Gender Recognition Bill
Mr Shaun Woodward (St Helens South, Labour)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, but as we are also here to represent our constituents when they do write to us, we might be forgiven for doing so.
My final point relates to pensions, which have been mentioned by several other hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend Mr. Field. The Bill raises a serious issue that the Government need to think through, for two reasons. The first is the general point of principle and the second is the timing of the civil partnership Bill and the consequences if it is delayed for people adversely affected by this Bill. A case history may illustrate the problem.
Let us take two people we will call Claire and Barbara. Claire was a committed police constable who loved her job but was forced to leave when she told her boss that she was transsexual and was transitioning. She would not have left her job if she had not been asked to go. She had a 10-year police service record and was entitled to a pension. Let us suppose that something should tragically happen to Claire. Where would that leave her partner, Barbara? The problem is that for Barbara to qualify for the survivor's pension under the Police and Firemen's Pensions Act 1997— this is just one example—the couple must have been married both at the point of Claire's retirement from the police and at the time of her death. So if they had to divorce as a consequence of the Bill, the partner would lose the rights to the pension.
We need to look carefully at the issue in Committee. We do not need to delay the Bill, because it is important for everybody affected by the issue. However, the Government must recognise the problem and the need to review it. It may be necessary to appoint individuals in the Department as points of contact for members of the public who may be affected by the Bill. Those individuals might also discover serious problems caused by the Bill and we would then be able to rectify the matter at the first possible opportunity. It would be tragic if, for the best of reasons—and I believe that the Government have the best of reasons at heart—the Bill adversely affected the lives of people caught up in circumstances through no fault of their own and who suffered as a result. The Government clearly do not intend that anyone should suffer by the Bill: indeed, they want to make life fairer and more equal for everybody in our country. However, the pensions issue is very important and we need to be open-minded about it in Committee.