Peer suggests civil partnerships for siblings

Family Law|September 10th 2015

Siblings should be able to enter a civil partnership as a means of combating inheritance tax (IHT), Conservative peer Lord Lexden has suggested.

He raised the subject during a House of Lords debate yesterday when he asked whether the government had any plans to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 so siblings could register as civil partners. His argument was that other stable couples are able to formalise their relationship in legal terms, which is important for IHT and its implications. He said that it was unfair that if a sibling died, the surviving sibling may have to sell the family home to pay IHT while civil partners were exempt.

Lord Lexden’s question was rejected by Baroness Williams of Trafford, who is the Parliamentary under-Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government. She confirmed the government had no plans to amend the Civil Partnership Act.

She said:

“Civil partnerships are the equivalent of a marriage: a loving union. They were created to enable same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship at a time when marriage was not possible for them.”

Baroness Williams’ comments were backed up by Baroness Barker who pointed out that “civil partnership legislation enables two people to become next of kin. Siblings are already next of kin.” She went on to say that Lord Lexden’s proposal was a “wholly inappropriate application of the legislation.”

Lord Cashman said that:

“…commitment to a civil partnership is not about financial incentive but is an emotional commitment, as well as a celebration of that partnership in wider society.”

Lord Forsyth wondered if Lord Lexden had a point that family members such as siblings or a parent and child who look after each other don’t enjoy the same benefits related to IHT liability and that should be addressed in the context of social fairness.  Baroness Hollis suggested that there could be a case for reviewing IHT.

Baroness Williams replied that if an IHT review is needed, it would be in a separate context from same-sex marriage and civil partnerships.

The question of civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was also raised, with Viscount Ullswater wondering if the government would reconsider the matter. Baroness Williams said that respondents to the 2014 review had made it clear there was considerable opposition to allowing heterosexual couples to enter civil partnerships and that the government had no plans to reopen the matter.

Read a transcript of the House of Lords debate here.

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