Gender Recognition Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee on 9th March 2004.

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[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 9:30 am, 9th March 2004

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the Gender Recognition Bill [Lords] the Standing Committee (in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 9th March at 9.30 a.m.) shall meet on—

(a) Tuesday 9th March at 2.30 p.m.,

(b) Thursday 11th March at 9.30 a.m. and 2.30 p.m, and

(c) Tuesday 16th March at 9.30 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order—

Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 4, Schedule 2, Clauses 5 to 10, Schedule 3, Clause 11, Schedule 4, Clauses 12 to 13, Schedule 5, Clause 14, Schedule 6, Clauses 15 to 29, new Clauses, new Schedules, and any remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings on the Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 p.m. on Tuesday 16th March.

I welcome you to this Committee, Mrs. Roe. I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship as the Minister with responsibility for the Bill. The Gender Recognition Bill deals with some very important issues. It was considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and was also considered in great detail in another place. It is important that it receive careful consideration in this Committee today and during the next few days. It was on that basis that we agreed the programme motion.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

Under the Standing Order, the debate may continue for up to 30 minutes.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

I begin by echoing the Minister's welcome to you, Mrs. Roe. The Committee will discuss a hugely important Bill, and we will benefit from your wise and experienced chairmanship on the complex matters in it. I welcome the Minister and look forward to a constructive dialogue with him and, indirectly through him, with his officials. I equally welcome all members of the Committee.

We should not indulge in self-praise, but there was a general feeling that the debate on Second Reading was constructive. The Minister is nodding. That is the right approach to such matters, and I very much hope that it will continue. As far as the programme motion is concerned, so far, so good. It shows a good understanding of the issue, in that we will not be interrupted by intrusive knives and will have a reasonable period for debate; I certainly hope that that will be the case. I do not believe that anyone wants to go on at length, show off or resort to unnecessary delaying tactics; I certainly do not. In any case, Mrs. Roe, you would call us to order if we tried to do so.

It may be useful, as I am speaking in this Committee on behalf of the official Opposition, if I put my own position on the record. The Minister will know that I supported the Government's legislation in my party's free vote on Second Reading. I was pleased to do that. Other members of my party took a different view on the matter, and it was their privilege to do so. In such circumstances, I feel a particular duty of care to those members of my party who take a different view—if not to agree with them on the principle of the legislation at least to ensure that their prudential and practical concerns are properly aired and debated. If I were to fall down on that, as I may, my admirable colleagues on the Conservative Benches will be able to present those concerns.

I have already made it clear to people who are members or supporters of the transgender community that, if the legislation is to be successful, it is important that we try to iron out all the potential difficulties, to ensure that there will be no unanticipated repercussions and to avoid destroying some other principle in seeking to enunciate one on which I find myself in agreement with the Minister. I hope that by beginning on that basis, we shall be able to maintain the tone and nature of the debate on Second Reading.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me say something about the amendments. Having had first bite of the cherry on amendments, I tabled several fairly early on with the intention that the Minister and his officials would be able to consider them. They fall like Gaul into three categories. There are those with which the Minister will be familiar—certain people who are less familiar with our procedures may not be familiar with them—which are probing amendments. For example, amendment No. 1, which I shall move later, is intended not to destroy the possibility in the legislation of an overseas gender recognition certificate but to enable a debate on the conditions under which such a certificate would be accepted in the United Kingdom. We will have that debate at the appropriate time. There are many amendments of that type, and the Minister understands that they were tabled to promote dialogue among members of the Committee.

There are also important amendments that have been tabled on behalf of transgender people in order to obtain further safeguards. I am pleased to have the moral support of Government Back Benchers in raising some of those issues. I shall listen with great care to what they have to say. We may be in the rather rare position of serving on a Committee that genuinely attempts to thrash things out and raise the issues properly and sensibly.

Equally, the Minister will be aware that there are some concerns—perhaps they are concentrated among Opposition Members, although they have been expressed by people in a number of different areas, particularly by those with Christian and other faith interests—about how the Bill will operate in practice. It is in the common interest that we talk those concerns through, see whether we can obtain further assurances on them and produce a piece of what I hope will be thoroughly workmanlike legislation.

The Minister knows that legislating on this matter is complex and raises difficult issues. Not to legislate would also raise difficult issues. With those few scene-setting remarks, I am content, as soon as the programme motion is agreed, for the debate to begin.

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

I, too, welcome you to the Chair of the Committee, Mrs. Roe. I also welcome both Ministers. Like the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), I hope that we can make good progress. I am particularly pleased that he is the Conservative spokesman, because he does a thoroughly efficient job and gets to the key issues.

We on the Liberal Democrats Benches do not have the luxury or stricture of a free vote on some of the issues because we have a manifesto policy to support the measure, as far as it goes. The Minister will know that, in a few areas, we do not think that it goes far enough in providing rights to transgendered people. I know that there is support across the parties for that—sometimes spread thinly, although we hope that it is sometimes spread thickly.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who spoke on Second Reading, is not able to serve on the Committee. The volume of Home Office Bills probably needs no further remark. He cannot be in two places at once. The Second Reading debate was good and raised many of the issues that we will discuss. My hon. Friend raised the issues that we hope to raise.

I take the points made by the hon. Member for Daventry that there are concerns among religious and other communities and that those must be dealt with sensitively. However, we will set out why we believe that the human rights of transgendered people take precedence. We will use proceedings in Committee to probe the Government's defence of areas in which we do not feel that they have gone far enough.

This is a welcome piece of legislation. In fact, in terms of European jurisprudence, it might be overdue. We certainly would not want the Committee to hold up its progress.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies are available in the Room. I also remind Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I do not intend to call starred amendments, including any starred amendment that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee. I also remind Members to switch off their mobile phones.Clause 1 Applications