New Clause 1 — Identity documents for transgendered persons

18. Relief from Tax (Incidental and Consequential Charges) – in the House of Commons at 1:58 pm on 15 September 2010.

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(1) This section applies to a person who-

(a) is a transgendered person,

(b) has not been issued with a gender recognition certificate, and

(c) is living in both the birth gender and the acquired gender.

(2) The Secretary of State must make arrangements for the issue to any person falling within subsection (1), on the application of that person, of two copies of a passport or some other form of identity document of comparable standing, one in the birth gender of the person and the other in the acquired gender.

(3) The form of the document referred to in subsection (2) shall be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) Any ID card issued to a person falling within subsection (1) shall (notwithstanding section 2(2)) remain valid until it expires, or until the requirement in subsection (2) is satisfied, whichever is the earlier, and section 2(3) shall not apply in relation to any cardholder who is a person falling within subsection (1).'.- (Julie Hilling.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West 1:59, 15 September 2010

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Panel of Chairs

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 7, in clause 2, page 2, line 12, at end insert-

'(7) This section is subject to section [ Identity documents for transgendered persons].'.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

It is a privilege to move a new clause to a Bill in the House for the first time.

New clause 1 relates to a group of people who are often forgotten-in fact, they seem to have been forgotten by the Government because they were not covered by the equality impact assessment on the Bill-and for whom the identity card was a valued asset because they were able to have one card in their birth gender and another in their acquired gender.

Changing gender is not something that happens overnight. People have to go on a journey that might take several years. For the vast majority of people, it takes at least two years until they reach the position of saying that they wish to live as another person and are able to undergo gender reassignment surgery. However, many trans people choose not to undergo surgery, either because it can be dangerous, painful or unsuccessful, or for other reasons.

Gender identity is extremely complex and there is a broad spectrum of trans individuals. At one end of the spectrum are trans individuals who commit to living in another gender and undertake gender reassignment processes to help them to achieve that, while at the other end are individuals who feel trans, but continue to live in their birth gender, even though they feel trapped in that gender. In between those two ends of the spectrum are trans individuals who feel genderless and prefer to remain gender-neutral, as well as trans individuals who genuinely identify with both genders. There are also people who identify with their non-birth gender, but need to continue to live in their birth gender in certain situations.

In Committee, I talked about my friend who I will call Jane. Jane is still working as John in a very male-dominated industry. She is usually Jane at home, although she is not yet Jane with some of her family, especially her elderly parents, who she does not wish to upset. Jane is on a journey, but at the moment she has to live her life in two genders. It is hard to imagine the problems that arise in her life. What does she do when she wants to book a hotel room or a flight? The ability to have two identity cards has allowed her to go on holiday as Jane, but to continue to live her work life as John. Identity cards were not a full solution to the problem faced by dual-gendered people such as Jane, however. Although the scheme allowed individuals to hold cards in both genders, only one card was valid for overseas travel.

Another trans person-I shall call her T-has contacted me to tell me about her experiences. After feeling transgendered from a young age, T has just started to take active steps to make herself physically more feminine. Of course, it takes time for the physical aspects of gender to change, so T is not yet ready to start living as a woman all the time. Anyone who has had any contact with the transgender community will know the importance of people being able to pass as the opposite gender from their birth gender.

T is a professional working for a very conservative firm. She is only too aware of the difficulties she would face if she started to dress as a woman before she was physically able to pass. Although there is legislation to protect such people against discrimination in the workplace, she knows that she would face great difficulty in her field of work and that, if she was sacked, she would be unlikely to get another firm to take her on. She has therefore decided that she will not start living as a woman in the workplace until she is physically and mentally ready to do so.

T is a trans person with a life away from the workplace, however. She lives as a woman at home and goes out as a woman. It is when T travels abroad as a woman that she feels most liberated with her gender identity.

T has travelled abroad as a woman on a male passport, but that was never easy, even when travelling to relatively trans-friendly countries. Problems arose because when she presented her passport to immigration officials, not only did she look different from her passport photo, but the document stated that she was male, not female. That typically led to delays involving prolonged questioning and embarrassment, but on a few occasions the situation was more severe. In one country, she was taken for further questioning into a side room in which she was mocked and ridiculed by several male immigration officials. They refused to allow her to be frisked by a female immigration official and she was inappropriately molested by a male immigration official-one can only imagine the humiliation.

After that incident, T decided to apply for a passport in the female gender and adopted a female name. That has had a remarkable effect on her life because she no longer faces delays and prolonged questioning. There is no more embarrassment because there is no discrepancy between the person presenting themselves to immigration officials and their passport. When travelling in certain countries, she is confident of joining queues to be frisked by women, not men. Fortunately, she has not experienced any negative issues when travelling as a female on a female passport, and she is grateful for the protection that that female passport has brought.

The problem has not been solved completely, however, because there are still instances when T is required to travel as a man. She has not disclosed her trans status to her employer, so she has had to refuse all international travel at work because any flights and hotels would be booked by her secretary and, of course, bookings have to mirror the name and gender on a passport. Her continued refusal of international travel is likely to have an adverse effect on her career.

The right to travel is an important aspect of the fundamental right to liberty, and T feels it is important that she travel as a woman in her early stage of transition. However, although she is dual-gendered, there will be instances when she is required to travel as a male. She is therefore in an impossible situation because how does she choose the gender for her passport? The most logical solution to the problem, as set out in the new clause, is that dual-gendered people should be allowed to be issued with two passports. Of course, some single gender people are issued with two passports, particularly when they want to travel to countries in which it is inappropriate to have the passport stamp of certain other countries, so there is a means by which two passports may be issued.

A small number of people make up the trans community. ID cards were not a perfect solution, but they gave those people some liberation. I suggest that people should be allowed to keep their identity cards as a valid means of travel until the Government bring forward an alternative solution.

The Government indicated in Committee that an alternative proposal would be put forward to solve the problem, but unfortunately it has not yet been presented to Labour Members. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us by telling us how the Government will resolve the problem experienced by a small group of people who benefited from identity cards, but will face difficulty due to the cards' removal.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend Julie Hilling.

In Committee and through subsequent correspondence, I have pressed the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lynne Featherstone, on the consultation that she and her Department undertook when putting the Bill together. However, I have received no answer, so I hope she will tell the House the groups that she consulted, given that the issue did not even feature in the Government's impact assessment. This House is a tolerant House, and I know that the hon. Lady is a relatively new Minister, but if a mistake has been made, I hope she will have the decency at least to acknowledge that in the House and to apologise to the people affected, who have very little voice. However, there is a vocal group in her Department who have been influential in shaping policy across Whitehall and beyond.

We recognise that the problem is not easy to solve-either here and now on the Floor of the House or more generally-but a small but nevertheless important provision of the Identity Cards Act 2006 was introduced to bring about the existing benefit. We do not necessarily expect a detailed answer from the Minister today, but she has not reassured me, either through correspondence or in Committee, that serious action is under way in government to address the situation. The matter is not so much one for the equalities unit, which she indicated in her last letter was examining the situation, but one for the Identity and Passport Service, which deals with identity issues for the Government as a whole.

We want a real commitment to action today, but all I have heard from the hon. Lady-perhaps she will expand on this during the debate-is the suggestion that the Government are looking to work with international partners to remove gender markers from passports entirely. That proposal could be subject to a huge debate, and I am not sure that it is something that we would want to happen-I think that Government Back Benchers agree. The approach would seem to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It would also confuse a lot of people, but even if it was an answer that could be agreed as a way forward, such international negotiations would take a long time, meaning that the proposal is a long-grass solution. We are looking to see a timetable for action and a commitment to action. I once again remind the hon. Lady that she is now a Minister. Whatever her previous record, words are easy. Action may be harder, but action from the Minister is what we are after today.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Government Equalities Office)

As Members know from my comments on a similar amendment in Committee, I very much support initiatives that will advance the rights of transgendered people. In Committee I acknowledged the role of Meg Hillier in providing a measure in the Identity Cards Act which enabled a transgender person to be issued with two identity cards, one in the gender of birth and another in the gender of their choice.

As hon. Members know, only one of those cards is available for use for travel in Europe. The second card issued in the second identity is available only for use in the UK for identification purposes. The person was required to choose which identity applied to which card at the time of application.

Julie Hilling described to us in detail some of the complex and difficult issues faced by transgender people-I should say people with gender identity issues, because they can be anywhere on the spectrum. It is not simply a case of being one gender or the other. As the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch said, the transgendered community can at times be marginalised, difficult to communicate with and difficult to gather together. Her Government's approach to transgendered people and identity cards did not, however, extend to passports, which it could have done. There was ample opportunity both before and since the identity cards legislation was passed in 2006 for the previous Government to apply the same provisions to passports, but they chose not to do so. There are good reasons for that.

In speaking to the amendment, Opposition Members did not explain why passports did not benefit from the same provisions. I intend to set out briefly some of the issues involved and what we will be doing to seek a consolidated solution on identity and for transgendered people. I will deal in due course with the points raised by the hon. Ladies.

Current passport policy enables a passport to be issued in a person's acquired gender without a gender recognition certificate, on production of medical evidence indicating that they experience gender dysphoria, or a report to some such effect. A passport in the acquired gender can be a key facilitator in gaining evidence to put before the gender recognition panel to show that a person is living their life in the acquired gender, thus allowing them to get the certificate.

The passport is, of course, an international travel document. It is a good argument that one can get two passports if there is a difficulty with the stamp of a particular country, but there are identity issues associated with passports that are more complex than the same physical image and the same or a similar name appearing. A passport is issued on the basis of nationality and citizenship. It is a secure document which meets strict international standards and enjoys a high international reputation. The standards are agreed and set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

We are not aware of any member state that issues two passports on the basis of transgender, and there are a number of reasons why we do not currently envisage the issuing of two passports-I made some inquiries about that possibility-to the same person but in different identities and with different facial images. There are fairly obvious security and immigration control issues arising from a person travelling to a country in one identity and perhaps leaving in another identity. There is also the personal situation for a transgendered person.

I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that following the Committee sitting, I wrote about it on my blog. It was clear- [Interruption.] That is often a good way of communicating with the transgendered community.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am amazed that the Minister tells us that she wrote on her blog about the issue, as though that is formal Government process. I have asked her repeatedly what formal Government consultation took place and her answer is her personal blog. Is this the way that the Government intend to continue?

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Government Equalities Office) 2:15, 15 September 2010

The hon. Lady is pushing it. That was not an answer to the formal question. I mentioned my blog to illustrate the point that security issues in relation to travel are not the only consideration. There is also the personal situation of a transgendered person. The responses to that blog post indicated, as my hon. Friend Dr Huppert identified in Committee, that-

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Government Equalities Office)

No, I will not give way at the moment. I will finish the point I am making. The responses to the blog indicated that transgender people felt that would make them stand out-it would out them.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the contents of the hon. Lady's blog are germane to the debate, is it not a requirement that the House should have access to it?

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Government Equalities Office)

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will answer the formal question from the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch about consultation. The scrapping of ID cards formed part of the manifesto for the 2010 general election for both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. The policy received considerable media coverage and our opposition to ID cards has been in the public domain from the outset. The coalition agreement clearly sets out our aim to scrap ID cards and to destroy the national identity register. Therefore, although a formal consultation was not undertaken, we have been open and transparent in what we intended to do and what we are doing.

It is clear from the messages-Opposition Members may think a website is not a formal place-from the community that transgendered people do not welcome the state emphasising their individual circumstances. That is why we will be engaging with the transgendered community and others to determine what they consider is the best approach and how we can best achieve a suitable outcome to the issue raised by Opposition Members, which I agree is extremely important-how to deal with the state of not quite being one gender or the other, or in process between the two.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

So what the Minister is telling us is that the Government did not carry out an equality impact assessment, and that the substitute for that is correspondence with individuals on her blog. That takes the place of an impact assessment, which is a legal requirement.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Government Equalities Office)

No, that is not exactly what I said. The impact assessment for the Bill was published on 4 June 2010 and is available on the website of the Identity and Passport Service. The impact assessment indicates that the policy of scrapping ID cards does not have an impact on statutory equality duties.

As the Minister for Immigration indicated in his letter of 19 July to the Chairs of the Committee considering the Bill, the ID card is just one form of identity and although the policy in respect of issuing two cards to a transgendered person may be considered as innovative, scrapping ID cards would not impact on their ability to access services or to travel in their chosen gender. It ill behoves the Opposition to make light of the transgender community communicating through whichever means it wishes.

We need to be careful that in seeking to extend the rights of the transgendered person when travelling, we do not create the potential for additional difficulties. That is why we intend to work with the transgendered community and others on determining what they consider is the best approach and, in conjunction with the Government Equalities Office, consider how we can move this important issue forward. It is important that we listen to those who are most affected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge mentioned in Committee, a number of his constituents who would be affected and with whom he has had discussions do not favour the approach suggested by the amendment.

At the same time, through the International Civil Aviation Organisation, we will discuss with our international partners the issue of gender recognition in passports. It is possible for a passport to be issued with an X instead of an M for male and F for female. However, we anticipate that the use of an X may raise more questions than answers. Instead, we will consider other options, including whether it might be possible to remove gender identifiers from passports, and look at any potential consequential security implications of this. We aim to consult groups in the UK this autumn and with the ICAO and others over the coming months.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am puzzled that that proposal has come out of leftfield one might say-but perhaps with this coalition, out of rightfield-as a solution. It seems like a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and it is a very big proposal to suggest that "male" and "female" be removed from a document that 80% of the British public use.

To return to an earlier point, however, the Minister's ego is quite extraordinary. Her blog and no official consultation seem to be her answer to things, and I worry about the civil service. There are some excellent civil servants in her Department, as I well know, and they have to act on the basis of two political manifestos and a personal, political blog. Within government, there are statutory and other requirements for consultation, but the Minister has come to the Dispatch Box to explain that this Government do not take them seriously. They prefer party political routes, with all their imperfections, to what one might reasonably expect, which are proper Government routes.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Government Equalities Office)

As I have already explained to the hon. Lady, we are taking formal Government routes, too. Indeed, we will proceed with more formal routes and properly consult a wide range of transgender groups.

The new clause is impractical and fails to recognise its impact on transgendered people. It asks that ID cards that have been issued to transgendered people remain valid until expiry or until another system is in place, but in practice that would mean that only transgendered people would have ID cards. Apart from the huge cost of maintaining the ID infrastructure, whenever that card were used the gender background of the cardholder would be immediately identifiable. Rather than enabling transgendered people to get on with their lives without interference, the proposal would bring them unnecessary and potentially harming attention and focus, and the same problems would arise if transgendered people were issued with a bespoke identification document other than a passport.

This Government are producing the first action plan on transgender equality ever produced by an Administration. Perhaps Opposition Members did not realise the unintended consequences of their new clause, but I recommend that it be withdrawn.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I am a new Member, and this is the first time that I have been through this process. However, a Bill has been introduced to get rid of previously enacted legislation that served some members of our community well-a small proportion, but it served them well-and I am deeply shocked that, without any formal consultation or proper discussion with that community, we are now saying that we will get rid of it.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Government Equalities Office)

We have agreed that it is an important issue and I understand that there was only one case of dual issuing-of issuing two identity cards.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I was not a Minister and cannot answer that point, but I thought that we were supposed to have impact assessments before we made legislation. The Government are making legislation without them, and I am deeply shocked.

I wish that I were reassured, but I am not sure that I am. I listened to what the Minister said about the need to go forward on the issue and the transgender community being consulted on the solution. I hope that she will undertake that consultation.

Believe me, I recognise that the situation is difficult to resolve. I understand the difficulty of saying, "Let's not have a gender in the passport," because that would not be a solution; and I understand the difficulty of issuing people two passports. The House should not misunderstand me; I understand that difficulty. However, it is so important for that small group of people that we do not allow our citizens to be humiliated as they go through passport control or people to lose their careers because of the difficulties that they face. On the basis of the Government's guarantees that they will take the issue forward, take it seriously and work on it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.