LGBT Action Plan: Gender Recognition - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 2:54 pm on 12 July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 2:54, 12 July 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to review the gender recognition process, and implement the other commitments set out in their LGBT Action Plan, published on 3 July.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I welcome wholeheartedly the Government’s LGBT Action Plan and I urge all noble Lords to consider contributing to the consultation. I will concentrate on just one aspect, which is gender. In that area, there are radical effects that go well beyond the LGBT community. The Government’s proposal to amend the Gender Recognition Act 2004 so that a wholehearted commitment to change gender should be enough and that we should do away with the current hurdles that have to be leapt are proposals that I entirely support—but, if we are moving to a world where it will become commonplace, if uncommon, for men to have babies and women to have penises, that is the end of the fiction of binary gender. I absolutely think that that is good for us all.

Of course, biological sex is mostly binary. There are distributions around the two modes and there are some people who are in between, but the pattern is pretty binary. Behavioural gender is not. There are not two genders, and nor are there many genders, as some people have contended. Gender cannot be counted or clearly defined. We can distinguish male typical expression and female typical expression, but there is an immense amount of crossover and interpenetration. The Telegraph said a couple of days ago, with reference to the Thai cave rescue, that the rescuers were demonstrating typical male virtues like courage—phooey. Courage as a male virtue? None of us men has ever given birth. Does that not take courage? It is a ridiculous idea that courage is a male virtue. No, these are human virtues. To some extent there is a distribution, but it is absolutely not something that can be separated into two genders, and we should not let ourselves be defined by labels.

Over the centuries, labelling people as men and women has led, particularly for women, to serious, crippling oppression, to limitation of their lives and to there being a whole list of things that women are not supposed to do because they are women. There is no good reason for it, and many of us have spent a chunk of our lives in this place fighting against it and trying to make it possible for more women to be engineers, more men to be primary teachers and things like that. The use of gender as a binary concept has done nothing but hinder us as individuals and as a society.

Gender is an obstacle to our self-expression and to equality. Who should care if men choose to wear pink dresses and make-up or if women climb trees and have hairy armpits? Why should any of us try to make people behave in ways that they choose not to when we are quite happy to let other people behave in exactly those ways merely because we assign them to a different gender? It is time that we took advantage of this liberalisation which the Government are looking at to free up the world for all of us. It is not that I expect things to change fast. On the odd hot day, I might choose to wear a dress. My goodness, a suit and tie in this place does not go very well. Besides, apart from the odd pink tie, we are not really allowed to be colourful these days—although I can show off the lining of my jacket. The restrictions that we put ourselves under because of gender are entirely unreasonable. I congratulate the Government on opening the challenge to that, and I hope that this is something that they will allow us all to take advantage of.

However, because it is such a radical change, it will have predictable problems. To pick an obvious one, there is women’s sport. We separate women’s sport because testosterone, in particular, has an effect on the development of the male body which means that males generally show greater strength and endurance—characteristics which allow them to perform better at sport. I think that that shows in the various world records for the two genders. If we are to allow someone whose body has been formed by testosterone to compete as a woman in women’s sport, that is a question which we must look at. Is that what we intend? Is that fair? Is that the way we want the world to be? We would be affecting an awful lot of women by allowing a few men to compete in women’s sport. Imagine the noble Lord, Lord Addington, coming down at you in women’s rugby. It would not be fun. We need to think through these things because we are opening the door to them.

There are lots of ways in which we reserve spaces for women: because they want to be naked in them, because they want to take refuge in them, because they want to perceive themselves as safe. I remember long campaigns in this place to make sure that we had sufficient single-sex NHS wards. We need to think how that will change. If we are not using gender—sex—as the discriminator, what will we do? Will we have people taking individual, risk-based decisions? If so, we need clear guidelines so that they can be confident in the decisions that they take.

We need to look at the practice. In some ways we are much better at his than the US. We need to look at the practice of allowing children’s bodies to be chemically and physically altered because of a perceived difference between their body and the gender that they perceive themselves to be. If we are getting ourselves to a position where gender does not matter any more, why are we considering allowing that to be done to children? Adults, yes, but why do we allow it for children? We need to look at that with great care.

So I hope that, in the course of this consultation, the Government will address these problems which they are—rightly—exacerbating and which will cause much pain if we do not address them. I wish them great courage—as an ungendered virtue—in that.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour 3:03, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests and particularly thank Stonewall, Mermaids and the United Kingdom Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group for their advice. It is a delight to follow the wonderful introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and I thank him for initiating this important debate. As he started to outline, it gives us an opportunity to address the dangerous vacuum created by the failure to bring forward earlier the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. Into this vacuum has crept myth, misrepresentation, hatred and the defamation of trans people, in particular trans women. It is therefore vital that, during consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, we move the debate back to facts and evidence.

I also unreservedly congratulate all those involved in the production of the action plan, in particular those rarely noticed: the civil servants. The action plan is based on the LGBT survey, which attracted more than 108,000 responses, making it the largest national LGBT survey in the world, but the survey shows that the fight for equality is far from over and in some areas—for example, the experience of hate crime—the progress made is being reversed. The survey paints a picture of a country where, despite almost legal equality for LGBT people, they still cannot be themselves. I say that in a personal capacity as a gay man.

Many face discrimination and live in fear of being harassed, outed or bullied. They are often unsafe on our streets and in their homes. In schools, they face bullying, misrepresentation and outing and feel marginalised in sex and relationship education. In that regard, faith schools should not be allowed to opt out of including LGBT in sex and relationship education. In the NHS, their physical and mental health needs are not properly serviced by the NHS or its practitioners.

The Government are justly proud of recent milestones, such as the same-sex marriage Act 2013, where a pivotal and dynamic role was played by the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, the Policing and Crime Act; and Turing’s law. We must also acknowledge the work undertaken from 1997 by Labour Governments—I do not say this in a partisan way—which helped transform this country into a much more equal and accepting place.

Above all, we must recognise that the rights that we enjoy today are because of the sacrifices of thousands of generations. Therefore, despite the plan, I believe that we can do more. The action programme needs to be better funded and the Government should address reform of the way LGBT asylum seekers are treated in the United Kingdom. Equally, they should commit to roll out PrEP to high-risk groups throughout England.

There is a danger that inequality could continue and that devolution will become the excuse for doing nothing. It is simply not good enough to allow parts of the United Kingdom to opt out from equality. Same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to an abortion are both denied in Northern Ireland. This cannot be right and must be urgently addressed. The provisions in the Policing and Crime Act to extend pardons and disregards of historic sexual offences must not be held up any longer. I look forward to my meeting with the Minister, but it is now 19 months and we are no further forward. All reforms are complicated, but I once again ask the Minister to produce a timetable to achieve these provisions and ensure that those affected can finally secure justice.

The Ministry of Defence must address posthumous pardons for historic homosexual offences. Professor Paul Johnson of York has supplied a comprehensive draft to the Ministry of Defence, but there is still no action.

On gender recognition, Stonewall and the Mermaids organisation remain concerned at the omission of any specific question relating to trans people under the age of 18 in the consultation document. Other key objectives for reform are: self-determination of legal gender identity, similar to systems successfully in place in Norway, Ireland and Argentina; legal recognition of non-binary identities; and the same processes for 16 and 17 year-olds, with access to recognition for under-16s with—I underline this— parental consent.

We must not forget older LGBT people, in particular when they need social or residential care. Of particular concern are those older gay and bisexual men who are HIV positive and may go into residential care homes. The stigmatisation and discrimination that they face has been well documented by the Terrence Higgins Trust, and it demands urgent action.

We need to ask ourselves why so many young homeless people are LGBT—often shunned by their families and friends when they come out, so the street becomes their final yet dangerous refuge. On this, too, we need urgent action.

Let me end on this. We must always remember that we as a society are only as equal as the least favoured or the least understood. We advance together or we do not advance at all.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 3:09, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating this important debate. It is a pleasure to follow, on this occasion, my noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, as we are friends and fellow allies on these issues.

It speaks volumes that in 2018 a plan is needed for equality on LGBT issues. While we have come a long way, there is still further to go, and we need to reflect that we need a plan if we are talking about full equality. I welcome the work that has been done, and I welcome what is in the plan but, as I say, we need to go further. Some issues are either ignored or scantily dealt with, and I want to deal with four of those.

The first is about outing. Outing is terrible. As a gay man myself, I understand that, because I was outed as a schoolboy, which nearly led me to commit suicide. It has huge consequences on the psychological well-being of individuals. What legal remedies will be taken against those who deliberately out somebody? It is the one thing that creates a whole domino effect that can have huge consequences, including the taking of life. It has to be looked at in a very different way. There are some laws around, but they are not strong enough.

The other issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, mentioned already, is equal marriage in Northern Ireland. You cannot devolve human rights. Human rights are indivisible, and they have to be upheld for every citizen of this country. The DUP cannot have it both ways. It cannot say that it is part of the union and then deny me and my husband the right to be married the moment we step off the plane in Belfast. The Government now have to address this. They cannot say that it is a matter of devolution when the institutions of devolution have been dysfunctional for 18 months. That needs to be addressed. What plans do the Government have? In particular, will they be supporting the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hayward?

The next issue is to do with funding. The plan, quite rightly, ascribes funding of £4.5 million between now and 2020. However, worryingly, it says that that £4.5 million will be spread between both government bodies and civil society. How much of that £4.5 million will go to government bodies? I hope that it will not be the majority; it should be minimal. The money needs to go to bodies in the third sector across the United Kingdom. Therefore, will the process for access to this money be light touch and simple, and particularly will it go across the regions of the UK rather than to the big organisations within London? It is not that I have a problem with the larger organisations in London, but many bodies across the UK are struggling and need financial support to implement some of the issues in the plan.

The final issue—the Minister would be surprised if I did not mention this—has to do with LGBT asylum. The report is scant in reality about what it wishes to do, yet the consequences of getting LGBT asylum claims wrong could be death. People are being deported back to places where they are in severe danger, and we must never forget that. There is an excellent report out today, which I am sure the Minister has not had time to read yet, by the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group called Still Falling Short. I ask the Minister to read that.

There are a number of issues. First, there is no consistency in the decision-making process. The rule of “reasonable likelihood” is not applied consistently and the bar is being set too high, so that people who are at risk, and are at reasonable likelihood of risk because of their sexuality or gender identification, have been sent home or denied the right to stay in safety. The other issue is that people do not apply immediately for asylum and are being refused. Someone who comes from a state where their sexuality is being used against them by the state are scared of outing themselves to the authorities because they think there will be consequences. That has to be looked at.

Finally, we have to think about the culture in the Home Office. One person in the report was denied because the Home Office said that they had not reasonably explained why they continued to practise Islam knowing full well that homosexually was not permitted in that religion. The culture and the way in which Home Office staff deal with these issues has to be addressed. Will the Government commit to an independent public audit of the standard of proof in asylum decision-making?

I hope that this plan is an action plan and is not just a plan with less action.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 3:15, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I join others who thanked the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing this debate, and for the interesting way in which he introduced it. I am not sure that Hansard will be able to pay due credit to the flourish with which he unveiled the colours behind his jacket, but I hope that some means will be found of expressing it. Without the props, which we are not really supposed to have, it would have lacked a little. It was an important contribution to the debate, and the noble Lord made some very sensible points. We should also thank others who have spoken, including my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, who dealt with their personal experiences and brought in their wider experience on this issue.

I want to focus on the references in the excellent report to non-binary people and to intersex, which is an area I have become interested in because I myself suffer from a condition called hypospadias. I have not often talked about it because it leaves strong psychological burdens which I struggle with, even today. Having got that out of the way, I did manage to set up a small charity which reached out to those in our society who have the hypospadias problem. It brought me into contact with other organisations mainly to do with hypospadias but also involved in campaigning around intersex and non-binary issues.

It came across strongly to me that the two main concerns were not just the recognition of gender identity, although that was mentioned very strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is a very important issue to which I want to come back. As he said, and others have mentioned in other debates, there is extraordinarily aggressive treatment meted out to young people and children who are too young to be aware of what is happening to them. There are those who have a vision about a society that is strongly bi-gendered—in other words, the male and female sides are easily identified both in terms of their physical look and subsequently in the way in which they are brought up. This is something that has to stop and I hope that, when the report is finally received, we can look forward to some legislation because it is a very important issue.

In working on my charity, and in helping those who suffer from hypospadias, I have come across areas where activity has been followed by legislation. I draw attention in particular to a recent law in Malta which deals with gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. It is a model that could be translated easily into British law, and I recommend it to the Minister as an issue that she might pick up when it is right to do so. The Maltese Act deals with and identifies gender expression and gender identity. It talks about gender marking and lived gender, which are all issues that those with problems of gender expression and sex segregation are familiar with. It is important to see these things in statute, and I recommend that to the Minister.

The Act also talks about sexual characteristics, often used as a test or diagnostic, leading to further medical treatment, which is appalling and must be stopped. It deals with the way in which everybody in Malta, perhaps since the passing of the Act, now has the right of recognition of their gender identity. By that it means a person’s internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of the body—of appearance, functions, medical, surgical or other means. These issues are so important, and it would be wonderful to see them in our own statute book.

The question of a change of gender identity is raised in the Act. Those who have concerns about how minors are treated are dealt with. Towards the end, it deals very importantly with the need to protect bodily integrity and physical autonomy, issues that I think have been left too long out of the scope of our legal processes. I just read this particular section:

“It shall be unlawful for medical practitioners or other professionals to conduct any sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of a minor which treatment and/or intervention can be deferred until the person to be treated can provide informed consent”.

This is such an important passage, which raises matters such as other interventions in children. It should be picked up and used in any future discussions in this area.

I would hope that the report that will be generated by the GEO, which I welcome, will improve the understanding that we all should have about the issues facing non-binary people and the issues facing people who are intersex. But that in itself will not be sufficient, and I call for action.

Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 3:20, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing this important debate to the Chamber and associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Scriven and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the interesting and informative contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.

I find myself in the position of welcoming the Government’s approach to this, particularly on self-identification. It shows that more understanding has finally come and that life and gender are not as simple as we used to assume—but it is still misunderstood. About 40-plus years ago when I was a student, I read the book Conundrum by Jan Morris—this was James Morris, who was a military man and adventurer. I had never come across or heard anything about trans before; reading this book as my first connection with this work gave me such a deep understanding that this is so fundamental and so real, but so misunderstood by the general population.

Then, some years later, I led for the Liberal Democrats on the Equality Bill. Vera Baird was the then Minister taking it through for the Labour Benches. In Committee, we had many arguments that are still used by judges today in court, because I argued against the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, which I felt misdescribed that protected characteristic. There is a spectrum, and gender reassignment somehow sounded as though you had to reassign your gender surgically or medically or actually do something. My argument at that point—there are copious words in Hansard—was that people feel very differently at different stages about their gender.

At the Stonewall hustings in 2010, I think, I was sitting on the panel. I was there early and there were two guys in front of me making jokes about trans women—it was the way it used to be, let us say; life has moved on since then. I was so upset and I had a go at them—I am not one to necessarily hold my punches. I was so incensed by the time the whole audience came in that I threw away my speech and lectured the whole of the Stonewall hustings audience on behaviour. I thought it was absolutely awful. Any of us who have been in minorities—even when we are a majority as women—should take note, in my view, of that poem by Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the Jews, and who is left to speak up for us?”. Eventually and wonderfully, Stonewall added trans to LGB and became LGBT. Its current CEO, Ruth Hunt, is doing an amazing job in supporting the trans community. She is outstanding and brave—she is trolled, and the vilification that goes on against trans people is now levelled at her for taking a stand.

The world is funny, because I became a Home Office Minister—who knew a Liberal Democrat could do that?—and Minister for Equalities. One of the first things I did was to produce the first transgender action plan in the whole world. I worked extensively with the community during that time. Although it was not implemented properly and we are now going to have a second one—which is why I welcome what is happening now—trans has, since then, become better known about. But it is still not really known about at a deep level; some of the programmes have been fantastic and some have been found wanting.

There are not enough services for those who need them and not enough understanding that, for those who pass in the other gender, they pass—you will never know what they originally were and what they are now. That is how it should be. The only thing I would take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on is men taking part in women’s sport; there are issues about toilets and changing rooms—and I am sorry that it has been so reductionist as to come down to that—for sport and for shelters. But those who transition are the other gender, and those who self-identify are the other gender. Those are details that need to be worked out.

I came to speak in this debate today because I am an uber-feminist. There are some feminists who have brought shame, I think, to the name of feminist by the level of hatred and vitriol that they have levelled at trans women. That is why I am standing here today. How little they understand this community. They should be welcoming and understanding to these new women. They should have humanity, kindness and inclusiveness in their souls. This fanatical assault is not feminism, it is false protectionism—mistaken protectionism. So to the faux feminists I say: regain your humanity and understanding. To be trans is challenging enough—with the sort of challenges that you have to go through to work in a world that has traditionally been totally binary and is now coming to grips with the fact that perhaps it is not the way we all thought it was. The attempted suicide rate should be indication enough that this is a community that needs our love and support. I am glad that we are going to try to do better.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector) 3:26, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his characteristically thoughtful and original introduction to this subject. He will perhaps accept from me my frustration that we have a very short debate and very short amount of time in which to begin to talk about one of the most significant pieces of data gathering in the world on this subject. I could, in my allotted time, simply talk about his comments about children and similarly those of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, because there is much in what they said that needs to be teased about and explained more fully. Sadly, we do not have time to do that today. I hope that the Minister will understand that there are many of us on all sides of the House who wish to be extremely helpful to the Government in bringing this plan to fruition. I hope that, because of this debate, we will not be precluded from debating and discussing all of this further.

As a Liberal Democrat, I am absolutely delighted to see this action plan and this research. Our party has been engaged in campaigning for over 50 years, and it is great to have the first large-scale evidence of many of the things that we have thought for years have been happening. This is a hugely important dataset, but let us be clear: it is not comparative data, and it is self-reported. The one thing I ask the Minister is: will the Government, as soon as possible, release as much of the data as is possible to do without in any way breaching the confidentiality of the respondents and share it with other academics and indeed even people working in the private sector who are perhaps to some extent a bit ahead of government on dealing with this issues? I fear that even the civil servants—although they have done a tremendous job and will continue to do so—will not be able to do full justice to this information.

The one thing that has struck me in this report is that, in my lifetime, public services such as the police and the Armed Forces have changed beyond all recognition, but the one public service that continues to fail the LGBT community is the NHS. Something I am very pleased to see come out of this report is a recognition that LGBT health is not just about gay men’s sexual health nor about gender identity; it is much broader than that. Across the piece, the NHS continues to provide our community with a lamentable service. We have research reports going back to 2005 or 2006, and in 2009 the NHS itself produced a wonderful report on how to deal with LGB patients. Yet it is the one service that everybody in our community has said, or has said in terms, continues to fail them.

I am interested to see that the Government have come up with the idea that there should be an LGBT adviser in the NHS. We have had them before, although perhaps not with as much high-level support as it comes with in this report. But I question whether one person can represent a community as diverse as ours, and whether one person can make some change in the NHS. What we require from the NHS is not another adviser but some people whose responsibility is to bring about fundamental change, and who, if the service remains as awful as it is, will end up losing their jobs. We are taxpayers and we have a right to a service which gives us as good health outcomes as anybody else, and we have been ignored for too long.

I will make one related point. One of the things that I was most pleased to see in the report was a commitment to try to end conversion therapy. There is an agreement across the board that that is wrong. It has been interesting to talk to some of the religious bodies and the professional therapy bodies about how they will try to do that. No mention at all is made of conversion therapy for children. Quite frankly, if it is bad for adults, it is harmful to children. Will the Minister talk about that?

On the mention of the issue of care and social care and that the Government want to work with other organisations to improve them, that is very welcome. I was responsible for the setting up of Opening Doors London, which recently had its first “Pride in Care” conference, trying to talk to hundreds of thousands of providers about the need to deal with the very genuine fears there are, particularly among older people, that if they ever become frail, the dignity and autonomy that they have built for themselves in their own life will not be recognised by the providers of formal care.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, raised some interesting points on the minority communities within our communities. He and I will continue to help the Minister, perhaps behind the scenes for a few months, by giving her some more detail about that.

My noble friend is right: the trans community is under a sustained and vicious attack at the moment. More than ever, the rest of us need to try to understand them better and to give them as much support as we possibly can as they weather a terrible storm of hate.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 3:32, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, very much for bringing this debate before us today and for his wonderful opening speech, which opened the debate much wider. If only we had a longer time to debate this—although I am sure that we will come back to it. I also thank noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have taken part, speaking of their experiences in this area. We welcome the Government’s LGBT Action Plan, and believe it will go a long way to creating a more just and equal society. What we have learned from such a great response to the consultation is that there is still much more to do. So, while we welcome the action plan, there are several points I would like to comment on.

It is good to see that the action plan will address domestic abuse of LGBT people, which is not often discussed or addressed. Statistics show that it can take many years before women who are victims of domestic abuse act against their abusers, and this would no doubt be the same for LGBT people. Raising awareness and having successful prosecutions should increase confidence in reporting. There needs to be an improvement in recording and monitoring for victims, and I hope this work will be regarded as of high importance, because now it is hidden away, as it used to be for women victims. I hope that progress on this can be made swiftly. Would the Minister agree that it is essential that appropriate training be given to professionals such as the police in dealing with such cases, and if legislation is needed, would that be included in the domestic abuse Bill?

The action plan says:

“We will convene a working group of employers to understand the experiences of LGBT staff in different sectors … The Government Equalities Office will work with employers to develop targeted interventions to improve the experience of LGBT people at work”.

I cannot understand why the GEO is convening a working group of only employers. Why will the GEO not engage with the TUC as well, so that both sides will be able to take part and get a better understanding of the issues, both from the employer and the employee point of view? If the Government are committed to improving the workplace, surely they must consult with employees via the TUC to get a fuller picture of what goes on in the workplace. If the aim is to ensure that the UK is the best place to work as an LGBT person, as stated in the action plan, surely the GEO should include the TUC.

The action plan says that the Government will bring forward proposals to end the practice of conversion therapy, which is to be welcomed. Of respondents, 5% said they had been offered conversion therapy but had not taken it up, and a further 2% said that they had undergone it. The survey found that of those organisations who offered conversion therapy, 51% were from faith organisations or groups. The action plan says that proposals will be brought forward to end the practice. How will this be achieved, and can any support be offered while proposals are being considered? Most people would agree that these activities are wrong. The Government have said that they will not willingly let them continue, and I agree with that. Will this be a priority in the action plan, and just how will they go about stopping such an awful practice? We would want to see legislation that brought forward a full ban on sexuality and gender identity conversion therapies.

The action plan also talks about consulting on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to see how the legal gender recognition process can be made less bureaucratic and intrusive. At that time, the Gender Recognition Act was regarded as a ground-breaking step for the rights of trans people but it is now recognised as being out of date. The Government announced that they would start a consultation on the Act in July 2017. We are pleased that they are now launching the consultation, albeit a year later; nevertheless, we welcome it and look forward to further discussion and proposals.

Does the Minister agree that the action plan the Government are working on should apply to the whole of the United Kingdom, so that all citizens are treated equally under the law, and that no part of the UK should be excluded? What work will be undertaken to consult the devolved nations to ensure that LGBT people can expect the same rights under the law wherever they live in the UK?

Although we welcome the action plan and are prepared to work with the Government to ensure that all the action points are addressed and implemented at the earliest opportunity, there are some concerns on which we would welcome further discussion, as the aim is to improve the lives of LGBT people and bring about a great change in our society.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 3:38, 12 July 2018

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for securing this debate and for the very positive way in which he introduced it. I look forward to the next hot day, when he arrives at your Lordships’ House in a dress. On a serious note, he posed a series of questions for us to think about for the future, and I found them very helpful.

We are proud to have introduced marriage for same-sex couples in 2013 and Turing’s law last year, finally pardoning men convicted of historical consensual sexual offences. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, mentioned again, as he should have done, the disregard scheme. We are meeting next week and I hope we can then put a timescale on it. I felt slightly ashamed when he mentioned the length of time that has gone by without it making much progress. We have also established a £3 million programme, running from 2016 to 2019, to prevent and tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools. Finally, we committed to consult on the Gender Recognition Act, making the process less intrusive and bureaucratic for trans people. However, we know that there is much more to do.

I turn, first, to the national LGBT survey and action plan. We launched the survey last year to gather more information about, and evidence of, the experiences of LGBT people in the UK so that we can focus on the specific areas that will improve their lives. The results were announced last week. As the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said, more than 108,000 people participated, making it the largest national survey of LGBT people in the world to date. I am glad to see that the findings received widespread coverage in the press and captured the attention of the nation in the last week, especially in the run-up to Pride in London last weekend.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, rightly pointed out that there is a rich source of data in this survey. As to when we will roll it out more widely, last week it was mentioned that the data gave us a burst of information about conversion therapy and how it was much more widespread than we had originally thought. She also mentioned conversion therapy in children. We have made an explicit statement that it is wrong. We plan to end it for adults and especially children. As we heard, the noble Baroness was at the event last week when we talked about conversion therapy. Some people say that they have been undergoing it all their lives, which is very sad. You cannot make someone be what they are not.

The survey focused on the experiences of LGBT people in the areas of safety, health, education and the workplace. Everyone has seen the headlines but I want to focus on a few points in the short time available to me.

More than two in three respondents said that they avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner in public spaces for fear of a negative reaction from others. An act as simple as holding the hand of a loved one should most certainly not be a source of fear. Seven in 10 respondents with a minority sexual orientation and more than two-thirds of trans respondents said that they avoided being open about being LGBT for fear of a negative reaction from others. No one, no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation, should have to hide who they are.

The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and others, made particular mention of trans people, who face the most horrendous treatment in society—even, it has to be openly said, from among their LGBT colleagues. That sort of treatment came out in the survey and I hope that, through the GRA, we will see some improvement in their lives. Two out of five respondents said that they had experienced a hate incident in the year preceding the survey, committed by someone they did not live with, and yet nine in 10 respondents said that they did not report it because, “It happens all the time”.

The noble Lord raised the question of PHSE in faith schools, as 3% of respondents said they had discussed sexual orientation and gender identity at school and that the process has been far from satisfactory. Young people should leave school prepared for life and without some of the problems that they have faced in schools—for example, teachers disclosing what children have told them. I totally get his point that PHSE needs to be age appropriate, but it should not preclude those discussions that children might want to have in school.

The noble Lord also talked about PrEP. We are funding a three-year trial on PrEP and how best to deliver it. Once it is completed, we will consider extending it further.

My noble friend Lord Lucas talked about fairness in sport. There is already an exception in the Equality Act which allows organisers of sporting competitions to discriminate on the ground of gender reassignment to allow the safety of competitors and fair competition. We will not be changing the Equality Act, as we have said time and time again. Sport UK and Sport England have issued helpful guidance on the fair inclusion of transgender people in sport.

My noble friend also mentioned the Gender Recognition Act and medical intervention for children. It is important to know that only adults over the age of 18 can commit to surgical intervention, and that is after a period of assessment. A limited number of adolescents are prescribed puberty blockers and fewer are prescribed cross-sex hormones. These are prescribed only by specialist gender identity units and so their use is few and far between.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, asked why the GRA consultation was ignoring young people, given that many know what their gender identity is and should not have to wait until the age of 18 to have it recognised in law. We are not ignoring young people—they can respond to the upcoming consultation. We will take their opinions into account and we will welcome responses from them. Whether children up to the age of 17 should be allowed legal gender recognition is a topic of debate and, similar to today’s discussion, we are approaching the topic with great care.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, told a very painful story about being outed as a young child. There is no legal remedy for outing at this time. I remember the 1980s, when public figures in particular were outed, and I do not we have such an environment any longer. However, whether they wish to come out is the decision of the person involved, and that should be respected. But I hope we are entering a period of cultural shift, in which people do not have to undergo the suicidal thoughts that the noble Lord did. I thank him for sharing that story with us.

My noble friend Lord Lucas talked about single-sex services such as women’s refuges, which has come up time and time again in the discussions I have had. Again, we do not intend to change the existing safeguards in the Equality Act that protect vulnerable women. It will continue to allow organisations to provide single-sex and separate-sex services, and, in circumstances, exclude people identifying as transgender provided that doing so can be convincingly demonstrated to be a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim. This, however, is a sensitive area, and I know we will have many discussions on it. We have issued very clear guidance to service providers on how to deal respectfully with transgender people. However, I have been told that transgender people are incredibly shy about sharing changing rooms, so what has stood well for 14 years is not about to change.

The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, made a valid point about LGBT homelessness. In our action plan we have committed to undertake a research project to understand more about the complex problem of LGBT homelessness. It is important that government takes action on the basis of good evidence. We do not have enough evidence about the nature and scale of the problem, which at the moment inhibits us from designing effective policies. However, I am sure we will all work together to look at this further.

One noble Lord—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Cashman—asked about devolution and same-sex marriage. It is a decision for the Northern Ireland Assembly but the Government, particularly the Prime Minister, have made clear that they would like to see it.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked how much of the £4.5 billion would go to government departments and what will be process. I am sorry, I just gave a terrible false hope for two seconds—it is £4.5 million. There will be more details on that as we come up to the autumn. He also asked about making decisions on asylum and I shall write to him on that, about an independent public audit.

In the short time I have left I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for talking about his condition and for sharing his personal experiences with the House. He asked about intersex people and children’s surgery. We have committed to a call for evidence about the issues faced by intersex people and will consider the issues that he raises in the design of that call for evidence.

I was not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, asked about LGBT people seeking asylum. The LGIG report to which he refers states that the treatment of people has improved, but I do not deny that we have further to go on this.

I am afraid I have run out of time but I think I have answered everyone’s questions. However, I wish to refer to a point made to me the other day. Some of the progress we have made on these issues has been made together. That is why, in the spirit of what the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said, I look forward to working with noble Lords from all sides of the House on progressing these issues—which are sometimes more difficult than they appear on first view—in the future.