An elaborate ritual

Reader Dan Filson asks about the Public Bill Committee on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill… it is indeed continuing this week, so I thought I'd offer an update on its procedings so far.

Nothing in the bill has been changed.

Nothing at all.

Zip. Nada.

There was one big set-piece battle when the the three dissenters on the committee, David Burrowes, Tim Loughton and Jim Shannon, attempted to fillet out the principle of same sex marriage, enshrined in Clause 1 of the bill, and were voted down.

Since then, the pattern of the proceedings has mostly been that they put down amendments on issues around conscientious objection to same sex marriage - for example, to safeguard teachers or registrars from being punished in any way if they voice religious objections. The two ministers present, Hugh Robertson and Helen Grant insist that the protections already written into the bill are sufficient, and the amendments are usually withdrawn, even if the dissenters are unconvinced.

Occasionally there are divisions (votes to you and me) which the government wins.

From time to time, Labour put down amendments, for example, on what happens when a church which does allow same sex marriage operates in premises on loan from another church which doesn't, or to make it easier for the Church in Wales to opt into same sex marriage, if it chooses to.

The first of these was forced to a vote, and defeated, with the two Lib Dems on the committee, Stephen Williams and Steve Gilbert, abstaining and the dissenters supporting the government. Occasionally there are loud snorts and sotto voce comments from Labour's Chris Bryant. Sometimes Tim Loughton seems a little irritable.

In short, it's all a bit of a ritual. The dissenters dissent and the supporters support, and the whole thing is as mannered as a minuet danced at the court of Louis XVI.

Issues and arguments are being lined up, but much of the activity is really preparation for a rematch when the bill goes back to the floor of the Commons for report stage. And that may not be until after the Queen's Speech, in early May.

In the meantime, the only changes likely to be made at the bill committee are ones offered up by the government itself, if they happen on some technical issue that needs to be addressed.

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