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Dr. Evan Harris: The problem with having to save up points is that one does not have time to make them all in an intervention, so I shall ask only one question. If the Minister is to meet the deadline for implementing the European directive through regulations, she will have to deal with the issues relating to hospital wards, prisons and so on within that time scale, so what stops her putting in the Bill regulation-making powers to enable
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her to deal with issues that she will have to deal with anyway under the European Communities Act mechanism?

Meg Munn: As I just said, that is unnecessary.

Lynne Jones: I want to comment on the two examples that my hon. Friend gave—single-sex hospital wards and prisons. The Prison Service has been working on guidelines on the treatment of transsexual prisoners for at least two years. I have tabled several parliamentary questions, and the last I heard was that those guidelines are almost ready or imminent. As for single-sex wards, the issues they raise are similar to those relating to joint accommodation in employment. I do not see that those issues are so problematic that the Government are prevented from accepting the amendment.

Meg Munn: As I said, I do not regard the issues as being without solutions. However, they need to be resolved and the solutions must be workable. I gave only two examples; there are others, of course.

I hope that I have been able to make it clear that the Government are unequivocally committed to tackling discrimination against transsexual people.

John Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Sir Gerald Kaufman : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Meg Munn: I give way.

John Bercow: I think that the Minister is giving way to me rather than to her right hon. Friend, and I am grateful to her for doing so. As she knows, I hold her in the highest esteem, so I do not say this with any personal malice or resentment—but having listened very carefully to what she has said in the past 10 minutes, I   am none the wiser. It may be that I am a slow learner. Does she accept that, to me, her answer is thoroughly impenetrable? I cannot fathom a single good reason why the Government can act in a year or so's time when no great issue of minutiae or detail is involved, but are somehow incapable of acting now, as the House would prefer.

Meg Munn: What I have said is that because the EU directive sets out the matter, we are in a position to work through regulations to meet that time scale. We want to consider issues that go wider than the EU gender directive as part of the discrimination law review. I sincerely believe that there is a great deal to be gained from simplifying our legislation and having all discrimination law in one Act that sets out everyone's human rights, because equality affects us all. That is what I am trying to achieve through the discrimination law review.

The issues are being worked on—they have not been put on the back burner. Discussion is ongoing and we are moving ahead. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak will feel able to withdraw the new clause.

Dr. Evan Harris: I was not proposing initially to add further to the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member
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for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), but I wish to return to what the Minister said. It was difficult to engage as fully as we might have wanted, given that she wanted to make her position clear before taking interventions. I wish to make two points, but I do not speak for the mover of the new clause who, I am sure, will present her own view. We do not doubt the Minister's personal commitment to the issue that is before us, nor, indeed, the Government's overall objectives in creating a climate and a statute requiring non-discrimination. In those terms, her answer was particularly disappointing, as it was when I   raised the matter in Committee.

The Government have decided, I am pleased to say, to take order-making powers in respect of sexual orientation. The hon. Member for Buckingham (John   Bercow) has already recognised that there is a moral imperative to do that because of the problems that are people have to face. There are two imperatives. First, there is the moral imperative, which is no less than the imperative that has already been conceded in respect of action following the enactment of the Bill in respect of sexual orientation discrimination. Therefore, it is hard to understand why the Minister does not take the opportunity of ensuring that she has regulation-making powers that will enable holistic regulations and laws to be made that cover also education and media portrayal, which are exempted from the European Communities Act 1972.

The second imperative is the time scale that is placed upon us by the implementation date of the European directive. As I understand it, that does not apply in respect of sexual orientation. I think that the Minister said that she will definitely meet the deadline through the use of the European Communities Act regulations. If that is so, why not do the whole thing properly and have one consultation approach in time for the deadline and use the same mechanisms as have been proposed, which we are delighted to see, for dealing with sexual orientation discrimination?

John Bercow: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not a matter only of principle, although the principle is itself extremely important? It is also a matter of practicality. Does he accept that unless the change is made sooner rather than later, it logically follows that the number of instances of discrimination will be that much more numerous? For transgendered people, discrimination and denial is not an occasional exception, it is a regular occurrence.

Dr. Harris: That is right. It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know, given that my party introduced a single equality Bill proposal in another place through Lord Lester some years ago, that we believe that every year and every month that is wasted in not initiating quicker action in these areas will lead to more discrimination. However, we welcome the fact that the Government have made significant advances.

The Minister gave two examples that came after she said that work had to be done to understand the sort of discrimination that was faced. I am sure that she did not mean this, but to the outside world that might seem as though the Government and those who helped to draft the law do not understand the sort of discrimination that is faced by transgender people. However, through the work of hon. Members such as the hon. Member for
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Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), there are many in this place, as has been demonstrated by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), who understand—and we believe that the Government similarly understand and recognise—what the problems are.

Given that the Government will have to deal with the issue of hospital wards and prisons to implement the European directive deadline by the end of 2007, using regulations under the European Communities Act, it is not a convincing or logical argument to say that it is not possible to proceed through regulation-making powers in the Bill to provide a complete approach. Those matters will have to be dealt with in any event.

If the Minister were to say that there were real difficulties in terms of education or media portrayal, which would take longer than the available time scale, I   would not accept that but it would be logical. In choosing the hon. Lady's examples from areas that fall within the deadline with which she must abide if she is not to fall foul of the European directive, she is not using either the logical or the strongest of arguments. Regardless of the intentions of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, who will decide these issues for herself, I think that my hon. Friends will be keen to see the House divided on the issue, given that we have not had the undertakings or understandings that we deserve.

Sir Gerald Kaufman : The Government have rightly accumulated a good deal of credit on this issue in previous legislation. I pay tribute to Christine Burns, who received an MBE for her work on gender issues and was among the constituents who drew my attention to the new clause. Given that the Government have accumulated a good deal of credit on the issue, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider her response in the light of the provision, which does not bind the Government or put them into a straitjacket. If it did so, I could accept her argument that time was needed to consider specific issues relating to transgendered people as distinct from people suffering from discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation.

My hon. Friend says that the Government will undertake a consultation, but they would not be constricted in any way if the new clause were accepted, as proposed subsection (1) says:

It does not say that the Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision. Proposed subsection (3) says that the "regulations may . . . make provision". It does not say that they shall make provision.

The inclusion of the new clause in the Bill would not put the Government in a straitjacket, but if they did not accept it they would be in a straitjacket. We all know that legislative opportunities are constricted. The fact is that there is a Bill before the House that provides a vehicle to introduce the new clause. My hon. Friend—no one doubts her good faith—said that the Government wish to consider the issue as part of the   consultation. Several of us in the House would be a
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little more relaxed if we could be sure that within a reasonable period a legislative vehicle would be introduced so that changes could be made.

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