Gender Recognition Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 23rd February 2004.

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Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Shadow Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Home Affairs 6:22 pm, 23rd February 2004

I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words about the Bill. I profess straight away that I do not claim to be an expert on the issues, but I have listened carefully to the remarks of the Government and Opposition Front Benchers and of Lynne Jones, and I have been taken by the degree of consensus on the matter. The Liberal Democrats certainly want to give the Bill a fair hearing and we hope that it proceeds to its next parliamentary stages.

I say that in acknowledgement of the fact that there are real concerns, particularly on the part of those holding strong religious beliefs, who struggle with the matter and have serious difficulties with the Bill. I read with interest the contribution of the Bishop of Winchester, whom I know well, in the other place. There comes a point, frankly, where one can argue as much as one likes, but people simply have to agree to differ on some of the issues because they are approached from a wholly different perspective. Little can be gained from getting into endless arguments on narrow points, when there are fundamental differences.

We support the measures in the Bill, largely because of the tradition in the House whereby we eventually—perhaps not as fast as some would like—catch up with social changes and reflect how society is moving. Sometimes we are ahead; other times we lag behind. On this particular issue, we have lagged behind, but it is a tradition, as I said, that the House acknowledges what is happening in the real world outside of both Houses. There is also an important tradition whereby we do all we can to protect minorities out there, many of whom are persecuted because of their position or beliefs. As ever, we politicians should protect those people's rights. The Bill recognises that we needed to catch up and put those rights in place. It is important to recognise that transsexuals have rights and I hope that, as the Bill proceeds, we are also aware, as other hon. Members have said, of the impact that conferring them could have on other individuals' rights.