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Andrew Selous: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the fact that the tabloid and other press often behave hurtfully and irresponsibly in the ways to which he has referred, but I should like him to explain why he thinks the Bill can help deal with that. I am worried that certain things in the Bill could engender more concern and opposition, and could encourage the sort of irresponsible behaviour that we both find distasteful.

Mr. Woodward: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. In this Chamber, we often broadly discuss matters of principle. Sometimes it helps to listen to the individuals who are affected by legislation, to find out whether we may be applying our own principles high-handedly and, as a consequence—often with the best intentions—doing more damage rather than what we intended. In the course of my speech, I shall adduce the comments of some of the individuals who have written to me about the issue. I hope that that will convince the hon. Gentleman that the Bill is the right thing to do and that, rather than preserving our current inequalities, pursuing equality is always a step forward.

In relation to the Bill, I draw the Minister's attention to clause 22, on privacy. Will it do enough to protect individuals from the infringement of their right to a private life? That protection is needed because I am worried that we might continue to see gratuitous press intrusion, along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), and, more specifically, the kind of thing that can easily happen unless people feel a duty to behave differently. I refer to my sister's experiences. She has received legal documents—for example, from a court—addressed to "Miss Lesley Woodward, formerly known as Mr. Leslie Woodward". That might seem a minor thing to hon. Members, but it is not to the individual concerned, and the Minister needs to be confident that those people are fully protected. Is he confident that there will be adequate protection in the future for people who have suffered that kind of thing? Will a duty of care be imposed on officials in such circumstances?

The second point I want to raise with the Minister relates to discrimination. The Joint Committee considered whether the Government should go further in their protections against discrimination. The Committee's response was that it

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It did not consider


Housing is an extremely important field and the Minister should think carefully about whether the law will provide adequate protection. When many young people go through the experience of being transsexual it is coupled with psychiatric problems. In the most appalling circumstances, that can mean that the individual is ejected from their home and loses their job. Sometimes, they are destitute. A hostel, or somewhere to live, is critical at that point. It is thus essential that such an individual is not subject to the kind of discrimination whereby, because they may be presenting themselves as a woman, the person in charge at the hostel says, "I'm sorry you can't come here because really you are a man", or the other way around.

I am slightly worried by the Government's explanation of why they do not need to move—they feel that the issue is too complex to sort out. I say to the Minister that that is not a good reason for not trying to address the matter, which it is still incumbent on the Department to re-examine. When the legislation is scrutinised in Committee, we must be confident that further injustices will not be done to the same people.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is discussing the amendments that are likely to be tabled in Committee. Does he believe that the Government will take away some of the amendments introduced in the other place or will the Bill stay as it is today?

Mr. Woodward: I have no idea what is in the Minister's mind, but he may indicate what will happen in his winding-up speech. Hon. Members can obviously table amendments in Committee, but on Second Reading it is important to introduce concerns for consideration today or in Committee that have been raised by constituents who will be directly affected by the legislation.

During the debate a lot has been said about the Church. It is important to put on record comments by groups such as the Metropolitan Community Church of Manchester that wrote to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It said how much it supports the Bill, which it does not regard as aberrant, wrong or nonsense. A particular member of that Christian community told the Committee:


which was mentioned earlier—


Mr. Robathan: I am sorry that I was not present at the beginning of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I was

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watching the monitor and know that he mentioned me a couple of times. To avoid doubt, I assure him that I have met a transsexual. The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill is not nonsense, but why is he criticising it so much? I do not say that the Bill is nonsense because I lack sympathy for people in that difficult condition; I say that it is nonsense because I listened to the Minister's speech and he had no answers to the questions—indeed, he has no answers to the hon. Gentleman's questions.

Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman is right to qualify his position, but this is obviously an opportunity to say why he believes that the Bill is nonsense, in which case the Minister will answer his questions.

The Church argument that tends to be adduced in relation to this matter concerns marriage. It must be said at the outset that marriages go wrong. Things sometimes happen through no fault of the individuals concerned—equally, things sometimes happen that are the fault of individuals—that make it right to dissolve a marriage. The particular point about which I am concerned does not involve a marriage having gone wrong. As a consequence of the Bill and not because their marriage has gone wrong, several hundred people will be faced with what can only be described as a terrible choice.

I say to those hon. Members who perhaps think otherwise that it was not a matter of choice for my sister to take the gender that she felt herself to be. It was about putting something right that had gone wrong very early on; it was not a matter of choice. The Minister must consider whether it is appropriate to force people to dissolve marriages that may have lasted for 30 years or more to fulfil a legal obligation.

It is interesting to consider the evidence submitted to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. One couple said:


for one partner


I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) who has done a great deal of work with a couple who also came to see me—he took them to see the Minister concerned and presented their case. The couple, Joy and Christine, were written about sympathetically in The Daily Telegraph and have been married for 36 years. As one of them said:


if they make this choice, and one of them will feel absolutely wrecked. The couple do not want to divorce, they have children and they married in church.

Their priest has written to them, and his comments are worth considering given the arguments adduced, He said that he had been thinking about this issue for some time, and that the character of their marriage vows—a lifelong and exclusive partnership for better or for worse—seemed uncompromised by their wish to remain together. He said:

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the word used in the Bill—


should


It is interesting to reflect on what the couple's priest says the Bill may unintentionally force them to do. The state is forcing them to wreck their marriage, which has nothing to do with their wishes, and break their commitment to each other and their love. They feel that the situation will damage their children. Sometimes it is right for marriages to be broken, but neither Labour nor Conservative Members are saying that that is the right thing to do in this case, and the couple do not want to do it. However, the Bill would force them to destroy their marriage. Some people may genuinely feel that it is still appropriate to break that marriage because the matter is too near to the question of same-sex marriage, which everybody is frightened to discuss, and it would be better not to frighten the horses. In some cases, we may be doing more than forcing a terrible choice.

One couple wrote to me to say that about 15 years ago one of them came to accept that they were transgendered. They went on to say that the adopted policy was to put family first and gender considerations second and that this repression led to depression, resulting in failure to gain promotion and eventually in 1995 retirement on the grounds of ill health. The letter said that since then there had been a continued decline in the physical and mental health of one of them and that it became a choice between full gender reassignment or a very short life expectancy. They said that the problems seemed immense: their commitment to their children has meant that there has only ever been one income earner, and both of them now suffer health problems. Again, we are saying to such people, "Choose between your marriage and your certificate."

Perhaps the choice is not that simple. It is sometimes incumbent on us to be a little less judgmental and a little more understanding.

For those who may have experienced only one person coming to talk to them about the issue, I simply say that thousands of people have experienced it, and perhaps we need to listen to them before we listen to our own prejudices.


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