Clause 1 - Payment of maternity allowance: Ministerial office

Part of Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 1st March 2021.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 5:30 pm, 1st March 2021

Let me briefly try to set the context in which these amendments are being considered. This is an issue that goes to trans and women’s rights. It is a year since I was elected as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT+ rights, which is the only LGBT rights APPG. While the title of the group is not meant to exclude the domestic LGBT rights agenda, it is a statement about where the focus should be, given our astonishing legal and societal progress for LGB people in the UK over the last two or so decades—progress of which I am a personal and fortunate beneficiary.

When I put it in the language of my first profession, the war on these issues had been won, and we were really in the business of rounding up the prisoners—tidying up. Much of that tidying related to the complexities generated by enabling trans people also to be able to enjoy the freedom to live their lives as they wished. The trans agenda understandably became the dominating issue for the British LGBT rights lobby in our civil society. By 2018, with the publication of the LGBT action plan and the consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the direction of travel looked set fair for trans people to be able to enjoy those rights and live their lives as they wished.

However, to say that there has been a change of climate for trans people since my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who is guiding this Bill through the House, lost her responsibilities for equalities is something of an understatement. There is going to be no change to the Gender Recognition Act; self-identification, which is the global gold standard for rights in this area, is going to have to wait; and gender identity services, now acknowledged to be grossly underfunded, with enormous demand on them, are now under well-funded legal assault as well.

We currently face a situation where trans people feel under a full-on attack, yet if one listened to their lordships who were making the case for this amendment, one would have thought it was the other way round. The proponent of these amendments said in the other place:

“We are currently faced with a full-on attack on women’s sex- based rights—a misogynistic and bullying campaign which seeks to diminish women’s rights in the name of the rights of trans people.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 February 2021; Vol. 810, c. 962.]

I want to gently suggest that my noble Friend Lord Lucas turn the board around and see what the perspective is from the other side. The context is wild and exaggerated threats about the position of women’s rights from trans people. For example, his colleague in the other place, the noble Baroness Fox of Buckley, said:

“What is a threat to women is a particular brand of trans identity ideology. That does threaten women, but that is not the same as trans people.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 February 2021; Vol. 810, c. 945.]

I look forward to hearing the explanation of that, because what trans people are seeing is The Times newspaper —the newspaper of record in the United Kingdom—carrying 250 stories of this kind, generally without satisfactory supporting evidence.

We have this amendment in a Bill that deals with the maternity leave arrangements of one woman who happens to be the Attorney General. A debate in this House and the other place suddenly came out of nowhere, generating the most extraordinary amount of interest and passion for an entirely technical correction of an anomaly in ministerial maternity leave arrangements. Sitting behind the passion engaged on this are agendas, which are in public for those who are taking an interest—principally the trans community—of the Heritage Foundation and the LGB Alliance, which, if one examines its followers on Twitter, does not seem to have a huge wider interest in the subject of LGBT rights. They are hearing an agenda being used, which we heard only yesterday from Donald Trump in his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, exploiting the issue of a potential threat to women’s sports, which need to be rescued from this threat. We know that, under the Equality Act 2010 in the United Kingdom, it is for sports administrators to make reasonable decisions to protect the integrity of their sports. These threats, in reality, do not exist.

What I want to say to trans people and their supporters is that today is not the ground on which we should stand. An innocuous sounding amendment in a tiny, technical Bill aimed at resolving the Attorney General’s maternity leave is not the place to have the fight around the principle. But there is a principle engaged here about gender-neutral language, and we have work to do to make it clear that trans rights do not come at the expense of women’s rights. We can perfectly well have both. Women’s rights must be protected, and reasonable provision must be made to protect women from threats that are real and evident. In reality, trans women pose no threat to women, but we do have those issues to address.

I therefore support the Government in accommodating this amendment, which has, to a degree, been forced upon them. But this necessary compromise must not undermine the position of the Government and what I believe to be the decent, caring majority in both Houses of Parliament who want to see trans rights properly established.