My Lords, I am absolutely delighted to be speaking in a debate after the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt. My biggest beef with Stonewall has been its refusal to debate. By that policy, it has built up a bank of fire and argument which has done a great deal of harm to trans people and to others. If we are seeing an end to that, leading to circumstances under which we can talk these things through—they are not easy issues—and reach a comfortable conclusion, I shall be absolutely delighted. I have asked Stonewall many times if I can discuss things but it has never acceded. Perhaps this is a new beginning.
In the first 20 years of my life in this House I listened to a lot of debates in which women were arguing for single-sex wards. I cannot, on the basis of listening to them, think anything but that it is a legitimate demand; that it is something that really matters—not perhaps to every woman, but to women at large—and that it absolutely constitutes the sort of grounds contemplated in the Equality Act for making something single sex.
It is absolutely clear in the definitions in the Equality Act that trans women are men. So if you have a trans woman in a female ward, that is a man in a female ward and that is against what female wards were intended for. That is the starting position; it is not the most humane ending position. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt, I have a great deal of faith in the nursing profession to resolve difficult issues and reach the best possible solution. But the starting point should not be annexe B. It should be the Equality Act and the recognition that separate spaces for women—particularly when they are vulnerable—are something that we as a society wish to have.
When we last had a review of the Gender Recognition Act, Stonewall submitted evidence to say that it wished the exceptions under the Equality Act to be removed. I do not start from that position. I start from the position that those exceptions are very important. Nor do I follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, in suggesting that the review has to be case by case, as in person by person. It is clear to me from the judgments made under that Act that this refers to the circumstances of an institution. An institution is quite entitled to say that it will not allow any male-bodied people to share a hospital ward purely for female-bodied people.
As I said, I do not regard that as a satisfactory end position. The right way to get to a proper conclusion is debate and a review that is not as obviously biased and unsatisfactory. A review carried out by people so committed to a highly politicised organisation—one embracing the extremes of postmodernism in its attitudes to people—is entirely unsatisfactory. This has to be what the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt, has just called for: a broad conversation and a broad review—one that respects the position people find themselves in. It should be interested in arriving at an evidenced position at the end of it. That is not what we have at the moment. I hope it is what we arrive at and that this House can play its part in that. I am absolutely delighted that at last we have a conversation.