Gender Recognition Bill [HL]
Baroness O'Cathain (Conservative)
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 100, 102 and 108. Again, we have a situation like the last two amendments that I moved. Amendments Nos. 100 and 102 are identical: Amendment No. 100 applies to Great Britain and Amendment No. 102 to Northern Ireland.
The purpose of Amendments Nos. 100 and 102 is to prevent litigation under the Sex Discrimination Act, which forces religious bodies to allow those with gender recognition certificates into membership or to use the facilities provided. The purpose of Amendment No. 108 is to query why the Government are willing to give wide exemptions to sporting bodies, but are reluctant to make concessions for religious groups. The grouping is a bit crazy, but I hope that it will be all right.
Amendments Nos. 100 and 102 deal with what one might call the "Bill Parry scenario". Mr Parry has been mentioned several times, at Second Reading, in Grand Committee and on the first day of Report. He was a Congregationalist minister, a husband and the father of three. A few years ago, he decided to change sex. He started attending the Maesteg Christian Centre. The Church believed that it was morally wrong to try to change sex, but, for two years, he attended none the less.
Mr Parry would not accept the Church's teaching on transsexualism, and matters came to a head when the Church refused to allow him to attend the ladies' prayer meeting and would not let him use the ladies' toilet. Mr Parry is an activist and has used the law more than once against people who would not treat him as a woman. In July 2000, he won a £6,000 out-of-court settlement with a college. He claimed that it had discriminated against him, as he was on its beauty therapy course. Three months later, he forced the Welsh equivalent of the Women's Institute to change its membership policy. So, it was no surprise when, in 2002, he sued Maesteg Christian Centre over access to the ladies' fellowship and use of the ladies' toilet.
The Church engaged a barrister and successfully resisted Mr Parry's legal action, but the judge expressed strong sympathy with Mr Parry and criticised the Church. Even though the Church won the action, the judge ordered it to pay some of its legal costs. Sadly, if the Bill had been in force, the judge might have found a way of giving Mr Parry what he wanted. There is plenty of scope for that in the Bill. The Bill says that a man who holds a gender recognition certificate is to be treated in law as a woman. Clause 9 says that he is a woman for all purposes. That means that he is entitled to sue for discrimination as a woman under the Sex Discrimination Act.
The Government are creating a new legal landscape, in which the sort of action pursued by Mr Parry could succeed. After all, what legal justification could a Church have for refusing to allow a woman to use the women's toilets? Even if a legal action failed, Churches would have to put up with the distress and might even have to foot the bill. We must put protections against that into the Bill.
Amendment No. 108 simply gives me the opportunity to point out the inconsistency between the Government's treatment of sports bodies and their treatment of religious bodies. I feel sure that the Minister will have had a sense of deja vu, when he saw the wording of Amendment No. 108. As noble Lords will have noticed, it mirrors closely the wording of government Amendment No. 107, exempting sporting bodies.
The Government are willing to make broad, far-reaching exemptions for sports bodies. I support that, and I think that it is brilliant. However, they have not yet brought forth anything similar for religious bodies. The Minister will say that Churches can already discriminate and that there is no need for the amendment. I would nearly bet on that. However, in Grand Committee on