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Equality Bill

Equality Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Joe Benton, † Ann Winterton
Baird, Vera (Solicitor-General)
Baron, Mr. John (Billericay) (Con)
Boswell, Mr. Tim (Daventry) (Con)
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Eagle, Maria (Parliamentary Secretary, Government Equalities Office)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Harper, Mr. Mark (Forest of Dean) (Con)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Howell, John (Henley) (Con)
Keeley, Barbara (Worsley) (Lab)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Mason, John (Glasgow, East) (SNP)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab)
Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Alan Sandall, Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee


Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive, Stonewall
Professor Stephen Whittle, Press for Change
Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust
Theo Gavrielides, Chief Executive, Race on the Agenda
Dr. Katherine Rake, Director, Fawcett Society
Baroness Joyce Gould, Chair, Women’s National Commission
Emma Stewart, Director of Partnership, Women Like Us

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 2 June 2009


[Ann Winterton in the Chair]

Equality Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
E11 Press for Change
4 pm
The Committee deliberated in private.
4.6 pm
On resuming—
The Chairman: Good afternoon. I welcome everyone to the Committee. At the outset, may I remind hon. Members and witnesses that we are bound by the time divisions that were agreed to this morning? That means that the first evidence session must end no later than 5 pm and the second no later than 6 pm. I hope that I do not have to interrupt hon. Members or witnesses in the middle of sentences. I will try not to, but if I have to, you will have to forgive me, because I will need to keep my eye on the time. First, we shall hear evidence from representatives of Stonewall, Press For Change, the Runnymede Trust and Race on the Agenda. Perhaps before hon. Members begin their questioning, you could introduce yourselves to the Committee, starting with Professor Whittle.
Stephen Whittle: I am Professor Stephen Whittle. I am here in my role as vice-president of Press For Change, which is the lobby group for trans people.
Ben Summerskill: I am Ben Summerskill from Stonewall.
Rob Berkeley: I am Rob Berkeley from the Runnymede Trust.
Theo Gavrielides: I am Theo Gavrielides. I am the chief executive of Race on the Agenda, which is an independent social policy think-tank focusing on issues affecting black and minority ethnic groups.
The Chairman: Thank you. Lynne Featherstone will begin this afternoon’s proceedings.
Q 6666Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): This is really to Stonewall. I wondered what concerns Stonewall might have, if any, about the new disparities that will be created by the Bill—for example, in terms of harassment, the exclusion of sexual orientation. I would like your views on that.
Q 67Lynne Featherstone: It is an area of concern. I know it is quite hard to find precise examples, but I think one was given in which you might be staying in a hotel where there was a poster that denigrated homosexuals. That might be a case of harassment in a way.
Ben Summerskill: The case you have cited comes from a briefing that referred to a poster that had a rat on it, and the legend, “Homosexuals are as low as rats.” We are not aware of any circumstances where such a case has arisen. I can only reiterate that we have a long history—which I think people will acknowledge—of campaigning for legislative change, but only where there is an identifiable, real-life mischief. I hope that all members of the Committee will accept that we come to you only where there are identifiable, real-life mischiefs that we want to put right. We have not seen any genuine cases where we think that mischief could be committed that would not be covered by existing legislation.
Q 68Lynne Featherstone: It does create an anxiety for me that there will be a differential between some of the strands. Can I move on quickly to Professor Stephen Whittle? Do you think that the Bill goes far enough to protect the transgender community from discrimination, and particularly those who choose to express their gender differently, but do not want to go as far as gender reassignment?
Stephen Whittle: We feel very strongly that the Bill does not go far enough. In fact, it will shortly be overtaken by European concepts that are being developed in law at the moment. Although we welcome the extension to people who are living permanently in their preferred gender role without gender reassignment, as trans people who have been there and gone through this, we recognise that our lives change over a period of time depending on what sort of obligations and workplaces we have. People cannot always make the decisions that they want to make. We have an NHS that often makes people wait years to get through the processes.
We feel strongly that the Bill as it stands is reliant on the sense that people are now living permanently in their new gender roles. The case of P v. S and Cornwall county council—the original case that gave permanent protection—also included the notion of intending to undergo gender reassignment, which typically is contained within this definition. If we are going to recruit people who are intending to undergo that, will we also include those who intend just to live permanently in their new gender role? Will we include those who intend to do something but have not quite made up their mind, or those who change their mind? Once we start to go down those lines, we realise that what we have is a characterisation based on a put-upon definition, rather than the actual behaviour of trans people. That definition could be reframed better to recognise the diversity within the community, without providing huge problems for people.
Like Stonewall, we are clear that we do not want to seek help where there is not a real need. We come to the courts or to Parliament only when there is a real need. In the case of trans people, we think that there is a need for protection, and the Bill does not go far enough.
Q 69Lynne Featherstone: Because it is medically based?
Stephen Whittle: It is based on a particular limited idea. The idea of then adding in an extra notion that is not gender reassignment—God knows what tribunals will make of it if there is a definition of gender reassignment and then some people are not undergoing gender reassignment. I can see the faces of some chairs of the tribunal now.
The fact is that trans people, who might be in a stage of life where they just cross-dress part-time, get harassed, thrown out of shops, told that they are not able to come into pubs or whatever. That goes right through to people who have undergone gender reassignment and also face those same difficulties.
Q 70Lynne Featherstone: Are you saying that there is a whole spectrum in terms of transgender identity and that people should be protected against discrimination wherever they are on that spectrum?
Stephen Whittle: Absolutely. In fact, we would argue strongly that we experience discrimination because other people think that we look different. It is what those other people do, not what we do, that creates that discrimination. Therefore, the Bill needs to refocus upon what it is those other people see and react to.
Lynne Featherstone: I am persuaded by your argument.
Q 71Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): If I might just follow up on that, Professor Whittle, you may be aware that Dr. Harris and I are veterans of the consideration of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I find very congenial your comment that there is no absolute point and would just add—perhaps you could confirm this—that one of the prerequisites of formally applying for a gender recognition certificate is that one has lived in the assumed gender for a period of time. Therefore, anything that has happened before is highly relevant to the legal process.
Stephen Whittle: Absolutely. People have to live for two years permanently in their preferred gender role. People may not have even started the medical process of gender reassignment at that point because waiting lists are, for example, four years in Sheffield and 10 years in Leeds. People live permanently in their new gender role without any medical intervention. The Bill technically covers them. We think that a line needs to be drawn, particularly in respect of single-sex services. If people are living permanently in their new gender role, they should be covered; if not, they should not be covered.
Q 72Mr. Boswell: Given that, if this comes to court, it is likely to involve a legal process, are you satisfied that you can come up with a suitable watertight definition that reflects the diversity and complexity of trans issues without actually making it impossible for anyone to decide whether discrimination has taken place?
Stephen Whittle: We have just spent the past week working intensely on that, and I am off to Strasbourg tonight to talk to some people there about it. We think that we have come up with a definition that would work very well in a tribunal system. It would ensure that only those people who really were covered would be able to make an application, whether through a tribunal or a court.
Q 73Mr. Boswell: Okay. I have no doubt that you will want to share that with the Committee in one form or another.
May I ask one other question, which is about juveniles? It surfaced in a different context this morning. My impression is that trans people under 18 and those who are contemplating their position are very much under the radar of this legislation. Is that a concern for you, and can we deal with them as well?
Stephen Whittle: This is another of our big problem areas. The legislation covers young people through various protections, but the problem is that “gender reassignment” is an absolutely inappropriate term to use in relation to young people. If someone rings me up about their 11-year-old with cross-gendered behaviour, and the school wants them out, what should I do? Should I say, “Let me speak to the 11-year-old,” and then explain that the child wants a sex change? Thirteen and 14-year-olds who make that statement get entwined in a huge, goal-driven medical process that does not let them get out, yet we know that 80 per cent. of young people who manifest very cross-gendered behaviour will not grow up to be trans but will grow up to be gay or lesbian.
We need to rethink that. Again, we have come up with a phrase and a definition that we think would suit. It is gender-varied and carefully defined and would fit into the framework.
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