Indeed, everybody should be safe in prisons. I have raised this matter with the Prisons Minister in the past. There are statistics, I am afraid, that show that there have been sexual assaults committed in prison by somebody whose gender is different from their biological sex. I appreciate that the Government are doing more to ensure that that cannot happen in the future, but I am afraid there are cases where that has happened. That is why women, in particular, feel threatened. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady may well not feel threatened, but a lot of my constituents have come to me, having seen this evolving argument, to say that there are places where they no longer feel safe. We have a duty of care to those people; we must ensure their safety and wellbeing too.
Frankly, anybody who has the audacity to question any of these things, as I just have, is faced with the cancel culture, which is so utterly damaging and absolutely does not help the population as a whole. It certainly does not help women, and it does not help the gay and lesbian population, who feel greatly restricted by much of this. This argument and the terminology in the petition are, I am afraid, about the creeping blurring of language and a conflation of and around sex and gender. That threatens to erase the recognition of males and females—of men and women.
As I said, I am particularly concerned about the impact on children. I have been in Parliament for quite a while—not quite as long as you, Sir Roger—and in that time most things have become more restricted for children; for more things, we have seen the age of access raised to 18. A person under 18 can no longer go into a suntanning parlour to get a suntan, and they can no longer have a tattoo. We quite rightly restrict cosmetic procedures for children unless medically required. We know the pressures on young girls to get breast-enlargement surgery to be with the programme, and all the social media pressures about men and having cosmetic surgery.
Against that trend of recognising that children are children—when they are adults, they can do what they like, within reason, if it does not harm anybody else, but children need our protection, and that that is why the laws are there—it seems extraordinary that we have seen a huge increase in access to puberty blockers through gender clinics. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge quite rightly said, puberty blockers have life-changing impacts on children—far more than a tattoo, a temporary suntan or even a breast-enlargement operation would have. Yet if someone challenges that—if someone questions whether those children are capable of thinking through the consequences and are cognisant of the implications for the rest of their lives of making that decision, with or without the involvement of parental responsibility—they are subject to cancel culture. There is a huge contradiction in those two scenarios.
Let me end with some examples from Parliament. Whether we like it or not, what we do here is seen outside, and it is seen as setting an example. Sometimes it is a bad example, but certainly what we do and say in this place has influences. Members may have seen the reports of the debates on the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill in the House of Lords, where there were attempts to erase the term “woman” from the Bill. I am glad that my hon. Friend Baroness Noakes led the resistance to that. She said:
“I am not prepared to be erased as a woman”.—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Effectively, that is what was happening there. The language that we use in this place is important.
I mentioned the creeping blurring of language. You may recall, Sir Roger, that three years ago I was successful in my private Member’s Bill, which is now the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019. It enabled opposite-sex couples to have a civil partnership, it enabled the mothers of married couples to have their names on marriage certificates, and it brought in various requirements for stillbirths. Unbeknown to me, and only pointed out some time after the legislation went through both Houses, section 3 refers to persons who are pregnant—not “women”, but “persons” who are pregnant.
If I had known that that had been inserted—I did not write those words; they were written by civil servants in one of the Departments—I would have insisted that the language be changed. Indeed, at the first opportunity—perhaps in the conversion therapy legislation that is coming through—I will be proposing an amendment to my own Act to ensure that we refer to women, because it is only women who can get pregnant. This is happening all the time, and the insidious changing and blurring of our language is so important.
Another thing has just come to my attention. If we are looking for a fellow Member on the Houses of Parliament search engine—or if one of our constituents is doing so—and we are not sure where they come from or what subject we are looking for but want to search by sex, we now have four options. We can say that they are “male”, “female”, “any” or “non-binary”. That is on the search engine of this House, yet, as we have heard, the term “non-binary” does not have any status in legislation. Indeed, that is what the petition is all about.
We are setting the trend by acknowledging the existence of a formal term “non-binary” in searching for Members of Parliament. I am not aware that any Member of the Lords or Commons has, in any case, identified as non-binary. That is what I am worried about. Words matter. Although this petition—