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Andrew Selous: I plead guilty as charged to not having taken the course of action that my hon. Friend urges upon me. Indeed, there are probably many other worthy causes that I have not taken up owing to insufficient time or interest. However, that does not invalidate my basic point, which is that through the Bill we are legislating to enshrine secrecy and to put into law the case that someone's sex is other than that which has been biologically determined.

As I said, that has implications for marriage. It also affects many other groups of people. First among those would be the families of those affected, by whom I mean the spouse, partner, children or wider family members. I was pleased that the Minister said that those family members will have the chance to be represented on the gender recognition panel, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), will give the House more detail about that.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle) indicated dissent.

Andrew Selous: The Minister's colleague is shaking her head. Perhaps I am confused, but I thought that he said that family members will be fully represented on the gender recognition panel. That is tremendously important, because large numbers of people are affected by someone's decision to change their gender. We exist not as individuals, or as atomised beings who are on our own in society, but in relationships with other people as families and communities. Of course, such decisions have profound and personal consequences for the individual concerned, but so too do they for their wider families and for many other people. If those people really care for that individual, they should be able to appear before the gender recognition panel to make any points that they wish—especially given that some transsexuals move from their original gender to an adopted gender, then back again.

As regards registrars, I have to disagree with the comments made by the hon. Member for Winchester in response to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). Of course I agree that public officials have a general duty to obey the law, but this is surely a matter of conscience involving issues of principle about which people may feel strongly. There have recently been comparable cases in which social workers have lost their jobs over adoption decisions

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following the recent change in the law in that area. Hon. Members will have to be mindful of the position of registrars who, for the highest motives, find themselves having to make a genuinely difficult personal decision.

Hugh Bayley: I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is arguing against the Bill. However, if it passes into law and a transsexual is able to apply for a birth certificate in their acquired gender, how on earth would the registrar know that the person was a transsexual who had changed gender? When applying for marriage, they would simply use their birth certificate.

Andrew Selous: I am talking about the specific circumstance whereby a registrar is asked to provide a different birth certificate to change a male birth certificate to a female one, or vice versa, which may well give rise to issues of conscience. The hon. Gentleman may have thought of wider examples that I have not considered.

Many Churches are worried that they will find themselves open to legal challenge on this matter. That may occur purely in relation to pastoral arrangements—for example, the senior minister may want to share some information with other members of the pastoral team and find that he or she is unable to do so. There is also the worry that malicious legal action may take place. I remind the Minister that the former Home Secretary, who is now Foreign Secretary, said unequivocally in this House on 20 May 1998 that Churches act as public authorities when they conduct a marriage. I hope that people's fears are unfounded and that they can be allayed during the progress of the Bill. However, I have a copy of a letter that a Church recently received in which it was threatened with legal action and told that it would find itself in a more difficult legal position once the Bill becomes law. Churches should not be looking to exclude transsexuals, who should be able fully to involve themselves in the life of a Church.

However, there are concerns about vindictive legislation that will cost Churches a great deal of cash that they can ill afford. I therefore hope that the Minister can reassure us about that; I can assure him that it is an issue of concern.

Pension rights were mentioned earlier. We have not received proper answers to the points made about that. I hope that in Committee we will get some proper answers.

Mr. Boswell: With the leave of the House—

Miss Widdecombe rose—

Mr. Boswell: I shall let my right hon. Friend speak.

8.20 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell); I believe that we were called simultaneously. It was undeniably my fault for not being quick enough on my feet, and I thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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Even if the Bill were the most perfect measure, I could not vote for it on the ground of conscience. However, the measure should cause everybody, even those who support its principle, to pause for thought. It is muddled and a legal quagmire. Despite the fact that it has been through the other place, there are massive, important questions that the Minister could not answer today. I do not say that abusively; he simply could not answer them.

No man or woman is an island. When we try to rectify an injustice, we must examine the impact on others and on society. Until we have managed to answer the questions that are raised in that examination, we should not rush into passing the Bill. Again, I stress that even if one accepts the principle—and I make no bones about the fact that I do not—this is a bad Bill.

Kali Mountford: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe: Let me make some progress and I shall.

First, the subject of pensions has been raised time and again. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) pointed to schedule 5. The issue is not the individual's rights to a pension but those of dependants, especially in circumstances in which the state has enforced a divorce as a result of the Bill, and the impact on the former spouse. That has not been worked through. It must be done, and I do not believe that Committee is the appropriate place in which to do it. The issue is of such fundamental underlying importance—[Interruption.] I can see the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) getting agitated; I will not sit down without giving way.

The Minister must deal with the important issue that I mentioned quite separately from civil registration because, as a result of the Bill, the state will force a divorce on some people who will not wish to stay with the former spouse in a civil relationship. They will therefore become separate entities whose pension needs require tackling and clarifying. They need a guarantee that they will not suffer loss.

Secondly, I made a point earlier about the identity of the legal mother of a child in specific circumstances. If the Minister had said that, from the moment that a surgical procedure and a sex change takes place and someone is recognised as being legally of another gender, rights accrue, the Bill would at least be more coherent, although I would still disapprove. The problem arises in rewriting history and in the state establishing a life so that a birth certificate has to be issued that provides a name and a gender that were not given at birth. History is thus rewritten.

Elements of the Bill are farcical, including not providing information about the past. If one has a sex change, everyone from the past knows about it. Everybody knows one as the person one was; they played games at school with David not Davina. Former employers who are asked for references know people only in the gender that they had when they were in that employment. It is nonsense to try to throw a veil of secrecy, enshrined in law, over the past, suggesting that one can rewrite it or wipe it out.

Changes in life do not mean that the past is rewritten. A marriage can be dissolved but nobody says that it did not exist, that that period of one's life, however unhappy

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or difficult, did not happen. Rewriting history causes many of the measure's problems. I shall now honour my promise to give way to the hon. Member for Colne Valley.

Kali Mountford: In the light of the right hon. Lady's clear compassion for people who will be affected by the Bill, how does she believe that their treatment will be worse as a result of the measure? Given that people already assign their gender in a new way, the Bill is simply a matter of recognising that and the consequent choices.

Miss Widdecombe: There is a difference between allowing something to happen and institutionalising it, with all the legal consequences that flow from that. When someone changes gender, there is a great difference between simply recognising that and saying that it has always been so, with all the resultant implications, for families, financial organisations, responsibilities and, in some instances, employers.

The Bill is appalling. It is a muddle and a quagmire. It is nonsense. I uphold the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I shall not pretend that, if it were the most brilliant Bill on earth, I would not oppose it. However, the measure should give everybody pause for thought. In our desire to rectify a wrong, we should not create more wrongs in its place.

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