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Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is making a typically decent speech on this subject, for giving way to me. It follows, does it not, that where improper disclosure takes place, any redress that may be secured will necessarily be after the event? It will be retrospective, and therefore rather modest compensation for the wrong done. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree that the question is not merely the level at which information is disclosed or exchanged, but the number of people in an organisation who should ever have access to it?
Mr. Oaten: I entirely agree. The way in which information is passed on means that it will become available to many more people. In the climate of concern that currently surrounds many such appointments, one individual may feel unable to take a decision alone and may wish to share the responsibility with a wider group, for fear of getting it wrong. There is a real problem, which we need to look at as the Bill proceeds.
I want to know how the panel will make its decisions. I intervened on the Minister earlier, but may I ask him again to consider the process of appeal carefully? I understand that at the moment the right of appeal will not come in for six months, but I hope that whoever winds up the debate will give more information about the way in which the Government envisage the appeal process working, and on what grounds an appeal could be based. Would those be purely issues of law or fact, or would somebody be able to put a stronger case and try to strengthen the arguments with which they had originally failed to convince the panel? I would be worried if an appeal could be based only on a point of law, because someone might want to try again to put across an emotional case to the panel.
On a more sensitive and perhaps complex issue, there is some concernto be honest, even I, as someone who supports the Bill, share that concernabout the need for clarity about whether a medical procedure has taken place. As I understand it, one of the arguments that has to be put to the panel, and which the panel has to consider, is whether a surgical procedure has taken placebut I think that the panel can also consider whether it is someone's intention to undergo a surgical procedure in future.
I confess that I have not read the Bill in great detail, and I would like to know whether the timing is crucial. The panel's decision could be taken on the assumption that a surgical procedure will take place. Would the
Mr. Oaten: The Bill also saysor at least, when I read it through I understood it to saythat one of the issues that the panel will consider is whether a surgical procedure has taken place or will take place. I realise that that is not the only consideration, but it is one of the considerations. It seems to me that, in the context of making good law, if that had been the tipping point and the key consideration for the panel, there would be an issue about whether the procedure had happened or would happen. If somebody can be given a certificate because of a promise that in six months' time they will have a surgical procedure, the issue of timing must be clarified. I entirely recognise that that is not the only consideration, and that there is no requirement for a surgical procedure to take place, but it is one of the issues that the Committee will examine, and it would be helpful to know about the timing.
There is also the question of foreign nationals. Can the Minister who will wind up the debate clarify whether other countries have similar Bills going through, or similar legislation already in place? Would not one way to overcome the difficulty that the Minister raised in his opening speech be to introduce a reciprocal arrangement? That would not only benefit transsexuals who come to this country, but make the procedure easier for transsexuals who wish to travel abroad and perhaps to live there. There may be barriers in the way of their doing that now, so a reciprocal procedure would make sense.
Finally, in connection with the need to maintain some kind of privacy, I support the provisions covering birth certificatesbut there are other certificates that people may be required to show more often than a birth certificate. I am thinking of public examination certificatesalthough I must confess that I have never been asked to show mine.
Mr. Oaten: It is probably a good thing that I have never been asked, because people probably presume that my results were better than they were. There may be a more practical day-to-day requirement for people to show certificates for public examinations, qualifications and training rather than birth certificates, and I imagine that there could be real embarrassment if somebody were suddenly required to do that.
A number of those questions will, I am sure, be resolved in Committee. I acknowledge the real doubts and concerns that individuals have expressed, but we shall have to agree to disagree. I welcome the measure; it is modern and it accepts and understands what is happening in society today. I hope that it will go some way to dealing with the real anxieties that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak outlined earlier. There is hurt and real hardship for some individuals and I hope that the Bill will tackle some of those issues.
Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South) (Lab): The Bill is very important; it is important because it will dramatically affect the lives of several thousand people in this country and because it will create a climate that will enable people who have experienced the issue in some way to feel more comfortable and more equal in our society in the future. The Bill does not give anybody special rights or special privileges; what it is doinglike so many things on what might be described as the equality or fairness agendais giving transsexual people in this country the same rights that everybody else is rightly free to enjoy.
The Conservative party is to be congratulated on its decision to have a free vote on the measure, which is not something that we might realistically have imagined to be the case a few years ago. That decision genuinely represents a proper consideration of the need to address Britain as it is rather than Britain as some people might wish it to be.
I say that on behalf of my constituent and also on behalf of my sister, formerly my brother. I mention my sister not because I believe that it is a good idea to bring one's private life into the Chamber, but because when, four years ago, I made a certain political decision, certain parts of the media felt it incumbent on them to draw my sister into the argument. She was not drawn into the argument as a way of adducing factual information; certain tabloid newspapers and one broadsheetone of whose sketch writers was in the Gallery earlierfelt it incumbent on them to refer to the fact that my sister "used to be a fella". She found herself plastered over the front pages of various newspapers whose aim was to "get" me.
There is a real need to recognise that in this country, sadly, this legislation is still really important. It is about changing climates and attitudes, and recognising that we actually have an opportunity to do something right. The Bill is not, as the hon. Member for Blaby said, nonsense; it is sensible and very, very important.
Much work has gone into the Bill. As a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I pay tribute to its officials and my colleagues on the Committee. I pay tremendous tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) who has done a huge amount. When my sister began to talk to me about the issue, she was extremely aware of the work of the hon. Lady and asked me particularly to pay tribute to her today. I am aware of the hard work and commitment of the officials in turning the draft Bill into the current Bill.