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Andrew Selous: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Evangelical Alliance and may have said that it was not a major part of the Church—[Interruption.] If I misheard him, I apologise, but I wish to make it clear for the record that the alliance has 1.2 million members and includes groups such as the Shaftesbury Society, the Tearfund and the Salvation Army. It is a large, well-respected organisation.

Mr. Woodward: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made his point, but it was not what I suggested. I simply represented the view of one Church group that felt it was

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necessary to correct the impression that the Church only has one argument, such as that put forward by the Evangelical Alliance, which has been good—as instanced by the hon. Gentleman—at getting its point across. Other Church groups have not been quite so efficient at doing so.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. I just wish to suggest that although constituents' representations are important, they should not be regarded as the overriding—still less, the only—criterion that should influence Members. I have not received a single representation from a constituent urging me to vote for the Bill. I will do so because its principles are right.

Mr. Woodward: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, but as we are also here to represent our constituents when they do write to us, we might be forgiven for doing so.

My final point relates to pensions, which have been mentioned by several other hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). The Bill raises a serious issue that the Government need to think through, for two reasons. The first is the general point of principle and the second is the timing of the civil partnership Bill and the consequences if it is delayed for people adversely affected by this Bill. A case history may illustrate the problem.

Let us take two people we will call Claire and Barbara. Claire was a committed police constable who loved her job but was forced to leave when she told her boss that she was transsexual and was transitioning. She would not have left her job if she had not been asked to go. She had a 10-year police service record and was entitled to a pension. Let us suppose that something should tragically happen to Claire. Where would that leave her partner, Barbara? The problem is that for Barbara to qualify for the survivor's pension under the Police and Firemen's Pensions Act 1997— this is just one example—the couple must have been married both at the point of Claire's retirement from the police and at the time of her death. So if they had to divorce as a consequence of the Bill, the partner would lose the rights to the pension.

We need to look carefully at the issue in Committee. We do not need to delay the Bill, because it is important for everybody affected by the issue. However, the Government must recognise the problem and the need to review it. It may be necessary to appoint individuals in the Department as points of contact for members of the public who may be affected by the Bill. Those individuals might also discover serious problems caused by the Bill and we would then be able to rectify the matter at the first possible opportunity. It would be tragic if, for the best of reasons—and I believe that the Government have the best of reasons at heart—the Bill adversely affected the lives of people caught up in circumstances through no fault of their own and who suffered as a result. The Government clearly do not intend that anyone should suffer by the Bill: indeed, they want to make life fairer and more equal for everybody in our country. However, the pensions issue is very important and we need to be open-minded about it in Committee.

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7.5 pm

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I support the Bill. As the Minister explained, because of a court ruling more than 30 years ago transsexual people in this country have been condemned to be always of the sex written in their birth certificate. That has sentenced them to a life of constant secrecy, fear and depression, at risk of suicide and self-mutilation. Their position in law prevents them from safeguarding themselves, their partners and their families. The Bill will do much to end that. I regret that it took five failed petitions to the European Court of Human Rights, before the two that succeeded, to bring forward the Bill.

There are two reasons why I want to speak in support of the Bill. Like several hon. Members who have spoken, the first is the experience of a constituent who sought my help in my surgery two years ago, in 2002. She was 62 years old, a post-operative transsexual male to female. She had always known her birth certificate was wrong. She had a particularly tragic childhood. She had a terrible puberty. No one knew what gender she was, except herself. She married, but was compelled to divorce. She paid for her surgery and subsequent treatment herself. She lost her male partner because they were unable to marry in this country. She pursued a teaching career. When she reached 60, she was told that because she was a woman she had to retire, but because she had been a man she would have to wait five years for her pension. Understandably, she became ill as a result of the financial problems that caused and the stress she faced.

In response to my representations, the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), confirmed that my constituent would not receive her pension until she reached the male age of retirement, 65. Of course, my constituent feels that she has been denied natural justice. By then, the European Court in Strasbourg had delivered its judgment in favour of Goodwin v. United Kingdom. My constituent has rightly been pressing me for the legislation that is before us today.

The experience of my constituent and my sympathy for her compels me to support the Bill. Will the Bill enable transsexuals in my constituent's situation—described as male on her birth certificate, now a female—to enjoy a woman's pension from the age of 60? If so, will the pension be backdated in her case?

The second reason I support the Bill is that it is in response to the findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It is as a member state of the Council of Europe that we are committed to the European convention on human rights. I accept that some of what the convention imposes and the ECHR finds is not always welcomed by Ministers, hon. Members or the public. For example, many hon. Members and the majority of the public do not accept the abolition of the death penalty. Home Secretaries cannot change sentences passed by the courts, despite outcry in the tabloids, because the ECHR says they may not. However, all of us, I believe, need to be reminded from time to time that the European convention on human rights, with its unique enforcement machinery of the ECHR, is a response to the genocide and discrimination that Europe experienced under the dictators. That discrimination, no doubt, applied to transsexuals.

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Now, 50 years after the convention came into force, the rights of transsexuals in this country will also be protected by the Bill. Why has Britain been one of the only four Council of Europe member states that have until now refused permission for transsexuals to change the gender on their birth certificate?

I hope that the example of the Bill will be followed by similar legislation in the other three countries—Albania, Andorra and the Irish Republic—without the necessity of their citizens petitioning the European Court of Human Rights.

Given the existence of the Human Rights Act 1998, why were two findings of the European court in 2002 required to change the British law on rights for transsexuals? Surely the Act provides for such rights to be protected without further application to the court in Strasbourg.

In conclusion, I regret that, of all the Churches, only the Evangelical Alliance has opposed the Bill, claiming that it will allow same-sex marriages—which, of course, it will not. I also regret that some in the Conservative party sought to oppose the Bill in the other place and that, from indications from my colleagues in the House, they will oppose it in this debate. I had hoped that the Conservative party today could accept human nature for what it is. Transsexual people are probably one of the smallest minority groups in this or any country. We have treated them atrociously these past 30 years. We should all give full support to the Bill, which will help to end their unhappy situation.

7.11 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I welcome the Bill. It is a sensible and humane measure that will give transsexual people legal recognition of their acquired gender. It is right in its own terms, but it will also have the benefit of making UK law compliant with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

I have been approached by four constituents who either have undergone or are undergoing gender reassignment, all of whom support the Bill. In fact, one of the good things about the debate is how many Members have talked about constituents who have approached them. This really has been a representative Chamber during today's debate.

I shall vote for the Bill on Second Reading. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) that the reservations that some people have expressed should not hold up its enactment. Nevertheless, I remain concerned about the Minister's lack of clarity on pension entitlements, and further attention needs to be given to the pension rights and financial security of transsexuals' spouses.

I should like to describe to the Minister the dilemma faced by two of my constituents: one is a transsexual in the process of male to female gender reassignment; the other is the transsexual's wife. The couple have been married for 35 years, and they have three children. Since the first child was born 32 years ago, the wife has not worked full-time. Like many women, she has stayed at home to raise the children and relied on her husband to make pension contributions to provide her security in old age.

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I understand why some wives, or husbands, of transsexuals cannot come to terms with their spouse's change of gender and seek divorce, but both my constituents are extremely clear that they wish to stay together and that they do not wish to divorce, and they have good reasons so to do. They care for, support and love each other, and they want the care and support that they mutually offer each other to continue in the years ahead. They want to keep their family together for their own sake and for the sake of their children. They recognise that they will be significantly better off financially if they stay married than if they divorce.

The trouble is that the Bill's drafting creates a conflict of rights—a conflict between the rights of a wife to marriage and security in old age and the rights of her partner to legal recognition in a new gender. The conflict arises because the Bill will require a couple to divorce before the full gender recognition certificate and, therefore, the new birth certificate can be issued in the transsexual's new gender. If a divorce goes ahead, pension-splitting procedures will, of course, follow, but they are almost certain to reduce the pension entitlement of both partners. So I have two questions for the Minister, and I hope that he will listen carefully to them and reply in summing up the debate. I am not sure which Minister will respond. I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) will do so.

First, is it right that the state should require a couple to divorce so that one person—the transsexual member of the couple—can obtain the right to gender recognition if neither partner wants to divorce? Secondly, if it is the Government's intention that there should be such a conflict of rights, is it right that the decision about whether to put the right to marriage—which, as the Human Rights Committee stated in its report, flows from the right to private and family life under ECHR article 8—before the right to gender recognition for the transsexual, or vice versa, should rest with the transsexual partner in the relationship, rather than with his or her spouse, or with the couple jointly?

In the case of my constituents, I suspect that they will jointly choose what to do if they face that dilemma, but the fact remains that the transsexual in the relationship has, in effect, the power to decide whether to put gender recognition before marriage, or vice versa, while the wife or husband of a transsexual person does not have the same right. My constituents would like the Bill to be amended to allow gender recognition for the transsexual, while allowing the marriage to continue. I recognise that that would give legal recognition to same-sex marriage in that specific circumstance. I believe that that would be the right thing to do, and I see no contradiction between the requirement that people have to be of different sexes when they marry and retaining a married relationship later if that situation alters because of gender change.

If the Government are not prepared, in the light of what hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber have said, to agree to that single and extremely specific exception to the normal prohibition on same-sex marriage, they must create in the Bill a new relationship that would retain for couples of the type that we are talking about the same legal and financial rights and responsibilities to one another, including the same pension rights, that they had enjoyed hitherto in their

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marriage, because the alternative would be to undermine the rights of the spouse, which are just as important as those of the transsexual person.

I can think of no other circumstance in which the state tells a couple who are married and who wish to remain married that they must get divorced. If there is such a circumstance, I invite hon. Members to tell me about it, but I do not believe that there is one. I believe that it is fundamentally wrong for the state to tell a couple who are married and wish to remain married to divorce, so an amendment to the Bill is needed.

I should like to put a final point to the Minister, which I hope is easier to deal with, about the gender recognition panel. Some of my constituents who are transsexuals have suggested that it is important that the membership of the panel should include transsexual people and partners of transsexual people. They suggest not that the panel should be comprised entirely of transsexual people and their partners, but that there should be some transsexual people and their partners among its members, so that it has the same experience as those in respect of whom it will adjudicate and knows what they have been through.

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