LGBT Action Plan: Gender Recognition - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:26 pm on 12 July 2018.

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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.