Maria Miller, the Minister for Equalities, has told a joint committee of peers and MPs that it is surprising that England and Wales is behind the curve when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Mrs Miller, who is the Government minister responsible for taking the Marriage (Same sex couples) Bill through the House of Commons, recounted a list of every country and US state that has introduced same-sex marriage since 2001.

The minister then told the Joint Committee on Human Rights: “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.”

She added: “Civil partnerships was of course a first step but I think that this step is more valuable.”

Mrs Miller was responding to a question posed by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, the Liberal Democrat peer who tabled the first private members bill on civil partnerships. The peer asked the minister if the Government should be stressing the global nature of the changes in the law for same-sex couples.

The House of Commons will debate the bill as part of its third reading on 20 and 21 May.