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Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Our society will become more civilised with the passage of this legislation. For decades, we have lagged behind more enlightened countries that have already granted civil rights to transsexual people. In this country, transsexual people have suffered from discrimination and fear of being exposed to ridicule because they suffer from a medical condition. That wrong is being put right, and I pay tribute to the Government, to the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), and to the Minister in the other place, Lord Filkin, for their work in bringing forward this legislation and taking it through both Houses. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) for the way in which he has put forward his sensible, considered view and been generally supportive of the legislation, and to Liberal Democrat Members for their contribution.

A remarkable transformation has taken place even in the 10 years since the setting up of the Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism. At that time, transsexual people were regarded as sexual deviants who had had a choice, and had chosen to mutilate themselves in order to gain some strange gratification. Thanks in large part to the trans-community itself, that view has gradually changed. If tribute is to be paid tonight, it must be paid to those brave individuals who have been prepared to tell the world that they are transsexual people, and have thus been able to demonstrate that far from being florid, strange characters, they are normal human beings who just want to lead a normal life and get on with working. They do not want to suffer discrimination at work or in personal relationships. They do not want to live in fear that because of a lack of appropriate documentation—birth certificates are an obvious example—they risk being exposed as transsexual people and therefore discriminated against, laughed at and treated in an extremely unkind way by individuals, the media and some less-than-enlightened parts of our society.

All that is changing. The fact that there has been all-party support for the Bill is very heartening, as is the fact that it has had a relatively smooth passage through both Houses. As the Minister has said, it gives the trans-community 95 per cent. of what it seeks. There are still causes for dissatisfaction, which have been discussed this afternoon—notably the requirement for married transsexual people, in order to gain their full civil, human rights, to dissolve their marriages. That is unfortunate. I am sorry that the Government were unable to accept that such people should be allowed to
 
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retain their marriages, and retain their human rights under both article 8 and article 12 of the European convention.

I am also disappointed that I could not move my compromise amendments, which would have allowed the life of the interim certificate to be extended so that those whose marriages ended either through divorce in the normal way or through the death of their spouses could gain full recognition. That was particularly important to those taking advantage of clause 27, which allows a simpler method of application, requiring less documentation, to those who have lived in their reassigned gender for more than six—as opposed to two—years. I am sorry that the Government did not recognise the strong arguments for letting the interim certificate be used as a device to enable trans-people to benefit from a fast-track approach.

It has been an eventful 10 years since the establishment of the parliamentary forum. Many brave people have exposed their personal lives to scrutiny and contributed to the Bill. They have demonstrated their patience and common sense, and have been very willing to present strong arguments to the Government and civil servants. Members of the trans-community, and Press for Change in particular, have made an important contribution by devoting so much time to convincing civil servants and Ministers that the Bill is necessary, and should take a form that will allow practical realisation of their human rights. I also commend those Ministers who have been prepared to listen and to engage in dialogue with the trans-community. As a result of that dialogue, the legislation is much better than it otherwise would have been. People have been willing to give their expertise and devote their time to ensure that the legislation is as good as the Government are prepared to make it.

This is a great day for me personally. As a Member of Parliament, I have campaigned for more than 10 years for the legislation. It is a wonderful moment, in particular, for members of the transsexual community, as they see that, at long last, they will have almost full civil liberties and their human rights will be recognised. I thank all Members who have made positive contributions to achieving that aim.

6.26 pm

Dr. Harris: It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), who has worked and campaigned so hard on this issue as chairman of the parliamentary forum—an organisation that I, like the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), have been attending since long before the Bill was published. Through the hon. Lady we should pay tribute to organisations such as Press for Change, which have worked so hard in the way that she described. I shall later quote from the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), who has had a long interest in this field, has contributed greatly through that report—a report on which I relied during my contributions in Committee, as Ministers will know.
 
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I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross). I do not always agree with him on religious matters, but we have found unanimity—

Richard Younger-Ross: An unholy alliance.

Dr. Harris: An unholy alliance, which is not always the case in our party on such issues. In that respect, it was interesting to note the sensitive contributions in Committee and on Report of the hon. Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). Although there were people who strongly disagreed with the line that they took, it was important that those issues were raised in such a way and in such a tone by those hon. Members. I also welcomed the contribution of the hon. Member for Daventry, who is always regarded as one of the more reasonable—[Interruption.] And eminent. The hon. Gentleman is always regarded as one of the more reasonable and eminent Conservative Members in his contributions and scrutiny in Committee.

It was a pleasure to serve in Committee with the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle). Although we did not always agree on the detail of the Bill, there was much consensus in Committee, as there has been today, on the need for the legislation.

We intend to support the Bill on Third Reading, as we did on Second Reading, not on a free vote, because it is our party policy to allow transsexual people to access their human rights. Although I welcome the support of the Conservative Front-Bench team, and particularly the effective way in which it has been delivered during the different stages, it is still a test for all parties in this House that there should be a Whip on these issues of fundamental human rights, as there is on other issues that are less fundamental and less related to human rights.

As we debate such matters and put this recognition on the statue book at the end of May 2004, we must ask why that has taken so long. Yes, it was the case that we were not found to be outwith European human rights law until July 2002, when the courts ruled, in the cases of Goodwin v. UK and I v. UK, that

no longer

Although it was only then that we were found to be outwith Strasbourg law, there were already clear signs that misery was being created for individuals in this country, and that sooner or later we would fall outwith that law. It is regrettable that it takes so long for us to respond to the challenges posed by the European convention on human rights, to which we signed up. I hope that we will manage to stay ahead of the game in other areas.

There has been no reaction in general, or in the right-wing press in particular, to this measure, and it should stiffen the Government's backbone to know that they
 
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can introduce such measures—they are the right thing to do—in sensitive areas sooner rather than later. It is sad to note that, as the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights points out, while we were waiting for this legislation the Government had to advise marriage registrars to continue to apply section 11(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in the traditional way. As the Joint Committee states, the approach recommend by the Government was "clearly lawful" at that time. We need not have been in such a position if we had responded more quickly.

This is a good Bill but it could have been better. A particular issue that we did not discuss today, but which was touched on in Committee, is the Bill's failure to extend freedom from discrimination to transsexuals in the provision of goods and services. I fear that campaigners for the rights of transsexuals will have to continue campaigning even after the legislation is on the statute book, in order to drive the Government to provide on the basis of gender reassignment the protection from discrimination that people already enjoy on the basis of gender. I suspect that we will see sad cases of marriages having to split up unnecessarily because of the decision that the House has just taken, but it was encouraging to see Members from all parts of the House voting in the same Lobby. Indeed, I voted in the same Lobby as the hon. Member for Gainsborough. He did ask me not to remind the House of that fact, so I shall seek to avoid doing the same thing on the final vote.

We welcome the appearance of this legislation on the statute book, but we hope that the Government recognise that there is work still to do in this field.

6.32 pm


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