New Clause 7 — Successful applications: married couples

Orders of the Day — Gender Recognition Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 25th May 2004.

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Votes in this debate

'If an interim gender recognition certificate has been issued to a person under section 4(3) an application may be made to the Secretary of State to award a full gender recognition certificate without the provisions of Schedule 2 or section 5 having effect if—

(a) neither party to the marriage wish the marriage to be dissolved or annulled,

(b) both parties to the marriage can show they intend to continue living together, and

(c) the marriage took place before the date of Royal Assent of this Act.'.—[Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 94, Noes 303.

Division number 188 Gender Recognition Bill — Allow Marriages to Remain Valid If They Become a Same Sex Marriage

A majority of MPs voted against allowing mixed sex marriages which become a same sex marriage to remain valid as long as neither party objected.

Aye: 94 MPs

No: 303 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 258 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Madam Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [23 February].

Government amendments Nos. 3 and 4 agreed to.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 6:04 pm, 25th May 2004

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful for the co-operation and assistance of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Maria Eagle. She has tackled important pensions issues that have concerned many hon. Members and I thank her for her detailed deliberations on those matters.

This is a Bill with a simple rationale. It addresses the difficulties faced by a small, vulnerable minority who have been denied basic legal rights for too long, and seeks to provide transsexual people with legal recognition of an everyday reality: the gender to which they now belong. On meeting the criteria in the Bill, a person will become in law the gender in which he or she now lives. That means that he or she will be able to get a birth certificate that reflects the acquired gender, and be able to marry or claim a pension in that gender.

Of course, a Bill of this kind raises issues about the rights of others. We have had an important debate today about the right to freedom of religion, and I hope that we have demonstrated that we are alive to those concerns and are engaging with religious communities and their representatives. Just as the Bill provides legal recognition of the identity of transsexual people, it also respects the conscience of others.

Many hon. Members have made an invaluable contribution to scrutiny of the Bill. Mr. Boswell has been remarkably thorough, and in Committee he tabled a series of probing amendments that allowed us further to discuss some of the key aspects of the Bill. The Government amendment on placing the panels under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals—which was agreed to today—was a consequence of one of those probes.

The hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) welcomed the Bill, and although there were areas in which they would have preferred the Government to legislate otherwise, I hope that they agree with the view expressed by members of the transsexual community that the Bill meets 95 per cent. of the needs of transsexual people.

On the Labour Benches, my hon. Friend Lynne Jones merits particular credit. She has been a forceful advocate of the rights of transsexual people for many years in the House. She set up the parliamentary forum on transsexualism, and she has brought her expertise and experience to bear on our consideration of the Bill. She and the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon both caused us to reconsider the issue of foreign gender change and to table the amendment to clause 21 that was agreed to earlier today.

Perhaps most importantly of all, hon. Members have discussed these issues with compassion and understanding, and I know that that has been appreciated beyond the Chamber. Many in the small community of transsexual people feel that they are excluded no more, that the House does not regard their concerns as trivial, and that the Bill is creating a robust and credible process whereby they can gain legal recognition of the gender in which they now live.

The Bill is about equality, human rights, dignity and respect. We judge our civilised societies by how they treat their minority communities. I suspect that the House has never before had to consider equality and human rights legislation on behalf of such a small minority, and it is a credit to the House that this judgment has been made today and that the Bill should receive its Third Reading.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Minister, Home, Constitutional & Legal Affairs, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs) 6:08 pm, 25th May 2004

I should like to say at the start that I remain a supporter of the Bill, but that the Conservatives have decided to have a free vote on it. That will already have become apparent from the voting that took place earlier.

The House is often criticised for spending its time on trivia when there are other, more important things to discuss, but is to be commended today for spending a day of its time on a matter of intense interest to a small number of affected persons. It is a very small number in comparative terms: perhaps 5,000 people. Whatever else one may say about the transsexual community, they probably have very little direct political influence. It is therefore important that we address their interests if there is something wrong.

The Minister spoke strongly and eloquently about his commitment to human rights. That commitment is by no means confined to those on the Government Benches. I would say that if a human right is denied to one person for no good reason, that is a denial of one human right too many. How we implement that commitment and the interlocking with other commitments is the whole substance of our consideration.

Bearing in mind the historic wrongs suffered by the transsexual community and the degree of misunderstanding that is still apparent, the tone of our debates has been extremely important. I have tried to bear that in mind, and I know the Minister has. Hon. Members with different positions on the issue have generally brought that kind of flavour to our deliberations. It does this place credit and shows respect for the people we have been discussing. That has gone on throughout our debates and I hope it will continue into the post-legislative resolution of some of the issues.

In my own approach to the Bill, I have applied an overriding simple test: is there a wrong that needs to be remedied? Yes, I believe there has been. I ask myself two further questions: does the remedy create potentially difficult precedents and/or would it do more harm than good in practice? On the first question, we have just voted on a proposal, which, the House agreed, would have the effect of validating a very limited number of same-sex marriages. The Minister and I found ourselves in the same Lobby opposing that on principle, even if we have great sympathy for those people in practice. That is the type 1 danger. The type 2 danger is that although we may be legislating with good intentions, in practice our best intentions may be frustrated by difficulties. I cite as an example, as it was the last major debate that we had, the issue of Criminal Records Bureau checks. Anything in the Bill that made those more difficult to effect would be wrong. We must apply those tests.

The debates today and in Committee and, if I may add to the Minister's general commendation of those who participated in these debates, also in another place, have been an example of Parliament working well together, and that includes the Minister's colleagues as well as himself. Throughout this proper period—the kind that we do not always spend on legislation—we have had some indication of particular problems. Some of those are hypothetical problems or ones that may arise in the future. They generally will not arise at the instigation of transsexual people, who will want to be able to enjoy their rights. I hope that nobody else will make a political demonstration about the issues or turn matters into a lawyers' paradise. There are better, less sensitive and more lucrative matters for lawyers to argue about.

We have had in Committee and on Report ministerial assurances about matters that could be difficult and difficulties that we anticipated. We have been broadly satisfied with those assurances. That may be reflected in the way that some of us vote. We will probably keep our fingers crossed that those assurances work in practice. I recognise that some hon. Members will have no coincidence of view on the principle and will still be unable to reconcile themselves to the Bill, but on the practical side we may have made some progress.

As regards my personal judgment of the Bill, let me put two points to the House for consideration. They may have slightly wider application than just to the Bill. First, as Ministers have constantly conceded, we need to find an appropriate balance between the human rights of individuals. Where those rights conflict, that conflict must be resolved. The Bill arose from European human rights legislation based on articles 8 and 12, and the UK's apparent breach of those provisions. A very powerful case today has today been deployed for the protection of religious rights, as the Minister has acknowledged, which are enshrined under article 9 of the European convention on human rights. As I suggested in my comments on that new clause, we may find that some of the issues in relation to conflict of rights, and different obligations to secure rights, become more common in the future. Perhaps all the easy work on human rights has been done, and the difficult work, and some of the tensions, will build up later.

This is not just a matter for the lawyers. It is also about society's acceptance of these rights and the way in which it can be comfortable with them, at ease with itself and at ease with the new situation that has been created. As I said, I know that some hon. Members will feel uneasy about that. We should do nothing to inflame that situation, because were we to do so, we would prejudice the newly acquired rights of transgendered people.

My second point is that however Members intend to vote in a few moments, while it is easy to spot problems and pick holes in the legislation, leaving matters as they are would also be extremely difficult and, in my view, less satisfactory. Let us consider an actual situation—many of us will be familiar with similar ones—of a couple who are constituents. They are legally a man and a woman, married and living together over a number of years, and in a firm and loving relationship. One of them has already undergone gender reassignment surgery. It is difficult, as they would have to sever their marriage if that person were to avail themselves of the procedure for a gender recognition certificate. In everything except the legal sense, however—we are legislating tonight, and our concern is the legal meaning—those persons are already a same-sex couple. Incidentally, that is one reason why it is extremely important that we have now got the Government to come forward with the civil partnerships legislation, at least to provide a way of resolving some of these issues.

I say to some of my colleagues that just saying, "This is all a bit odd. We don't like how it sounds," is perhaps to condone other situations in which these rare but not insignificant cases have created dilemmas for us all. We should not run away from those. When the House confronts a dilemma, the answer is not to look for a simplistic solution or to consider how it plays in the tabloids, but to try to find the right approach.

Were there a simple answer, we would either be making no changes tonight because we had got it right, or we would have made those changes long ago, because we would have needed to do so and it would have been easy. We would probably not be making them now were it not for the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, but that has spurred Ministers into action, in my view, constructively.

We are making those changes, and the Bill will pass shortly, if not without dissent. Even with its problems, on balance—to use the phrase for the last time—I welcome the Bill's righting of wrongs to a minority. I wish it well as it passes.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak 6:18 pm, 25th May 2004

Our society will become more civilised with the passage of this legislation. For decades, we have lagged behind more enlightened countries that have already granted civil rights to transsexual people. In this country, transsexual people have suffered from discrimination and fear of being exposed to ridicule because they suffer from a medical condition. That wrong is being put right, and I pay tribute to the Government, to the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr. Lammy, and to the Minister in the other place, Lord Filkin, for their work in bringing forward this legislation and taking it through both Houses. I also pay tribute to Mr. Boswell for the way in which he has put forward his sensible, considered view and been generally supportive of the legislation, and to Liberal Democrat Members for their contribution.

A remarkable transformation has taken place even in the 10 years since the setting up of the Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism. At that time, transsexual people were regarded as sexual deviants who had had a choice, and had chosen to mutilate themselves in order to gain some strange gratification. Thanks in large part to the trans-community itself, that view has gradually changed. If tribute is to be paid tonight, it must be paid to those brave individuals who have been prepared to tell the world that they are transsexual people, and have thus been able to demonstrate that far from being florid, strange characters, they are normal human beings who just want to lead a normal life and get on with working. They do not want to suffer discrimination at work or in personal relationships. They do not want to live in fear that because of a lack of appropriate documentation—birth certificates are an obvious example—they risk being exposed as transsexual people and therefore discriminated against, laughed at and treated in an extremely unkind way by individuals, the media and some less-than-enlightened parts of our society.

All that is changing. The fact that there has been all-party support for the Bill is very heartening, as is the fact that it has had a relatively smooth passage through both Houses. As the Minister has said, it gives the trans-community 95 per cent. of what it seeks. There are still causes for dissatisfaction, which have been discussed this afternoon—notably the requirement for married transsexual people, in order to gain their full civil, human rights, to dissolve their marriages. That is unfortunate. I am sorry that the Government were unable to accept that such people should be allowed to retain their marriages, and retain their human rights under both article 8 and article 12 of the European convention.

I am also disappointed that I could not move my compromise amendments, which would have allowed the life of the interim certificate to be extended so that those whose marriages ended either through divorce in the normal way or through the death of their spouses could gain full recognition. That was particularly important to those taking advantage of clause 27, which allows a simpler method of application, requiring less documentation, to those who have lived in their reassigned gender for more than six—as opposed to two—years. I am sorry that the Government did not recognise the strong arguments for letting the interim certificate be used as a device to enable trans-people to benefit from a fast-track approach.

It has been an eventful 10 years since the establishment of the parliamentary forum. Many brave people have exposed their personal lives to scrutiny and contributed to the Bill. They have demonstrated their patience and common sense, and have been very willing to present strong arguments to the Government and civil servants. Members of the trans-community, and Press for Change in particular, have made an important contribution by devoting so much time to convincing civil servants and Ministers that the Bill is necessary, and should take a form that will allow practical realisation of their human rights. I also commend those Ministers who have been prepared to listen and to engage in dialogue with the trans-community. As a result of that dialogue, the legislation is much better than it otherwise would have been. People have been willing to give their expertise and devote their time to ensure that the legislation is as good as the Government are prepared to make it.

This is a great day for me personally. As a Member of Parliament, I have campaigned for more than 10 years for the legislation. It is a wonderful moment, in particular, for members of the transsexual community, as they see that, at long last, they will have almost full civil liberties and their human rights will be recognised. I thank all Members who have made positive contributions to achieving that aim.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 6:26 pm, 25th May 2004

It is a privilege to follow Lynne Jones, who has worked and campaigned so hard on this issue as chairman of the parliamentary forum—an organisation that I, like Mr. Boswell, have been attending since long before the Bill was published. Through the hon. Lady we should pay tribute to organisations such as Press for Change, which have worked so hard in the way that she described. I shall later quote from the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Mr. Woodward, who has had a long interest in this field, has contributed greatly through that report—a report on which I relied during my contributions in Committee, as Ministers will know.

I also thank my hon. Friend Richard Younger-Ross. I do not always agree with him on religious matters, but we have found unanimity—

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

An unholy alliance, which is not always the case in our party on such issues. In that respect, it was interesting to note the sensitive contributions in Committee and on Report of the hon. Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). Although there were people who strongly disagreed with the line that they took, it was important that those issues were raised in such a way and in such a tone by those hon. Members. I also welcomed the contribution of the hon. Member for Daventry, who is always regarded as one of the more reasonable—[Interruption.] And eminent. The hon. Gentleman is always regarded as one of the more reasonable and eminent Conservative Members in his contributions and scrutiny in Committee.

It was a pleasure to serve in Committee with the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Mr. Lammy, and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Maria Eagle. Although we did not always agree on the detail of the Bill, there was much consensus in Committee, as there has been today, on the need for the legislation.

We intend to support the Bill on Third Reading, as we did on Second Reading, not on a free vote, because it is our party policy to allow transsexual people to access their human rights. Although I welcome the support of the Conservative Front-Bench team, and particularly the effective way in which it has been delivered during the different stages, it is still a test for all parties in this House that there should be a Whip on these issues of fundamental human rights, as there is on other issues that are less fundamental and less related to human rights.

As we debate such matters and put this recognition on the statue book at the end of May 2004, we must ask why that has taken so long. Yes, it was the case that we were not found to be outwith European human rights law until July 2002, when the courts ruled, in the cases of Goodwin v. UK and I v. UK, that

"the United Kingdom's continuing refusal to take steps to recognise the reassigned gender of a post-operative transsexual person was" no longer

"necessary in a democratic society for any legitimate aim under ECHR Article 8.2".

Although it was only then that we were found to be outwith Strasbourg law, there were already clear signs that misery was being created for individuals in this country, and that sooner or later we would fall outwith that law. It is regrettable that it takes so long for us to respond to the challenges posed by the European convention on human rights, to which we signed up. I hope that we will manage to stay ahead of the game in other areas.

There has been no reaction in general, or in the right-wing press in particular, to this measure, and it should stiffen the Government's backbone to know that they can introduce such measures—they are the right thing to do—in sensitive areas sooner rather than later. It is sad to note that, as the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights points out, while we were waiting for this legislation the Government had to advise marriage registrars to continue to apply section 11(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in the traditional way. As the Joint Committee states, the approach recommend by the Government was "clearly lawful" at that time. We need not have been in such a position if we had responded more quickly.

This is a good Bill but it could have been better. A particular issue that we did not discuss today, but which was touched on in Committee, is the Bill's failure to extend freedom from discrimination to transsexuals in the provision of goods and services. I fear that campaigners for the rights of transsexuals will have to continue campaigning even after the legislation is on the statute book, in order to drive the Government to provide on the basis of gender reassignment the protection from discrimination that people already enjoy on the basis of gender. I suspect that we will see sad cases of marriages having to split up unnecessarily because of the decision that the House has just taken, but it was encouraging to see Members from all parts of the House voting in the same Lobby. Indeed, I voted in the same Lobby as the hon. Member for Gainsborough. He did ask me not to remind the House of that fact, so I shall seek to avoid doing the same thing on the final vote.

We welcome the appearance of this legislation on the statute book, but we hope that the Government recognise that there is work still to do in this field.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire 6:32 pm, 25th May 2004

I am sorry to provide a slightly dissenting and jarring note. I do not for a moment criticise the integrity, sincerity or campaigning zeal of the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) and for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and I have great admiration for my hon. Friend Mr. Boswell. My hon. Friend is a decent and good man and I respect him greatly, but I believe him to be wrong on this issue.

It is not just the road to hell that is paved with good intentions; so is the road to bad legislation. This is bad legislation, because legislation that calls upon people to tell lies is fundamentally flawed. My main objection to the Bill derives from those clauses that oblige registrars to issue birth certificates that are untrue. I do not object in any way to people seeking to show understanding and compassion to minority groups. I would hesitate to call transsexuals a "community"—I have never known a transsexual community—but there are individuals who no doubt feel deeply distressed, and who will be relieved when this legislation is on the statute book. But we are doing the wrong deed, however right and honourable some of the reasons might be.

This is a case of people of a liberal disposition—people who are deeply anxious not to offend anybody and to please everybody—introducing legislation that is fundamentally flawed, and which will cause great heartache and real worry in certain religious communities. I know that those issues were discussed earlier today, and I am sorry that I was not present; I was attending a meeting of the House of Commons Commission. I also know—I heard the Minister's winding-up speech—that they have not been satisfactorily addressed or answered. We will have to depend on secondary legislation, which will not be amendable, and we do not know when it will be introduced.

At the end of the day, we are faced with a Bill that obliges people to say things that are not so. I do not want to go into great detail, as others wish to speak and I want my contribution to be brief. We know that those who are persuaded that they are of the wrong sex or gender do not necessarily have physical differences and do not necessarily have to undergo surgery of any sort, yet they are to be recognised and issued with a birth certificate that contradicts the natural facts of life. That cannot be right and I am profoundly disturbed and troubled that the House should be passing such legislation. I am very sad indeed that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, who speaks from the Front Bench, and others among my hon. Friends feel that they have to agree, because of their natural compassion, to the enactment of such deeply flawed legislation.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 6:36 pm, 25th May 2004

The Bill is amazing in many ways. It comes to the House from the European Court. Without that Court's findings, the Bill might not have been put before the House. More and more, the House will be directed to act by similar cases, even though the bodies deciding them are not answerable to the people of this country.

I strongly hold the view that all people, however many, have rights and that those rights should be defended by all. I want to make that absolutely clear to the House tonight. However, if we give certain rights to people, we must be assured that it will not alter the ability of others to keep and practise their rights.

The Government well know that there are deep religious feelings about this matter. I welcome what the Under-Secretary said when he affirmed that he would look again at this matter—or words to that effect—because I do not believe that we can afford to leave it as it stands. There are fears in many churches—especially among those whose views on marriage are of the historic Christian faith—that the Bill could have serious consequences.

The Christian Institute issued a document in March entitled, "Christian beliefs on transsexualism". It referred to passages from the Bible and the works of Christian theologians to support the proposition that

"the body determines personhood, not just the mind", and that

"Biblical Christians hold that 'sex change' surgery desecrates a body made in the image of God."

The document also stated that

"the Bible teaches that the State should validate what is right and not what is wrong".

For those reasons, individual churches wish to be free to decide on many matters that they believe should be under their control. For example, who should join or lead a women's prayer meeting is a matter for the church; who should use the toilet facilities in a church is a matter for the church; who should be entitled to receive holy communion is a matter for the church.

Religious freedom is primarily a matter of individual conscience, but it also implies freedom to manifest one's religion alone and in private or in community with others in public and within the circle of those whose faith one shares. We must remind ourselves that we have to abide by that. It would be a sad day if the Government were to invade the believer's right to freedom of religious expression and so destroy something that lies at the very heart of true peace and true faith in our land.

These are serious matters, which must be pondered deeply and discussed in a serious way. Some religious rights—such as people's right to bear witness, and to act and enforce uniformity in the organisations that they join voluntarily—are held to be of particular importance. Any threatened interference with those rights by other people will engage the responsibility of the state, but no state interference with them at all can be justified.

As we enter the final part of the debate on the Bill, we must remind ourselves that any attempt to infringe, or do away with, people's religious rights and purposes must be resisted. Some of those rights are now in the melting-pot, and we must face up to that.

Marriage lies at the heart of society. Without it we would have no society. These days we must defend and uphold marriage, and anything that weakens it is very dangerous. No member of my party was on the Standing Committee considering the Bill, so we had no opportunity to express ourselves on these matters. That is why I am expressing myself at Third Reading.

However, some of what the Minister said offered a glimmer of hope. It is possible that the Government are having second thoughts; I hope so. Various religious bodies have spoken on this matter, and the Government cannot treat them with contempt or refuse to consider what they have said. Those bodies have influence: they are part of the warp and woof of our country, and give it stability and prosperity.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:42 pm, 25th May 2004

I rise to speak against the Bill because of the impact that it will have on the institution of marriage. In addition, I am concerned about the reaction among many people in our Church communities to marriages between people of the same gender—that is, same-sex marriages.

Let us take the example of a pre-existing marriage in which one spouse supports the other getting gender reassignment treatment, and where both partners want the marriage to continue. It is perfectly possible for that to happen, if the person who gets the treatment does not apply for a certificate. It is the certificate that will render a marriage null and void: where no application for a certificate is made, the marriage can continue in its original form.

However, a marriage in which one spouse does not support gender reassignment treatment for the other can be rendered null and void, against the will of both partners. The person who wants the treatment must protect their own rights but take into consideration the rights of the person with whom they are deeply involved and to whom there is a long-term commitment.

It is possible for a person to acquire a gender certificate by living in the other gender for a period and then applying to a gender recognition panel. In that way, surgery or drug treatment can be avoided. That would enable that person to become the opposite gender in law and then marry in that gender. Many people would view that as same-sex marriage.

I am also very concerned about the issue of disclosure of information by ministers. Two people might approach a minister in preparation for marriage and he might believe that one of those people was transgendered but that the other person was not aware of that. The minister is not free to disclose that information and that would be a serious dilemma.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

The standard for receiving a gender recognition certificate from the panel is a rigorous and high one. It is not just the degree of permanence that is required: the person will have to have gender dysphoria. Some people will not be able to undergo the operation, as they would probably wish to do, for medical reasons that have nothing to do with their gender dysphoria. It will take a high standard of proof to convince the panel that one is gender dysphoric, and it is not right to suggest that those few applicants unable to undergo operations would be trying to slip through the net. It will be necessary to have lived in the state for two years and to have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

The issues are so controversial. People other than those who apply for the gender recognition certificate will be deeply affected, especially children of pre-existing marriages. If the biological father of children has a newly acquired gender, the children will have, to all intents and purposes and outward appearances, two mothers, but one of them will be their biological father. The effect on the children and spouses can be profound, and we need to balance the respective rights of all the people concerned. The institution of marriage is greater than its component parts and, for that reason, I shall vote against the Bill.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 6:47 pm, 25th May 2004

I shall vote against the Bill if for no other reason than because it will require public officials to rewrite history and tell an untruth. If I, Edward Leigh, were to choose after 53 years in this world to change into Esmeralda Leigh that would be my own affair. Those of us who oppose the Bill do not argue with such choices. We argue with the fact that I could then require a public official to change my birth certificate and deny that 53 years ago I was born Edward Leigh. For that reason alone, this is a deeply disturbing Bill.

I shall vote against the Bill for a second reason. Dr. Harris mentioned the anguished arguments about how those of us who opposed the Bill should vote on the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell. It is not surprising that there were anguished arguments. In the end, many of us voted for the amendment because we thought that it would be absurd if, having obtained the certificate, my marriage were automatically dissolved. But the Government had put themselves in an impossible position. They had to oppose that amendment because otherwise they would have driven a coach and horses through their professed strong opposition to single-sex marriages. The situation was illogical and impossible, and there was no way round it.

The third reason I shall vote against the Bill was adduced by Rev. Ian Paisley. I am disappointed that my amendment was not passed. Many people will disagree with strongly held religious views, but such views exist out there. Many people believe, in the words of Psalm 139,

"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works".

Those are the beliefs of many people in this country and this Bill could put their civil liberties at risk. For those three reasons, I shall vote against it.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions 6:50 pm, 25th May 2004

It has been said that the Bill was a long time waiting. I was particularly reminded of that when Andrew Selous made a slip of the tongue and referred to Glenda Jackson as the hon. Gentleman. That reminded me of the 1950s film, "Plan 9 from Outer Space", made by Ed Wood, who also made a movie called "Glen or Glenda?", about a transgendered person who wanted to change from one sex to the other.

We think of transgender as a new issue, but that was in the 1950s. The issue is new only to the extent that science has allowed us to make physical changes to a person's outward appearance so that they can acquire the gender that their mind tells them is theirs. Historically, the issue goes back an extremely long way. A Roman emperor who was a boy of 17 when he became emperor was transgendered. A medieval monk, the Abbé de Choisy, was transgendered. It was said of him that he carried his habit in a feminine manner. There was a French—

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

The hon. Gentleman is ahead of me. There was a French spy who lived out his life, and died, in England as a woman, and, to keep the balance right, there was a pirate whose name I cannot recall who did the reverse. People have been transgendered not only over the past couple of decades, nor even over the past few centuries, but over a couple of millennia, so it is not true to say that the issue is new and a fabrication of modern society.

The legislation will help to stop little boys running down the street taunting someone who has had a sex change. It will correct a wrong that we have allowed to continue in our society for too long. We have denied people the gender, not of their choice as has been said, but that their mind tells them is theirs. That is the fundamental point of the Bill.

There are failings in the Bill. The loss of the amendment on marriage tests me hard, as a Roman Catholic, in my support of the Bill. However, on balance, I shall support the measure. I hope that some of the issues raised by religious groups will be dealt with directly in the secondary legislation to which the Minister alluded. It would be wrong for a Church group to be prosecuted because the deacon had told the vicar that someone applying to be married was transgendered. In Committee, I understood that that would not be the case, but that is no longer clear from what the Minister said today. He shakes his head as though I have got that wrong, but he clearly said that there could be such a prosecution. If I misunderstood him, he has the chance to correct me.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

There could not be a prosecution. However, we have discussed the fact that someone might engage in litigation. There is a distinction.

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

I thank the Minister for that clarification, which is important. If there were ways to reinforce through secondary legislation the other issues that were raised, it would be beneficial, even if we were only doing that to avoid litigation.

I shall conclude my remarks to allow other Members time to speak. I shall vote for Third Reading.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 6:54 pm, 25th May 2004

As Richard Younger-Ross reminded us, this is certainly not a new issue. Jan Morris wrote "Conundrum" well over 30 years ago. To avoid doubt and put this beyond peradventure, I should say that I have enormous sympathy for people who find themselves in this very difficult and complex transgender situation. No one should pretend that it is not complex. It is certainly not trivial. I happen to think that the House should spend its time—it often does—dealing with the issues of just one person, and this important issue affects many people.

Of course this issue needs consideration, but I have listened to speeches on Second and Third Reading and the dissenting voices among the Opposition made some good points that have not been answered. I do not always agree with Rev. Ian Paisley, but I did today largely. I do not always agree with my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack, but I thought that he made an excellent speech.

This is not good legislation. What is it for? It will certainly not satisfy all transsexuals, yet we are saying, "Oh well, it will satisfy most, so that's all right." Yet if we are standing up for the rights of one or two people, surely we should satisfy all if we possibly can.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I am sorry, but we have only a few moments left.

Will the Bill improve human rights? Will it make us a more civilised society? Personally, I do not think so. The families who will be appalled and split asunder by the Bill include those with a husband who has been depressed and prescribed hormone treatment. I do not believe that we are yet in a position to legislate for all those complicated issues, and nor should we. What happens to the people who undergo operations, cross genders and then decide that they want to go back? What can we do about that? It is not easy. I pose those questions to the Minister, and I will certainly give way if he wishes to answer.

Despite marvellous intentions, I am afraid that the Bill opens a can of worms, and we all know what happens when a can of worms is opened. New clause 7, which was proposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, revealed the outcome: we will split asunder some people who are currently legally married if they wish to follow such a path. The Bill poses as many questions as it answers. [Interruption.] Ms Prentice tries to intervene from a sedentary position, but she has not considered all the difficulties that will arise. It is bad legislation. Good intentions are not enough. As my hon. Friend said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For that reason, I shall vote against the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 355, Noes 46.

Division number 189 Orders of the Day — Gender Recognition Bill [Lords] — New Clause 7 — Successful applications: married couples

Aye: 354 MPs

No: 45 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.