Moved by Lord Blencathra
97ZA: After Clause 164, insert the following new Clause—“Sex-specific incarceration for offenders(1) Where a person who has undergone gender reassignment is serving a custodial sentence, that person is to be ordinarily treated with respect to housing on the prison estate by reference to their sex registered at birth.(2) Where a person who has undergone gender reassignment is remanded in custody on suspicion of committing an offence, that person is to be ordinarily treated with respect to housing on the prison estate by reference to their sex registered at birth.(3) Where the case-by-case assessment of a prisoner who has undergone gender reassignment determines that the prisoner should not be accommodated with prisoners of the same sex as registered at birth, separate accommodation must be provided to ensure that there is no access to or association with prisoners of the opposite sex as registered at birth.(4) This section applies whether or not the person has a gender recognition certificate.(5) Within 12 months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State must ensure accommodation is available for the purposes of this section.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would provide that all prisoners should live in accommodation provided in consideration of both their sex registered at birth and their gender identity. Prisoners with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment will ordinarily be housed according to their sex as registered at birth. On a case-by-case basis, prisoners may be allocated to a specialist transgender unit, with no contact with prisoners whose sex registered at birth was the opposite of their own.
My Lords, this is my new amendment, Amendment 97ZA. I accept that my original amendment in Committee was unbalanced. I sought to protect female offenders but neglected to account for the small minority of trans women who might face unacceptable risk if housed in male prisons. My new amendment aims to afford appropriate protection to all prisoners, notwithstanding that there can be no guarantee that every prisoner will be entirely protected from risk, even within their own single-sex units. I thank my noble friend Lord Wolfson for our meetings, for the teach-in he organised and for our ongoing discussions.
Your Lordships may ask why I have brought back an amendment. The answer is that this is an important issue in its own right. The needs of women in prison matter, and these needs mandate single-sex provision. Women in prison are acknowledged to be an exceptionally vulnerable group and cannot simply choose to use a different space which remains single-sex. These reasons were discussed in the previous debate and I shall not repeat them. But this is also representative of the wider issue: the ability of legislation to maintain single-sex spaces for women. The female estate is a definitive example of a space that should be single-sex. If women in prison cannot be guaranteed single-sex spaces, no woman or girl can. Hospital wards, changing rooms, rape crisis centres, refuges and toilets in schools—I am talking about anywhere where women and girls, for reasons of dignity, privacy and safety, require single-sex spaces. I simply say this to my noble friend: if legislation is insufficient at the moment to secure single-sex provision for women in prison, all females in this country are left vulnerable.
Since my previous amendment, I have received a great many letters, from both men and women. An amendment to secure the rights of women in prison to single-sex spaces has wide support across a cross-section of the general public. Media coverage continually indicates that the general public support single-sex spaces for women and girls. Most recently, the article in the Times last week by my honourable friend Jackie Doyle-Price MP called for women’s prisons to become single-sex once more. Quite rightly, people see this as an important issue in its own right but they recognise that it is representative of the wider issue. This amendment matters not just to women in prison but for all women and girls.
The strength of evidence indicates that male and female prisoners should be housed separately. This is normal international practice, including in our own prison rules. When the policies that permit some trans women prisoners, who are of course of the male sex, to be housed alongside women in the female estate were put in place few years ago, this was essentially a live experiment. It was not grounded in data: no data demonstrated the acceptability of the impact on women in prison and on the operation of the female estate. In fact, research recently conducted on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service demonstrates that female offenders are negatively impacted when they are housed with trans women prisoners. This is notwithstanding the MoJ assertions that operational staff perceive that the policies are working well. I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice has committed to exploring opportunities for research in this area.
It was also clear from the teach-in that the MoJ believes that the ability to act differently from the current policies is constrained by current legislation. I shall not argue on this point. But if real change is to be affected, legislative change is or may be necessary. The purpose of the Gender Recognition Act was to legally recognise the “acquired gender” of transsexual people in specific sets of circumstances, in line with a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. The GRA contains supplementary provisions in Sections 23 and 24 that empower the Secretary of State to modify the effect of a gender recognition certificate by order. The Explanatory Notes to the GRA acknowledge the possibility that, at the time of passing the GRA, there were circumstances where its unintended consequences for people might not have been realised. I suggest that the allocation of trans women prisoners with a GRC to the female estate is one such situation, and that legislation to exclude these prisoners from the female prison estate on the basis of their sex—not their gender reassignment—is both possible and warranted.
The intention of the GRA was not to render the provision of separate-sex and single-sex services for females an impossibility, to replace sex with gender or to deny the sex differences between men and women. Neither was the inclusion of gender reassignment protection as a separate protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. The undesirability of that should be self-evident.
A variety of concerns in respect of the previous amendment were raised by noble Lords and at the teach-in we had. These related to the vulnerability of trans women and their safety, the ability of trans women to live in their acquired gender, and the undesirability of housing trans women prisoners far from their families.
No one wishes to place any prisoner at unacceptable risk of harm. Vulnerability exists throughout the male estate, and, although female offenders characteristically exhibit particular vulnerabilities, this does not exclude the possibility that the vulnerability of some male prisoners, including trans women, may be equally high. The question for all of us is how to keep trans women safe, and that is very important. However, that is wholly separate to the question: who has the legitimate entitlement to be housed in the female estate? I accept that, for some trans women, allocation to the male estate will not be appropriate and should not happen. My revised amendment means that Her Majesty’s Prison Service will be able to assess trans women on a case-by-case basis and make decisions concerning allocation in consideration of all known risks. The wishes of the individual prisoner can be considered, as in the present policy concerning transgender prisoners.
Where a prisoner cannot be housed safely in either the general population of the male estate or with other males in a vulnerable prisoners unit, the decision can be made to house that prisoner in a specialist transgender unit. This will ensure their safety from male prisoners. Access to or association with female prisoners would not be possible. But access to women in prison is not needed to keep these prisoners safe; it is removing them from the presence of men that is required to keep them safe—not putting them in a women’s prison. I note that the MoJ states that 94% of trans women are housed in the male estate. This means that the safety of the overwhelming majority of trans women can be met in men’s prisons.
At the teach-in, the Ministry of Justice indicated that trans women may obtain a GRC while housed in the male estate. It would seem that this means that they are able to satisfy the requirement of “living as a woman” for a period of two years to the satisfaction of the gender recognition panel. The overwhelming majority of trans women are housed in the male estate, meaning that their needs as women and their rights to live as their acquired gender can be met in men’s prisons. Certainly, specialist transgender units for women, which I advocate, should be run according to the female regime and provide a canteen for female prisons.
A concern was also raised that dedicated transgender units would leave trans women far from their families. This is not an issue that affects only trans women. A 2016 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons report found that distance from family was a common barrier to visits throughout the prison estate. Women are particularly affected. There are around 10 times the number of men’s prisons in England and Wales than women’s prisons, and female offenders are more likely to be held at a distance from their families than men. A 2019 report stated that women are typically held at distances over 20% further away from their families than men. Some women are held at considerable distances from their families: as there is no female prison in Wales, women may be held over 150 miles from home.
Prisoner allocation to specialist units may be take place, even though this results in increased distance from family. Allocation of trans women to E Wing at Downview is an example. Trans women prisoners who find themselves housed far from family should be assisted. Financial help is already available from the assisted prison visits unit to facilitate visits from close relatives and partners of prisoners who are on low incomes.
I propose expanding this provision for trans women who are held far from family. The number of trans women prisoners currently held in the female estate is very small, suggesting that the number who may be held on specialist transgender units would also be very small. The additional financial cost would therefore be modest.
The transgender prison population is growing. Data released by the MoJ at the end of last year indicate a 20% increase in the population of transgender prisoners since 2019. Their needs in prison will become more pressing. The commitment to building new estate, as outlined in the prisons White Paper, provides the opportunity to provide that transgender prisoners are properly and appropriately accommodated. New secure units can be tailored to their needs and vulnerabilities. These needs and the operation of specialist transgender units should be a focal point for the so-called future regime design, with outcome frameworks to reflect this.
As part of the trauma-responsive approach to women’s custody and the Female Offender Strategy, we must recommit to keeping women’s prisons single sex. I conclude with a quote from page 54 of the new prisons White Paper:
“We know women in prison need to address their trauma and its effects if they are to engage with rehabilitative services to turn their lives around.”
I submit that the possibility for rehabilitation of female offenders should not be compromised. Their lives are not turned around if, as was acknowledged in the FDJ v SSJ judgment, these women are living in a state of fear and anxiety. My amendment ensures that the needs for the privacy, dignity and safety of all prisoners can be met; I commend it to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, I was very glad to add my name to my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s amendment, which he has moved with a convincing and passionate speech. I agree wholeheartedly with all that he said. My own views were reinforced in the last debate when the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, talked in rather chilling terms about his visits to women’s prisons; I have heard similar accounts from others, both within your Lordships’ House and outside. It seems to me that we add to the uncertainty, mental tension, fear and all those other things if we house in women’s prisons those who are physically male but proclaim themselves female.
Of course, the safety of a prisoner, no matter their sex, is important to us all—a point that some of us touched on in Committee. I put forward then a suggestion that perhaps these people should be separately treated and looked after. After all, the aim of prison—I had two prisons in my former constituency—is often lost sight of: sending to prison is the punishment and rehabilitation is the aim. You are much more likely to get rehabilitation if the atmosphere is calm and subdued and there is not rampant fear in the prison. I believe very strongly, as does my noble friend Lord Blencathra, that the solution is to treat those who are particularly vulnerable in such a way that we take as many safeguards against their vulnerability as possible. To me, that leads logically to a solution where those who were born as women, and who are women, are in women’s prisons, and those who are still physically male are, if necessary, housed in a separate unit.
I do not buy, any more than does my noble friend Lord Blencathra, the talk of travelling great distances. Of course the aim should always be to try to have prisoners as close as possible to their loved ones and the community that they know, but it is not always possible. My noble friend Lord Blencathra referred to the fact that there is no women’s prison in Wales, and so a woman sentenced to jail there can be sent 150 or more miles away. We also have to remember that people are sent to prison because they have done something detrimental to society. It may be a heinous crime or not such a heinous crime, but having to travel a certain distance may be part of the price one has to pay.
I am a great believer in community restorative justice. I believe that we send far too many people, both male and female, to prison, and that we should be much more adventurous in the way we treat those who are not, by their physical violence, an obvious danger to society; of course, they must be securely housed, wherever and whoever they are.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister. I attended the teach-in on Zoom—it would have been much better if only we could all have sat down together, but it was on Zoom. I do not doubt for a moment my noble friend’s passionate commitment, but I had to say to him on the day that I was wholly unconvinced; I think he respected that.
I believe that we have to grasp this problem. Like my noble friend Lord Blencathra, I had dozens of letters and messages from those who had listened to the debate —it is remarkable how many people suffer from insomnia in this country—and who wanted to say thank you for standing up for womanhood and motherhood and for not making women feel disparaged. We went through this last year, when we had the extraordinary maternity Bill to, quite reasonably, give maternity leave to the Attorney-General. As a Bill designed to give maternity leave, it did not mention the words “woman” or “mother” until it had left your Lordships’ House, where we talked a little sense into it.
This is something that we have to grasp as a society. I believe that it is totally wrong to put women in a threatened position by having housed next to them people who are still physically male. Protect them all, yes, but, in particular, let us have regard for the women. I believe that the amendment put before us by my noble friend Lord Blencathra this evening is worthy of your Lordships’ support. If it does not receive that support tonight, this is an issue that will not go away; it is a series of big accidents waiting to happen if we are not careful. I am glad to support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I am very happy to stand up for womanhood and motherhood, but this amendment is very puzzling indeed. What it would mean is that even if a person born male has lived as a woman for 20 years, even if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery, even if they have a gender recognition certificate, and even if they are assessed as posing no risk whatever to other women, the Home Office would be obliged either to place them in a men’s prison or put them in specially segregated facilities. The former option of putting them in a men’s prison would be a disaster; it would obviously be enormously dangerous to such a person. Placing them in specially segregated facilities would be demeaning; it would fail to recognise what legislation in this country has recognised for the last at least 15 years: that people who happen to be born in the wrong sex deserve our compassion and deserve recognition of their position.
I suggest to the House that these issues are far better addressed, as they are at the moment, by Home Office policy that considers the circumstances of the individual case, rather than by broad amendments of this nature, whatever the good faith of those who put them forward.
My Lords, I warmly support what my noble friend Lord Pannick has just said. It is a great mistake, certainly at this stage in our affairs, to attempt to legislate in this matter. It may be that the prison estate will be big enough in years to come so that one can segregate by gender reassignment in special prisons of their own, but we are nowhere near that at the moment and the proper way to deal with this is to rely on the discretion that exists at present.
It is quite striking if you look at the wording of the amendment—it makes no distinction between whether we are talking about male or female prisoners, but very different situations arise depending on which of these two characteristics you are considering. It makes no distinction for the time that the person may have lived in that new assignment. It makes no distinction, either, for the extent of the surgery and the appearance of the person over time as the reassignment process takes place.
It is very difficult for those of us who, I assume, have not faced this to appreciate the intense emotional problem that people who believe that they have been born into the wrong sex undergo. It is a very emotional matter, fighting against characteristics you have acquired that you do not believe belong to you. The way you deal with it is to believe that you are actually of the sex—of the gender, I should say—that you think you should have been. That involves not only reconstruction of the body but a mentality designed entirely to live the new life, which you believe is the one you should have been given. It strikes me as very cruel, if I may use that expression, to treat these people as if they had not reassigned themselves. It is not a choice. They are driven by the characteristics they acquired which forced them into their decision.
I make these points just to emphasise that we are dealing here with a very difficult problem. The offender requires as much consideration on the grounds of safety and emotional distress as the people around them in the prison in which they are placed. Legislation is not the way to go, certainly not at the moment. I personally have complete confidence in the way that the prison authorities are dealing with this very difficult problem at the moment.
My Lords, I welcome this amendment and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in particular, for doggedly sticking with this issue. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, for organising the MoJ teach-in, which I found very interesting and useful. I learned a lot and I listened hard.
I thought this amendment was a nuanced and sensitive way of dealing with all the objections raised by the MoJ at that teach-in, so I am rather disappointed that the Government have not accepted the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, which is a bespoke amendment that protects women’s single-sex spaces while sympathetically and practically managing any challenges faced by transwomen prisoners.
The amendment might be a modest proposal—I think it is—but noble Lords may be interested to hear that it has created a huge amount of interest outside this place over the last couple of days. People on Twitter might look at #KeepPrisonsSingleSex. It has been trending for the last 36 hours. Do look because the messages on there are what I am talking about, rather than the fact that it is trending.
I want to read a few tweets that could maybe help us understand why this amendment matters. One woman said:
“I find it quite baffling that this is even up for discussion! How did we get to the point where we need a debate to include legislation to prevent something so damaging to women?”
“Women in UK prisons must not be locked in with convicted male criminals. This is an appalling failure of the duty of care the state has for female prisoners. Female prison staff must not be forced to search male prisoners. Let’s hope the House of Lords shows sense.”
I would like to think the House of Lords would as well, but maybe not. The final one I want to read out says:
“I’ve been to prison and I’m telling you now that for some women it’s their only safe space, due to abuse on the outside. Allowing anyone who claims to feel like a woman to be put in that safe space is wrong! Women, criminal or not deserve to feel safe.”
I say hear, hear to that.
I quoted that last tweet because it is important to consider what female prisoners think about this issue. At the teach-in, the MoJ—like a couple of noble Lords in their contributions—was keen to reassure us that operational staff say that policies are working well. I think we have to ask: who says they are working well and who are they working well for? I have been told by women prisoners and female prison officers I have been in contact with that they are not so happy with the arrangements and are concerned. That is why I read out that tweet. Anyway, all of this is hearsay. It is just what I am saying, or what a tweet says or what, indeed, the MoJ says about operational success. The whole area would benefit from the Government commissioning some independent research.
I wonder whether noble Lords have seen the research published in the British Journal of Criminology recently and reported in the Times. It was by Dr Matthew Maycock, a former employee of the Scottish Prison Service. It contained some valuable insights. For example, female prisoners interviewed suggested that some of those who identified as women while incarcerated with them had reverted to identifying as males again on release. The research also revealed that female officers in Scotland feel uncomfortable at being forced to do intimate body searches of prisoners who still have male genitalia.
We have heard of instances of people living for many years having transitioned. I note a freedom of information request on that. It revealed that of the 12 trans-identifying prisoners convicted of violent and sexual crimes and housed in Scottish women’s jails, only one had undertaken medical and surgical transition. Can we please remember that we are talking about something slightly different from what has been described? Unfortunately, the Scottish prison board has not used that research and has decided to develop its own policy, preferring to conduct its own research, which I am not sure about.
I know that the UK Government are keen on expert advice and I am delighted to hear that the Minister is going to look at more research. There are some great academic and independent experts out there who could shine some light on what is really going on in prison and how prison policy is working, or not, as far as prison officers and prisoners are concerned.
During the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in Committee, and at the teach-in, I felt that all the spotlight was on the welfare and rights of the transwomen prisoners rather than on women prisoners. Whenever some of us raised the welfare and rights of women prisoners, they were almost treated as somehow secondary. For example, we were told that the female prisoners should not worry about sharing quarters with transgender prisoners because those transgender prisoners would have been through a risk assessment process. That process, however, is all about which transgender prisoners are assessed as being suitable to be managed safely on the women’s estate. This puts the focus of risk on an institution’s organisational capacity rather than the risk to women or how women might feel about it. It was also argued that this present policy is necessary because a minority of transwomen could face unacceptable risk if housed in male prisons. We have heard that again from a couple of noble Lords.
Of course, these prisoners should be protected and kept safe, but let us be honest. They are not the only group of male prisoners who face risk or violence on the male estate. Vulnerable young men also can face violent bullying, even rape or sexual assault. Look at the levels of self-harm in the male estate. It is such a problem that suicide watch is too often an everyday reality for too many frightened male prisoners on the male estate.
This of course is unacceptable. The solution should be to make the male estate safer and fit for purpose for all, perhaps tackling overcrowding, understaffing, et cetera. The solution should not be, in any instance of any vulnerable male prisoner feeling unsafe on the male estate, to move said male prisoner into the women’s estate. Let us remind ourselves that the purpose of women’s prisons is not to protect vulnerable males, and women should not be buffers or victims of the male Prison Service’s inability to protect vulnerable male prisoners.
I know that some noble Lords may be feeling uncomfortable that I am using the word “male” to describe transgender women—such is the muddle that we have got into in conflating sex and gender. I was doing that to emphasise their sex, rather than to be offensive or cause any problems, but such is the weight of coercive control and political pressure around identity politics that it can be difficult sometimes to state biological truth—and the biological truth is that sex and gender are distinct. Sex is recognised in law as the basis of women’s rights. The prison estate is separated according to sex. Unless the Government are advocating mixed-sex prisons, women should have the expectation that they will not be locked up or housed with males.
Any male who wishes to transition is free to do so. In a tolerant society I would expect our approach to be, “Wear what you want, change your names and pronouns as you like and, of course, express your gender identity”. However, none of this changes someone’s sex, and people should not have expectations of the same rights as women. If any trans prisoners are mistreated in the male estate, prison authorities should punish perpetrators and protect the victims, of course. But we need to untangle this humane response from the often-bullying demand that we deny biological reality or that the rights of transgender women can be used to sideline women’s rights to single-sex provision—an important and hard-fought-for right which I as a woman am not prepared to sell out just for political expediency or because it is unpopular. If necessary, special provision should be made for transgender prisoners, of course, and maybe the details, as people have described them, are not what one would want. However, an attempt at resolving this in a humane way is why this amendment is so important. It is a practical and pragmatic solution for transgender prisoners who feel unsafe on the male estate, but it does not force women to give up their rights, or compromise women and same-sex provision on the women’s estate.
My Lords, I rise to speak against this amendment. We should remind ourselves that when we talk about trans women and trans men, we are talking about men and women who have faced very difficult choices about their identity and whom they believe themselves to be. Once they face that choice and make the decision, the transition is a very lengthy process and, again, it is not undertaken lightly because, as we have heard, so often it leads to gender reassignment.
I occasionally go on Twitter. I have read the tweets and received messages from people who, in relation to what we are discussing tonight, have said that if they thought that they were going to prison as a trans woman or a trans man, they would rather commit suicide than face what they believe would be inhumane treatment within the United Kingdom Prison Service. We have to deal with these fears. We are being asked to deal with fears on both sides of this argument, and I want us to deal with both equally. The balancing of rights always poses for us the greatest problem, but I believe that the Ministry of Justice, in its policy on assessing trans prisoners, has got it absolutely right.
It is late and we have other important work to do, so I will begin to wind up. But I wish to associate myself wholeheartedly with the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I could go through the policy section by section stating why I believe it is right. I am not going to do that, but if your Lordships wished to return to it, I would do so.
I will finish with these reflections. This amendment, even though it has been placed in good faith and, as the mover said, with good intention, deeply concerns me because it perpetrates the stereotype of trans women and trans men as sexual predators—as a threat to other women, and trans men as a threat to the wider society. It also, as was said in debate on the previous amendment, creates further inequalities; it does not reduce them.
My Lords, I support this amendment, and the first thing I want to say is that we are talking only about men who have not transitioned to women, which is quite different.
Although we have come a long way since the 2007 Corston report to improve conditions for women in prisons, we are now failing them. Indeed, something has recently gone badly wrong. Women prisoners have a right to the security of a single-sex space. By definition, women are deprived of this security if men are admitted to their prison, including trans women prisoners of male sex, whether or not they have the benefit of a GRC. By the same token, a women’s prison is no place for vulnerable at-risk males. Prison policy must provide for the protection of everybody, and this amendment makes that clear.
How then have we allowed prison policy to be captured by a concern for the protection of trans prisoners at the cost of imprisoned women’s most fundamental rights? There is no balance or fairness in that. The answer of course is that government departments have allowed themselves to be influenced, even intimidated, by noisy and modish pressure groups, whose wilful ignorance of basic science has all the features of a cult.
I have never visited or been to a prison, but as a woman I can imagine how it must be to be incarcerated and threatened. On this note, I very much support this amendment and thank my noble friends Lord Blencathra, Lord Farmer and Lord Cormack for tabling it.
My Lords, I have visited a number of prisons, both women’s prisons and male prisons. I have also sat where the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, sits and answered a number of difficult questions about where you house those who have transitioned, or purport to transition, usually from the male gender to the female gender. It is an incredibly difficult task that the Ministry has to perform, and it requires assessment and nuance. As a young barrister, I had the privilege of representing April Ashley, a pioneer in this field who died about three weeks ago. She changed from a man to a woman after pioneering surgery in north Africa and had lived successfully as a woman for 30 years when she was arrested by the police and thrown into a male jail. She was philosophical about the unfair charge, but less philosophical about the desperately inconsiderate approach that was shown by the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred to those who had lived for 20 or 30 years in their acquired gender. I am afraid this amendment would deal with that sort of situation. I know that it is well meant and it acknowledges the difficulties, but I suggest that to legislate in this area would be extremely inappropriate.
My Lords, one of the main reasons I put my name again to this revised amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Blencathra is that I was not persuaded by the Minister’s assurances in Committee that risks are properly balanced before a trans woman is housed in the female prison estate.
First, I heard no mention of the consideration not just of physical harm coming to female prisoners but of the risks of introducing high levels of fear and anxiety by accepting male-bodied female-identifying persons into the prison. More than half of female prisoners have experienced domestic violence—we have already heard that this evening in the previous debate—the vast majority of which will surely have been at the hands of men. A case board investigating the risk that a trans woman presents will not be looking through the filter of trauma, abuse and male exploitation that many imprisoned women apply to their surroundings. I undertook several prison visits for my MoJ-commissioned review of the female estate. As was typical, I questioned a panel of prisoners. On one visit, the de facto leader, who dominated the proceedings, was obviously male and not attempting to pass as a woman. This transgender prisoner might not have been exerting sexually charged and motivated power, but there was a palpable imbalance all the same.
Secondly, Ministry of Justice policy is not in step, as we have heard this evening, with public opinion. A poll conducted by Women for Women UK found that, when respondents were asked whether intact male-bodied trans women should be housed in a women’s prison, support slumped to net disapproval of minus 20%. Contrary to public perception, the overwhelming majority of male-born transgender people retain their penis and are fully male bodied. Moreover, a 2016 meta-analysis established that less than 3% of the transgender population is undergoing any gender-affirming surgical or hormonal treatment, with the remaining 97% simply self-identifying with no modifications to their natal sex body at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made an argument about the trans woman prisoner whom these policies are designed to protect, who may have been living in their acquired gender for many years, have had full reassignment surgery and treatment, pass perfectly as a woman and have been convicted of a minor non-violent offence, and said that to refuse to house this prisoner in the female estate would be wholly unjustified. But the statistics I have just given, and my own understanding and albeit limited experience of transgender prisoners housed in women’s prisons, lead me to ask: is this description really characteristic of the population of trans women prisoners, including those held in the female estate? This example of a transgender prisoner seems divorced from reality and from the prisoners with whom female offenders are forced to contend on a daily basis. It is perplexing why prison policy is formulated to account for a situation that may never transpire, exposing female offenders to prisoners who are very far removed from that hypothetical.
Rhona Hotchkiss, a prison governor from Scotland who, as deputy in a men’s prison, initially pushed for trans women to be housed in the female estate, became deeply concerned at how this practice played out when she became governor of Cornton Vale. A prisoner transferred from the male estate when they identified as a woman then reidentified as a man after a short time in Cornton Vale. Frustrated by the delay while the Scottish Prison Service deliberated, the prisoner threatened to rape other prisoners and staff. Hotchkiss was deeply shaken, thinking: “What woman threatens to rape other people”—a crime for which a penis is required—and “Why should we take people’s word for this? We don’t for anything else”. This to me strikes at the heart of the issue: we are giving the benefit of the doubt to people who identify as women yet have all their male hormones and physicality intact. We are giving them access to female spaces despite the benefits to and rights of women to have sex-specific prisons.
This amendment has broader implications. It speaks to the necessity of upholding the fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls on the basis of sex, not gender, as recognised in UK and international law. This is not simply a disagreement between the Government and those of us who have spoken to the amendment. It is a difference in point of principle between the Government and large swathes of the electorate, as polling indicates. Gender does not take precedence over sex. Males do not take precedence over females. The protected characteristic of gender reassignment does not take precedence over the protected characteristic of sex.
To summarise: in the prison context, male hormones and a male sex organ surely present considerable risk to vulnerable women, for the varied reasons I have given above, which include perceived threat to mental safety and actual threat of domination and exploitation, not just the objective risk of physical and sexual harm. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register and want to make it clear that I am not expressing any opinion on the merits of this particular amendment. But, because the debate has ranged far and wide beyond the amendment, and because there appears to be some misunderstanding in the House as to what the amendment is, I hope that, when the noble Lord stands to speak to this amendment, he will clarify two important factors.
I wonder whether he would tell the House whether housing a trans woman holding a gender recognition certificate on the male estate would be unlawful, as that woman is legally a woman. That is quite an important distinction, and it has not come out. There is clearly a misunderstanding there. The second point I would like him to clarify is whether housing a trans woman on a male estate, or a trans man on a women’s estate, could be unlawful as it could amount to discrimination.
My Lords, perhaps I might amplify, somewhat more bluntly, the points made by my two noble friends, and indeed the noble Lords, Lord Faulks and Lord Cashman. I have been to prisons as a member of the Koestler Trust, trying to take arts in there, and one of the things that struck me—and in a way the arts were a release for this—was the fevered testosterone. We have heard about it from both sides. I ask noble Lords to imagine, just for one moment, what would happen to somebody incarcerated in a male prison who already appears—if I may use the word—effeminate, and who may moreover have been sexually adapted to being a woman. I cannot even begin to think how that person would be targeted in a male prison. We need to think very carefully about that, whatever the merits of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register. I find myself somewhat perplexed by this debate and the amendment. My noble friend Lady Meyer said that we were talking only about men who had not transitioned—but I do not think that the amendment says that. It is clear in referring to
“a person who has undergone gender reassignment”.
So there appears to be some misunderstanding about what the effect of the amendment would be, and I wonder what the problem is that we are trying to fix. After all, my noble friend Lord Blencathra himself said that the number of transgender women in the women-only estate was “very small”.
We know that in practice the vast majority of transgender prisoners are already held in prisons which match their sex registered at birth. The small number who are not held in such places have been risk-assessed. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, pointed out, that risk assessment would count for nothing in relation to transgender women because the effect of this amendment would be to say that there are no circumstances, irrespective of risk, in which such women, who may have been women for some time, may be held in the women-only estate.
It does not matter that the authorities believe that they pose no risk whatever. It does not matter that the numbers that we are talking about are actually very low. What matters to those who tabled this amendment is that the law should say that they should never be held in such a wing. That is in principle wrong.
It seems to be the sense of the whole House that people should be held according to the appropriate accommodation after a risk assessment. That might well mean that trans women are not held in the women-only estate. It might well mean that trans men are not held in the male-only estate, but that it is better that there is a risk assessment and they are held in the appropriate place.
The effect of this amendment is to prescribe, because those who tabled it think they know better. That, in the end, is the decision that we are confronted with. It is a decision about whether we are to be guided by ideology or pragmatism and, I would suggest, compassion.
It was said in advancing this amendment that a reason to accept it is that, absent it being passed, no places could be safe for women, not just in prison, but beyond the prison estate. How can that be? How could this amendment, were we to pass it, suddenly make all other places for women safe? It was also said—
I wanted to clarify whether, if the proposal has an impact on prisons, what impact it might have on all women. What is at issue is the protection of single-sex facilities—places that are only single sex. That is a very important principle—no matter how small the numbers are in this instance—about which there is concern. I am clarifying why people say that, and not just in this House—this is a widespread concern.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I think we can agree that it is important that women should be safe. The Equality Act provides exemptions in a number of scenarios, including in relation to women-only spaces outside the prison estate to ensure that. It allows the prison authorities to make the right judgments about where it is appropriate to place people. The safety of people is put first, and so it should be.
It has been suggested that a reason to pass this amendment is because of the media coverage that this debate has excited, and that outside this place there is a tremendous wave of anger we need to pay attention to. Of course, if people’s fears are provoked and if media campaigns suggest that women cannot be safe, there will be such fervent outrage, but that is not a reason for us to depart from the facts. The facts do not lend support to this approach, which places ideology above pragmatism. I therefore urge the Government not to accept this amendment.
My Lords, I really did not want to speak today, because, whatever I say, I am going to get abuse, but I have been incensed by some of contributions. I point out, in an absolutely non-specific way, that the majority of speakers have been male, and they have spoken against the amendment. Two women have spoken for the amendment, because they perceive there is a problem. My party’s policy is that trans men are men and trans women are women, and I do not have a problem with that, but there are occasions when women in women’s prisons experience sexual predation by men who have falsely self-identified as women. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, said that we are saying that all trans women are sexual predators. We are not saying that—of course not.
Will the Minister clarify whether trans men go to male prisons? My understanding is that they do not, because they would not be safe. What we are talking about here is keeping people safe. Vulnerable people of all kinds, whatever trans identity or sexual identity they have, should be kept safe. Clearly, prisons are the worst possible places to keep people safe; they are a nightmare. This Government are increasing the number of prisons. They are not trying to reduce the prison population and make our prisons safer; they are adding to the problem. Do trans men go to male prisons? Have there been cases where men have falsely self-identified as women and predated sexually on women? I have had emails and letters from women who have been abused by men who have falsely self-identified as women. What can we say to those women? We cannot say, “This is an ideology and we’re trying to look good”; we have to be serious about people who are abused, whether they are male or female, or trans men or trans women.
I would not vote for this amendment, because it is too hardline. I accept the issue of safe accommodation—that seems very sensible; I do not see it as demeaning at all. Prisons are demeaning; safe accommodation sounds very safe to me.
Only men in this debate have spoken against the amendment. Why do men think that is okay? I do not understand. They are ignoring the fact that some women are predated upon. Sometimes those women may not be telling the truth—I have no idea, but I rather suspect that they are. Please can we just think about the vulnerable people and stop being so ultra-sensitive and supposing that we are all getting at everybody. I am absolutely fed up with this debate, and I hope this is the last speech.
My Lords, it will not be, because this woman disagrees with this amendment. I speak as a woman who cares deeply about the physical safety of women. One of the things I find most objectionable about the campaign which has been run in the media for the past couple of years is the assumption that those of us who are women and who stand as allies with trans people do not care, because I do not believe that is the case at all.
It would be very tempting at this stage to answer some of the wide-ranging points which have been made about, for example, polls with leading questions, misinterpretations and mis-statements of the law, but I shall not do that. I shall simply stick to the facts that this House should look at when it comes to a decision on this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, spoke about an entitlement of prisoners to go to an estate. There is no such entitlement. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about instances where self-identifying male prisoners had predated on women. That has happened, but my understanding is that it has not happened since the implementation of the policy which has been operational in the Prison Service since 2016 and was updated in 2019.
There are historical cases, which are trotted out all the time by people who wish to disparage trans people. Let us be absolutely clear what the current policy that is operated in our prisons is:
“A proper assessment of risk is paramount in the management of all individuals subject to custodial and community sentences. The management of individuals who are transgender, particularly in custodial and AP settings, must seek to protect both the welfare and rights of the individual, and the welfare and rights of others in custody around them. These two risks must be considered fully and balanced against each other … Decisions must be informed by all available evidence and intelligence in order to achieve an outcome that balances risks and promotes the safety of all individuals in custody”.
My understanding, from talking to prison officials, is that not only is there no entitlement for a prisoner to be held in an estate, but that the risk assessment includes an assessment of whether somebody is attempting to be transferred into an estate in order to perpetrate further crimes. If they are, it is held as a contra-indication.
I agree absolutely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. What we have now is a policy, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, said, that does protect to the full the human rights of individuals, but also balances them with the safety of everybody—that includes the staff in prisons as well; let us not forget them. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is therefore putting to us an amendment that is not based on evidence and is a retrograde step. I urge noble Lords to reject it.
My Lords, I do not intend to repeat the arguments that other noble Lords have made and those that I made in Committee; they are in the official record. Existing legislation and procedures, properly applied, are sufficient to ensure the safety and well-being of all prisoners and staff in our prisons in relation to transgender prisoners. I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister will confirm that.
Because I have said, in answer to a suggestion on Twitter, that I felt that the existing risk-based approach was best, I was sent a direct message on Facebook from somebody I have never heard from before saying, “Leave women’s rights alone you nasty little misogynist. We see you loud and clear. Trans rights simply means male rights. Enjoy your irrelevance MRA bigot”. Whatever MRA stands for, I have no idea. Of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, has said, we need to consider the rights of women—of course we do—but transgender people also have rights, and their rights need to be balanced. The best way to do so is on a case-by-case basis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, and the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Farmer, talked extensively about transgender people who had not undergone gender reassignment surgery, or transgender women who are still physically men. There is nothing at all in this amendment about the physical state of transgender people; it applies in a blanket manner to every single transgender person. The fact is that every prisoner entering the prison estate is risk-assessed to ensure that they are not a threat to themselves or others, and they are then housed or segregated on that basis. If that assessment has been wrong on rare occasions in the past, the problem was not with the system, let alone with the law; it was a problem with implementation. I understand, however—and I am sure that the Minister will confirm—that that is no longer a problem. This amendment is not necessary and we oppose it.
My Lords, I too will be relatively brief. This debate is about balancing rights and balancing vulnerabilities, and I have been following it over months if not years. Unfortunately, I did not go to the teach-in organised by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. However, I have been to other events on Zoom where I have spoken to prison officers and the people involved in managing the situations discussed here. It is apparent to me that there has been an evolution in the prison officers’ and governors’ approaches. I have spoken to a number of them several times. I spoke to one women’s prison where transgender units operated for a period, and the way they were operated was later changed. I have to say the governors I spoke to seemed—I do not want to use the word “relaxed”—to think that they could manage the situation. That is what I was told, and I have every reason to believe in their professionalism in dealing with an evolving situation—as we have heard from noble Lords, there is an increase in trans prisoners; the figure of 20% since 2019 was mentioned.
I have visited quite a few prisons over the last 10 years and I am always impressed by the quality of the prison staff, the governors and the prison officers. The basis of my view is that I trust them to make the right decisions. I think they are dealing with very difficult circumstances and I think that they can manage risk. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, they have policies which have evolved over a period, which include the safety of the prisoners and the staff. I was pleased to hear that during the teach-in the Minister said that he is willing to support further research into this matter. It is an evolving situation, but for my part I am content that the current complex case boards that make these difficult decisions should continue to do their work.
My Lords, this amendment relates to the management of transgender prisoners. The result of the amendment would be that transgender prisoners would “ordinarily”—and that word is used twice in the amendment—be held in a prison matching their sex as registered at birth. I will come back to that word “ordinarily” later on.
I should first record my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for his time. I am pleased that he found the teach-in with officials from the MoJ and HMPPS to be helpful. I am grateful also that my noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, were able to attend the teach-in. I am conscious, from what they said then and this evening, that I did not persuade them at that time. I am not sure that I am going to persuade them in the next few minutes, but I am going to try.
I am not proposing to refer to anything said on Twitter. That is despite the fact that I think I am one of the few ministerial twitterers—or is it tweeters?—around. My tweets have become a lot duller since joining the Front Bench, but I can say that on this subject Twitter exhibits heat and no light whatsoever. I am grateful for the relative safety and sanity of your Lordships’ House.
Under the amendment, transgender prisoners who are not held with prisoners matching their sex as registered at birth would be held in separate accommodation such that they have no contact with people of their acquired gender. That is the inescapable result of the amendment. I suggest that it is unnecessary. Transgender prisoners can already be held in prisons in matching their sex as registered at birth where this is assessed as appropriate. In practice, the vast majority of transgender prisoners are already held in prisons matching their sex as registered at birth. The small number who are held otherwise have been through a rigorous multi-disciplinary risk assessment process. There is already provision, as I will explain in a moment, for transgender prisoners to be held separately from other prisoners of their acquired gender if doing so is deemed necessary.
We take the allocation of transgender prisoners extremely seriously. This is a subject which, as the last hour or so has demonstrated, arouses a lot of controversy and passion. But the approach we have put in place allows us to strike an appropriate balance—the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, put his finger on that as the right word, as it is a balance—between the safety, rights and well-being of transgender prisoners and that of all other prisoners in the estate.
I can therefore assure the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that we do not look at the position of the transgender prisoner only in this context. The officials who are managing the risk know the risk which can be managed, for example, in the women’s estate. They are balancing the risks and working out what the best solution is. I can also assure my noble friend Lady Meyer that neither I nor other Ministers in the department give in to what she referred to, if I took it down correctly, as noisy and modish pressure groups. If I did that, I would not be able to take much of the Government’s business through your Lordships’ House.
Under the Government’s current policy, transgender prisoners are initially allocated to a prison matching their legal gender. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, set out, this is the way we do it. For most transgender prisoners, this is the same as their sex registered at birth. Most transgender prisoners then remain in a prison matching their sex as registered at birth. Transgender prisoners who have not changed their gender by obtaining a gender recognition certificate are held in a prison opposite to their sex registered at birth only where that is judged appropriate by a multidisciplinary complex case board, which considers all relevant factors. Transgender prisoners who have changed their legal gender can still be moved to a prison matching their sex as registered at birth where a case board judges that to be necessary to manage risk.
To come back to the words of the amendment, it is not clear what “ordinarily” would mean in practice for those making decisions about transgender prisoners. Our current approach is robust and over 90% of transgender women in prison are held in the men’s prison estate. I respectfully agree with my predecessor, if I can call my noble friend Lord Faulks that: this is a nuanced and difficult matter. I also agree with my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs that this ought to be a matter not of ideology but of putting into place systems which actually work. We believe that our systems work.
The second part of the amendment suggests that a facility be created to hold transgender prisoners who are not to be held in a prison matching their sex as registered at birth separate from other prisoners. In fact, the current policy allows for this: a small part of HMP Downview, known, as the House has heard, as E Wing is used for this purpose. It allows transgender women with gender recognition certificates to be held separately and have supervised contact with other women only where a complex case board has deemed this necessary. Such a board can also recommend that a transgender woman with a GRC can be held in a prison matching their sex at birth where their risk is considered too high to be held in E Wing. All other high-risk transgender women without GRCs are placed in the male estate.
However, as we have heard, the amendment would mean placing all transgender women in the women’s estate in E Wing, even where the board had assessed them as posing a level of risk which could be managed in the women’s estate. We do not think that would be fair or appropriate, essentially for the reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—and, just to correct the record, when he referred to the Home Office he would now, obviously, mean the MoJ. To pick up a word which I think was used, it would be cruel to do so. I agree with the approach of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who said that we have to be alive to all the relevant distinctions and various issues which transgender prisoners present with, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, put it, we are alive to the risk of suicide.
I appreciate my noble friend’s long-standing concerns in this area. I accept that we did not always get it right in the past. Prior to the strengthening of our approach in 2019, there were a small number of sexual assaults committed by transgender women in the women’s estate. However, we learned the lessons of that and since 2019 there have been no such assaults.
I want to make another point: even if, God forbid, there were such an assault, that would not necessarily mean that the policy was wrong. Regrettably, there are assaults in prison not infrequently, so I am not going to lay my hat on the line and say that as soon as we have an assault that means the policy is not working; that would also be a fundamentally mistaken approach. We consider the risks and put an appropriate policy in place.
To pick up the specific questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, it is not unlawful to hold trans women with GRCs in the men’s estate; there are already powers to do so. Trans women are routinely held in the men’s estate and trans men are routinely held in the women’s estate.
I think I have answered all the questions that have been put to me so I shall end on this point. A number of noble Lords have put to the Government that there is public disquiet about this issue. We have put in place a policy that we think provides for the proper management of transgender prisoners and the proper protection of all women in the women’s estate. I am not going to make any apology for putting management and protection first and what is said to be public opinion—whether on Twitter or anywhere else—second. I am conscious that also in our prisons are people who have been found guilty of the most heinous crimes, such as sexual violence against children, and we do not manage those prisoners by the way that public opinion might suggest they be managed. A proper criminal justice system takes account of the considerations that I have set out. For those reasons, I invite my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, it is normal to say when winding up that it has been an interesting debate. This one has certainly provoked more interest than I had anticipated. I thank my noble friends Lord Cormack, Lord Farmer and Lady Meyer, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Fox and Lady Jones, for their contributions.
I start with the contribution from my noble friend Lord Herbert. I do not do anti-social media—things like Twitter and so on. I am not motivated to move this out of ideology, nor because of what the media say; I am motivated to do it because I have been approached by women in prison who, rightly or wrongly, are afraid for their safety. It is right to say that it is only a small number of trans women in prisons but there are a large number of women who are afraid of them. They may be wrong to be afraid, but it is in their interests that I am working to try to make sure that they no longer have that fear.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that my amendment would mean that transgender prisoners should either be stuffed into the male estate or put into some ghastly specially segregated facility. He made it sound like something the apartheid regime would invent. That is exactly the current MoJ policy: all transgender prisoners coming into the prison estate start off in the male estate. I am not inventing that; it is the current policy, as my noble friend has said. Some 90% of trans women prisoners stay in the male estate and then some are moved to the women’s estate. They are moved to a specially segregated facility called E wing at Downview. I merely suggest in my amendment that the facilities of E wing at Downview should be extended to house more transgender prisoners.
I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, are acting under the impression that the vast majority of these prisoners have spent a long part of their life as trans women—that they have had hormone replacement therapy, have had operations and have been living as women for years. That is not the case; as we have seen from Scotland, only one in 12 has. We do not have the figures for England because, understandably, they are confidential, but the anecdotal evidence is that there is no one in our prisons in England with a GRC who has gone through that process, so they are not those who have lived their lives as women for 20 or 30 years.
I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that, if the Government were to go down my route, I perfectly well accept that a system could be built in where someone who has had hormone replacement therapy, has had surgery and has been living as a woman for X number of years may qualify on a risk-assessment basis to classify as a woman, not in biological terms but in terms of being sent to prison.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, that it is quite wrong to categorise this amendment as stigmatising trans people as a particularly violent class. That is not the case. I made absolutely clear in my speech that many trans women prisoners could not stay in the male estate because the male prisoners would be violent towards them; they are equally or more capable of violence.
I accept that the court said that what the Prison Service is doing is lawful. On the narrow point of law considered by the court, that is correct, and one would hope that the MoJ would not have a policy that deliberately broke the law. The point of issue here is not ideology but that what is lawful and what is morally right part ways. I urge the MoJ to accept my solution, which lets trans women prisoners live their lives in prison in a safe space, and women theirs. I simply do not understand why the Lib Dems, the Labour Party and some of my own noble friends now dislike women so much that they are resolutely opposed to defending their hard-won rights. I can see how the Government have blundered into this hole, but at least I see signs from them that they have now stopped digging.
I am not going to be successful today, but I say to all my noble friends on the Front Bench, in all departments, that this policy of downgrading the rights of biological sex women is heading for the scrapheap of history. It is not on the side of science, logic, morality or common sense, and everyone outside the political bubble we are in knows that. The battle for common sense and the rights of women will intensify. I conclude by suggesting that all my noble friends and all Ministers should read the excellent article in the Times last week written by my honourable friend Jackie Doyle-Price MP. She said, inter alia:
“Sex is biological and immutable. Gender is social. The two things are distinct. And by conflating sex with gender we have created an inevitable conflict between rights based on sex with those assumed by someone with a transgender identity … We can be inclusive without compromising the rights, dignity and privacy of women.”
Those are wise words. Jackie Doyle-Price is on the side of common sense and history.
I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, not because I am wrong but because I cannot win in the numbers tonight.
Amendment 97ZA withdrawn.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 9.22 pm.