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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I respect the hon. Lady's record in this field and strongly support her new clause. I put it to her that the Government's rationale for not acting now is no more compelling than the rationale that they offered in the other place in the first instance in respect of the similar problem of goods and services discrimination against lesbians and gay men. In fairness to Ministers, I may say that on that occasion, not least under pressure from the noble Lord Alli, the Government saw sense and conceded the need to act. Should they not do so in this case, too, on grounds both of equity and of efficient use of parliamentary time?
I was coming to the point about administrative efficiency and entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. In fact, in many ways the issues concerning transpeople are perhaps a little easier for the Government to deal with than those concerning lesbians and gay men; we already have gender regulations in relation to employment, which cover many complex areas. I have with me, for example, a guide to the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999, which covers employment where it is required for employees to share the same accommodation. A lot of issues that might require detailed scrutiny have already been dealt with in those regulations.
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Work is already under way within the Government on regulations to implement the Equality Bill's provision for protection against discrimination in the supply of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation. Many of the issues raised by discrimination against transpeople are similar to that. For example, religious bodies have similar concerns, and many organisations address the issues on the ground jointly through a lesbian and gay network and bisexual and trans framework.
Even if the Government introduce regulations, however, goods and services protection will not be comprehensive for transpeople. The means by which the Government propose to implement the EU directive will result in our missing the opportunity to introduce protection in these crucial areas. In addition, it will add unnecessary complexity to the law. It therefore makes administrative sense for the work on discrimination against transpeople to follow on quickly from the work on sexual orientation, rather than being left until the Equality Bill has passed through the House. For those reasons, I hope that the Government will accept new clause 9I know that they are committed to introducing this protection for transpeople.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for raising this point now, because it does not directly relate to the business at hand, but I wanted to give you notice of this point of order. I hope that this is an apposite moment. You will know that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway) is not present and, indeed, is incommunicado. However, he managed to sign last Thursday 12 early-day motions, which appear on today's Order Paper. One of them, early-day motion 1297, is about abandoned animals at Christmas, but I do not know whether cats were included. Is it in order for an hon. Member who is not present and has no means of being in communication with this House to sign early-day motions? I suggest that it might be worth while investigating how he has managed to do so.
Mr. Speaker: I do watch "Big Brother" and I saw the one about the cat and the one about the boxers. I know that some hon. Members give authority to another hon. Member to put their names on early-day motions, but I cannot think of any hon. Member who would do so in this instance. I will look into the matter, and that is the best that I can do. I will also continue watching "Big Brother" in my spare time.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I acknowledge that this is an exceptionally important debate and I do not want to digress from it, but my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has raised an important point. In considering that point, Mr. Speaker, will you find out whether any of the early-day motions have been tabled during the incarceration of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway), because if so, it is difficult to see how he could provide authority for them to be signed?
As I said to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), I will look into the matter. It
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could be a question of authority to add a name being given to another hon. Member, so we will continue with the debate unless I get into serious difficulties for promoting a television programmeI use that term lightly.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): New clause 9 should be an essential part of this Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) said most eloquently a few moments ago, there is no logical reason why protection from potential discrimination on the ground of transgender should be treated any differently from protection from potential discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. The Opposition were pleased that the Government were flexible, far-seeing and honest enough to accept the amendments in the other place that have led to the addition to the Bill of protection from potential discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation. It is a matter of simple logic and reason to say that the same protection should be afforded to people who have chosen to change gender. We have already passed legislation to make formal the status of transgender and we all appreciate that there is no reason why people should not have that protection.
I understand why the Minister is likely to argue that the Government do not want to include the new clause at this time: they want to give the matter further consideration as it is part of an ongoing review. We discussed the matter at some length in Committee in a constructive debate. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) proposed the new clause in a thorough and meaningful way and she speaks for many, many Labour Members. She speaks for many Conservative Members, too, and she has the full support of the Opposition Front Bench.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I have little to add to the words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), who put the case well. Although it is welcome that during the passage of the Bill the Government have extended goods, facilities and services protection on the ground of sexual orientation, there seems no reason not to extend the provision on the ground of transgender.
In Committee, the Minister was pressed repeatedly to give an assurance that the directive implementation date of December 2007 would be fully met, yet failed, unfortunately, to produce any such reassurance. I accept the need to get the measure right and iron out the fine details, but as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak said, this will be the second missed opportunity to address that aspect of inequality. In 2004, the then Minister said that a review was ongoing and that something was expected within a year. However, almost 18 months later we are no further forward.
The simple reality is that if we wait for the Act to be passed, we will have missed an opportunity to implement the directive fully and to extend the provision, because, as has already been pointed out, education and the media are not covered. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the process, give us assurances that the directive will be fully implemented
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and indicate where we go from here. Only a small group of people may be affected and it is important that we get the provision right, but the Government have had enough time.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): I, too, signed the new clause moved so ably by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) and, on the basis of our past association during the passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, I want to say how much I admired both her constructive approach to those macro-debates and the clear way in which she proposed the new clause. On both, more often than not, I agreed with herand, indeed, with other Members. This is not fundamentally a party political issue. That is why the Government should catch the tide and eliminate discrimination in one of the few remaining areas that is as yet inadequately covered by our legislative arrangements, and should do so in the way that the hon. Lady put so clearly to the House. She invites us to accept a new clause that is framed to give the maximum possible flexibility of detailed implementation, if there are detailed or technical issues that need further thought and ultimate resolutionas there usually are, in my experience. I am with her on that.
I regret that owing to other duties, which we sometimes have, I have been a country member of the debates on the Equality Bill. That does not signify any lack of support for it; it merely means that I have not been able to participate in the Committee and listen to the detailed discussions that have taken place. One by-product of that is that coming to the new clause fresh, as it were, without having been a direct participant in the debates in Committee, it seems odd that nothing has been done in this area.
I have three points to put to the House. First, I disagree slightly with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, who rightly saidI do not disagree about thisthat there have been great advances in our approach to transgendered people. Nevertheless, my experience of people in such a situation is that there is still a real sensitivity and scope, to put it no less strongly, for wide misunderstanding among the general public of the position of transgendered people, not least because they are such a small minority.
Frankly, I would have known little about it, and might have had less sympathy than I have, if one of my constituents, who is very articulate, had not been able to brief me extensively during the passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. My constituent has gone through a marriage annulment and, I think, the first civil partnership in the country under the accelerated procedure. I was delighted to congratulate her on that relationship, which I hope will last. She is an excellent person who shows some measure of the quality of people who are transgendered and who are being disregarded and sometimes demeaned by society.
There was some unpleasant press comment last week about somebody who had sought a reversal operation after an initial operation. That was the old Adam coming out, at least in the press, in people who are still unsympathetic to transgendered people. It seems
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offensive to have a situation in which the small number of transgendered peopleprobably a handful in each constituencyfeel that they are being singled out at a time when other people's inequalities are being addressed.
Secondly, I should like the Minister to comment on another issue in her response. I remember well from our exchanges in Committee, when considering the 2004 Act, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak bringing forward some interesting legal opinion and commentson which we did not have a wholly satisfactory answer from the Governmentin the relation to The Hague convention on the operation of private international law.
Increasingly, there will be situationsI notice the Minister looking a little quizzicalwhere persons who find themselves translated to the UK, either as temporary visitors or permanent residents, may have private rights attaching to them through their membership of other member states of the European Union. That creates a further anomaly that Ministers may need to consider, quite apart from non-compliance with the European directive in time, which I would have thought they would take seriously, but instead they seem to be taking a casual attitude.
Thirdly, on discrimination, it seems daft that under the legislation shopkeepers, for example, will no longer be able to refuse services or the supply of goods on the grounds of people's sexual orientation or their religion, or for any other reason, but that the one area where they could continue to refuse would be in relation to transgendered issues. That seems grossly unfair and sends exactly the kind of signal on persecution, or demeaning people, that we should not be sending.
Having not participated in the debates in Committee, I thought for an awful moment that the Government might, in some strange wayperhaps as the index of the ignorance that is still widely attached to such sensitive issueshave thought to themselves that the provisions on sexual orientation that they were making would, in some sense, cover gender reassignation. Of course, the provisions will not do that because gender reassignation has nothing whatever to do with sexual practices or orientation, nor does it imply anything for them. In that sense, if we are to rake around in moral concerns, it is much less "reprehensible"I emphasise the inverted commasto have undergone gender reassignment than to have a particular sexual orientation. I have no objection to the law dealing with those issues either, but I do not understand why the Government are so diffident about this issue.
Finally, I shall emphasise a point that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak made so eloquently. Her new clause is an entirely facilitative new clause. It provides for an order-making power and not for a precise set of criteria. Therefore, if there is a problem it is possible for Governments to accommodate that. However, to accommodate it by doing nothing at this stage will facilitate the condoning and permission of discrimination in this very narrow area for an indefinite period of a year or two, when that has no justification or merit and should be stopped.
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