sibling, for example—whom they may not have been in contact with for many years or at all—to ask them to do so. They become a non-person, despite having shared their partner's life, home and probably finances for many years. That is unjust and unfair in the 21st century.

The Bill would rectify that position and give legal protection so that if people choose to take on the rights and responsibilities of sharing a life with another person, they can register that choice. That will confer on them certain legal protections in terms of inheritance, pensions and insurance.

I have had discussions with serving police officers in the Thames Valley police about pension rights. They pay 11 per cent. of their salary into the police pension scheme. As I understand it, it would take legislation to alter the way in which the scheme is run, but at present some 1,500 Thames Valley police officers are unmarried. A large proportion of them will not marry, for many reasons that it would take too long to discuss. None the less, all those officers must pay 11 per cent. of their salary into the police pension scheme. When they die, their pension dies with them. They may be sharing their life with someone, but they have no opportunity to give their surviving partner the proportion of their pension that people who are married can give.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that one of the early things that we did in this Parliament was to rectify the situation for ourselves. Does she believe that the Bill will help the rest of the country to move in a direction for which we have already legislated for ourselves?

Jane Griffiths

I was coming to that. We must consider how it looks to the outside world if Members of Parliament vote to alter our pension scheme so that we can give some financial security to a partner who may not be married to us, yet deny that opportunity to others outside the House.

The vast majority of public sector pension schemes do not offer that protection to their members. Private sector schemes often do, but it is easier for them to alter and develop the way in which they are conducted because they have trustees who can agree such matters. Schemes such as the police pension scheme require a rather larger move to be altered. The Bill seeks to rectify that position. Under the Bill, all pension schemes would have to provide the opportunity of pension protection within three years for their members.

Bereavement may happen suddenly, and serious illness may happen unexpectedly. People who live together usually make provision for each other by making a will so that the property that they share is available to the surviving partner, but it is not possible for people who are not married to make that provision in full in every way.

I do not intend even to discuss the institution of marriage. People marry for a great many reasons—religious, emotional, or because they wish to make a public commitment to the world. However, there are people who cannot marry for legal reasons and people who choose not to marry for other reasons, perhaps based on previous life experience. In Thames Valley police a high proportion of the officers are in that position.

An officer spoke to me yesterday and said that she was married to another police officer. They had decided to get married because they wanted pension protection. She did not feel very good about that. She felt that it was the wrong reason for marrying; that she had sullied the institution of marriage by marrying for that reason. I seek to remove the pressure on people who may share their lives together so that they may choose to marry—most couples do at some point—unfettered by the fear that one's surviving partner could be made homeless due to inheritance tax or would not have a right to their pension if they did not marry. Many pressures and difficulties would apply to unmarried partners that do not apply to married partners. The reasons for marriage should not be financial—they should not be mercenary. The reasons that people marry should be emotional and may be religious, depending on the faith of the person.

My wish to introduce the Bill was inspired by—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 10 May.