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Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is making a characteristically judicious speech. Notwithstanding his reference to the speech in the other place, may I put it to him that religion is neither the only nor an essential basis
Mr. Boswell: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments and for his implied support for the legislation. Everybody who has a faith and a set of principles must form their own judgment. I start from the basis of saying, "Is there a problem for individuals, our colleagues and fellow citizens? Is that something that we can address without disrupting some other basic principle that we all hold dear?" I agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that the operation of the civil law, which I have emphasised that this legislation will be part of, is binding across the whole population irrespective of their faith. An important distinction therefore exists, which we need to secure through the legislation, between the general operation of the law in relation to marriage, gender or whatever, and the specific ability of faith communities to impose their own conditions on their members.
Mrs. Dunwoody: With the hon. Gentleman's normal inherent good sense, he is picking his way gingerly through this maze of complex situations. Does he not accept, however, that there may be a good reason to bring this Bill to the House because a genuine problem exists, even if it affects only a small number of people, but that it would be equally wrong were the House to allow flawed legislation to go ahead without considering with extraordinary care the effects on others who may be influenced and damaged by decisions taken in which they have no standing and, frequently, on which they have no influence?
Mr. Boswell: I agree passionately with the hon. Lady's comment. It is terribly important that we do not consider this issue in a vacuum. We should not seek to solve the problems of one group of people, however intensely felt, at the expense of another group. The Government do not intend to do that, and the detailed work and consideration of amendments that we must do in Committee, with great respect to the other place, which has looked at many of these issues including the broad sweep, is intended to ensure that the Bill does not have repercussive effects. If the hon. Lady will allow me to proceed, she will see that I am sensitive to her points.
On the general issue, it is interesting, and impressive in relation to my argument, that the chief medical officer and the bulk of medical opinionalthough not all, as that is never the casesanction the diagnosis of gender dysphoria as a real disease or condition and the provision of public funds for its treatment.
That leaves a number of serious matters to be considered, and I am anxious to make progress so that other Members can make their points. First, there is the issue of birth records. Some Members feel that we are in some way conniving at a lie in permitting the issue of a certificate recording the amended gender. It would be practically impossible, however, to permit someone to
Sir Patrick Cormack: Does not my hon. Friend accept, however, that we are obliging registrars to connive at an untruth, and no clause in the Bill gives them the right to object conscientiously as ministers of religion can do?
Mr. Boswell: I am interested in my hon. Friend's comments, and what he says is true not only of registrars in relation to birth certificates but in relation to any duties that they might have as marriage registrars, and I have some thoughts about amendments on that matter. In this particularly difficult situation, however, we are entitled to consider the relief of the individual, even at the expense of parading the original and full record. That is a judgment that we must make. If we do not do it, we run the risk of continuing to treat transsexual people as second-class citizens, or as the organisation Press for Change would argue, as non-people.
Miss Widdecombe: Please may I follow the question that has just been asked? Ministers of religion can say no, either because they have no legal obligations anyway or because they have been exempted under the conscience clauses in the Bill. Registrars, however, may not say no. Is my hon. Friend content with that?
Mr. Boswell: I am content, provided that it is sanctioned by the law and that we have taken the decision in Parliament that if a gender recognition certificate is to be issued by a registrarand he will know that he is issuing itit is a different legal document from the original birth record. It is a difficulty, and my right hon. and hon. Friends are right to raise it.
Donald Anderson: Cannot that difficulty be met by some form of clause that preserves the right of those registrars to cite conscience, and ensures that there is no termination of employment owing to the failure of a registrar to proceed with this matter?
Mr. Boswell: This little exchange has been useful in drawing out the concerns about this issue, which is properly an issue that Members may want to raise in Committee, and I hope that the Government will have an answer. I now want to make some progress.
For married people in particular, the procedure in relation to the issue of an interim certificate, followed by its conversion to a full certificate, looks cumbersome. I am satisfied, however, that it strikes the right balance between the integrity of the original records and the new requirements of the Bill.
When we come to the specific issue of people who apply for the certificate when they are married, we come to the most difficult situation of all. We do so in support of marriage itself: I think that that principle is agreed across the Chamber. Those who take what I might call the principled view that no sex change is possible would not wish to break marriages on grounds of gender change. I ask them to reflect, however, on the fact that they would ipso facto allowor even encouragetwo persons who are legally married to continue in that legal
Angela Watkinson : I asked earlier about the six-month period during which a marriage can be voided on the basis of one partner's having changed gender. Does my hon. Friend foresee circumstances in which a partner imagined at the time that he or she could tolerate the new situation, but found after the six months that it was intolerable, and had then lost the opportunity for the marriage to be voided on those grounds?
Mr. Boswell: I did not find the Minister's response on that entirely convincing. My own view is that it would be better to allow a longer period of reflection. Members of the transgender community have told us in briefing that they would rather not feel that a pistol was being held to their heads forcing them to make an immediate decision. I think that there is everything to be said for allowing the interim certificate to remain in force for longer. The Minister may say that it will be possible to apply for another certificate, but that seems to me unnecessarily cumbersome.
Those of us who are sympathetic to the Bill are faced with a dilemma. We could permit what is in fact a marriage between two persons of the same sex, one being transgendered, to continue in the name of marriage, although I think that in the future it would be a kind of legal fiction. Alternatively, we could force it to be annulled on the principle of not allowing same-sex marriage even when both partners genuinely wish to continue the relationship. I think it right in principle to maintain the fundamental rule that marriage is between a man and a woman. That, in my opinion, makes it essential for legislation facilitating civil partnerships to be enacted and dovetailed with this Bill in its future operation.
Mr. Rendel: Is there not a further difficulty involving those who wish to remain married, although one has changed sex, because some entitlementsfor instance, pension rightsmay depend on the date on which the partnership began? If two partners have been forced apart and then reunite by means of a civil partnership, there may be a considerable effect on pension rights.