Amendment 17

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 16 April 2024.

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Baroness Fox of Buckley:

Moved by Baroness Fox of Buckley

17: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert—“(e) should be able to secure access to support from an individual of the same sex as registered at birth and women-only support service provision should be confined to those registered women at birth.”

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 17 and 18. It is interesting listening to the discussion that we have had this evening, because many people that I speak to, particularly women, assume that the consultation on the victims’ code or discussions on enhancing victims’ rights will mean better support for female victims, particularly in relation to service provision. All that Amendment 17 seeks to do is to clarify what I am sure is the intention of the Bill, which is to be supportive of, for example, single-sex provision for women and the appropriate service provision that can be given, and to ensure that we know what we are talking about.

It might appear that getting a commitment that police and crime commissioners, integrated care boards and local authorities will all work together to commission support services for, for example, victims of domestic abuse or sexual abuse, ensuring that they can access the services that they need, and lots of discussion about services by women and for women, would be clear enough. However, as I explained in Committee and in a much-appreciated and helpful meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, and officials— I back up what others have said about how it was refreshing to have a Minister, or someone from the team, who is prepared to talk to us quite openly—having heard from the charity Sex Matters, all is not as it seems. I fear that, if the Government do not address this by sorting out the language and clarifying matters, their aspiration to enhance female victims’ rights will suffer because of confusion over the law and over the definition of sex.

“By women and for women” might seem a straightforward proposition until we ask, “What is a woman?” In 2024, that has become a contentious question. Over recent years, we have lost clarity over what we mean by the categories “men” and “women”, and that can undermine women’s services. This has happened due to the insistence from some quarters—often very powerful quarters—that women’s services must be trans inclusive by including men who identify as women in what should be women-only provision.

For example, the terms of references for Avon and Somerset Police women’s independent advisory group—to use just one example—state: “In this group we use ‘women’ as a term that is inclusive of the legally protected characteristic of female sex and gender identity as well as gender expression and those who are perceived and treated as women and those who identify as women”. This is such an expansive, non-material, confusing definition of women.

The amendment is simply trying to ensure that, where the victims’ code talks about services for women or makes any assumption that there will be services for women victims, we use the clear category of “sex as registered at birth”, rather than that ever-expansive term in which women—as in biological natal women—are merely a subcategory of this newly expanded definition of women.

Sometimes we are told that, unless trans women are treated as women, it would be in breach of Schedule 3 to the Equality Act. The Government need to clarify the law in this regard because, in fact and in law, a service can be female-only as a matter of policy. Apart from anything else, the Equality Act requires public authorities to have due regard to meeting the specific needs of women.

Another misunderstood factor is that even when a person has acquired a different gender under the Gender Recognition Act, that does not affect the status of the person as a man or a woman in relation to the Equality Act. Indeed, it would be helpful if the Government could give clear guidance to people applying for GRCs that this change in documentation does not give them the right to access services or spaces set aside for the opposite sex. Such clear guidance would also be helpful for service providers and commissioners, and in relation to how people read the victims’ code.

I want to illustrate the negative impact of these kinds of confusions on women victims seeking help by citing a worrying but brilliant piece of investigative journalism. Children of Transitioners has collated evidence that there is no women-only service provision in Bristol. This mirrors exactly the situation in Brighton that I described in some detail in Committee. I have detailed examples from Bristol, but I appreciate that the House will not bear with me so I will not go through them. Needless to say, if you are a woman who has been raped or sexually assaulted or suffers domestic abuse and reports it to police officers in Bristol, they will suggest to these distraught women—these victims—where they can get further support. They may well be sent to “by women and for women” provision, which those police officers feel are safe spaces. It is just that when you actually look at the provision in Bristol, you will find consistently that women-only services are also accessible to and welcome trans women. Trans women are men who identify as women and should be provided with services as appropriate, but not in women-only services. So this provision is not actually women only; it is mixed sex.

I was struck by the fact that, when the integrated care board of Bristol lists a range of “by women and for women” organisations, an example it gives is Womankind. Noble Lords would think that, with a title like that, the clue would be in the name. Womankind calls itself a service for women and girls. Online, it displays lovely suffragette colours. What is not to like? Actually, in correspondence with Womankind, another story emerges. Womankind says that it is for women and for

“those who identify as such in a significant way, including those who experience discrimination as … for instance, trans women … and non-binary”.

Womankind confirmed, after the investigation was done, that there is not one abuse support service in Bristol for natal women victims alone. Its advice for those unhappy with the situation was to “try London”, which seems extraordinary.

I use these examples because I know from replies from the Dispatch Box and at the meeting that there is very much a feeling that this is not a problem that the Government have detected when meeting service providers and commissioners. It is important to dig beneath the language of saying, “There is provision available; what’s the problem?”. It depends on who you ask. Bristol Women’s Voice—an organisation that claims to represent women’s voices to the council and to the police—does not see a problem, so in that sense if the Government were talking to that organisation they would think that there is no problem. But Bristol Women’s Voice does not think there is a problem because it also has a policy of trans-plus inclusion in relation to its definition of what a woman is.

It would also be naive not to look at the evidence about layers of public bodies and local authorities being lobbied and influenced by ideologically driven NGOs such as Stonewall, which has been much in the news of late. Ministers also tell us that it is up to service providers to choose the most appropriate services. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Roborough, heard from the evidence from Helen Joyce and Maya Forstater in the Sex Matters report, Women’s Services: a Sector Silenced, that many of those who provide women-only services often self-censor to placate funders and to avoid being investigated, ostracised, disciplined or maligned as bigots, all of which are career-threatening.

In case you think this is all hyperbole and question what I am talking about, there is a very similar pattern here to those whistleblowing medics at the Tavistock Clinic whose stories of malpractice have now so vividly been exposed in the Cass review as true. They were maligned for raising them. It is to the credit of Victoria Atkins that her excellent Statement in the other place drew this out. Credit is also due to Wes Streeting from the Opposition, who also accepted that the Cass review was an important step forward. Kemi Badenoch made the point:

“Had those who warned that gender services in the NHS had been hijacked by ideologues been listened to instead of gagged, children would not have been harmed and the Cass review would not have been required”.

So, although I am making a fuss, I want to say to the Government that maybe they should listen to the warnings from whistleblowers in the women’s services sector who are explaining that we are denying women victims single-sex provision, causing great harm and trauma for vulnerable women who might self-exclude and might well not even seek support if services to which they are referred may include men identifying as women.

I will say something very quickly about Amendment 18, because I discussed it fully in Committee. This is an attempt to use the victims’ code to tackle a loophole whereby, if incarcerated or registered sex offenders change their gender, even just by a self-declaration, they are afforded enhanced privacy protection that allows their new identity to disappear from view in terms of criminal justice and normal safeguarding procedures and before criminal justice bodies. Through the sensitivity applications route, a sex offender who changes their gender identity can conceal their past identity and sex for the purpose of, for example, disclosure and barring services—DBS—checking processes. This means that a sex offender’s past name and identity are not displayed on any DBS certificates; they can have their self-declared gender identity instead.

In Committee, I explained that the reason I knew about this loophole was due to the story of Clive Bundy. He was imprisoned for 15 years in 2016 for sexually abusing his own daughter, Ceri-Lee Galvin, throughout her childhood, but was released half way through his sentence. Clive Bundy changed his gender before his early release and became a self-identifying woman, named Claire Fox. This is what drew my attention to this particular case.

This amendment tackles the anomaly that, due to Bundy’s enhanced privacy rights in relation to his gender change, Ceri-Lee, his victim and his daughter, had no right to know that he had been released as a woman called Claire. After his release, Clive Bundy, also known as Claire Fox, went to live in the same town as his daughter and her daughter. As Claire Fox, he could apply for jobs or to be a volunteer locally and work with children, including potentially his own granddaughter and no one would know. Any DBS check would not show up red flags and the family would not be forewarned. Amendment 18 wants the Government to look at whether they can do something about this loophole.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, for tabling Amendment 17, which seeks to ensure that victims are able to access support from someone of the same sex, as registered at birth, and that women-only support service provision is confined to those registered as women at birth. I also want to thank the noble Baroness and Maya Forstater and Helen Joyce from Sex Matters for their time in discussing these matters with me yesterday, ahead of this debate.

From the outset, let me be clear that this Government recognise the importance of a victim feeling confident that they can ask for particular things, such as someone of a particular sex to make them feel comfortable and help them best engage with support. We also recognise that single-sex services can and should be provided in some circumstances. That is why we have written to providers who receive funding from our rape and sexual abuse support fund to make clear our expectation that they should take reasonable steps to provide spaces which exclude service users who are not biologically female or male, where that has been requested by a victim and where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, in line with the Equality Act 2010.

I have listened to the concerns raised by the noble Baroness and reassure her that officials regularly engage with those commissioning and providing services through ongoing grant-management processes. We will continue to use these channels to understand whether there are any barriers experienced in the delivery of single-sex services, and how the Government might support services to address them—and we will continue the conversation that we have started with Sex Matters to carefully consider how we can best serve victims.

In relation to support workers, we have included a dedicated section on tailoring support to meet victims’ needs in the draft independent domestic violence adviser and independent sexual violence adviser—IDVA and ISVA—guidance. It sets out different considerations for supporting male and female victims, which may include a preference for a particular sex of their IDVA or ISVA.

The noble Baroness asked specifically what we were doing to improve this guidance. The draft guidance has a specific section on how IDVAs and ISVAs may respond to meet the needs of different types of victims. This includes examples of how they may tailor their support to meet the distinct needs of female and male victims. For example, the guidance recommends how the IDVA or ISVA can address commonly held misconceptions about female and male victims that may prevent them from reporting their experiences. It also highlights that some victims may prefer to be supported by a worker of their own sex and to access single-sex services, where available.

Ultimately, as referred to by the noble Baroness, we consider that service providers are best placed to engage with the needs of victims and adjust their service accordingly. There is a practical element to this, too: while we know that providers will do their utmost to take into account the preferences of the victim, they are clearly constrained by their staff’s skills, expertise, capacity and availability to ensure that they meet the victim’s needs. It is for that reason that it is simply not workable to seek to entitle victims to a particular support worker they have requested.

Beyond that, I respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness’s suggestion that, in all cases, victims should be entitled to support from someone of the same sex, as registered at birth. To require this to happen in all cases requested, service providers may need intentionally to exclude transgender persons from support roles which, depending on the circumstances, could amount to unlawful discrimination pursuant to the Equality Act 2010.

Finally, I make a legal point, but an important one: the victims’ code would not provide the legal effect being sought by this amendment. Mirroring the current scope of the victims’ code, the amendment that we have tabled, which imposes a duty to provide services in accordance with the code, applies only to persons who have functions of a public nature; it would not extend to third parties that provide support services for victims. As such, we could not set expectations to deliver services in a certain way through the victims’ code. For these reasons, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 9:30, 16 April 2024

At this late hour, I will read what has been said in Hansard and write with any clarifications, if that is okay with the Minister. It is important to acknowledge that this is not a straightforward issue, because of the ideological context in which it is occurring. I hope that noble Lords will read the Cass review and details of the brilliant discussion on it yesterday in the other place, and see that this is not simply a technical matter. That needs to be taken into account.

I also register my great disappointment that noble Lords from the Opposition parties had nothing to say in relation to single-sex provision for women victims. However late it is and however unpopular I am, I just think it is a shame. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 17 withdrawn.

Amendment 18 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 9.35 pm.