Legal Recognition of Non-binary Gender Identities — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:17 pm on 23 May 2022.

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Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Party Chair, Labour Party, Chair of Labour Policy Review, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities 5:17, 23 May 2022

I most certainly have not conflated the two; I would have thought that it was quite clear from my comments that I was not conflating the two. I have been very explicit about the difference. This matter did come up earlier, because the hon. Member for Don Valley suggested—unless I misheard him—that doctors might take some of the decisions if there are differences in sex development. There has been a very significant discussion around this, as I am sure Miriam Cates is aware. In countries such as Germany, quite a bit of work has been done on the possibility of ensuring that people can make decisions for themselves at the age of medical consent and competence—if it is still healthy for them to do so—although if those particular biological characteristics are aligned with physical health problems, earlier intervention might be required. The hon. Member for Don Valley mentioned that earlier. We need more research into the prevalence of those cases in the UK, as we do not have much data on them.

Of course, we are discussing the matter in the context of the Government rowing back on their commitment to adopt a ban on conversion therapy that would cover trans people. Let me be crystal clear. Such a ban must not cover psychological support and treatment, non-directive counselling or the pastoral relationship between teachers and pupils or religious leaders and worshippers, or—and this should go without saying— discussions within families. Indeed, the interim Cass review has made it clear that there is a disturbing lack of support and healthcare for children and young people with gender dysphoria, especially when it is accompanied by an additional diagnosis that requires care. I regret that that is in common with the current general lack of treatment for children and young people in this country, where many waiting lists are spiralling out of control.

A ban on conversion therapy covering trans people would prevent what the British Medical Association and the mental health charity Mind have intimated is psychologically damaging abuse. It seems to me that only this Government could spend time arguing over whether a form of abuse should or should not be banned rather than supporting people in their daily lives.

It would surely also be helpful for the Government to explain in more detail their understanding of the barriers to altering the current legal categories around gender and—separately, given the frequent and unfortunate elision of both concepts—sex. We need to understand the complex practical consequences to which the Government have referred. They have stated in response to calls for a non-binary category for passports that “a coherent approach” needs to be maintained “across Government”. They have not, however, fully explained why some forms of documentation appear not to indicate whether the holder is male or female.

Surely additional research and transparency from Government are needed, not least to explain their reasoning in those cases. Useful learning can be drawn from the different ways in which comparable nations have approached these issues. I think it is a symbol of the maturity and strength of our country that we are able to compare our public policies with those of other countries and learn positive and, indeed, negative lessons. That is a positive rather than a negative.

Finally, we must do more to tackle gender stereotypes in the first place. As a convinced feminist, I so often feel that we have moved backwards rather than forwards in that regard. Care work and jobs in catering and in the creative industries are for boys and men just as much as they are for girls and women. Jobs in manufacturing and science that use—dare I say it?—hard maths are for girls and women just as much as they are for boys and men. Of course, all jobs should be open to non-binary people, too. We need to eliminate gender stereotypes, including those based on body image—I agree with the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham on that.

Above all, we need to make sure that everyone in our country can reach their full potential, and that cannot happen when we have such a degree of gender stereotyping. As I have said, the key value for Labour in considering such issues is respect. Issues of sex and gender are highly emotive, for understandable reasons: they are fundamental to people’s sense of self and so much more, including for those who identify as non-binary.

To conclude, I will reverse John Major’s adage. When we come from different viewpoints on these issues, we surely need to condemn each other less and understand each other more.