Maria Miller, the Minister for Equalities, has rejected a claim made by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats that same-sex marriage is being “fast tracked” through Parliament without the proper consultations.
Mr Hughes said to Mrs Miller: “Neither of us [Conservatives or Liberal Democrats] had it in our manifestos and it wasn’t in the Coalition agreement. There has not been a white paper, there has not been a green paper, there has not been a draft bill and I did not sense that this was something with some sort of deadline that it had to be enacted in double quick time.
“Can you explain to us why this bill [Marriage (Same Sex Couples)] was not envisioned in the Coalition agreement, why it has had a fast tracked treatment when it is probably in the eyes of many the most controversial bill in this Parliament?”
Mrs Miller replied: “One factual error in what you said is that there was a very clear statement by the Conservative Party around looking at same-sex marriage in our Contract for Equalities that was issued at the general election. It was in a very extensive manifesto commitment document around equalities and it highlighted commitment to equality in this area.”
She added: “Any claims that this has been fast-tracked is not accurate. The amount of consultation, the largest consultation that Government has ever seen, really took place over a year. Since the consultation, extensive analysis of that, then discussion around the bill.”
Mrs Miller continued: “Governments find it very difficult to do things fast and this doesn’t seem to me like a rapid process. Certainly, I would underline that I and my officials have, I think had the most extensive discussion that we have ever had over a piece of legislation.”
Although Simon Hughes voted with his party for same-sex marriage, he voted against the motion dictating the bill’s progress through Parliament. At the time, he said that the Government was “rushing it more quickly than they should have.”
Mrs Miller also told members of the committee: “It is surprising that other countries have done this [introduced same-sex marriage] as far back as 2001. Given our extremely strong record on equality and human rights, it is surprising that is for so many years that this hasn’t been considered.”