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Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): We will be discussing the Pensions Bill next week, and although my hon. Friend may not be able to reply to this point now I hope that he will consider it before this Bill reaches Report. He is stressing the rights and duties of transsexual people, but we must also consider the rights of the people who were their partners. Will he therefore consider carefully what might happen to the pension rights of women who, under the Bill, may lose not only their rights to the company pensions that they expected as partners or perhaps as widows, but their national insurance pension rights?

Mr. Lammy: I know that my right hon. Friend has much experience of this issue, and I inform him that we are examining pension arrangements closely. He will understand that many of those arrangements relate to the pension arrangements for same-sex couples, and we will introduce our civil partnership legislation in that regard. We are considering the matter closely, and I suspect that there will be much debate about it in Committee.

Mr. Field: The question of pensions for same-sex partnerships will be about extending pension rights. However, the concern of some wives in this situation is that they will lose pension rights.

Mr. Lammy: In a sense, the issue of people in same-sex relationships has arisen in the same context, and I have certainly received correspondence from transsexual people who will find themselves in same-sex relationships. I accept the point that my right hon. Friend makes, and I am sure that we will look closely at this complex issue in our debates in Committee and on Report.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): My hon. Friend is being very tolerant in giving way. This issue is very important, because a decision officially to change a gender could wipe out the entitlement of a previous wife and family, who were not involved in the decision in any way, through no fault of their own. That is very unfair and will have a direct impact on many people's lives.

Mr. Lammy: Of course, there is choice—the Government are not requiring transsexual people to apply for a gender recognition certificate. They will look at the choices available to them, and different pension companies will take a view on these matters. But my hon. Friend is right: some very important pension issues arise. We are looking at them closely, both for same-sex couples and for existing couples who will be in opposite sex relationships.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lammy: No, I shall make progress, if I may.

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At the moment, transsexual people live in a state of limbo. Their birth gender determines their legal status, even though they may have lived fully in the opposite gender for many years.

Sir Patrick Cormack rose—

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lammy: If I may, I shall make some progress. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman will indicate when he is prepared to give way.

Mr. Lammy: Without legal recognition of their acquired gender, transsexual people face a wide range of problems. Frankly, there may be few other matters that are quite so personal, yet because of the disjuncture between their birth gender and the gender in which they are now living, transsexual people may have to describe their gender history to complete strangers when they seek insurance or employment, or when they visit their child's school. The Gender Recognition Bill will ensure that this intensely private matter remains private.

More than that, transsexual people currently have no access to the legal rights and responsibilities of their acquired gender. Although a person may have lived as a man for many years, for example, because his legal status remains that of a woman he is entitled to marry only another man—he may not marry a woman. After a proper process of transition under medical supervision, and after the determination of the judicial panels that this Bill provides for, we think it right that transsexual people should have access to the rights and responsibilities of the acquired gender.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. In fact, I am trying to be helpful to him. I support this Bill. It is fair-minded, it should certainly get a Second Reading and I hope that it progresses successfully through the House, but may I politely point out that it would probably help at this stage if the Minister were able—in response to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and others who are quizzical on the point—to confirm that in advancing the rights of transsexuals, which the Bill correctly does, he will guarantee that the rights of other people who could be affected in the process will not suffer in any way? That is the only assurance that the Minister need give.

Mr. Lammy: I think that I have said that the Bill is also a matter of choice for people when considering carefully whether they want to go forward with these matters. That is clearly a decision that transsexual people will take with their partners and think about carefully.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lammy: I shall make some progress, if I may.

The Bill has a long history. It has emerged from about 20 hours of scrutiny in another place and is the product of much prior thought and consultation with

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stakeholders—we were determined to get it right. The Government have been working on issues affecting transsexual people since 1999. The interdepartmental working group on transsexual people published its report in April 2000 and was reconvened in 2002 to resolve finally the many difficult technical issues involved in changing a person's legal status. That work led to our announcement on 13 December 2002 that legislation would be introduced, and to the publication of a draft Bill on 11 July 2003.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has at last given way. If the Government have been working on the Bill for all these years, why can he not answer clearly and unequivocally the question put by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), from his side of the House, and by his sympathetic supporter, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), from this side of the House?

Mr. Lammy: On pension rights, I said that specific issues arise for same-sex couples in civil partnerships. Specific issues arise for a person who was previously a woman and would have been required to retire at 60, but who would be required to retire at 65 after acquiring the new gender of a man. There are, quite properly, matters that a family will have to consider when deciding whether to go forward with gender recognition, which, of course, will pertain to pension rights that exist under specific policies. Those matters will properly be debated in Committee, but, if I may, I shall make more progress.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): May I try to be helpful to my hon. Friend? I understand that it is the intention that if there is a marriage in which both partners wish to continue their relationship and the transsexual person wishes to have full recognition, it should be possible for the marriage to be dissolved and for a new same-sex partnership to be created in the same day. Therefore, should it not also be possible for pension rights to be transferred?

Mr. Lammy: That is something that the Government should quite properly consider in line with the civil partnership legislation that we hope to introduce in this Session. In that sense, I do not want to prejudge the debate that we will have on that matter, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important issue.

The draft Bill was considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Although differences of opinion remain between the Committee and the Government, after a period of detailed scrutiny and receiving 47 separate submissions, it was on the whole satisfied that the Bill would bring the UK into compliance with its obligations under the European convention on human rights. I should say something about those obligations because they underline the importance of having UK legislation in this area. The European Court of Human Rights interpreted the convention, which is now a part of UK law, in the case of Goodwin v. UK, and its judgment stated that a system for recognising

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transsexual people in their acquired gender must exist and that transsexual people must be granted their rights under article 8, the right to respect for private life, and article 12, the right to marry. The Law Lords, in the case of Bellinger, concurred with the view that transsexual people ought to have a means of marrying in their acquired gender. Their lordships stated that transsexual people do not have that right at present and that legislation would be required to ensure that they do.

The Bill proposes to provide legal recognition in the acquired gender to those transsexual people who have taken decisive steps to live fully and permanently in that gender. The effect of legal recognition will be that a transsexual person gains the legal rights and responsibilities appropriate to the acquired gender.

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