The denial of legal rights and protections to cohabiting family members - particularly the discrimination against "sibling couples" - has been raised many times, in both houses of parliament, since 2004 when civil partnerships were established. Follow the links below to read some of the contributions.
5 November 2019
On 5 November 2019, the last day of the parliamentary session, the Conservative peer, Lord Lexden returned to an issue that has pre-occupied him a great deal in the last few years - that of the complete absence of legal and fiscal protections for siblings who live together long-term. In his speech, he asked: "Do the government think that two siblings who live together in mutually supportive and financially inter-dependent relationships are less in need of the legal protection and fiscal safeguards afforded by civil partnerships than sexual couples are? If not, why do they continue to reject both the argument that they should extend civil partnerships to long-term cohabiting sibling couples and the suggestion that they should address the discrimination through other means - for a start, by reforming the rules governing inheritance tax so that the bereaved survivor of sibling couples are at least spared losing the joint home to inheritance tax on the death of the first sibling?" Lord Lexden made his comments during a debate on the final stage of the bill that will extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples, whilst continuing to deny all the rights that they confer to those whose relationship is platonic. He says he will return to the issue in the new parliamentary session.
You can read the full debate here
21 March 2019
On 21 March 2019, members of the House of Lords from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Cross-benches united to challenge the government over its policy of withholding fiscal and legal protections to close family members who live together long-term. They were speaking in exchanges prompted by a question raised by the Conservative peer, Lord Lexden, who asked the government what plans it has to change its policy, particularly in the light of the way it disadvantages two siblings, for example, who live together over decades in a jointly owned home.
To read the exchanges in full click here
15 March 2019
On 15 March 2019, the Conservative MP, Tim Loughton's bill to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples passed its last stage in the House of Commons. During the debate, Mr Loughton conceded that, when it becomes law, it will do nothing to help family members who have lived together in a jointly owned property over many years and will continue to be faced with inheritance tax "and all sorts of other things that are clearly disadvantageous”, as Mr Loughton put it, when one of them died. Whilst he sympathised with their situation, he said his bill was not the place to consider it since his bill was about “families and partnerships” and not about “fair financial treatment between blood relatives who are committed to each other”. [Editor's note: Followers of this campaign will know that all attempts to address the discrimination through other means over the last 15 years, have failed.]
On the same day, in the House of Lords, the Conservative peer, Lord Lexden used a debate on cohabitation rights for those who live together "as couples" but who wish neither to marry nor register as civil partners, to highlight again the denial of all rights to cohabiting family members. "Why assume that the only kind of relationship worthy of legal protection should be one based on sex, when two family members living together in adulthood ...so obviously represent a social good?" Lord Lexden said.
You can read the House of Commons proceedings on the extension of civil partnerships bill here
The House of Lords debate on the cohabitation rights bill is here
1 February 2019
On 1 February 2019, the Conservative MP, Tim Loughton,'s bill to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples (whilst ignoring the plight of cohabiting close family members) passed its committee stage in the House of Lords and is now well on the way to becoming law. During the proceedings, Lord Lexden made the following intervention on behalf of long-term cohabiting siblings: "Committed, platonic sibling couples, some of whom have shared their lives for 50 years and more, look on with astonishment and anger as a political party that ought to value the family units they have created together does nothing to relieve them from the constant anxieties they endure in the absence of joint legal rights".
You can read the proceedings in the Lords here
18 January 2019
On 18 January 2019 a bill, private members' bill, supported by the government, to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples had its second reading in the House of Lords. During the debate, Lord Lexden argued that the legal rights and fiscal safeguards that are afforded to civil partners are just as important to siblings who set up home together and stay together long-term. So why, he asked, should they not be included in the legislation?
The whole debate is here. Lord Lexden began speaking at 11.23. (Scroll down until you find his name at that time.)
20 July 2018
On 20 July 2018 the Conservative peer, Lord Lexden's Civil Partnership Act 20014 (Amendment) (Sibling Couples) (HL) Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords where it was strongly supported by a number of peers.
You can read the full Lords debate here
Please note that the minister replying to Lord Lexden, Baroness Williams of Trafford, wrongly stated that Sybil and Joyce Burden, who took a case to the European Court of Human Rights in 2008, were "seeking the right to enter a civil partnership with one another". They were not. They were seeking to be treated as civil partners for inheritance tax purposes. The "clear distinction" the court referred to between the Burdens' relationship and those in a civil partnership (quoted by Lady Williams) was a reference to the fact that the Burdens had not make a legal commitment to each other in the way that civil partners do. The question of whether it is unfairly discriminatory not to allow siblings to register as civil partners has never been tested by the courts. The full judgment in the Burden case is here
2 February 2018
On 2 February 2018 the Conservative MP, Edward Leigh, intervened on behalf of cohabiting siblings during the second reading in the House of Commons of Tim Loughton's bill on the extension of civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.
To read the exchanges in the Commons, click here
3 July 2017
On 3 July, 2017 Lord Lexden introduced a short Private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords where it was given its formal First Reading. The Bill would extend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to include siblings aged over thirty who have lived together for a continuous period of twelve years.
The bill is attached here
9 September 2015
On 9 September 2015, at oral question time in the House of Lords, Lord Lexden asked the government why it opposed the extension of civil partnerships to two siblings living together in a stable and devoted relationship in property which they owned jointly.
To read the exchanges in the Lords, click here
Editor's note: Please note that the minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford''s reference to the new inheritance tax laws "allowing up to £1 million being passed tax free to siblings" is misleading. She was referring to the fact that the new laws allow a home worth up to £1 million to be left to the offspring of married couples or civil partners. The allowance for adult cohabiting siblings leaving their estate to one another is the same as that for any single person: £325,000. The rules, as they affect cohabiting siblings, are explained fully here
10 July, 24 June 2013
On 10 July 2013, and 24 June 2013, during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill through parliament, Baroness Deech argued that the review of civil partnerships which would follow it should include consideration of extending civil partnership rights to cohabiting family members.
You can read Baroness Deech's contributions here
30 April 2009
On 30 April 2009, during the passage of The Cohabitation Bill introduced by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Baroness Deech argued that the notion that cohabiting family members should be excluded from the protections proposed in the Bill was inexplicable.
You can read Baroness Deech's contribution in columns 421 and 422 here
and column 426 here
30 October 2008
Baroness Deech secured a debate in the House of Lords On 30 October 2008 on her proposal for a change to the Finance Bill. The change would allow two close relatives who were living together at the time of death of one of them, who had lived together for seven years and who asserted codependency, to be entitled to defer the payment of inheritance tax until the death of the second. She was strongly supported by a number of peers.
You can read the debate here
7 May 2008
On 7 May 2008, Baroness Deech asked the government whether they planned to place cohabiting and dependent close family members on an equal footing with married couples and civil partners in relation to inheritance tax.
You can read the exchanges in the Lords here
17 November 2004
After the House of Commons removed the House of Lords' amendment to the Civil Partnership Bill (which would have extended eligibility for civil partnerships to closely related family members who lived together long term) Baroness O'Cathain proposed an alternative amendment in the House of Lords. If it had succeeded, the government would have been required to set up a parallel scheme to civil partnership, which would have helped family members in four specific areas.
You can read her arguments here
24 June 2004
On 24 June, during the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill through parliament, the House of Lords passed an amendment which would have extended eligibility for civil partnerships to close family members who lived together long-term. The amendment was subsequently removed by the House of Commons. The Lords amendment was moved by Baroness O'Cathain.
You can scroll down to Baroness O'Cathain's name and read her arguments here