In July last year the Government launched a national survey asking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people about their experiences of living in the UK. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Justine Greening for beginning that process. I am pleased that the Government are today publishing the findings of the survey, alongside an LGBT action plan that sets out their policy in response to those results.
The survey received more than 108,000 responses, which makes it the largest national survey of LGBT people conducted in the world to date. Responses covered a range of issues, including safety, health, education, and the experience of being LGBT in the UK. The findings will serve as crucial additional evidence on which we can build. While there are many positives to take from the findings, they also show that there is much more to do before we achieve equality for LGBT people in the UK. For me, one of the saddest statistics was that two thirds of respondents felt unable to hold their partner’s hand in public.
The LGBT action plan consists of 75 actions that the Government will take to address the survey’s findings. They include the appointment of a national LGBT health adviser in the NHS to tackle the health inequalities that LGBT people face, the extension of our existing anti-homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying programme, and a commitment to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK.
I want this plan to be delivered by the end of this Parliament, and funding beyond 2019-20 will be agreed through the spending review process. The documents the Government are publishing today represent a significant milestone in the Government’s commitment to building a country that works for everyone irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I thank the Minister for her answer to the urgent question. The Government’s action plan is a welcome first step. Although I would like to have seen more action, the action that it does contain is welcome. It is built on the foundations of the Labour party manifesto—I am grateful for that. I am more than happy for the Government to appropriate Labour’s ideas and policies because the more we can work cross-party, the better legislation will be. The Government would get a quick win on legislation if they were to implement Lord Cashman’s amendment to the Policing and Crime Act 2017.
I want the Government to be successful in this and to move the LGBT+ agenda forward. The “+” is important as many groups are not included and the “+” symbolises the fact that they are included when we talk about the subject, especially in this place. Paragraph three of the executive summary refers to the “bold action” that this Government are taking
“both at home and abroad.”
The lack of action on the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 created a hostile environment for trans people, so I hope that the Minister will say something that will move that forward.
We would also like to know the Government’s plans as chair of the Commonwealth. The Government now have a global platform from which to promote LGBT rights both here and abroad. Bold actions also require a stable Government and a stable Government Equalities Office. Since 2010 the current GEO has moved offices on at least four occasions and has had six different Ministers, and, shockingly, the Department’s funding has been almost halved. This type of upheaval is not conducive to a stable way of working for the equalities agenda.
Like the Government, Labour want to create an environment across the globe where people can be their true authentic selves at work, at home and publicly, and where they are not discriminated against because of who they are, who they love or how they look. I look forward to the Pride marches on Saturday and Sunday. I hope to see the Minister and her team there, and I look forward to challenging them with a #FlosswithPride dance-off.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s welcome of the action plan. We want to do this well and implement the action plan well at local level as well as national level, and I hope all Members on both sides of the House will help us to do that. We also want to send a clear message that this is what we want for the UK, that we need to stamp out homophobia and bigotry wherever it exists, and that we want everyone in society to be able to love who they love and be able to hold hands in public. We need that culture shift; that still needs to happen. We have come a long way but there is still much more to do. So I thank the hon. Lady for her comments.
The hon. Lady mentioned other groups covered by the “+”. They are addressed in the action plan; there are actions that will support them too, but more specifically we will also be making funding available to those groups because they need to be included in the work that is going on at national and local level. So funding will be available to groups specifically looking at those individuals. We are also setting up a new national panel that will have representatives from those groups in it, so they will be able to feed into future policy. That will be very helpful.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Gender Recognition Act consultation. We are launching that today—this afternoon. It will be launched by the Prime Minister and a written statement will be tabled to coincide with that launch. This is an incredibly important piece of work and it must be conducted as a national conversation as well as a consultation, and it must be conducted in a framework of empathy, focusing on facts, not myths, and being very practical. I hope that my speech today and the Prime Minister’s words this afternoon set that tone.
The hon. Lady mentioned our international work. There are some commitments in the action plan specifically to promote LGBT+ rights in the rest of the world. The Prime Minister took a lead on this at her key address at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit. She spoke at length about the need to promote LGBT rights across the Commonwealth. In addition to my work at the GEO, with my other hat on as International Development Secretary, we are doing a lot of work to support civil society and talk to national Governments about their policies and procedures.
The hon. Lady mentioned funding. I must apologise to her about the confusion as there is a smorgasbord of Departments that report on the GEO’s budget, but our budget has actually gone up: with the programme budget it is close to £15 million. At my appearance at the Select Committee I confirmed that I would clarify those numbers; our funding has gone up.
It is London Pride this weekend and I will be there. Over the summer there will be many other Pride events going on around the country. I feel that as the hon. Lady has thrown down the gauntlet on the dance-off, I will see her there.
It is perfect timing to launch the action plan and survey results in advance of London Pride this weekend. It shows that while this country has come a very long way—I am very proud of the fact that it was our Government who brought forward legislation on same-sex marriage—there is still a very long way to go. My right hon. Friend mentioned one of the most shocking statistics, but another is that 70% of respondents still felt that they could not be open about their sexuality or relationship because they were worried about a negative reaction. I know how that feels as I have been part of that 70% in the past, so may I simply welcome my right hon. Friend’s action plan and say that this matters because people can only be at their best when they can be themselves?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments and for giving us the opportunity to do this. It is our action plan, and I mean that for every Member of this House. There are some good policies in there that, if implemented, as I hope they all will be by the end of this Parliament, will transform the lives of LGBT people. It is not just about the culture; it is also about the practical access to services that meet their needs. It is an important piece of work and my right hon. Friend should be very proud of her role in it.
I, too, welcome the plan and the various aspects of it, particularly the health adviser and the plans to ban gay conversion therapy. I also welcome Vicky Beeching’s book, which I assume has advised much of this; she has spoken very openly and very bravely and was a great support to me personally before I came out.
On the plans for education, the right hon. Lady will know that a lot of this has been done in Scotland already. I put on record our thanks to the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, which I hope the right hon. Lady will also welcome as it has its third anniversary. She has shown a willingness to work with the Scottish Government, and we are proud that Scotland is one of the most inclusive and progressive countries in LGBT+ rights in the world, but will she talk about the plans to work with Scotland and the other devolved nations, because equality is important for all countries in the UK? Will she meet me to discuss this, and, as we approach many Pride celebrations across the UK, will she agree that they are vital and that it is fantastic to see such huge celebrations?
However, there are still many corners of the UK, as this survey suggests, where LGBT+ people cannot be open. There are now Pride celebrations—such as mine in West Lothian, which is now in its fourth year—in small communities. Will the right hon. Lady look at creating a map of LGBT+ progressiveness across the UK, and address what support can be given to those small and rural communities where LGBT+ issues are still very much at the fore?
I also pay tribute to the individual and the organisation that the hon. Lady referred to. She is absolutely right. In my remarks this morning at the launch of the action plan, I spoke about equality in all four nations of the United Kingdom. Clearly, some of the services that we are talking about, such as healthcare, are devolved, and rightly so. The Secretary of State for Scotland was present at the launch with me, and one of the strengths of having a four-nation healthcare system is that we learn from each other and share good ideas while providing the service that is best tailored for people in their particular locality. And of course I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady.
I thank the Minister for informing me of her intention to publish the plan today, and for the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I join her in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend Justine Greening, who did so much to commission the research relating to the launch today and who has put these building blocks in place. The Women and Equalities Committee looks forward to working with the Minister to ensure that these plans really do address the issues that LGBT people face in the UK, and to receiving the annual reports that she has described. Education has a pivotal role to play in dealing with the cultural issues and the cultural change that we need to see if we are to deliver her plan. Will she update the House on the progress that the Government have made on delivering statutory sex and relationships education, which is now in law? She also talked about the Prime Minister’s plan to launch the Gender Recognition Act consultation this afternoon. Will she say a bit more about how she intends to deal with the unacceptable anti-trans hostility that has filled the vacuum of policy, which, I have to say, has come about over the past two years as a result of a great deal of change in the people holding her role?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments. I also thank her in her role as the Chair of the Select Committee for the work that the Committee has done on a range of issues to help to move this forward. It is absolutely right that the starting point for all this needs to be in our schools. We have made commitments to relationships education at primary school level and to sex and relationships education at secondary school level. The work in the action plan will be funded by the Government Equalities Office, and we are in discussions regarding the spending review in relation to future work, but the Departments responsible for these commitments are committed to them. We will be able to be held to account for that, and I am sure that her Committee will do that as well.
My right hon. Friend also made a point about the bigotry and abuse that has been directed towards the trans community. It is vital, with the launch of the Gender Recognition Act consultation, that we put some of the myths to bed, because there has been a huge amount of misinformation. I believe that once people understand our proposals and the conversation we are having about how we can best support individuals and enable the process to best support them, how we can educate services and communities to best support them and how we can reassure others, we will then have a sensible, quality consultation and national conversation. Where we see bigotry—and some of the practices that have been taking place on social media and elsewhere—we must all call it out for what it is.
Does the Minister agree that, while we have made great progress in ensuring that rights are equal in law, we have a lot more to do to ensure that they are equal in practice? Does she also agree that we are now experiencing something of a backlash, of which the LGBT community—and particularly the trans community—are at the forefront? Will she say a bit more about how she and her Department plan to tackle this? As she said, if LGBT+ people are still frightened of holding hands in public because of the likely reaction, we still have a lot of work to do.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Ultimately, what will enable someone to hold their partner’s hand as they walk down the street is not a piece of legislation but a culture change in this nation. As I have said before, back in the 1980s—before many of us were in politics—we saw the homophobia that gay men, for example, faced at the time. I am sure we all agree that if we had been in politics at that time, we would have called that out and stood up for those individuals. That same scenario is happening now to the trans community, and we must show our absolute unwavering solidarity with those individuals. As I said in my speech this morning, trans women are women and trans men are men. That is the starting point for the GRA consultation, and it will be its finishing point too. We need to send out a strong message on that front, and I thank the hon. Lady for affording me the opportunity to do so.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what she has just said about trans issues and on the action plan, which is welcome and comprehensive. I particularly congratulate her on the measures to ensure that Government support will be given through our diplomatic missions and through the Department for International Development to LGBT organisations on the ground worldwide. Will she say more about the Government’s bid for the chairmanship of the Equal Rights Coalition, which is mentioned in the action plan? That would be very welcome, as it would be a statement of the UK’s strong support for LGBT rights globally.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that suggestion. I am in complete agreement with him. In my time in this place, I have seen the effect of whichever party has been in government advancing the rights of LGBT people on other nations around the world. We now have a huge opportunity with our chairing of the Commonwealth, and there are many other opportunities coming up. I agree with him wholeheartedly on this.
We have come a long way since my Conservative opponent in 1997 described me as a sterile, disease-ridden homosexual who would put my constituents’ children at risk. I warmly welcome the right hon. Lady’s announcements today. I thank her for the announcement on gay conversion therapy, and I ask her to thank the public health Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Brine, and the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman for the roles that they have played in helping to deliver this. On trans rights, though, will she talk to her Health colleagues about the horrendous waiting times, particularly for young people who are waiting to see a specialist and to have the counselling necessary to undergo eventual gender reassignment? They are waiting far too long at a time of great vulnerability, and many are at suicide risk. This is a critical period in their lives, and the waiting times are currently completely unacceptable.
I would like to add my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, and to others who have helped to get us where we are today. I made some detailed remarks about waiting times this morning, and about other issues relating to gender identity clinics. The Care Quality Commission is going to start inspecting those clinics, and there are many other things in the action plan that will help. The survey has given us a good understanding of the inadequacies of some services, and a good base for where we need to get to. We are determined to improve the situation.
Some of us have come quite a long way since 1997, and that also applies to the position of my party, of which I am now inordinately proud because of the 75 recommendations in the action plan and because of the way in which the survey has thrown up the prevalence of the trans issue. The number of trans people who took part in the survey clearly makes it entirely appropriate for us to make this issue a priority. Mr Speaker, I know that as president of the Kaleidoscope Trust you will be delighted with the balance of resources going into the Commonwealth and internationally from my right hon. Friend’s Department to enable our missions to directly support the groups and the very brave people who are fighting for the changes in their society that have been achieved over the past five or six decades here.
The hon. Gentleman understands me well, and I thank him for that gratuitous reference.
My hon. Friend makes some good points. At the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, I had the privilege of sitting down with activists from nations where citizens do not enjoy the same rights as our citizens. They are incredibly brave and must be supported, and I am conscious, in both my Government roles, that we have a duty to do that. If we want change, civil society in those countries must be kept strong.
I have married an awful lot of people in my time—[Laughter.] To one another. I have also entered a civil partnership myself. Indeed, it happened in your house, Mr Speaker. I therefore know how important a marriage or civil partnership is to the self-validation and self-respect that couples have in society. Will the Minister see off anybody who starts campaigning for the abolition of civil partnerships and instead extend them to heterosexual couples, so that everybody is treated equally under the law?
In addition, if the Bermudian Government appeal to the Privy Council to overturn the Bermudian Supreme Court’s decision to re-allow same-sex marriage in Bermuda, will the Minister also ensure that the Privy Council will say, “Get lost”?
Finally, will the Minister ensure that we have same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, or at least a free vote in this House on the matter?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his several questions. I am aware that I have a number of issues in my in-tray as Equalities Minister, civil partnerships and equal marriage in Northern Ireland being just two of them. We have private Members’ Bills before the House, and we must resolve the issues and I will examine what I can do to support that.
On civil partnerships, the hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that I have brought forward the opinion research commissioned by the Government Equalities Office that was to report in autumn next year to autumn this year—the end of the summer. We want to make good progress on all such issues.
As for Bermuda, I will ask the Foreign Office to write to the hon. Gentleman.
The message that that would send is hugely important, and I know that it is the message that all those missions and offices wish to send. However, we do have to leave it to the judgment of the people working in those countries, because I know from my experiences in the Department for International Development that we must bear in mind the safety of the people doing such work. I hope that as many buildings as possible will be flying the rainbow flag in the coming days and weeks.
I welcome not just the fact of the action plan, but the sentiment behind it and the Minister’s obvious commitment to the culture change that we all recognise is necessary. Home Office statistics from 2017 show that 70% of claims for asylum on the basis of sexuality were rejected, so will the Minister use her influence in Government to press for a change to end the deportation of asylum seekers to countries where they could face torture or even death due to their sexuality?
Contrary to some media reports, there are some specific actions in the action plan relating to asylum seekers. We want to ensure that the process of making an application and going through the system is tailored to LGBT people, whether or not that is the basis of their claim. We will want to work closely with the Home Office and with others involved in the process to ensure that they are delivering for LGBT people.
The survey that my right hon. Friend Justine Greening initiated has clearly proven to be a thorough and accurate review of the concerns of the LGBT+ community. May I suggest that the Minister commits to repeating the survey after an appropriate period to measure what will hopefully be progress in the identified areas of concern?
May I also take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to thank you for your leadership on this issue, in particular for your kindness in making facilities available in this place to the many charities, big and small, that do so much in this country to support LGBT people?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I also thank Mr Speaker for all that he does not only on this matter, but on many other equalities issues. My hon. Friend is right that, as well as enabling us to examine where public services and other things are failing LGBT people and to bring forward an action plan, the survey has given us a baseline to track what I hope will be considerable and swift progress.
I welcome the Minister’s answer to the urgent question and the launch of this action plan, and I recognise how far we have come in recent years. I also appreciate the Minister’s commitment to work with the Scottish Government, who have a good record on equality law. Will she consider the full devolution of equality law to Scotland so that the Scottish Government can get on with things in their own time? It is worth bearing in mind that the Scottish Government repealed section 28 several years before this Parliament.
I am a practical person, so I want to concentrate on the points in the action plan and on the other things that I can do to improve the lives of LGBT+ across the UK. As for other matters regarding other nations of the UK, Westminster has expressed a view that if devolved issues are not acted on, Westminster will act. I just want to point that out.
My right hon. Friend is highly consistent in his campaign. We have clearly had a ruling that we need to act on this inequality, but not specifying—[Interruption.]
That sounds like a threat! The right hon. Gentleman should not be beetling along the Bench when the Minister is answering. He is normally a most courteous fellow, but I think he has got carried away. I know that he will now listen with respectful attention and in all solemnity to the Minister.
If my right hon. Friend has a moment—[Laughter.] I will tell him that there are many reasons why people value civil partnerships; it was not just about the absence of the option of marriage. Some people do not want to get married, but they want to have a partnership with their partner. Other people who have been married and then bereaved may not want to remarry, but they may want to establish a civil partnership. People value civil partnerships for many reasons. I know that my right hon. Friend is very exercised about this matter, but I can reassure him that civil partnerships will not be compulsory.
I was shocked when, last year, a church in north Liverpool was exposed by former Liverpool Echo journalist Josh Parry as giving gay cure therapies, which are some of the most disturbing practices that could be imagined. I have raised such gay cure therapies with Ministers in the House. There had been some contradiction on those therapies before the report, and I hope the Minister will clear up some of those contradictions. The Home Office was initially dismissive, and the Department of Health and Social Care said no action would be taken. Will she clear up the contradictory advice that came from the Government before the report was published?
Furthermore, the report says:
“We are not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking legitimate…support from their faith leader”.
I push the Minister to give a commitment today that she will not leave LGBT people in faith communities behind when this action plan is implemented.
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman those reassurances. We are going to ban these abhorrent practices—with the most severe form involving corrective rape, some of these so-called therapies are appalling abuse—and we will consult on the best way to do that. It may involve legislation, but there will be other things we can do, too. We clearly need to work closely with healthcare.
Obviously, we do not want to close down completely legitimate and needed psychological support and other therapies that people might want to access as they explore their gender identity or their sexual orientation. Those are important supports for individuals, but wherever those other practices are found, including in religious settings, we will have no qualms about tackling them.
There is a lot to welcome in this action plan. I am alarmed by the statistic that two in three respondents feel they cannot hold their partner’s hand but, of course, 100% of people in same-sex relationships in Northern Ireland cannot get married. I welcome the funding and support for Commonwealth nations, but what practical support can the Minister offer people in Northern Ireland to make sure rights are advanced there, too?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which he makes very strongly. As I said, there is a private Member’s Bill option. That and other matters relating to Northern Ireland are receiving a great deal of my attention.
I welcome today’s announcement, which is a huge step forward. What support and practical help can this action plan deliver in the regions, especially to help trans communities like Not Alone, which works so hard in Plymouth for trans and non-binary people who sometimes feel they have been left out on a limb and are not getting the support they need? Can the Minister advise on what support can be pushed into the regions so that the focus is not just on big cities?
There are many things we can do. Clearly a lot of the services we are looking to reform are devolved, but the £4.5 million that my Department is making available is precisely for such groups. We will shortly be announcing how groups can apply for that funding, but it is vital that those groups are empowered at a local level to shape local services and ensure people get the support they need.
I very much welcome today’s action plan, and I look forward to reading the documentation on the reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The truth is that equality is never a job done; it is something for which we always have to strive. We would not be here today if there had not been marked progress in this area between 1997 and 2010.
In creating a debate on the Gender Recognition Act, which I agree has to happen—there is a lot in the Select Committee’s report that needs to be attended to—it must be recognised that we do not want a situation in which, in the protection of services, there is competition between the rights of the trans community and the rights for which women have fought so hard for many years. There is a way through this if people on all sides can debate it in an informed and discursive way that does not shut down conversations.
There has been abuse against the trans community, but there has also been a lot of abuse and insults against anyone who raises concerns about some of the implications. Some of it may need to be discussed, but people are genuinely worried about some of these things, and this debate should allow us to put it to bed and to make sure that we come out of it with something that is better for everybody.
The right hon. Lady puts it very well. The questions raised by women’s groups, for example, are completely legitimate. Sometimes people forget what we require of people who are changing their gender identity. We require them to live in their new gender for two years prior to changing their gender, so we are not catering for something new. The nation needs to have a calm, grown-up conversation, and this consultation affords us the chance to have it.
We want a good outcome. We want a less bureaucratic and more supportive process for those who are changing their gender identity, and we want those other people to be reassured. Both those sets of people have legitimate desires, and we need to come up with answers so that we have clarity on this issue and so that people can be assured of what is expected, of what is right and of how to treat people when they try to access services, and so forth.
That is how we need to conduct this debate, and I am confident that, having dispelled some of the myths, we will be able to have that debate and come up with a good outcome that suits everyone.
The Minister’s announcement today on the banning of so-called gay conversion therapies is obviously enormously welcome. As part of the process, as she looks to legislation or other processes with the Home Office, will she also try to ensure that such disgusting treatments do not go underground? Will she ensure that people are not able to access them in other countries? What representations is she making not just to Commonwealth countries but to countries across the world that these conversions are not needed, that they do not work and that there is no need for a cure for being gay?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. One of the additional benefits of this action plan is that it will be a catalyst for other nations to follow suit, as has happened with other groundbreaking LGBT legislation passed by this House over many years. I hope that will be the case, and clearly the more we can shine a spotlight on these practices, the more we can educate people who might be vulnerable to going through such appalling practices and the better and more resilient people will be.
Like others, I welcome the action plan. The weekend before last I was delighted to see that the British mission in New York had a float at Pride, and I am pleased to have taken part in Pride with the British mission over a number of years.
The survey says that 40% of LGBT+ people have experienced hate crime and that nine in 10 did not report those serious crimes. In Brighton and Hove we have an LGBT safety forum that, as a first stop, does much of the important work of reporting, particularly for trans people. This and other forums across the country have never received statutory funding, which is an absolute disgrace. How does this action plan look to support such community groups, which are often the first line of defence against violence and are often the ones dealing with the mess and picking up the pieces left behind?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I have mentioned the funding that we will make available to support those groups and forums, and we are putting in place the national panel, which will help Whitehall in its policy generation. As well as that practical support, the action plan gives us a good platform as we go into the spending review to really look at what good practice is out there and what we might need to do in future Budgets.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister and to all colleagues who have taken part in this set of exchanges.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answering a question from Chris Bryant, the Minister for Women and Equalities indicated that same-sex marriage is in her “in-tray.” The normal understanding of a Minister’s in-tray would be that action is about to follow. Given that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have repeatedly said that the issue is a matter for devolution to decide, I hope that at some very early stage, if not now, the Minister for Women and Equalities will return to the Dispatch Box to reconcile that oversight.
The Minister is indicating a desire to say something now, and I think the House is all agog.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am happy to clarify the position for the hon. Gentleman. The issue he refers to is in my in-tray. A huge number of letters are written to me every week on it, so that qualifies it as an issue in my tray. I am not bringing forward any legislation on this matter. On this and other issues that are for Northern Ireland and its people to decide, I have stood at this Dispatch Box and urged Members and Members of the Legislative Assembly to come together to represent the people who want answers to these questions. I also remind him that on equal marriage and on other matters there are private Members’ Bills in this place and the other place to address those concerns. If he wants, as I do, Northern Ireland to resolve these matters one way or the other, we must do everything we can to ensure that those political representatives are able to do that. This House has said that it wishes to resolve this issue and many others if Northern Ireland does not—that is the position. He has my assurance that I will not be bringing forward any measures to address this. The Northern Ireland Office is clearly leading on it, but these matters are in my in-tray because I have to respond to people in Northern Ireland who want action and want to be listened to.