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Mr. Boswell: With huge respect, I must point out that I am speaking for the Opposition, and that I have made it clear that this is a free-vote issue for my party; but personally, on this particular matter, I agree with the Government on the logic of pursuing what I consider the overriding principle of marriage being between persons of different genders, and only that. This does, however, give rise to the need to dovetail with the arrangements for civil partnerships.
Beyond these issues of deep principle are many practical concerns. First, will the Bill work as it is intended to, in the interests of transgendered people? Aspects of that question have already been discussed. Secondly, will it have knock-on effects on aspects of our law or practice that could have unintended consequences, or damage the interests of other people? Thirdly, while most people benefiting from the Bill will be content to take its changes in their legal status quietly and without fussI do not ask for their generosity, because I think they have been badly treated over the years, but they may well bank the changes and be glad that at last Parliament has acknowledged their existenceis there a danger that someone will seek to make a point by flaunting exaggerated behaviour? That might have consequences in terms of the way in which people behave in public places, for instance.
Perhaps more subtly, is there a danger that test cases may be triggered? That worried the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson). Cases involving, say, equality of employment law could embarrass members of the population, or a section of it such as a faith community, who have certain views that are deeply and honestly held. The Evangelical Alliance, like any decent group, signals to its members the importance of tolerating and accepting individual transsexual people, but is reluctant to accept the concept of the Bill, fearing that its ministers may be placed in an unacceptable position.
Many of the issuesboth practical issues involving such things as sport, and issues of principlewere well rehearsed in another place. I pay tribute to those who tackled them there, notably some of my noble Friends. We should bear in mind, however, that in this instance ours is the revising Chamber. I assure Ministers that, although I support the Bill in principle, I am determined to probe and seek further assurances in Committee.
This is a Bill about the legal status of transgender people; it is in no sense about the general conduct of those or any other individuals, let alone about individual sexual behaviour. Let us dismiss that idea immediately. If the Bill is to help such people, it must not strain its acceptability to those who come into contact with them, or are more closely related to themtheir families, or faith or other interest groups. Nor must it have repercussions for cherished general principles, notably the integrity of marriage. Anything that we do in Committee or thereafter must be aimed at balancing those principles, and anything that we say should take account of the sensitivities of all involved, even if the issues are really challenging.
I suspect that, left to themselves, the Government might have been content to let the issue lie, but the European judgment has compelled them to act. In any event, I personally believe that it is right to do so now, and to remedy a long-held and deep sense of injustice among a small number of our blameless citizens. It will not be a painless process, and others may in good conscience reject it; but I believe that today we can make a belated start.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): This is a big day for me: we are about to approve legislation for which I have campaigned for more than 10 years. The Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism was established 10 years ago almost to the day, in February 1994, with the support of members of both main political parties. I pay tribute to the former Conservative Member of Parliament for Chislehurst, Roger Sims, and the former Member for Montgomery, Alex Carlile, who is now in the other place and who has participated actively in the Bill's progress there. We set up the forum to campaign for civil rights for transsexual people who were being subjected to appalling discrimination and anxiety.
This issue first came to my attention in 1993. Like the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), I became involved largely through learning of the personal experience of constituents and, subsequently, other transsexual people with whom I came into contact over the years.
The transwoman who came to see me was so nervous about seeing a Member of Parliament and admitting that she had transitioned from male to female that she sent her male partner to sus me out first, to see whether her secret, as she saw it, would be safe with me. I had not thought about that issue before, and very much had the idea that people who went through this mutilating process must be disordered or seeking sexual gratification. I had not given it much thought, but as I came to meet people and talk to them, I learned more about the syndrome and realised that it was not a matter over which people had control. It was not a choice: they were living in the wrong body, and their brain identity was different from their chromosomal and genitalia identityalthough sometimes there are further complexities.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am listening to the hon. Lady with great interest. I accept that there are some physiological factors, but what does she say, in relation to the question of choice, about those peopleI gather it may be up to 25 per cent.who subsequently change back to their original gender, or wish to do so?
The Bill is about recognising that, after transition, people are in what they see as their correct gender. It gives them full civil rights so that, although they can still be discriminated against in terms of the supply of goods and services, and other matters that I hope the Government will legislate on later, their correct gender is recognised under the law, allowing them to have a new birth certificate and to marry and enjoy all the rights of other members of their sex.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I do not for a moment question the hon. Lady's sincerity, but will she accept, as it is on the record, that a very large percentage of these people undergo no physical changes or surgery, and remain physically exactly what they are, male or female?
Lynne Jones: Again, I would dispute that. The majority of transsexual people want to undergo a medical process that will leave them physically as congruent as possible with their gender identity. This has nothing to do with sexuality. Exactly like other people, transmen and women can be straight, lesbian or gay. The condition is not associated with a particular form of sexuality: indeed, many such people have a lower libido, often as a result of the medical treatment that they have to undergo.
On occasions, for medical reasons, it is not possible for people to have the full transition. There have been great medical advances, and treatment is much more sophisticated than it used to be. In the past, men in particular could not always have a new penis constructed. There was the famous case of Mark Rees, who for many years identified himself as and was a man, but did not have a penis, and who later, as the techniques developed, underwent the surgery. There was an interesting and moving television documentary about his experiences.
It is true, however, that the Bill does not require there to have been surgery but requires the individual to demonstrate that they have lived in that role for two years. There are good reasons for that. It may not always be medically possible for people to have the full reassignment surgery, but in my experience, the majority of transsexual people want to undergo the full transition.
The constituent who came to see me lived in great anxiety about being asked to show her birth certificate. She was worried about employment and told me that she had had to forgo promotion because of her unwillingness to show the certificate. She could not marry her partner. Unfortunately, she had also been raped, and at that time it was not recognised that a
I pay particular tribute to those people, who did a very difficult thing. Their bravery has, in many ways, been responsible for the sea change in public opinion that has happened over the past 10 or 11 years. We organised our first fringe meetings at the party conferences in 1995. I pay tribute in particular to Christine Burns, who is vice-president of Press for Change, because she spoke at fringe meetings at the Conservative party conference, as she was an active member of the Conservative party at that time.
When we had the first fringe meeting at the Labour conference, I remember being in the lift with two journalists who had come to witness what they thought would be a freak show. The remarks that I overheard them making were, frankly, disgraceful. We still see evidence of such attitudes in some articles in the press, but I am pleased to say that that is slowly changing. It was wonderful to see the faces of those two female journalists drop when they saw the person who was there to talk about her experience as a transsexual.
Roger Sims talked about this in 1996 in the discussion of Alex Carlile's Gender Identity (Registration and Civil Status) Bill, a private Member's Bill that did not get very far in the House. He said that he had attended a fringe meeting organised by a lady representative, who was branch chairman and typical of the ladies whom many of my hon. Friends know in their constituenciesyet her birth certificate showed her as a man, so she could not legally marry. He went on to describe how he, too, was impressed by the way in which Christine Burns spoke about her experiences. I am sure that, if hon. Members who have doubts about the legislation met some of the wonderful people who have campaigned through organisations such as Press for Change and othersI single out the Gender Identity Research and Education Societythey would realise how important the Bill is to them.
The Bill is not about discriminating against other people. We all want to ensure that others do not suffer. Many transsexual people continue with their relationship in marriage, but in many cases the marriages end when someone undergoes a gender reassignment. It is a very difficult issue, which will arise again in Committee.
I welcome the changes in the other place, particularly on the establishment of a fast-track process for those who have lived in role for six years or more. Initially, that was to be allowed only for the first six months after the Bill's enactment. It will now be extended to two years, which I welcome. I should also like to highlight the fact that, in the draft Bill, there was no expiry date on the interim gender recognition certificate, and I wonder why the Government subsequently imposed the six-month time limit. Will the Minister explain in his winding-up speech why it is necessary to have such a time limit?
This is a good Bill, and it will mean a lot to a very small number of people. I greatly hope that it will have a fair wind in the House and that transsexual people will soon be able to enjoy the legal recognition that they deserve.