My Lords, I apologise that I did not speak on this issue in Committee. As I had stayed late to speak on the prior amendments in defence of women’s reproductive rights, I decided to stay because this is a natural follow-on. Despite what has just been said, this is actually about women’s rights and women’s concerns that NHS guidance on trans issues effectively undermines the right to have same-sex wards in hospitals. I am not going to rehearse the whole issue around gender identity tonight—we are all far too tired. I want to keep this quite straightforward for me.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, rather dismissed these concerns when he more or less said that we cannot pander to people who feel uncomfortable. I want to express something about women feeling uncomfortable. Having been a woman in hospital—when you are at your most vulnerable and needing to feel safe—the idea that you cannot guarantee single-sex wards in that instance is not just uncomfortable but also about rights that have been won. It is a perfectly legitimate right. Women should not be made to feel embarrassed or be patted on the head as if to say, “Don’t you worry your pretty little heads, this is all to do with equality”.
We have just heard a contribution which effectively said “Watch your language”. In response, I say, “Watch what you’re suggesting women should do”—namely, to back off from this issue. I do not think that women should and they will not. It is also the case that not all trans people are represented by trans activists. I know trans women—yes, this is anecdotal—who do not support trying to have what will effectively be mixed wards, or confusing or undermining single-sex wards in NHS settings.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made a very important point on which I wanted to finish. There are a lot of concerns on all sides, so many noble Lords have said, “Let’s have a review”. It seems that the Secretary of State wants a review, but we now do not know whether or not the review which is happening at the moment is the review he wants. The review happening at the moment is not satisfactory. It is that peculiar internal NHS review which has been referred to.
The review is carried out with no public terms of reference. It all seems to be carried out in secret and is being co-led by Dr Michael Brady, who is the adviser for LGBT at NHS England. I am sure that he is incredibly well intentioned but I suggest that being its LGBT adviser might make him rather the opposite of impartial.
We are now told that the review has looked to Stonewall and Mermaids for support on the review. It has been reported that in December, the lead reviewer wrote to campaign groups supportive of the gender identity position on this issue, assuring them that there were
“no plans to reduce the existing rights of transgender people”.
What I have just said is not evidence at all; it is all hearsay. I am just repeating what somebody said and somebody may have said. I can tell your Lordships that I am not satisfied either because I do not want to find out about this review by reading today’s newspapers, which is basically where I got that information, and leaked emails. This is not satisfactory.
I want the Government to take this seriously and recognise that when somebody says that there are no plans to reduce the existing rights of transgender people, what women hear—if I can translate it—is that women-only wards are not guaranteed at all. I want the Government to be honest with us about what they believe they are arguing for. I also want them to take us away from having to discover these things in newspapers and, instead, assure us that a new review will be set up that is independent and fully resourced—one that has a clear set of terms of reference, which people on different sides of this argument can look at and discuss openly. They should try to detoxify it by bringing it out in the open and having a credible review with all sides of this argument consulted, represented and talked to, and women should absolutely be asked and not given an hour’s Zoom as an afterthought.