Questions on gender identity

Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 8:37 pm on 7th October 2019.

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“(1) Any question or questions asked about gender identity under the Census Act 1920 or the Census Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 must be framed so as to enable statistical information to be obtained about gender identity within different ethnic groups.

(2) The ethnic groups in subsection (1) must include Sikhs.” —(Preet Kaur Gill.)

This new clause would mean that if the census included a question on gender identity, it would have to be written in such a way as to provide information about gender identity in different ethnic groups.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to new clause 2, in line 6, at end insert “, Jains and Zoroastrians”.

Amendment (b) to new clause 2, in line 6, at end insert “and Kashmiris”.

New clause 3—Homeless people and questions on gender identity and sexual orientation—

“(1) The Secretary of State must make a statement to both Houses of Parliament on what steps the Office for National Statistics will take to ensure that people who are homeless have an opportunity to answer any questions about gender identity or sexual orientation under the Census Act 1920 or the Census Act (Northern Ireland) 1969.

(2) The statement in subsection (1) must be made within two months of the passing of this Act.

(3) In this section, “homeless” is defined as set out in section 175 of the Housing Act 1996.”

This new clause is intended to ensure that the Office for National Statistics takes steps to increase the participation of homeless people in the Census so that data on sexual orientation and gender identity includes information from people who are currently homeless.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

Sikhs are being discriminated against. This new clause tabled in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members would mean that if the census included a question on gender identity, it would have to be written in such a way as to provide information about gender identity in different ethnic groups.

Discrimination exists in different ways within different communities and the only way to successfully understand the outcomes and the reasons behind discrepancies as well as to provide services is to look at intersectional areas, including the breakdown of gender within different ethnic groups. At the national and local level, public bodies including schools, hospitals, police forces, local authorities and central Government Departments only use ethnic group categories specified in the census to collect data for public service planning and decision making. I want to make it clear that contrary to what the Government have stated, public bodies do not use the religion category to provide public services. That is an important point. In total, there are 40,000 public bodies across the country. This amendment will allow the underestimation of Sikh numbers and inadequate allocation of resources to Sikhs based on current census statistics to be overturned.

According to the Women and Equalities Committee, the quality and depth of data on ethnicity collected by Departments varies widely, which is hindering efforts to tackle racial discrimination in public services. As a result of not being monitored as an ethnic group, Sikhs of all genders are left out of the equation in policy decisions. The Government have stated that the option to tick “other” and write in Sikh as an ethnicity in the census is adequate, knowing full well that public bodies ignore the “other” option and that this will do nothing to counter discrimination against Sikhs in their own right.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Lady for tabling this new clause, and as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, in which the Sikhs are a stakeholder, I think that her point is very important. I support wholeheartedly what she says and I think that the Government need to be responsive to a changing society in which Sikhs are playing an important, crucial and critical role. I therefore urge the Government to support the new clause.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has taken on board the issue of ending discrimination, because that is exactly what this new clause does, and that he fully backs it. As legislators, we should uphold the law and given that Sikhs are already classed as an ethnicity in legislation, we should end this kind of discrimination—that is what we are here to do.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Independent, Ilford South

My hon. Friend knows that my name is among the six at the top of this new clause. She will know that the Sikh community is very concerned to have this level of recognition, and that there are many people who have been pressing for the resolution of this issue and for a box on the census that Sikhs can tick for many years. Does she not agree that it is time that this matter was dealt with seriously by the Government?

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and he is absolutely right. There has been cross-party support. This campaign commenced in 2001 and has had immense support in favour of addressing the discrimination Sikhs have faced in this country because of the fact that they are not counted and that, as a result, public bodies do not recognise that they need to provide services.

The relevance of the new clause and the importance of gender equality in the Sikh community date back to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, whose 550th birthday we are celebrating this year. He promoted fairness and gender equality and denounced discrimination of the sexes. My new clause would allow us, as parliamentarians, to do what we are elected do and to challenge inequalities and unfairness. It would enable us to understand the obstacles facing the Sikh community in greater detail and to ensure that every public body knows what it is supposed to be doing and what impact it is having.

For example, data obtained by Housing Justice showed that more than 5% of those experiencing homelessness in London who died outdoors in the last 12 months were male Sikhs. That is disproportionate compared with the Sikh population, which is only 1.5% of the population in London. In April, when I asked the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government what steps the Ministry was taking to determine how many homeless people are Sikh, I simply got a response explaining that it had no current plans to collect that information.

The former Prime Minister’s race disparity audit used 100 datasets across Government, but none included data on Sikhs. In discussions with Government representatives, it has become clear that the reason is that there was no such data. In the current situation, with the lack of data, we do not know the prevalence of injustice, but what we do know does not make for positive reading. In 2016, the UK Sikh survey reported that almost one in five British Sikhs had encountered discrimination in a public place over the previous year, and one in seven had directly experienced workplace discrimination.

The all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs has campaigned since before I was elected to make sure that comprehensive data on Sikhs is gathered to ensure positive outcomes for members of the community, and I am pleased to have submitted this new clause to continue that work. Accepting it would mean that policy making was better informed in situations where Sikhs have all too often been omitted or misrepresented in the past. For example, hate crime has been categorised as Islamophobia in the statistics, although, even with this misreporting, Sikhs still accounted for 2% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in 2017-18, despite making up less than 1% of the population.

As the first Sikh woman to become a British MP and as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for British Sikhs, I am fiercely proud of our community and believe that supporting a Sikh ethnic tick box would be a step by all Members in this House to show that we want to support the Sikh community and defend its members from discrimination and injustice. The Sikh community has been unable to understand why, given an opportunity, any hon. Member would be unwilling to change legislation to reflect case law on anti-discrimination and would wish to continue to reinforce discrimination against them.

The High Court has accepted a judicial review claim from the Sikh community, with a hearing in November. Agreeing to include a Sikh ethnic tick box in the census will mean the Government do not have to contest the claim, and gives a clear commitment to the Sikh community that they are committed to addressing inequalities and ensuring that public bodies are clear that no further discrimination should take place. I will continue to campaign for that, and I hope the Government will join us in righting this wrong today by accepting the new clause.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 8:45 pm, 7th October 2019

May I speak briefly to new clause 3, in the name of my hon. Friend Jon Trickett? It calls for the Minister and the Office for National Statistics to produce a report on the important issue of homelessness and particularly to ensure that people who are homeless have the opportunity to answer questions about gender identity and sexual orientation in the census. I was pleased to receive a letter from the Minister just this morning detailing exactly what was asked for in new clause 3. As such, it is not our intention to press it any further, and I am grateful to the Minister for his actions in that regard.

Let me turn now to new clause 2, which was moved so eloquently by my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill. As she said, it would further enhance the data gathered about minority ethnic groups in society and would help us to understand the discussion about creating a Sikh ethnic tick box. I had thought that this was a contentious proposal, but my hon. Friend’s eloquent and comprehensive contribution put that incorrect view firmly in its place. In fact, she tells me that as many as 80% to 85% of Sikhs have expressed a desire to have this tick box.

Photo of Eleanor Smith Eleanor Smith Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Why is the ONS ignoring the legal status of the Sikhs as an ethnic group and continuing to discriminate against them by refusing to include a tick box despite evidence of cross-party support?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

It is Labour’s hope that the ONS will listen to the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, and I will deal with that in a moment.

The campaign for an ethnic tick box turns on the recognition of Sikhs as an ethnic community by law, and many in the Sikh community feel that individuals should be able to identify as ethnically Sikh in the next census to ensure a more accurate picture of the community. The primary concern, as my hon. Friend stated, is that public bodies do not currently have enough information about Sikhs. I found the homelessness figures to be shocking and was unaware of the situation. More data would help inform the approach of the education, health, local government and business sectors towards the Sikh community. It is important to target services effectively, so data about such minority groups is vital because underreporting could allow discrimination to go unnoticed.

Labour fully supports the campaign by my hon. Friend and the all-party parliamentary group, which has been tireless and persuasive in pressing for a change so that the census includes a section on ethnic identity, with an option to choose being a Sikh. Indeed, to respond to my hon. Friend Eleanor Smith, I believe that there is not only legal precedent in this matter, but a pending court case that will seek a judicial review of the ONS’s decision.

However, in conversations with the Minister outside the Chamber, he convinced me that this particular Bill might not be the appropriate vehicle for that matter to be addressed, so I ask him to address that concern in his contribution. I understand that today’s Bill is concerned only with the section of the census relating to sexuality and gender identity. Will the Minister explain how the way in which new clause 2 is worded may cause difficulty for that section? Will he also address the view presented by the ONS that questions on gender, identity and sexual orientation may not be included if new clause 2 is passed at this stage?

I hope that ONS listens carefully to the campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, because the discussions around having a Sikh tick box within the overall question on ethnicity may have been going on for 20 years and will not go away anytime soon. The sooner we can resolve the matter to the satisfaction of the Sikh community, the sooner we can get things right.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I thank the Members who have contributed to the debate. Christian Matheson said that he would not press Labour’s new clause 3. I am glad that the Labour Front-Bench team found the letter of interest and that it answered their concerns. From conversations with the ONS, I know that it is keen to ensure that everyone is counted in terms of the homeless community, that outreach work is done and that special measures are put in place to try to ensure as many people as possible fill in the census form. The Labour Front Bench raised the particular issue of those in the LGBT community who may be affected by homelessness in a different way and have a fear of it that differs from the rest of the community. A very worthwhile issue was brought up. I was therefore only too happy to send the letter, rather than wait until tonight. A copy of that letter has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses if Members want to consult the Government’s comments.

Turning to the substance of the debate, new clause 2 was passionately moved by Preet Kaur Gill and it confirms the importance of ensuring that the 2021 census provides detailed information on our society, and especially the Sikh community. The Government will be guided by the advice and recommendations of the Office for National Statistics, which has advised that the new clause’s effect can be achieved through analysis of information collected under its existing proposals for the 2021 census.

Most importantly, the new clause is potentially damaging to the integrity of the census and threatens the inclusion of a question on gender identity, which would be counter to the whole aim of this Bill. For clarity, the new clause would not make any changes to the proposals for a question on sexual orientation; it would make changes only to the question on gender identity. Under the ONS’s existing proposals for the 2021 census, it will already be possible to produce statistical information about gender identity within different ethnic and religious groups.

As in previous censuses, there will continue to be separate questions on ethnicity and religion, and the data from the ethnicity, religion and gender identity questions can be analysed to provide detailed information on gender identity across different cross-sections of the population.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Independent, Ilford South

From what the Minister says, I am unclear on whether it will be possible for Sikhs to tick a specific box on the 2021 census. Can the Minister please clarify?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I am happy to clarify that there will be a tick box for Sikhs under the religion section but not under ethnicity. There have been 55 requests for particular tick boxes on the census that the ONS is not recommending, and having a Sikh tick box under ethnicity is one of those that the ONS is not recommending.[This section has been corrected on 14 October 2019, column 2MC — read correction]

As I said, the Government will be guided by the ONS’s recommendations on what the census should include. Of course, Members can discuss the issue more fully when Parliament considers the main census orders that set the questions, but the Government will be guided by the ONS’s recommendations in this area.

Anyone who wishes to identify in the 2021 census as having Sikh or Kashmiri ethnicity, or Jain or Zoroastrian religion, will be able to do so under the existing proposals using the write-in option or the new “search as you type” facility.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

Will the Minister meet me to discuss this? I have had numerous meetings with the ONS, which has not been able to explain how it will use the tools because they have never been used before. This conversation has been had on many occasions. I know he refers to religion, but we are talking about how we deliver public services in the United Kingdom. We do not use the religion category. I challenged the ONS and asked it to make that category mandatory. It said there was no public acceptability in respect of that.

What I am requesting from the Minister is some challenge back to the ONS. If there is no data on Sikhs, especially when the Cabinet Office has looked at a hundred datasets across Government, surely we should present some challenge back. In the last census 90% of Sikhs—83,000 Sikhs—ticked “other” and wrote in “Sikh” as a protest vote. I would like to feel assured that he will present some challenge back, especially given that, as legislators, we should be upholding the law and Sikhs are classified as an ethnic group.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to have a more in-depth conversation about this issue, and I will make sure that ONS representatives are also present so that she can put her point directly to them.

I make it clear that the census is about data collection, and it is a criminal offence for a person not to respond to the overall census, but it is right that the questions are seen as having been professionally recommended for data collection purposes, rather than a Minister personally choosing the questions and tick boxes that are included.

Today’s debate is about the questions on these two issues being voluntary, rather than coming through schedule 6, which would make them compulsory. For reasons with which many of us will agree, this is a very sensitive area of data.

Given that these analytical possibilities already exist, we believe there are no grounds for this new clause, which is potentially damaging to the integrity of the census. It would require changes to questions that have been extensively researched, tested and consulted on by the ONS in its independent advisory capacity over the three years of evidence gathering to inform the proposals for the 2021 census. It would also serve to introduce the risk of confusion and concern for individuals completing the gender identity question. My early discussions with the ONS indicated that, as was referred to by the shadow Minister, it would be likely to recommend that this question was not included in census 2021 if this new clause were passed, given the changes it would make to that question.

Again, to be clear, this Bill simply provides for any questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to be voluntary in the next census. That allows information essential for the effective planning and delivery of services to be collected, while protecting people’s privacy should they not wish to disclose what they may see as very personal information. The ONS consultations have identified a real user need for data on gender identity, and currently no official sources of data are available on this issue. It is therefore paramount that this information is obtained without the addition of confusion or complexity. To miss this once-in-a-decade chance would mean that the next chance to collect this type of information would be in the 2031 census.

Complexity or confusion lowers the quality of the data in any census question, but for a deeply personal aspect of the census the effect is likely to be greater, and that is especially true here as respondents’ reactions to these amendments are untested. I know it is not the hon. Lady’s intention to undermine the integrity and quality of this vital data collection, and that she wishes to stand up strongly for the community she wants to represent in this place. I therefore hope she will agree to withdraw her new clause.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 9:00 pm, 7th October 2019

I thank the Minister for his comments. It is worrying to hear him say that the ONS would think about pulling this whole section if this proposal went through, because, as the ONS will know, disaggregating data is very important and we know that there are a lot of issues to address on the data on gender and especially on ethnic minority groups. I am grateful to him for offering a meeting to discuss this further. As elected legislators in this House, it is our duty to challenge all public bodies, especially when they are not working to ensure that communities that have not been counted are. There is a real need here, because the ONS has said time and again that it accepts, recognises and understands there is a demand to have a Sikh ethnic tick box. Despite that it is not prepared to do this. All we are asking for is the option of a Sikh ethnic tick box, which is very doable. We all know that when the census order comes to this House it will be very difficult to make any amendments at that time. So any work that needs to be done needs to be done between now and the laying of that order. Once again, I thank the Minister. I would not wish to jeopardise this section on the basis of what I am pursuing, but I will persist and I am grateful to him for offering a meeting. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

As indicated on the Order Paper, Mr Speaker has certified that clause 1 relates exclusively to England and Wales and is within devolved legislative competence. As the Bill has not been amended during Committee, there is no change to that certification.

The appropriate consent motion has been tabled. Does the Minister intend to move it?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I beg the Whip’s pardon; this sort of yo-yo-type procedure can be a little confusing. In order to avoid confusion, I remind hon. Members that, if there is a Division, only Members representing constituencies in England and Wales may vote on the consent motion for England and Wales.

Resolved,

That the Committee consents to the following certified Clause of the Census (Return Particulars and Removal of Penalties) Bill [Lords]—

Clauses certified under Standing Order No. 83J as relating exclusively to England and Wales and being within devolved legislative competence

Clause 1 of the Bill (Bill 412).—(Kevin Foster.)

Question agreed to.

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.

Third Reading

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 9:07 pm, 7th October 2019

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I am grateful for the support for the Bill, especially from the main Opposition parties, with which, as I touched on earlier, we have had some constructive discussions, not only on the Bill but on how the census can be taken forward to be the best it can be.

The 2021 census will provide decision makers and citizens with comprehensive data on our society. Getting the best information is essential to inform policy, planning and funding decisions across national and local public services. The Bill is simple: it provides that two questions —on sexual orientation and gender identity—could be asked in the census in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, on a voluntary basis. It does not mandate that those questions should be asked, but it does give the opportunity for them to be done on a voluntary basis. With that, I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 9:08 pm, 7th October 2019

We learn something new about procedure every day in the House—and I say that having been here for four and a half years.

I return the Minister’s compliments. He has worked openly with me and my colleagues on this important piece of legislation, which represents a positive step forward for LGBT+ rights in the UK. The Opposition proudly support the Bill, building on a long Labour party legacy of defending minorities and fighting for equality. As the Minister says, it will provide for voluntary questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to be asked in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland censuses.

Consideration of the Bill has seen Members make welcome points about the recognition of minority and ethnic groups. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill for her continued and tireless promotion of the questions we have discussed about the inclusion of Sikhs in the census.

It is vital that the Bill is passed and that work begins promptly on consulting a wide range of stakeholders across the community. Particularly at a time when the LGBT+ community continues to face widespread abuse, the inclusion of the tick boxes in the census is significant both practically and in principle. I should like to pay tribute to the work of Dr Laurence Cooley, the Economic and Social Research Council research leader, and lecturer in the School of Government and Society at the University of Birmingham. His research, which was published by the London School of Economics, outlines the dangers of an under-count of the LGBT population and the detrimental impact that that could have on the fight for full LGBT equality. On Second Reading, I cited some of Dr Cooley’s work without giving him the necessary credit, simply because that was knocked out for some reason from one iteration of the speech to the next. I apologise to him, and thank him for the gracious way in which he let me know that I was citing his work. Academics earn their living by informing public policy and by producing research that informs other work, and I am pleased to pay tribute to him.

The Minister has kept my colleagues and me informed about progress ensuring the participation of homeless people in the census. I pay tribute to him again for the letter that he has sent the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my hon. Friend Jon Trickett, tonight, and which is going to put it in the House of Commons Library. Hopefully, we will meet staff and officials from the Office for National Statistics to discuss their work with charities and outreach programmes. We have seen reports that a record number of homeless people died last year—the biggest increase in deaths since reporting began.

LGBT+ homeless people warrant particular attention in this discussion, not least given the shocking statistic that up to 24% of the youth homeless population are from the LGBT+ community. Clearly, we are far from solving the issue of LGBT+ discrimination, but I hope that measures included in the Bill will give us the statistics and therefore the tools to help us solve that.

We still have a long way to go. The abuse suffered by LGBT individuals across society is shocking. Indeed, any abuse is shocking, but I hope that as the Bill becomes law and we prepare for the census we will be able to reflect better the society that we seek to represent, and that the mirror that we hold up gives us an accurate representation. I support Third Reading of the Bill.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I pause in case anyone has an inspirational contribution to make. [Interruption.] No.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed without amendment.