Philip Hammond taken to task over anti-gay rights record

The Defence Secretary says civil partnerships make the introduction of equal marriage unnecessary, but he didn't vote for them in 2004.

Philip Hammond was one of four cabinet ministers not to vote in favour of gay marriage (he abstained along with Attorney General Dominic Grieve; Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Welsh Secretary David Jones voted against) and the Defence Secretary did nothing to hide his opposition to the policy on last night's Question Time. He said:

 

This change does redefine marriage. For millions and millions of people who are married, the meaning of marriage changes.

There is a real sense of anger among many people who are married that any government thinks it has the ability to change the definition of an institution like marriage.

Hammond went on to argue that the introduction of civil partnerships had already addressed the "very real disadvantage" that gay couples faced. "There was no huge demand for this [gay marriage] and we didn't need to spend a lot of Parliamentary time and upset vast numbers of people in order to do this."

The Defence Secretary's line -  that the existence of civil partnerships means the introduction of equal marriage is unnecessary - is one often used by Conservative MPs. But as Labour's Chris Byrant pointed out, what Hammond is less keen for the public to know is that he wasn't in favour of them at the time the legislation was passed in 2004 (he repeatedly abstained). Worse, he voted against:

-The equalisation of the age of consent.

-The repeal of Section 28.

-Allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

-The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which removed the requirement for a father and a mother to be considered when taking account of the welfare of a child who may be born as a result of fertility treatment. Instead, the law stipulated the need for "supportive parenting".

Hammond isn't the first opponent of gay marriage to grandstand as a supporter of equality. Conservative MP Edward Leigh, for instance, has argued: "Same-sex couples already have all the rights of marriage in the form of civil partnership. Why must they also have the language of marriage?" Former Tory defence minister Gerald Howarth has commented: "some of my best friends are in civil partnerships, which is fine, but I think it would be a step too far to suggest that this is marriage", while Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is expected to vote against equal marriage today, has said that the government is "rightly committed to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and has already taken action to do so by allowing those religious premises that wish to carry out civil partnerships to do so".

But what none of these three will tell you is that they all voted against civil partnerships in 2004. MPs are, of course, free to change their minds and we should praise them when they do. But it's hard not to see their new-found support for civil partnerships as a cynical attempt to prevent the equalisation of marriage. Gay couples might already have a means of formalising their relationships but they wouldn't if Paterson, Leigh and Howarth had had their way in 2004.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stands in front of a Rapier System ground-to-air missile launcher during a visit to RAF Waddington near Lincoln. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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