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7.33 pm

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): I want to begin where the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) left off, and with the point that I made in my question to the Minister at the start of today's proceedings. None of us can be absolutely sure of who we are at any point, and there is nothing wrong with that. My reading around this subject began in 1997, as a result of a constituent's case. I read about the question of where our gender identity comes from, and we certainly cannot find an answer by looking in medical books, because the arguments are many and varied. I am glad that the hon. Member for Salisbury discussed so thoroughly the various different conditions, as he has saved me the trouble of doing so. He is right: if we look in that direction for an answer, we might find no answer at all, or too many to come to a sensible and logical conclusion about who we are.

In trying to devise laws so that we can act out our daily lives with a proper sense of reality, it is therefore sensible to look to those individuals who find that any definition of themselves does not fit with their own sense of self. It is not for us to insist, as a result of any test that we might be able to devise as time goes by, that a given person is someone with whom they do not themselves identify. To decide gender on the basis of an XY chromosome, for example, might be to go down a very tricky path indeed. It is therefore right for people to present for themselves what they perceive as a problem in their own lives.

That leads us to the question of how to proceed sensibly from there. We have already made some progress on that front. By deciding that people can have treatment, with national health service support, that properly identifies their physical appearance, we go some way towards recognising gender dysphoria as a true and proper medical condition. That has taken some people a long way forward, but not nearly far enough. Nor will this Bill take us the entire way. Our society is in transition, as, indeed, is our medical profession and this House. And the same is true of some of the people whom we are talking about. In this period of transition, there are some specific issues that we need to address carefully.

The issues that we face today will not be those that we face in future. We are discussing very complicated family relationships that have evolved because the recognition of somebody's gender has been decided on later in life. There are many reasons why people might want to conform to their physical appearance. We could debate that issue at length and it would not help us very much, but at this stage of our social maturity, people are presenting at a much later stage in life than might be the case in the future. That will change because social attitudes will change. We have had many debates on people's sexuality, but in generations to come, as people go through puberty their gender identity will not be so difficult to address. Indeed, such progress might not be that far into the future. During development in puberty

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and early adult life, it might be more possible for people to say, "The person who you think I am is not who I really am after all." It might be possible to make such decisions much sooner, so that there are fewer complicated family relationships involving marriage. That will be a natural social progression.

But we are in a different place at the moment. Complicated family relationships already exist, and they will exist whether or not we legislate. The fact remains that marriages break down because of gender identity. They do not break down as a result of the state; they dissolve because the differences between the people involved are irreconcilable, and they feel that they cannot go on. It is also true that some people can overcome apparently irreconcilable differences and carry on with a relationship that they have developed over 20 or 30 years. They do not stay together simply because the financial situation is easier that way, or because it is easier to manage their family; they do so because they truly believe that they are meant to be together.

Those whom I have met—the same is true for many other Members of this House—find that their life together is incredibly difficult. There is no easy solution. My hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) pointed out some of the very painful decisions that people will be required to take. I agree with him entirely, but I am not sure that this legislation will be the end of the matter. I hope that, over time, the House will develop other solutions that might not fall within the Bill's parameters. It is difficult to make such choices, but the fact is that people make difficult choices throughout their lives. Even as things stand, the choice between staying together and divorcing is a painful and difficult one for families.

The choice between staying together or divorcing—the decision to put gender before marriage— will be difficult, but the question is: are we ready to accept same-sex marriages? I am—the prospect does not trouble me at all—but I can see that there would be substantially greater opposition to the Bill if I were to insist on such marriages forming part of it. So I look at the situation pragmatically, and ask myself what it is that I can accept. I must also recognise that some of my constituents will not agree with me. Some will think that I am taking a step too far, while others will say, "Kali, I really need you to go a lot further than this. Please support more such measures. Please think about my life."

I have to offset one set of concerns against another. I have reached the view that the Bill might be about right for where we are, but I do not think that the situation will remain static because things will have to be addressed as a result of changes to relationships after it is enacted.

We must consider how complicated family relationships will affect people's finances. Pension rights, which have been addressed by several hon. Members, clearly present a difficult problem. The Minister could not give unequivocal answers about what will happen as a result of future partnership arrangements, but the Government have made significant moves to give an indication of what we can expect. We will not simply ask people to divorce, accept their new gender and have their birth certificate as they wish it to be, and then leave them in a void with nothing

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in place. We must ensure that the legislation that we expect to be introduced in this Session dovetails properly with the Bill; otherwise the system will not work.

Measures on people's benefit rights, entitlements and pensions have already been introduced that provide for more equality between the genders so that men's rights are now more similar to women's rights and vice versa. That was achieved especially by the consideration of the rights of widows and widowers. Now that men have the same rights as widowers that widows used to have, we have made progress toward ensuring that men and women have similar support.

Mr. Bercow rose—

Kali Mountford: I see that the hon. Gentleman is eager to speak; I give way to him.

Mr. Bercow: The issue of obligatory divorce, which was highlighted by the hon. Members for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) and for City of York (Hugh Bayley), is of the first importance and should surely be decided on its merits. The hon. Lady would always be the first to stand up for what is right rather than what is simply convenient. Does she honestly think—I am listening closely to her argument—that the opposition to the Bill would be that much greater if it were amended in the terms that the hon. Gentlemen suggested? It does not seem to me that it would make much difference—those who are against the Bill are just agin it, full stop.

Kali Mountford: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to say, and I think that that would be true of several hon. Members who have debated the matter. However, I am not sure that it is true of all my constituents or many communities in my constituency. For some people, the question of a man and women being married—with that being the nature of marriage—is so fundamental that they cannot see around it. As I have already said, that is not a problem for me. I do not feel troubled by it, and I would not have been troubled if such a measure were in the Bill. I hope that there will be a time when the matter is not an issue in society, but we must accept that it is an issue now. Many more people would have hammered down my door to oppose the Bill if it had included such a measure. I, and many transsexual people whom I know, expected a much more heated debate than we have had. As there is compromise on both sides of the debate, we have found a position in which people may find consensus.

Mr. Woodward: Just as a point of clarification—my hon. Friend and I certainly do not disagree on these matters—it is essential to recognise that the question is not about something to be promoted for the future. We are dealing with a situation with happily married people who married in good faith and wish to stay together after something has happened in that context. We will be saying, "You now have to divorce so that you can be recognised as being yourself." If we presented the argument to our constituents in the context of forcing existing couples to divorce, I wonder whether, if the House really came together on the issue, it would be that

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hard to convince them that we were doing the right thing by enabling couples who want to stay together to be together.

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