I thank Nick Herbert for securing this important debate. We have had a very good discussion, with important and moving contributions from Members in all parts of the House. My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy paid tribute to activists around the world who have been murdered and talked about the leverage our country has in trade talks post Brexit. Mr Evans talked about gay football players, although I think the Football Association will have to change considerably before what he wants to happen does so. My hon. Friend Stephen Twigg talked about sustainable development goals and paid tribute to DFID and trade unions for the role they play in securing LGBT rights. Crispin Blunt gave a moving account of his lived experience of coming out.
Tragically, of those LGBT people killed in the Americas in 2013-14, 46% were trans women, and more than 2,000 trans gender and gender-diverse people were murdered in 65 countries between 2008 and 2015, according to the trans murder monitoring project. Although Labour has often led the way on LGBT+ rights, it is important, given that we are discussing the global situation and as Joanna Cherry has just said, that we in the UK get our own house in order. People fleeing persecution often end up on our shores. Therefore, how we treat people fleeing violence, persecution and death is vital in the battle for human rights.
Like the hon. and learned Lady, I was disappointed to read the article in The Guardian, which reported that deported gay Afghans were told to pretend to be straight. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said on the Floor of the House that it was her Government who changed the rules on asylum seekers who face persecution in their home of origin because of their identity. That is true, because the Supreme Court found in June 2010 that it was not lawful for the Home Office to apply a “reasonably tolerable test” to determine whether an individual could avoid the risk of future persecution by concealing their sexual identity in their country of origin.
Although the coalition Government welcomed that decision, this Government are still sending out letters such as this from the Home Office to a frightened LGBT+ person:
“You claim to have a well-founded fear of persecution in Bangladesh on the basis of your sexual orientation. I have considered your claim on behalf of the Secretary of State…
You have not shown that there are substantial grounds for believing that you face a real risk of suffering serious harm.”
The letter acknowledges that Bangladesh is a Muslim country where homosexuality is lawfully forbidden, but it ends—I am embarrassed and ashamed to read this out, given what has been said in the debate—with the following:
“It is considered that you do not have such a high profile in Bangladesh”.
I am stunned and shocked by that and do not know what it actually means in its entirety. Our asylum policy should be based not on whether someone has a high profile, money or anything else, but on the laws of our country being applied equally, fairly and compassionately.
“It would have been no defence to a claim that Anne Frank faced well-founded fear of persecution in 1942 to say that she was safe in a comfortable attic. Had she left the attic, a human activity she could reasonably be expected to enjoy, her Jewish identity would have led to her persecution. Refugee status cannot be denied by expecting a person to conceal aspects of identity or suppress behaviour the person should be allowed to express.”
This Government’s action puts them at odds with the United Nations guidelines on refugees and the 2012 UN “Born Free and Equal” report, whose five pillars are protect, prevent, repeal, prohibit and safeguard.
Despite positive developments in most countries, including ours, there remains a lack of comprehensive policies to address rights violations against LGBT+ and intersex people. There is a concern that cases that have already reached the appeal rights exhausted stage are not exhausted and need to be revisited. I hope that the Minister will address that issue when he gets to his feet.
On domestic politics, it is always necessary in these circumstances to talk about what a Labour Government would do on LGBT+ rights. Our manifesto said:
“A Labour government will reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect Trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’
to ‘gender identity’…
Labour will bring the law on LGBT hate crimes into line with hate crimes based on race and faith, by making them aggravated offences.
To tackle bullying of LGBT young people, Labour will ensure that all teachers” and health and social care workers
“receive initial and ongoing training”.
The hon. Member for Reigate will be interested to hear that a Labour Government
“will ensure that NHS England completes the trial programme to provide PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) as quickly as possible, and fully roll out the treatment to high-risk groups to help reduce HIV infection.”
Labour will also
“appoint dedicated global ambassadors for women’s rights, LGBT rights and religious freedom to fight discrimination and promote equality globally.”
“I acknowledge where we have been wrong on these issues in the past. There will justifiably be scepticism about the positions taken and votes cast down through the years by the Conservative Party, and by me”.
This has been a very conciliatory debate; I would like to help the Prime Minister and the Government to ease that scepticism. The Government now have a close working relationship with the Democratic Unionist party. When the Minister rises to his feet, will he make it clear to the House that he will help to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland? Human rights are important to all humans. Let us lead the way in the UK.