LGBT Action Plan: Gender Recognition - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 12th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat 3:09 pm, 12th 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.