|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the Minister take care that this suggestion does not lead to inflicting unnecessary pain on the public? Before the public are further involved in our processes, would it not be just as well if those processes were really tidied up, especially down the other end of the corridor?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am not entirely certain which particular suggestion the noble Lord makes reference to. There is an issue with respect to consolidation of legislation, which is being considered; but the wider point of involving the public is one that is very well taken by the Government.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, following the judgment in Sally Clarke's appeal case, the Attorney-General has established a working group to consider whether any cases in which Dr Williams has given significant evidence require a more in-depth review. We await the result of the group's considerations. We have not yet seen the written judgment in Angela Canning's appeal case. Once it is given, which we understand will not now occur until the new year, we shall study it carefully.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that, apart from the cases in which children are murdered, when the mother usually goes to court and is either found guilty
In my previous Answer to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, who I know feels very passionately about this issue, I described the approach that we have taken as a multi-agency approach to ensure that professionals from different sectors of our agencies are involved in determining whether there is anything to be investigated, and those matters should not be investigated lightly.
In the light of recent events, the issue of record-keeping is prominent in all our minds. I remind noble Lords that I have said on previous occasions that it is important that record-keeping is understood to be a vital component in child protection, including ensuring that when groundless accusations are made, that too is recorded. That is the best defence for families and children.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, whatever is done, the protection of children is always pre-eminent? Given the medical differences of opinion, what are the Government doing to encourage more medical research into the issue? I am sure that the Minister is aware of the working party chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, which is drawing up guidelines for professionals to follow in the event of a cot death. Will she tell us when that report is likely to be published and whether it will receive input from the parents to whom the noble Countess, Lady Mar, has referred?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness that child protection must be the pre-eminent factor in all these cases. If we could create a perfect system, we would. On the question of medical research, it is important that we consider all the issues and, in the case of Appeal Court cases, sudden infant death syndrome is an issue and area in which we clearly have work to do.
Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister share my concern that there are only very limited routes of appeal for families who have been split apart by the family courts on the grounds of Munchausen syndrome by proxy? Should there not be better and genuine appeal mechanisms, bearing in mind the closed nature of the family courts and the fact that the threshold of proof that applies in them is lower than that which applies in the criminal courts?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I know that the noble Earl feels very strongly about the issue of privacy within the family courts. However, confidentiality is the other side of that coin. In seeking to look at how the family courts operate, we need to be clear that we protect in the best possible sense the interests of all those involved. I know that the noble Earl is very interested in the mechanisms. I can say to noble Lords that we will examine those issues very carefully. However, I am reluctant to be drawn while issues are being investigated and while we are awaiting the results of the cases before the Court of Appeal.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the label which we prefer to use is fabricated or induced illness, instances of which have indeed been proven to the satisfaction of all professionals. It is a very difficult matter to prove. The latest guidance produced by the Department of Healthwhich, as I said, now comes under the jurisdiction of my department in this regardis therefore critical in ensuring that professionals work together when someone is suspected of fabricating or inducing an illness in a child which may lead to irreparable harm to that child.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to place under the authority of Parliament executive powers exercisable by Ministers of the Crown by virtue of the Royal prerogative to make provision relating to the appointment and conduct of and general duties relating to civil servants and special advisers, to establish a procedure for the making of certain public appointments and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
The Gender Recognition Bill is a part of the Government's commitment to reforming the constitution so that it better meets the needs of all people. It also reflects our commitment to social inclusion. It is essential that no one is left behind as we create the conditions for a credible and effective modern democracy. There is a strong tradition of legislation in this country that has sought to respond to the concerns and needs of minority groups, whether these be ethnic minorities, people who are disabled, or now, with this Bill, transsexual people. I believe that this is a reformist tradition of which we can be proud.
Our commitment to further developing a culture of rights in this country is exemplified by the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Gender Recognition Bill continues the process of "bringing rights home". The Bill provides transsexual people with the opportunity to gain the rights and responsibilities appropriate to the gender in which they are now living. Transsexual people, at present, live in a state of limbo. Their birth gender determines their legal status, even though they may have lived fully in the opposite gender for many years.
The absence of legal recognition is no mere technicality. For example, a person who is now living as a woman may take out motor insurance in her new name. That would seem the natural thing to do. If, however, she has an accident, she risks prosecution for driving without insurance and for fraud, as her legal status is still determined by her gender at birth. She is therefore faced with little choice but to take out insurance under her previous name, in the gender to which she no longer feels she belongs. She then has to explain, every time she has to produce her insurance documents, why there is a discrepancy between those documents and the reality of how she presents to the world.
These are extremely personal matters. Yet transsexual people, because of the disjuncture between their birth gender and the gender in which they are now living, have to describe their gender history to
The Bill is the product of much thought and consultation with stakeholders over many years. The Interdepartmental Working Group on Transsexual People, set up in 1999, published its report in April 2000, and that work led to the publication of a draft Bill on 11th July 2002.
The Gender Recognition Bill has also been influenced by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The court, in interpreting the European convention, now a part of UK law, has stated that a system for recognising transsexual people in their acquired gender must exist and that transsexual people must be granted their rights under Article 8, the right to respect for private life, and Article 12, the right to marry.
The Law Lords, in the case of Bellinger, concurred with the view that transsexual people ought to have a means of marrying in their acquired gender. Their Lordships stated that transsexual people do not have that right at present and legislation will be required to ensure that they do.
The draft Bill has been subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Joint Committee received submissions from a wide range of sources, and I am grateful to the committee for its report. The Government have now responded to this report and copies are available in the Library. We have not accepted all the recommendations of the Joint Committee. However, I am glad to note that the Joint Committee has welcomed, as the report puts it,
The Gender Recognition Bill proposes to provide legal recognition in the acquired gender to those transsexual people who have taken decisive steps to live fully and permanently in that gender. The effect of legal recognition will be that a transsexual person gains the rights, and responsibilities, appropriate to the acquired gender. For example, a person will be able to marry in the acquired gender; a person's entitlement to benefits and pension will be determined according to the acquired gender; and a new birth certificate will be issued to those with UK birth register entries. In order to ensure that the privacy of transsexual people is protected, the Bill will ensure that a new birth certificate does not reveal that a person has changed gender.
The first section of the Bill sets out the criteria for application and the process by which applications will be determined. The Bill proposes the establishment of a gender recognition panel to determine all applications. The panels will consist of legally and medically qualified members. Schedule 1 sets out some of the detail of the proposed practice and procedure of these panels. My department has been consulting extensively on this process. Our aim is to create a process that meets the needs of those who will be
An application for recognition in the acquired gender will be considered according to four criteria. The person must have or have had a gender dysphoria, the recognised medical condition that drives a transsexual person to live in the opposite gender; must have lived in the acquired gender throughout the preceding two years; must intend to continue to do so until death; and must comply with the evidence requirements under Clause 3. The criteria are designed to establish whether a person has taken decisive steps to live fully and permanently in their acquired gender. That must be the test for legal recognition in the acquired gender, not whether the person's physiology fully conforms to the acquired gender, nor whether the person "looks the part".
The Bill must also account for the situation of transsexual people who are in an existing marriage. Such marriages will not be able to continue. The Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended that existing marriages should not have to end. However, there is an issue of principle at stake here. Marriage is an institution for opposite-sex couples. After recognition in the acquired gender is attained, if existing marriages could continue, these would become marriages between same-sex couples. The Government are not going to change the fundamental nature of the institution of marriage in this way.
What the Bill provides, however, is a simple mechanism whereby an individual who has decided to seek recognition can dissolve his or her existing marriage. We are concerned to leave the individual in control of this process and to tackle the practical difficulties that ending an existing marriage may create. If a married individual applies and is successful in their application, they will receive an interim gender recognition certificate. This certificate will provide the basis for a new ground for dissolution of the marriage, provided in Schedule 2. On dissolving the marriage, the court will substitute a full gender recognition certificate for the interim certificate.
In that way, the Bill proposes to avoid the situation where a married applicant first has to end his or her marriage and only then learns whether or not his or her application meets the criteria. The process provided in the Bill eliminates the potential for that vulnerability and allows a person to plan his or her affairs. When dissolving the marriage, the court will also be able to deal with practical matters, such as, for example, the sharing of pensions or making provision for children of the family.
The Government will also be bringing forward legislation on same-sex civil partnership in this Session. If that legislation is enacted, a couple who have to end their marriage to allow one party to gain recognition in the acquired gender will be able to enter into a civil partnership. The couple will be able to acquire again a legal status for their relationship, with legal rights and responsibilities. As the civil partnership legislation is developed, the Government
The second section of the Bill outlines the consequences of the issue of a gender recognition certificate. Once a certificate has been granted, a person's gender becomes in law the acquired gender. The Bill proposes to provide transsexual people with access to the rights and responsibilities appropriate to their acquired gender. That change of gender is, however, prospective only. The Bill does not rewrite history.
Clause 10 and Schedule 3 are critical. Following a successful application for recognition, the panel will issue a certificate. The Registrar General will then create a new record in relation to the individual in the gender recognition register. A birth certificate in the new name and gender recorded on the gender recognition certificate can then be issued from the new record. The link between that new birth certificate and the original birth certificate will be confidential.
There has been some speculation in the media over the past few days on the implications of the Bill for sport. Frankly, I have been puzzled by some of what has been said. Let me make it clear that it will not be possible for a man simply to declare that he is of the opposite gender and then compete in women's competitions. A person seeking recognition in the acquired gender will have to apply to the panel, and a gender recognition certificate would be issued only if the panel were satisfied that all the criteria were met.
Further, and perhaps even more fundamentally, the Bill does not bring transsexual people into existence. Sporting bodies already deal with the issues raised by the participation of transsexual people. As part of the process of developing the Bill, more than 300 sporting bodies were consulted. Nothing in the Bill forces sporting bodies to allow transsexual people to compete in their acquired gender. In fact, the Bill allows sporting bodies the flexibility to deal with the issue in the way each believes most appropriate to its own circumstances. Sporting bodies already do that.
Other countries already have systems for recognising a change of gender, and their sporting bodies have been doing that, too. There may well be considerations of safety or competitive parity, and guidance will be published to enable sporting bodies to make informed choices about how best to treat transsexual people within the context of their sport.
Finally, Clause 21 prohibits the disclosure of information about a person's application for gender recognition or about a successful applicant's gender history. That information is to be protected whenever it has been acquired in an official capacity. The prohibition on disclosure is essential as the positive effect of allowing a person to change gender in law would be greatly diminished if, at the same time, there were to be widespread and indiscriminate access to the fact that the person used to be of another gender.
I present to the House a Bill that seeks to provide transsexual people with the opportunity to enjoy the rights and responsibilities appropriate to their acquired gender and to leave behind the vulnerable position which they presently have to endure. The Bill provides a long-ignored minority with social justice, legal rights and a place in our evolving democracy. I commend the Bill to the House.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, it gives me pleasure to make it clear straight away that in principleI stress "in principle"we on these Benches are supportive of the Bill. We believe it is right to confront the issues that it raises, so that changes can be made in the law to bring about great improvements in the lives of Britain's 5,000 transsexuals.
I am, however, concerned that the Government may be attempting to play down the Bill and to give it a low profile. Why did the Government choose to exclude it from the gracious Speech, despite the fact that it was clearly part of the immediate legislative agenda? The day before State Opening, I was asked for diary availability for Second Reading before Christmas Recess, yet the following day there was no mention of it in the gracious Speech. What was the reason for that? I advise the Minister that there is nothing to hide in the Bill, which if we get it rightI emphasise thatcan bring great comfort to a section of society that has been so badly affected by living, hitherto, in limbo.
It is to the great credit of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that it has considered with care a number of key aspects of the Bill in draft form, as set out in its 19th report of the 200203 Session. The Bill raises a number of serious issues and begs a number of important questions and concerns that remain to be answered by the Government. Probably one of the most difficult issues to resolve is the potential effect on a marriage and the children of a marriage given that, as the Bill is currently drafted, where a person is married and then changes his or her gender, that change will not be fully recognised as long as that person continues to be married. The simple notion of introducing legislation to insist, in certain circumstances, on divorce or annulment of a marriage goes very much against the grain. That said, we on these Benches have never supported the legalisation of same-sex marriages.
Will the civil partnerships Bill contain provisions similar to the French Pacte Civil de Solidarite, which enables two people to register their union and then, three years later, enjoy the statutory rights afforded by that registration? I note that the Minister said today that he was hopeful that there would be just one day between divorce or annulment and the ability to enter into a civil partnership arrangement, but that still raises the question of what happens during that day. That is an important question of principle that we need to consider further.
Can the Minister throw a more focused light on the Government's intentions with regard to the timetabling for bringing the Bill into force, and how that relates to the timing of measures introduced in the civil partnerships Bill? I note that he said that he was keen for that Bill to be brought into law this Session. At the same time, however, I know that the usual channels have had some difficulty agreeing whether that Bill should have pre-legislative scrutiny. If it did, that could considerably delay its introduction. If there is a significant delay before that Bill, that will clearly have implications for those couples forced to divorce to permit one of the pair to obtain a full gender recognition certificate.
There are also fundamental issues of human rights in the Bill, affecting individuals who have not themselves undergone a change of gender but may have their rights compromised by a person who has changed gender. For example, it will be possible for an individual to change their gender without undergoing an operation for a sex change. That person will then be quite within his or her rights, as we understand it, to, for example, share a prison cell, nurses' quarters or sports changing facilities with others of their chosen gender. Even though there is treatment to modify sexual characteristics, should we not consider the feelings of those with whom that person shares very private areas? Whose human rights take precedence? How does one judge in individual circumstances what is balanced and proportionate? It is very difficult for all concerned.
I know that my noble friend Lord Moynihan will be focusing upon the impact that these measures will have on participants in sports. In response to the Minister's comments on sport, I say straight away that we fundamentally reject his arguments. I know that my noble friend will be able fully to illustrate why. The potential outcomes have not been thought through in the Bill.
There are numerous additional points to which we on these Benches would like a response from the Minister. For example, can he set out to the House, for the sake of clarity, the new arrangement for birth certificates? Precisely what documents will be kept in
Clause 21 makes it an offence for a person who has acquired protected information under the measure in an official capacity to disclose that information to any other person. However, Clause 21(4) provides certain exemptions to that offence. Those provisions are by no means clearly drawn. In particular, it is not an offence for a person to disclose protected information if, under Clause 21(4)(f),
In addition, Clause 21(5) provides that the Secretary of State may by order prescribe circumstances in which the disclosure of protected information will not be an offence. Furthermore, what will be the criteria for issuing further birth certificates for those who wish to resume their original gender? Given the fact that the Bill allows for a clergyman to refuse to marry a person in his or her acquired gender, would it not be sensible to allow ministers access to original birth certificates where there is a dispute, deception or suspicion?
I am anxious to hear what safeguards are in the Bill to prevent encroachment on religious freedom. I am sure the Government understand that some people, many people, will continue to believe that a person remains the sex designated at birth in the eyes of God, even if the law states otherwise. Those law-abiding citizens have strong beliefs. May those individuals find themselves pursued in the courts as a consequence of their unwillingness to recognise and associate with transsexuals? Would the Church be breaking the law by refusing to ordain transsexual priests?
Can the Minister confirm that the minimum age of legal access to the transgendering process remains 18? For the Bill to be effective, the "acquired gender" of an individual must be taken to be his or her sex for the purpose of all other legislation. I understand that that is the Government's intention and I welcome the changes made to Clause 9(1) to make that more explicit. But, I would welcome reassurances from the Minister thatwith particular regard to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975the Government view the Bill as sufficiently clear in that respect and beyond possible misinterpretation.
I am also keen to hear the Minister's reasons for rejecting the call in the Joint Committee on Human Rights report to rectify the law, which currently permits discrimination against a transsexual in the fields of education, housing and the supply of goods
In conclusion, I stress that it will not be enough for the Minister to say that we should accept the Bill because it will affect only a small number of people. The measures involve some important principles of law, so we must proceed with caution. Whatever the outcome, I believe it is equally important in all our debates on the Bill that we approach the many issues with care and compassion for those for whom the measures are intended.
The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, the Bill places me in two dilemmas, the first especially pressing. There can be no argument about the acute, distressing and chronic effects of gender dysphoria upon those who suffer with it; so they should clearly have the greatest possible sympathy and assistance from othersespecially from the Churches. They should be free to live as fully as possible in their acquired gender confidently and without what they may experience as discrimination, let alone molestation. Indeed, some, and some of their medical advisers, assert that it is a necessity for their fullest health. Yet, and I quote Lord Reed,
My second dilemma has to do with the legal position in which both the Government and your Lordships' House find themselves. It appears that we are bound by the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Goodwin and by the Government's acceptance of it; yet if I may dare to say, as a layman with regard to the law, that judgment seems to leave a good deal to be desired in the quality and comprehensiveness, and so in the cogency, of its argument.
My basic point is that nothing in the judgments of the Court of Appeal, or of your Lordships' House, in the case of Mrs Bellinger, and nothing in Goodwinand I have re-read all three this weekseems to me to present a cogent argument that a person's sex can be
If the Bill becomes law as it stands, the words "woman" and "man" will no longer have the meaning that everyone, including the law, has always assumed. Whatever their protestations the Government will have introduced marriage of two people of the same sex. And as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hobhouse, notes at paragraph 74 of the House of Lords judgment:
Therefore, I am grateful for the presence in the Bill of paragraph 3 of Schedule 4, which gives to those bound by law to conduct the marriages of parishioners an exemption on grounds of conscientious objection. I much appreciate all the patient contact between officials of the DCA and of its predecessors and those of the Archbishops' Council. I also appreciate the two meetings that I have been able to have with Ministersone 14 months ago with Roman Catholic and Evangelical Alliance colleagues, and one a month ago with the noble Lord the present Minister.
However, how will clergy of the Church in Wales or of the Church of England or anyone else, whether Roman Catholic priest, Rabbi, Imam or Baptist minister, who, on grounds of belief, cannot conduct the marriage of two people of the same sex, know the truth about the person who has approached them for marriage? Must there not be added both a requirement that a person of acquired gender, seeking to marry, discloses that fact about himself to the person whom he is asking to conduct the marriage, and a right in conscience for those other than the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to decline to conduct such a ceremony? And should not such provisions also include registrars, who do such a critically important job so well? Without such a provision, shall we see registrars threatened with dismissal on account of their beliefs, like the social workers who were not prepared to further adoptions by same-sex couples?
Staying with the Government's responsibility to support, honour and defend marriage, I am glad to find myself agreeing with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, about Clause 5, with its requirement of divorce or annulment before a full gender recognition certificate may be issued. However, I believe that I may differ from all those in what I am about to say.
As the Minister knows, I have seen the letter to another bishop, copied to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, from a couple who have worked through the enormous pain and upheaval in their marriage caused by the gender dysphoria of one of them. They are desperately distressed by the implications for them of that provision, and, to my knowledge, they are not the only married couple in that position.
In the Government's mind, the provision safeguards the possibility of creating a same-sex marriage. The Minister has already laid that out. However, to me, that is already the effect of the Bill. But I believe it also follows that that is not the effect of honouring such a couple's commitment to their marriage because the sex of the party recognised as having an acquired gender has not, in fact, been altered. Nor will it do to say, as has been said elsewhere and as the Minister said this morning, that such a couple should be permitted a fast-track entry into a civil partnership. That is not what they committed themselves to, perhaps many years earlier, and it is not the equivalent of marriage.
There is, too, deep anxiety in the Churches and the faith communities about their human rights in matters of employment, appointment, selection for training for ordination and ordination itself and its various equivalents. I was grateful that those points were raised in outline in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. What conscientious rights and safeguards will there be for bishops and their equivalents in other Churches and other faithsand for whole congregations in those Christian and other bodies where the whole congregation makes an appointmentwhere,
It is not enough to say that degree certificates and the like will not, under the present form of the Bill, be retrospectively altered. Some already want to see provisions of that kind added. As the Bill stands, to whom may such information be disclosed? And what about professional directories and the likeCrockford's Clerical Directory in the case of clergyif the publisher is obligated not to include elements of the public history of the individual before she or he began to live in the acquired gender and name? What of the expectations and rights of the purchaser and user of the directory?
In Clauses 2 and 3, the Bill is more widely drawnI understand whythan, for example, Goodwin, which requires the recognition only of post-operative transsexual persons. How will that work out in practice in matters and places of employment, leisure or sport? And is it the Government's intention to make provision for those who may, at some later point, feel compelled to seek de-recognition, as some will?
As we know, the Government are not seeking to legislate in these extraordinarily delicate and complex matters only on account of the distress of those who suffer this disability and who, with their supporters, understandably long and press for the fullest recognition in their acquired genders. They are doing so following the judgments, to which reference has already been made, of the Court of Appeal in 2001, of the ECHR in 2002 and of your Lordships' House this year. All threebut the last, it seems to me, largely on the basis of the secondpoint towards the overturning of the judgment in Corbett v Corbett (otherwise Ashley) 1970.
The last two of the threethe ECHR and your Lordships' Houserely largely on the medical evidence given to the Court of Appeal. However, that court appears to have heard evidence only from three experts, who broadly agreed with each other, and from none who would have offered contrary expert advice. None of the three courts gives any recognition to the fact that these are still highly controversial, contested matters, as I understand it, within the medical professions.
The judgment in Goodwin, on which the Government appear bound particularly to rely is, to me, in parts a frankly shocking read in its unjudicial one-sidedness. The court, quite unbelievably, heard no advocate for marriage as it consideredagain, I quote Lord Reed
Others will speak in this debate and in the Bill's further stages from the standpoint of other Christian Churches, other faithssome of us have received a very concerned briefing from a representative of the Islamic Medical Association of the UKand of sporting and other bodies. I must, too, own that at later stages there could be different views to mine expressed from these Benches.
I repeat my agreement that those who suffer from gender dysphoria should have the greatest possible sympathy and assistancefrom the law as well as in other ways. Therefore, I deeply regret that it seems that neither the ECHR nor some of our own learned, and
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the very thoughtful and helpful contribution of the right reverend Prelate. I know that in the future we shall discuss many of the points that he has raised today.
This has been a good week for me. For the second time this week I thank the Government for bringing forward a Bill that those of us who worked in the equality field before joining your Lordships' House have long awaited. On Monday I welcomed the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill. The House was fairly unanimous in its reception. Today I welcome the Gender Recognition Bill, but I understand that it will need careful consideration by this House.
The Bill is part of the Government's social inclusion initiative and, as has been said, among other things it provides for the updating of transsexuals' birth certificates, so paving the way for those who wish to marry in their acquired gender. The Bill has been welcomed by others, including, as one may expect, Claire McNab who is Vice President of Press For Change, the transgender pressure group which praises the Government for,
As on domestic violence, I speak as a former trade union official who over the years has dealt with a number of cases of gender change and who has seen at first hand how that affects the individuals concerned, their families and friends and their work colleagues. Relatively speaking, there are few transsexual members of trade unions, but every member has a right to expect support and advice from his or her trade union official. After all, that is why they pay money to the union. I enjoyed assisting those members who decided to change their gendernot an easy choice. No one should underestimate the difficulties faced by people who take that decision.
Of the members with whom I worked each had experienced a mind-numbing period of self-doubt, often from a very early age. That was usually followed by worries about the inevitability of taking decisions, including medical decisions to change their gender, and particularly about how to begin to explain to the world at large why they had taken such a momentous step. All those with whom I worked changed their gender from men to women. When they took the decision to change, each faced varying degrees of prejudice, scorn and blatant discrimination. But a great deal depends on how the news is received by those with whom they work.
Somewhat to my surprise and pleasure the other workers were also supportive, the management having given the lead. Of course, there was some surprise expressed and a certain wariness and wondering about such a sudden change in their workmate. But there was not the prejudice or misunderstanding that I and the transsexual member had feared.
That story contrasts sharply with another case in which I helped a member a number of years later. In that case the management, to put it mildly, was outraged. They refused to assist the person, even threatening dismissal if the employee continued to change his gender. Because he was made to feel so uncomfortable and because he became so miserable at work, he chose to leave his workplace and to find a job elsewhere as a woman worker. He did not want the hassle and worry of challenging his employer.
I give those examples to show the importance of taking a positive approach to transsexuality, as the Government are doing in this Bill. Many of the benefits of the Bill will be highly practical; for example, the issue of a new birth certificate will mean that the holder will not have to reveal that he or she is a transsexual, thus keeping private something that is highly personal.
As has been indicated by speeches already, as in all Bills there will be issuesvalid and important onesthat we shall need to consider in more detail in the future. But I believe that that is the strength of this House. We can and we do work together to improve Bills and I am sure that this Bill will be no exception. I am also sure that as we deliberate we shall improve the Bill and so improve the law for a group of people who have waited for this legislation for far too long.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen. I agree with every word that she has said about the Bill. I commend the Government for introducing it. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for taking much trouble to consult those whom he knew had an interest in the subject and who may have a contribution to make.
Getting on for 20 years ago, as a fairly young Member of another place, I was approached by a group of transsexual people who became Press For Change. I assisted them at the time when they formed Press For Change. I hope that others who speak in the debate, who may be less supportive of the Bill than I,
Not long after I first became interested in this matter and determined that it was a human rights problemI still regard it as suchI arranged a fringe meeting on it at the Liberal Party conference. At the time the issue was on the cusp; it was translating itself from being a freaks' issue to one of curiosity. I am delighted to say that it has moved well on from being a matter of curiosity to a matter of law and rights. I hope that others will take seriously the human rights aspect.
When I introduced this subject to the Liberal Party conferencenot for the first timemy then party leader, my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, was not well pleased with me. I recall that we attracted more publicity than his meaningful visit to a seaside telephone exchange or whatever he was doing that day. But those involved in the meeting were all glad that we were able to command a half page in the Daily Mail for the first time, highlighting some serious matters about trans-gender issues.
Subsequently, I was once fortunate enough to come fourth in the Private Members' ballot in another place. I introduced a Bill, much shorter than the present Bill, that sought to achieve the same aims. At that time the Labour Party, then in opposition, undertook when in government to bring forward legislation. It has been a long time coming, but I make no complaint about that because we are thankful that it has arrived. I pay tribute to Dr Lynne Jones MP who has played a significant part in assisting Press For Change and other interested parties on this issue and Glenda Jackson MP and others who have been prepared to put their heads above the parapet on what has sometimes been an uncomfortable matter.
I say to those who feel uncomfortable about this proposed legislation that we are talking about a rights issue and a medical issue. When I started my involvement in these matters people used to ask me whether it was a psychological matter, a somatic matter, a psychosomatic matter or something else, as if one could pigeon-hole gender dysphoria as akin to measles (a physical illness) on the one hand or schizophrenia (a mental illness) on the other hand. After 20 years of research into this matter and a huge amount of reading, one cannot pigeon-hole this condition in any particular way. It is a whole person, whole body condition.
I say with great respect to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester that the issue is sometimes the result of honest mistakes by medical practitionersand we shall hear later from a very distinguished paediatrician. Sometimes the gender of a new-born baby is far from clear. Very occasionallyand every instance matterspeople have been certifiedmistakenly, as it turns outas being male or female, and the full truth of their true gender has only emerged after a number of years. If someone has been a girlfor examplefor nine years and in reality he is a boy, it is extremely difficult to change at that stage. Of course his parents, his school and society do
Some people have lived agonising lives until they have had the courage to address what may well have been inevitable issues throughout their lives. That is the kind of situation with which we are dealing.
A number of my friends and acquaintances have suffered from gender dysphoria. If I were to introduce noble Lords to many of them, they would not have a clue which were the men who had been registered at birth as girls or the women who had been registered at birth as boys. There is still a great deal of unjustified knee-jerk prejudice about the issue.
I further say to the right reverend Prelate that I recognise, as we all do in this House, his responsibility, let alone his right, to give us moral guidance. I certainly recognise his right to guide us on matters of Canon law, with which we are not concerned here, and I recognise his right to comment on matters of civil law, which we do recognise here, but we cannot in reality be choosy or picky about our international legal obligations.
Successive governments have recognised those international legal obligations. We may hear from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, in the debate. I respectfully remind the noble Lord, for whom I have a very great regard, that for several years he was a member of a government who repeatedly strengthened our international legal obligations, including our commitment to European Union law and European human rights law. I remind the House that the European Convention on Human Rights has been in existence since 1948the year in which I was bornand no governments have taken steps to remove us from it; indeed, quite the opposite.
Therefore, as regards the cases referred to by the right reverend Prelate, the reality is that they are part of our law, and we have to follow our law. They are as much part of our law as though they had been decided in the Chester Crown Court.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page