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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am sorry to provide a slightly dissenting and jarring note. I do not for a moment criticise the integrity, sincerity or campaigning zeal of the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) and for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and I have great admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell). My hon. Friend is a decent and good man and I respect him greatly, but I believe him to be wrong on this issue.
It is not just the road to hell that is paved with good intentions; so is the road to bad legislation. This is bad legislation, because legislation that calls upon people to tell lies is fundamentally flawed. My main objection to the Bill derives from those clauses that oblige registrars to issue birth certificates that are untrue. I do not object in any way to people seeking to show understanding and compassion to minority groups. I would hesitate to call transsexuals a "community"I have never known a transsexual communitybut there are individuals who no doubt feel deeply distressed, and who will be relieved when this legislation is on the statute book. But we are doing the wrong deed, however right and honourable some of the reasons might be.
This is a case of people of a liberal dispositionpeople who are deeply anxious not to offend anybody and to please everybodyintroducing legislation that is fundamentally flawed, and which will cause great
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heartache and real worry in certain religious communities. I know that those issues were discussed earlier today, and I am sorry that I was not present; I was attending a meeting of the House of Commons Commission. I also knowI heard the Minister's winding-up speechthat they have not been satisfactorily addressed or answered. We will have to depend on secondary legislation, which will not be amendable, and we do not know when it will be introduced.
At the end of the day, we are faced with a Bill that obliges people to say things that are not so. I do not want to go into great detail, as others wish to speak and I want my contribution to be brief. We know that those who are persuaded that they are of the wrong sex or gender do not necessarily have physical differences and do not necessarily have to undergo surgery of any sort, yet they are to be recognised and issued with a birth certificate that contradicts the natural facts of life. That cannot be right and I am profoundly disturbed and troubled that the House should be passing such legislation. I am very sad indeed that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, who speaks from the Front Bench, and others among my hon. Friends feel that they have to agree, because of their natural compassion, to the enactment of such deeply flawed legislation.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Bill is amazing in many ways. It comes to the House from the European Court. Without that Court's findings, the Bill might not have been put before the House. More and more, the House will be directed to act by similar cases, even though the bodies deciding them are not answerable to the people of this country.
I strongly hold the view that all people, however many, have rights and that those rights should be defended by all. I want to make that absolutely clear to the House tonight. However, if we give certain rights to people, we must be assured that it will not alter the ability of others to keep and practise their rights.
The Government well know that there are deep religious feelings about this matter. I welcome what the Under-Secretary said when he affirmed that he would look again at this matteror words to that effectbecause I do not believe that we can afford to leave it as it stands. There are fears in many churchesespecially among those whose views on marriage are of the historic Christian faiththat the Bill could have serious consequences.
The Christian Institute issued a document in March entitled, "Christian beliefs on transsexualism". It referred to passages from the Bible and the works of Christian theologians to support the proposition that
"the body determines personhood, not just the mind",
"Biblical Christians hold that 'sex change' surgery desecrates a body made in the image of God."
"the Bible teaches that the State should validate what is right and not what is wrong".
For those reasons, individual churches wish to be free to decide on many matters that they believe should be under their control. For example, who should join or lead a women's prayer meeting is a matter for the church; who should use the toilet facilities in a church is a matter for the church; who should be entitled to receive holy communion is a matter for the church.
Religious freedom is primarily a matter of individual conscience, but it also implies freedom to manifest one's religion alone and in private or in community with others in public and within the circle of those whose faith one shares. We must remind ourselves that we have to abide by that. It would be a sad day if the Government were to invade the believer's right to freedom of religious expression and so destroy something that lies at the very heart of true peace and true faith in our land.
These are serious matters, which must be pondered deeply and discussed in a serious way. Some religious rightssuch as people's right to bear witness, and to act and enforce uniformity in the organisations that they join voluntarilyare held to be of particular importance. Any threatened interference with those rights by other people will engage the responsibility of the state, but no state interference with them at all can be justified.
As we enter the final part of the debate on the Bill, we must remind ourselves that any attempt to infringe, or do away with, people's religious rights and purposes must be resisted. Some of those rights are now in the melting-pot, and we must face up to that.
Marriage lies at the heart of society. Without it we would have no society. These days we must defend and uphold marriage, and anything that weakens it is very dangerous. No member of my party was on the Standing Committee considering the Bill, so we had no opportunity to express ourselves on these matters. That is why I am expressing myself at Third Reading.
However, some of what the Minister said offered a glimmer of hope. It is possible that the Government are having second thoughts; I hope so. Various religious bodies have spoken on this matter, and the Government cannot treat them with contempt or refuse to consider what they have said. Those bodies have influence: they are part of the warp and woof of our country, and give it stability and prosperity.
Angela Watkinson: I rise to speak against the Bill because of the impact that it will have on the institution of marriage. In addition, I am concerned about the reaction among many people in our Church communities to marriages between people of the same genderthat is, same-sex marriages.
Let us take the example of a pre-existing marriage in which one spouse supports the other getting gender reassignment treatment, and where both partners want the marriage to continue. It is perfectly possible for that to happen, if the person who gets the treatment does not apply for a certificate. It is the certificate that will render a marriage null and void: where no application for a certificate is made, the marriage can continue in its original form.
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However, a marriage in which one spouse does not support gender reassignment treatment for the other can be rendered null and void, against the will of both partners. The person who wants the treatment must protect their own rights but take into consideration the rights of the person with whom they are deeply involved and to whom there is a long-term commitment.
It is possible for a person to acquire a gender certificate by living in the other gender for a period and then applying to a gender recognition panel. In that way, surgery or drug treatment can be avoided. That would enable that person to become the opposite gender in law and then marry in that gender. Many people would view that as same-sex marriage.
I am also very concerned about the issue of disclosure of information by ministers. Two people might approach a minister in preparation for marriage and he might believe that one of those people was transgendered but that the other person was not aware of that. The minister is not free to disclose that information and that would be a serious dilemma.
Mr. Lammy: The standard for receiving a gender recognition certificate from the panel is a rigorous and high one. It is not just the degree of permanence that is required: the person will have to have gender dysphoria. Some people will not be able to undergo the operation, as they would probably wish to do, for medical reasons that have nothing to do with their gender dysphoria. It will take a high standard of proof to convince the panel that one is gender dysphoric, and it is not right to suggest that those few applicants unable to undergo operations would be trying to slip through the net. It will be necessary to have lived in the state for two years and to have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
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