I beg to move,
That this House has considered global LGBT rights.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this debate, which was proposed by members of the all-party parliamentary group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, which I have the honour to chair.
This is a tale of two worlds. In one, as we saw in this House, we have seen the near completion of rights for LGBT people, full recognition in law—with some exceptions, of course, throughout the UK—culminating, four years ago, in the passing of same-sex marriage legislation by overwhelming majorities in this House and the other place. In a 16-year period, 25 countries around the world have passed same-sex marriage legislation, while others have passed legislation recognising civil partnerships. Taiwan became the latest to do so this year. We hope that Australia will follow suit soon, if that is the will of the people. It is noticeable that only Japan among the G7 countries does not have recognition of same-sex marriage. All the other G7 countries now do. Italy has recognition of civil unions.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. He mentioned Australia—I add my support to those campaigning for same-sex marriage there—which is a key member of the Commonwealth. We will be holding the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting here in the UK. Indeed, this morning I received a card from the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum, but I was a bit disappointed not to see the specific mention of LGBT+ rights on the agenda for discussion. Does he agree that the meeting of CHOGM and the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum provides a great opportunity to raise these issues with our Commonwealth partners?
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important not least because of the health and equality issues that are raised, which he will know in his capacity as chair of the all-party group on HIV/AIDS. I will come on to CHOGM shortly.
There is another world, too. I am talking about a world in which 75 countries criminalise same-sex activity between consenting adults. That covers 2.9 billion people. Some 40% of the world’s population live in these jurisdictions, which means that more than 400 million people live under laws that punish same-sex activity, and punish it with the death penalty. Our all-party group was keen to secure this debate now because of the events in a number of countries last month, during the conference recess. What happened was a matter of grave concern.
In Azerbaijan, during the last two weeks of September, organised police raids led to mass arrests of perceived gay and bi men as well as trans women in the capital, Baku. The authorities claim that the arrests were made as part of a crackdown on prostitution, but activists and the victims’ lawyers claim that LGBT people were specifically targeted. While in detention, victims report being subjected to beatings, electric shock torture, forced medical examinations and other degrading treatment and ill-treatment. The majority of the detainees were charged with disobeying police orders, which is an administrative offence, and sentenced to between five and 20 days in custody. The country’s own Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that 83 people were detained in total.
The ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan noted that we were calling this debate and wrote to me this week. Let me quote what he says:
“I can reassure you that this was not a concerted effort to crack down on the LGBT community, but rather a police action to stop solicitation of sexual services in downtown Baku following complaints from local residents. It may be that some within the local police force acted over-zealously and exceeded their mandate. As soon as the appropriate authorities were made aware of this the police operation was stopped and all those detained were released.
I would like to reiterate that the Azerbaijani constitution guarantees all forms of freedom of expression. Same-sex sexual activity for both men and women has been decriminalised in Azerbaijan since September 1st 2000.”
That does not deal properly with the situation. Local groups have reported that, since the initial raids, the authorities continue to intimidate and harass people whom they perceive to be LGBT. It is very important that this House, and I hope the Government, send a very clear message to the Azerbaijani Government that that kind of oppression is unacceptable in the eyes of the global community.
This House heard an urgent question earlier this year about the terrible situation in Chechnya, with arbitrary arrests and the illegal detention and torture of LGBT people. That continues to take place as part of a wider crackdown on human rights, despite the protests that have been made to the Russian authorities.
In Egypt, more than 50 people have been arrested in response to the flying of rainbow flags at a pop concert in Cairo on 22 September. That act alone resulted in arrests. The victims stand accused of debauchery, inciting debauchery, promoting sexual deviance and belonging to a banned group—charges that carry up to 15 years in prison. Many have already been sentenced. Victims report being subject to beatings, sexual harassment and forced anal examinations while in detention.
Although same-sex conduct is not explicitly prohibited in Egypt, the Egyptian Parliament is now debating criminalising homosexuality with a proposed punishment of up to 15 years in prison. What are Her Majesty’s Government saying to the Egyptian authorities and Government about this terrible abuse of gay people for committing what we in this country would regard as no crime at all, but simply the freedom of expression of flying a flag? I was struck by a message sent to me by a young gay man living in Egypt who attended that concert. He said:
“I can hear those consistent steps. Coming closer. Fear. Is it happening? Fear. Are they coming for me?...This has been the most common stream of thoughts during the past weeks in Cairo. The thought of being arrested would not leave my mind ever since the recent escalation of the state in its crackdown on the LGBTQs in Egypt. Fear that has, more or less, accompanied me for a life time as a gay man in Egypt. It is heartbreaking to wake up everyday to a new chapter of fighting for your right to exist, just to be.”
These are not isolated cases. Attacks on freedom of expression and association of LGBT people are wide- spread in other countries. State action, in turn, licenses discrimination at best, violence at worse and a climate of fear under which LGBT people have to live.
In June 2013, the Russia Duma unanimously adopted, and President Putin signed, a nationwide law banning the distribution of propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations—often the excuse for measures that discriminate against LGBT people. Since the introduction of that Russian law, 14 countries have considered similar legislation in eastern Europe, central Asia and Africa.
Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013 criminalises the formation, operation and support of gay clubs, societies and organisations, with sentences of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Uganda’s Parliament passed a similar act—the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 —which would have prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by individuals and organisations, incurring penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment. That has now been revoked, but Uganda’s Pride had to be cancelled this year as a consequence of the actions of the state and the police, who were absolutely determined that that expression should not take place.
It is sometimes suggested that the UK may be guilty of some kind of neo-colonialism by seeking to impose our views on countries in the same way as we did in the past. It is true that 40 of the 53 member states of the Commonwealth criminalised same-sex activity using legislation inherited from the British empire. I would argue that our history gives us a special responsibility to atone for the measures that we introduced, and to act. That view is shared by the Prime Minister, who—I am delighted to say—said last week at the PinkNews awards that, on the world stage, the Government are
“standing up for LGBT rights, and challenging at the highest level those governments which allow or inflict discrimination or abuse. The anti-LGBT laws which remain in some Commonwealth countries are a legacy of Britain’s Colonial past, so the UK government has a special responsibility to help change hearts and minds. We will ensure these important issues are discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which we are hosting in London next April.”
That is immensely welcome.
Only this week, the Commonwealth Equality Network of activists and non-governmental organisations is meeting in Malta to discuss how to reverse the oppression of gay people in too many Commonwealth countries. The stand that the Prime Minister has taken and the Government will take at CHOGM next year is very important. After all, what many of these countries are doing is in breach of the Commonwealth charter itself. Indeed, outside the Commonwealth, every country has signed up to the United Nations declaration of human rights—rights that guarantee liberty, freedom of expression and freedom from torture and oppression. That is why it is so important that we continue to support campaigns run by United Nations institutions, such as the Free & Equal campaign, as well as other multinational initiatives, such as the Equal Rights Coalition, which was launched last year with UK Government support. It now incorporates 29 Governments, who co-operate and share information, but it needs the continuing and active support of the UK Government.
I would argue that the UK Government, who have done a great deal in this area, can do much more, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to a high-level challenge. The all-party parliamentary group produced a report last year and made a number of specific recommendations on what the Government could do. First, they could adopt a cross-departmental strategy to ensure that all parts of the Government are co-ordinated and take the necessary steps, so that they can take a stance and promote the values that we in this country think are important. There are multiple actors—the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office, the Department of Health and the Home Office—and it is important that they are co-ordinated. I welcome the presence here of the Minister for Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb); he is a Minister in a domestic UK Department, but I nevertheless recognise his cross-cutting responsibility for these issues, and that co-ordination is important.
Secondly—this is perhaps one of the most important things of all—there is the funding that can be provided for LGBT activist groups on the ground. These are vulnerable, fragile groups, which are run by very brave activists in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, in Russia and in other countries that we have discussed and will discuss. They need support, and the support they can be given—yes, by private individuals and foundations, but also by the British Government—is immensely important. It is important that those funding streams that can be directed through British high commissions and embassies are maintained.
Thirdly, we should ensure that safe routes are given to people who flee persecution—particularly when they are applying for asylum—in the way that was done in countries such as Canada and other European countries in relation to the LGBT people who were so egregiously persecuted in Chechnya.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this important debate to the House. On the point about funding, does he agree that it is great to see so many corporate organisations supporting the Big Pride celebrations across the UK and globally, but they, too, need to think about how they can direct some of that funding and support to local groups across the UK and the world?
I thank the hon. Lady. I was coming to that point, but she has made it very effectively for me.
I will draw my remarks to a conclusion because others wish to get in. My central point is that we see terrible abuses of LGBT people globally, but change can be effected, and we should not be despondent about that. In Uganda, partly because of the influence of the World Bank, which was considering granting an important loan to the country, the President was prevailed on not to implement the law the Parliament had passed, which would have oppressed gay people. In Belize, a legal challenge has resulted in protection for LGBT people. In Mozambique, legislation has effected the same thing. We can effect change.
The United Kingdom has a really important role. We are still the fifth largest economy in the world. We have a global reach. We have important historic ties across the world, not least through the Commonwealth. We have one of the largest aid budgets in the world and the massive opportunity to exercise soft power and influence. In Cairo, the crackdown on gay people began when they flew the rainbow flag, and the flying of the rainbow flag over our own Parliament and our own Government buildings sends an important signal about an attachment to freedom and a belief in liberty and equality. We should not underestimate the fact that taking such a stance is not trite and not trivial. It matters. It matters in the eyes of the communities and activists who are looking for our support in other countries. People will be watching this debate, and they want to know that this House supports these communities on a cross-party basis and that the British Government supports them. We are talking about thousands of activists and millions of people. Let freedom ring for them!
I call Kerry McCarthy with a seven-minute limit.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope that I will not take as long as that.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for his very powerful speech. He has been a tour de force in championing this issue. I really do hope that we have genuine cross-party co-operation on this—there is absolutely no reason why we should not.
I pay tribute to the countries that have made progress, and to the very brave activists in those countries who have, in some cases, even lost their lives because of standing up for LGBT rights. I think of David Kato, who set up Sexual Minorities Uganda and who was brutally murdered in 2011. We know the reaction of the Ugandan Government, with newspaper headlines more or less calling for people to hunt down and lynch homosexual men in the streets. There was very much a climate of fear, so it was incredibly brave of him and his successor, Dr Frank Mugisha, who now runs Sexual Minorities Uganda, to speak up. When I met Frank, he said that the handful of openly gay people in Uganda could almost be counted on the fingers of two hands because so few people were willing to come forward. We then had the proposals to introduce the death penalty for such people.
This debate is often couched in terms of saying, “We don’t mind what you do in the privacy of your own homes—the problem is when you promote it and start talking about these issues in front of children.” That is a very pernicious angle to take, because, in effect, it prevents people from leading their lives freely, openly, and without fear of persecution.
Another activist, Eric Lembembe in Cameroon, who was murdered in 2013, spoke of
“a climate of hatred and bigotry”
in his country
“which extends to high levels in government”
“reassures homophobes that they can get away with these crimes.”
Two weeks later, he was tortured and murdered. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken eloquently about some of the persecution that has been suffered by activists in countries such as Egypt and Uganda, and the suppression of Pride last year.
I want to talk briefly about what leverage we have. Certainly, our membership of the Commonwealth should give us enormous influence. I spoke at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference a few years ago when I was the shadow Foreign Office human rights Minister. I came across the tricky issue where it felt slightly like people from the white countries, to put it very crudely, were preaching to people from the African countries. Somebody said to me, “You came over to our country and told us that homosexuality was wrong. You sent the missionaries over. You preached the Bible to us. You showed us where it said that these customs and practices”—which had actually been tolerated then in Uganda and some other countries—“were wrong, and now you’re coming back and telling us, ‘Hang on, we got it wrong that time—you’ve now got to start accepting our norms.’” There is a real concern about being seen as a colonial force in doing that.
There is also the issue of how this fits into the debate about freedom of religion and belief. We have heard about that in this House before. Yes, people should be free to express their religious views and beliefs, but they should not be able, through expressing those views, to promote persecution of homosexuality or bigotry towards people from the LGBT community. Too often it is used as an excuse.
The leverage we have other than through the Commonwealth is through our trading relations with other countries. In autumn 2013, the coalition Government launched, with a great fanfare, their business and human rights action plan. The then Foreign Secretary, Lord Hague, spoke of how he wanted to mesh the two and said that business and human rights should not be separate but integral. He was almost talking about an ethical foreign policy. Since then, it has been really disappointing that that action plan appears to have been shelved and is not spoken about. Two years ago, the permanent secretary to the Foreign Office gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he admitted that human rights were no longer a priority for his Department, saying that far more resources were going into pursuing trade deals. I think that the Foreign Office dropped the specific branches of its human rights activity in favour of some very vague priorities. At the time, human rights groups described his comments as being as
“astonishing as they were alarming”.
That was obviously before Brexit. Now that we are entering a world in which we will be pursuing ever more vigorously trade deals and new business relationships with overseas countries, human rights absolutely need to be back at the heart of our conversations. I have asked so many questions of Ministers about what they say about human rights when they go to countries like Saudi Arabia, and I get back very vague answers saying, “Nothing was off the table”, or, “A range of issues were discussed”. Clearly, if they were discussed at all, it was left to some minor official from the Foreign Office to mention them in passing at a meeting, just so that box could be ticked.
It is really disappointing that the business and human rights action plan seems to have been sidelined and is not on the International Trade Secretary’s radar at all. When we go to countries that have a dreadful record on human rights and on LGBT issues in particular, we need to be having that conversation. We have to put that on the table and say it is unacceptable. Even LGBT employees of British companies going to work in countries with such dreadful records are not safe. I hope that we will take up that agenda as a group.
It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on moving the motion.
We have come a long way over the years—this country, this Parliament and even myself. Growing up in Swansea, I wondered whether it was braver of me to come out as a Conservative or gay. I have tried both and it does not seem to have done me any harm. Look at the journey we have made even in this Parliament: that we have more openly gay Members of Parliament than any other Parliament in the world is a fantastic thing of which we should proud. I congratulate the Scottish National party, which has the highest percentage of openly gay MPs.
I remember David Cameron, when he was the Prime Minister, asking me, “When are you going to become Speaker of the House of Commons?” I said, “Well, Prime Minister…” and he said, “You’d be the first gay Speaker.” I replied, “I don’t think so, Prime Minister. I suspect there’s been a few others.” [Laughter.] We know at least one Deputy Speaker was gay. In 2010, when I was in the Speaker’s apartments for that fantastic reception when I came out as gay, I said to the Speaker, “The only thing more gay than me is the apartments.”
Each and every one of us who comes out as gay, and each and every one of us who is not gay but who speaks up for LGBT+ rights, is vitally important throughout the world. We all know that there are people living in fear of persecution for being gay. In some cases, it is not about having fulfilling lives, but about being fearful for their lives. That is appalling. We have already heard the number of countries where being gay is a capital offence, and on too many occasions we sadly read in our newspapers about people being pushed off the top of tall buildings, simply for the “crime” of being gay.
I remember in a Westminster Hall debate talking about the two young people in Iran I had read about in a Sunday magazine. They were teenagers—16 or 17—and they were strung up for being gay. At an Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting, I confronted the Iranian delegation, asking, “Why is it that young gay people are being executed in Iran?” They said, “Well, if it’s done in private, nobody knows, but if it’s public, they will be tortured.” They actually used the word “tortured”. I was so angry. I said, “Yes, you tortured them first, then you hanged them.” That is totally unforgiveable.
My own party has not always been as liberal towards LGBT+ rights as it is now. At selection meetings, the question was always asked, “Is there anything in your cupboard?” When he was asked that question, Alan Clark replied, “I couldn’t get anything more in my cupboard,” which I thought was rather brave of him—he still got selected, of course. That question is not asked any more. In fact, it is not only the Conservative party that has come a long way on these issues; I think it is almost—not quite—compulsory to be gay to get selected.
My right hon. Friend mentioned Taiwan. I chair the all-party group on Taiwan and I was there just a couple of months ago as a guest—it is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am proud of what the Taiwanese have done. Australia is going through the same process now. I believe that the chief executive officer of Qantas has been named as the most influential LGBT person in the world for speaking up rather bravely. Sadly, a lot of CEOs are afraid to come out as gay.
The situation is exactly the same in the world of sport, particularly football. I just wish that more sportsmen who are gay would be as brave as Tom Daley and come out, because that would send a massive signal. A lot of Commonwealth countries are obsessed with football, and if only more sportsmen were prepared to do that, it would send absolutely the right signals.
In the world of politics, I am proud that former Prime Ministers of Iceland and Belgium, and the current Prime Ministers of Luxembourg, Ireland and Serbia, are all gay. That also sends the right signals.
I have just returned from an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Russia, where the human rights sub-committee decided to raise at next year’s Geneva conference what Parliaments can do to stop LGBT+ discrimination. It was wonderful. The chairwoman was from Botswana and said how important it was to discuss the issue. We were not passing a resolution; we just wanted a debate. A number of countries spoke in favour, including MPs from Cuba and Malaysia, and said, “Yes, let’s talk about this. It’s an important issue.” The proposal was passed, but then right at the last moment it was defeated in the full plenary, when most people had started to go home. Politicians from countries such as Iran, Uganda and Morocco banged the table and said, “This can’t be discussed or debated.” It is appalling that politicians from those countries and others banged the table and said that they were not even prepared to discuss LGBT+ discrimination and what their Parliaments can do about it. That just shows how far we have to go.
And what about that incident in the United Arab Emirates the other day, when that chap ended up being prosecuted for bumping into somebody and touching them on the hip? I mean, come on—this is the 21st century! Fortunately, he is home now, but that incident did not do the UAE any good. I cannot imagine that many gay people will want to go there in the future.
It is not just LGBT people who might not want to go there; others, like me, may think, “This is not acceptable.”
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that: it will send a strong signal to the UAE and perhaps a number of other similar countries.
I want to finish by addressing the appalling decision by the World Health Organisation the other day. What did it think it was doing trying to make Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador? This is not just about health issues. If we look at how he has treated LGBT+ issues in his own country, we will see that the stigma of being gay there means that many people are afraid to even get tested and are condemned to death because they do not get the treatment they need. I am delighted that the WHO changed its decision three days later—it clearly listened to the international community—but it did send the wrong signals and I hope it will reflect on that.
When I asked for the Pride flag to be flown from every high commission and embassy, I was told, “We can’t do that, because many of them have only one flagpole and there isn’t enough room for two.” Well, we do it in Whitehall—we double-flag there—and I hope that in summing up, the Minister will tell us that during every future Gay Pride Week, the Gay Pride flag will fly from the flagpoles of all of our high commissions and embassies throughout the world.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), who is a fellow member of the Select Committee on International Development. I welcome today’s debate, thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it and congratulate the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). In particular, I thank the range of non-governmental organisations, based both in the UK and in other countries, and global ones such as Amnesty International, for their assistance.
Next year marks the 30th anniversary of section 28. Just three decades ago, this Parliament and this Chamber carried discriminatory legislation. We can learn something from the past 30 years, because after section 28 was passed there was a renewal of LGBT organisations in this country, including the formation of the Stonewall group, lesbian and gay organisations in our trade union movement, and lesbian and gay campaigns within political parties.
The Labour campaign for lesbian and gay rights, now known as LGBT Labour, played a critical role in what became Labour’s 1997 manifesto. There are lessons from that experience in the UK for today’s debate, because what happened was that this place listened to LGBT communities themselves. That needs to be our starting point when looking at global LGBT rights. In the briefing that the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs arranged earlier, somebody said, “Change has to come from below.” In a world where there are still 13 countries where being gay is punishable by death and 75 where same-sex contact remains a criminal offence, the challenges are enormous.
I welcome the policy paper on LGBT rights that the Department for International Development published last year, particularly its focus on how the realisation of human rights underpins sustainable development and, importantly, the need to identify and engage with the southern voices that are beginning to emerge on LGBT issues. Two years ago, the world agreed the sustainable development goals, whose theme is, “Leave no one behind.” Inclusion must mean non-discrimination, but if we are to achieve the SDGs on health, we need to be able to reach all communities, including LGBT communities.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that when we look at DFID’s work, it is crucial to look at the support given to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, particularly as it applies to the LGBT+ community and the MSM—men who have sex with men—community in developing countries and, particularly where we are looking at pulling out bilateral or multilateral aid, at ensuring that adequate services for those communities remain?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important point, which speaks to a broader issue about the availability of relatively small amounts of funding for local organisations working on HIV and AIDS or equality issues on the ground. The International Development Committee raises this issue across the full breadth of DFID’s work, but it has particular resonance and relevance for today’s debate, so perhaps the Minister could refer to it in his response. I praise the DFID LGBT staff network for its work in this regard as well.
I want to address what is a tricky issue in this debate. Some people will say, although probably not in today’s debate, “How come we’re giving aid to these countries whose Governments are acting so appallingly to their LGBT communities? Should we not be cutting aid?” I urge caution against such an approach. Cutting support for malaria programmes or school programmes in some of the poorest countries of Africa does not help LGBT rights. We need to engage with civil society here in our own country and, most importantly, on the ground in the countries concerned. That sort of engagement would be very fruitful.
I welcome last year’s appointment by the UN of Vitit Muntarbhorn as the independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. He has an important role to play. His position was challenged and there was a vote last year. Eighty-four countries voted to allow him to continue, but 77 did not want him to. I congratulate our Government on the leading role that the UK played in defending his appointment and the Governments of South Africa and several Caribbean countries, which stood out against the pressure to try to get rid of the position.
I pay tribute to the role that the trade unions have played here and internationally in the struggle for LGBT rights. LGBT rights are workers’ rights, and next week Public Services International and Education International will host their fourth LGBT forum in Geneva. There are many crucial issues to do with rights in the workplace and violence against people at work, but also to do with trade unions’ broader role in society in making the case for equality and against discrimination.
The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs spoke about Chechnya. Many of us are deeply concerned about developments in Chechnya in recent months. Last week, Human Rights Watch highlighted the case of Maxim Lapunov, who had been confined for 12 days in a dark basement by the regime. The example of Uganda has already been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). A recent front page of a daily newspaper in Uganda said, “Exposed! Uganda’s Top Homos Named”, and carried photographs of allegedly gay men. I pay tribute to the very brave community in Uganda. They have celebrated Pride there since 2012. Tragically, they were not allowed to this year. Let us think of those sisters and brothers in Uganda.
I want to say something today about Tanzania, because a catalogue of concerns have been raised by various organisations, including the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. The most recent incident was last week, when 13 activists and lawyers were arrested in Tanzania simply for trying to challenge the ban on drop-in centres that serve communities at risk of HIV. The 13 were accused of promoting homosexuality. They are still in detention. I urge the Minister to take to his colleagues in the Foreign Office the vital importance of the United Kingdom raising the case of those imprisoned people.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) spoke about Iran. We know that Iran is a country that still executes people for the “crime” of being LGBT. I urge the Minister to set out what the Government are doing to press countries such as Iran that do just that to stop using the death penalty against LGBT people.
Most of the examples I have given are, understandably, from Russia, Africa and the middle east, but I want to say something about what is happening in the United States of America. President Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from the US military is an enormous shame, one I hope we can condemn on a cross-party basis. I pay tribute to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in America for his positive and measured response to President Trump’s actions. I urge our Government to do all they can to press President Trump to think again on his attempt to ban trans people from the US armed forces.
That, however, is not the only incident of greater homophobia and transphobia in American politics and policy. Recently, the United States voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned the use of the death penalty against people because they are LGBT. President Obama left a very positive legacy on LGBT. Tragically, President Trump is undoing it. That leaves a vacuum in global LGBT rights. I hope that the United Kingdom, working with like-minded countries around the world, will play a leadership role to ensure we do not slip back, but instead move forward to global LGBT equality.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing the debate and for the leadership he gives to the all-party group. He has taken the more voluntary route of taking himself off to the Back Benches to champion these causes and we all benefit from the quality of his leadership. I took a rather more compulsory route, but that does mean that I have the freedom to engage with these incredibly important issues. I want to reflect on why they are so important. What has brought us here today are the headline issues, raised by previous speakers, relating to what is happening in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Chechnya. We only have to go online to see horrific videos of mob justice in Nigeria, where gay men are being lynched, and the administration of ISIS justice, with gay people heaved off tall buildings.
I want to reflect briefly on some of the headline issues in Chechnya, because the cases there are truly appalling. My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs talked about Maxim Lapunov. He was lucky enough to survive. There is, however, the story of popstar Zelimkhan Bakayev, who went back to Chechnya on 8 August for his sister’s wedding. By all the accounts I was able to get hold of, he was arrested within three hours and was dead within 10. This was a man whose picture taken with Ramzan Kadyrov, when the Chechen leader wanted to ride on the back of this popstar’s popularity. If that can happen to him in Chechnya, we can draw our own conclusions about how appalling the situation is and our expectations of the Russian authorities to do anything about it.
Headline atrocities have brought us here today: the dreadful scale of arrests in Azerbaijan and Egypt, and direct state repression. The number of people affected by direct oppression runs into many hundreds of thousands. There are people who are in relationships that they do not want to be in, people who have experienced “corrective rape”, and people who are in forced marriages. There are millions of people—probably between 50 million and 100 million in India—who, because of the laws of their countries, are simply not able to be themselves.
Does my hon. Friend agree that although in various countries there is a wide range of laws to protect victims of abuse and discrimination, many are deterred from using the law to protect themselves because of, for instance, high legal costs, a heavy burden of proof or worry about the implications for their job prospects?
My hon. Friend has drawn attention to all the difficulties of living a life if the society in which people live and the laws that surround them do not allow them to be themselves. The reason so many of us who are speaking in the debate are LGBT ourselves is that we know just how important this freedom is to us. I know, because I did not come out until I was 50. When I was growing up, having been born in 1960 into the United Kingdom that existed in the 1960s and 1970s, what I understood about myself was that there was something wrong with me. I wanted to be a soldier, and I wanted to be a politician, and that was wholly inconsistent with ever beginning to come to terms with myself.
An awful lot of men my age are coming out now, because they have the societal and professional freedom to do so. The British experience can provide a lesson, and the British story is one that we should be able to tell others. We should be able to tell the rest of the world how we have moved from active implementation of the criminal law in the 1950s, when more than 1,000 men were imprisoned for consensual same-sex acts, to where we are today.
When I say “we”, I am thinking of the role that we can play as parliamentarians. We should not underestimate the huge challenge that faces our parliamentary colleagues in other countries that, because of religious beliefs and the influence of religion in those societies, are in the same state as the United Kingdom in the 1950s when it comes to attitudes to LGBT people. Nor should we underestimate the effect of our own personal stories, and our own personal testimony. We should look our fellow parliamentarians in the eye when we have the opportunity to do so and get them to first base. People’s sexuality is not something that they choose.
I used those terms during a debate in the House in 1999, before I truly understood myself, and I was, quite rightly, heckled by colleagues on the other Benches. It should not be assumed that people understand. Once our fellow parliamentarians have got to first base and have accepted that sexuality is very largely innate—if not completely innate, but let us not go into that now—and not something that people choose, the public policy that ought to flow from that will flow from it.
We should say to our parliamentary colleagues in other countries, “You are representing gay people whether you like it or not. You are representing just as many gay people as I am.” There is no evidence of any difference in the proportion of sexualities between different races or parts of the world. Our parliamentary colleagues in other countries have a responsibility, and they have a lead opinion. Our responsibility is to help them to change their societies by means of the evidence that we can give them from our own experience.
When I received an email asking whether there were any countries about which I would like more information before the debate, I thought to myself, “Where do I begin?” I do not wish to talk down the progress that has been made, because we have made great progress, but the world is still a much smaller and more dangerous place for LGBTI people, whether we like it or not. In more than 30% of the 225 countries and territories listed on the Foreign Office travel advice website, homosexuality or homosexual acts are illegal. For nearly a quarter of them, there is a warning of some kind for LGBTI people. While we have the luxury of heeding that advice, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) said in the case of the UAE, people living there have no such luxury. The advice that frequently appears for countries where being LGBTI is legal but “frowned upon” or not “universally accepted” is, “You should be discreet.” Let us imagine living our lives that way; it is as absurd as asking someone to be discreet about their height.
The advice for countries such as Armenia, where homosexuality is legal, says about the culture there:
“same sex couples are often seen holding hands and kissing in public, this is common…and is not necessarily an indicator of sexual orientation.”
So it is not the act of the same-sex couple holding hands or kissing that is the problem; it is their sexuality. That is heterosexual privilege in action.
Often it is that intolerance bubbling under the surface of society that leads to the shocking attacks against LGBTI people that we have seen around the world. It is not enough to decriminalise homosexuality; there must be laws protecting the rights and safety of LGBTI people and an effort to make sure that society catches up with those laws by supporting LGBTI groups working in communities. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many LGBTI people around the world.
It is up to progressive countries like ours to lead the way in global LGBT rights, particularly in Commonwealth countries, but to do so we must make sure our own house is in order. It is shameful that comprehensive research by the Time for Inclusive Education—TIE—campaign in Scotland found that 90% of LGBTI young people experience homophobia, biphobia and transphobia at school, with 27% having attempted suicide as a result of that bullying. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) about section 28, but in some ways we have not moved on in that regard; there is still a hangover from that legislation.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Many contributors to the debate have spoken about the example we have set to the rest of the world, but he is right to say that we have to make sure that our own house is in order, and despite the huge progress in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is still significantly lagging behind.
My hon. Friend also mentioned transphobia. I will be meeting a trans activist support group in Cardiff this evening. We need to do much more across the whole of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland on trans issues.
I agree completely with my hon. Friend’s points, and I will come on to talk about LGBT rights elsewhere in the UK.
The TIE campaign found that teachers often do not know what they are allowed to talk about in schools and do not feel adequately trained to tackle LGBTI issues. The TIE campaign seeks to change that, and I welcome the excellent work it has done and continues to do. Just today, it has secured the support of the first Catholic priest to back the campaign. Father Morton is from Cambuslang in my constituency and he joins other faith leaders in the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Scotland, as well as teachers, trade unions, charities and politicians from all political parties, in recognising that we need action for LGBTI young people at school. It is very important that such examples are set by leading figures in society.
Legislation and Government also have a leading part to play in changing societal attitudes. I therefore wonder what example the Prime Minister set when she welcomed into the heart of Government a party hardly famed for its support of LGBT rights.
When I get on a plane in Glasgow and land in Belfast, not far from where my husband was born, despite not having left the UK our marriage is no longer recognised, because the Democratic Unionist party, ignoring public opinion and blocking the will of the Northern Ireland Assembly, refuses to extend to the people of Northern Ireland the same basic rights that are enjoyed by citizens in the rest of Ireland and the UK.
Members of this House who now find themselves propping up this Government are on record making comments such as:
“I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and—without caring about it—harm society. That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them. I mean, I hate what they do.”
Such comments about LGBT people harming society are shocking. The Prime Minister talks about how far we still have to go, yet this is the company she is keeping in Government.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the DUP would do well to look south to the Republic of Ireland, which despite coming from the Catholic tradition—as I do myself; I was delighted to hear about the Roman Catholic priest supporting Time for Inclusive Education—has now recognised gay marriage and has a gay Taoiseach? Does he agree that the DUP would do well to follow in the footsteps of its fellow countrymen?
I absolutely agree with the hon. and learned Lady. The DUP would also do well to look east towards Scotland and to the example that we are setting there. It is a short journey from Glasgow to Belfast, but what a change in rights we see when we make that journey. The cost of the agreement that held this Government together was £1 billion. Why were LGBTI rights and equality for all UK citizens not part of that deal? What kind of example can we hope to set for the rest of the world when we reward homophobia with a place in the Government? Silence and inaction are not an option. It is time for the Government to put their mouth where their money is.
It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Gerard Killen), not least because his constituency is the part of Scotland that my family hail from. Indeed, I cut my campaigning teeth in the Rutherglen constituency but, despite its having a ward called Toryglen, I came fourth. I also commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this debate and for his incredibly powerful speech. He was absolutely right to say that we have a two-world situation.
We should celebrate the fact that many countries in the world are making commendable progress on LGBT+ issues. On the first day of this month, same-sex marriage became legal in Germany following a vote in its Parliament earlier this year. We have also heard about the referendum in Australia, which I hope will go the right way. I have relatives over there, and I will be doing a spot of telephone canvassing to make sure that they vote the right way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) mentioned, Taiwan has become the first country in Asia in which the highest court recognises same-sex marriage. I hope that, despite all the other tensions in that part of the world, that country’s example will encourage others to go down the same route.
As Members on both sides of the House have detailed, however, there are also many shocking examples of countries in which incredibly regressive and retrograde developments are taking place. We have to be honest with ourselves and admit that there is not one simple, quick solution to getting those countries to move to a more enlightened place. We cannot simply legislate for change. We have to encourage and allow cultures to adapt, and prejudices to be challenged and diminished.
As other Members have said, we have to remember that this country has been on a journey as well. Yes, we probably have the most advanced equalities legislation in the world; yes, this Parliament is one of the most LGBT+-friendly Parliaments in the world; and yes, we have seen an enormous shift in British public opinion in a relatively short period of time, but it is only a couple of decades since the majority of people in this country believed that homosexual acts were sinful or wrong. That has been reversed, and rightly so, but prejudice remains.
I want to make brief reference to two events that happened to me in recent months and that confirmed to me that prejudice still exists. Back in the summer, I recorded a video for the Diana award “Back2School” anti-bullying project. As the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said, the very fact that we have to take part in these campaigns because young people are being bullied at school shows us that prejudice remains. Secondly, in recent weeks my new partner and I were walking through the shopping centre in the middle of my constituency. We were just holding hands, as we should have the right to do, when someone who clearly knew me shouted out a comment that was both racist and homophobic. The fact that that can happen in Milton Keynes, one of the more enlightened and modern parts of our country, shows that there is still prejudice in the United Kingdom.
I want to reinforce that point. While there is simple prejudice and bullying in schools, there are aspects of public policy that are still in the wrong place. I am talking about the prescription of pre-exposure prophylaxis. It has been established that the net present value advantage would be about £1 billion if gay men could be prescribed PrEP. However, we cannot have an open public policy; we have to have a large trial to get this thing delivered, all because of the attitude that would surround the challenge facing the Secretary of State for Health to do the right thing for public health.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. To back up what I just said, we are still on a journey in this country even though we have legislated in many areas, and we have to understand that other countries will also take a long time to get to where we want them to get—they cannot just legislate. We have to use all the tools that are at our disposal, and colleagues on both sides of the House have mentioned some of them. We have soft power that we can exert due to our historical relationships with many countries, and I hope that we put such issues on the agenda for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. For example, the charges have now been dropped in that horrible case in the UAE where a Scottish gentleman was put on trial and, although I do not know, I hope that the exertion of diplomacy from this country helped in that situation.
We should absolutely ensure that the soft power that we can exert through our overseas aid budget is used in the right way; the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) was absolutely right about that. We need to ensure that the money is there to help groups on the ground, and I agree with him that we should not take money away from health projects just because of a country’s horrible LGBT+ policies; it should be the other way around. We should be using that soft power to encourage countries down the road.
There is also a lot that individual parliamentarians can do. My constituency has a large Nigerian population, and I do not make any secret of my homosexuality when I go to meet them. By that simple act of being open with them—they can judge me however they like—they will hopefully see that I can act as a politician who is out, and that will filter through their community. I hope that that is something that each and every one of us can do. We also need to make more use of our soft power through sporting and cultural events, such as the upcoming Olympic games in Japan in 2020. I hope that individual sportsmen and sportswomen can be out and proud. I am sure that their sexuality makes no difference to their sporting ability.
As the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said, trade will also be an enormously important lever. I do not want to get into a Brexit discussion—that is for other debates and there will be many of them—but one consequence of our leaving the EU is that we will be able to develop new trade policies with many African countries, and I hope that that better interlinking of economies will mean that foreign companies realise that there is a huge pink pound market in the UK in which to sell their products. Countries may also realise that tourism might be inhibited by LGBT+ policies. Bit by bit and example by example, I hope that closer economic ties will help to break down some of the prejudices. We should not pretend that things will be easy or quick, but that should not dissuade us from the task of achieving a world in which people, whatever their nationality, religion or background, can love whomever they want.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), but I start by paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this debate and to the all-party parliamentary group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights for its hard work in keeping this important human rights issue high on the agenda.
As we have heard, over the past year—even just in recent months—we have continued to see persistent and appalling reports of persecution of the LGBT community around the globe, including in Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Tajikistan and so many other places in between. We have heard about kidnapping, mistreatment in custody, beatings, harassment and even torture—all on a significant scale—with the leaders of those countries so often appearing to face nothing more than a stern talking to. I was going to speak about the case of Zelimkhan Bakayev, the gay Chechen popstar who was murdered while attending his sister’s wedding in Chechnya, but the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) has already rightly highlighted that particularly tragic case.
Homophobia in all shapes and forms is absolutely abhorrent, but the state-sponsored persecution we still see too often is disgusting and despicable. Far from being the strong men they think they are, its perpetrators are among the most cowardly, pathetic and vile individuals alive.
The process of turning this around will not be easy, and clearly it will take co-ordinated international action, rather than the actions of one or two isolated Governments. The UK Government should be commended for the times they have shown leadership on LGBT rights across the world, but there is so much work ahead. It is imperative that they persist in calling for the immediate release of people who are detained because of their sexual orientation. Not only should they press for the repeal of legislation that allows such detention to happen, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Gerard Killen) said, they also have to argue positively for legislation that protects against discrimination and protects human rights.
Laws and political leaders are just one side of the coin. It is not just about changing the minds of Presidents and Prime Ministers. For example, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Centre, 95% of Egyptians believe that homosexuality should not be accepted by society. There is an even bigger battle to change hearts and minds more generally, and hon. Members have already rightly said how both the Government and business can and must support non-governmental organisations in protecting LGBT rights.
We must take every opportunity to be ambassadors both in our actions abroad and when we are hosts. That brings to mind Pride House in Glasgow during the 2014 Commonwealth games, which is an excellent example of how Governments can positively promote LGBT rights across the world when acting as hosts. That project celebrated the participation of LGBTI people in sport and hosted a total of 90 events during the Commonwealth games. More than 6,000 people from at least 39 different countries and territories passed through its doors, and they all now know that Glasgow, Scotland and the United Kingdom want to support LGBT rights, even as we accept that we still have a journey to go.
Before I conclude, I will raise the issue of how we treat those who have fled the repressive regimes that we have all condemned this afternoon and who seek refugee status here. Several years ago I represented a young gay man in his appeal against the refusal of his claim for asylum. Back then, the legal challenge to the then Home Office practice of refusing refugee protection on the basis that a person could “be discreet” had barely started. Eventually, the Supreme Court made it absolutely clear that what is protected under the refugee convention is not some measly right to live a shadowy, furtive existence but the right to live freely and openly as a gay man or woman. Lord Rodger put it rather more colourfully in his speech:
“To illustrate the point with trivial stereotypical examples from British society: just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates… In other words, gay men are to be as free as their straight equivalents in the society concerned to live their lives in the way that is natural to them as gay men, without the fear of persecution.”
Awful, awful stereotypes aside, it was a ground-breaking decision. Almost seven years on, there are real concerns that the Home Office, once again, is not taking the decision seriously at different stages of the asylum process—from detention to interview; and from the guidance it issues to the decisions and removals that are being implemented.
Although I welcome and encourage the Government to continue and redouble their efforts to tackle persecution abroad, I also ask them to consider how, here at home, they treat those who have fled that same persecution.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this important debate.
I am proud to sit with Members who have championed LGBT rights. The 2017 manifesto on which I was elected clearly stated that we were
“to combat…the perpetration of violence against people because of their faith, gender or sexuality.”
In action, the Conservatives pushed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, and we are now considering a gender recognition Bill. We are committed to the principle of equality in law.
The UK has a proud record of LGBT rights and, as we have heard, it has been a journey, but today we can stand tall on the international stage to champion how all parts of the UK put people’s rights and their ability to live their life first. Elsewhere, as we have heard, a number of issues have arisen in Chechnya and Azerbaijan.
I am the vice-chairman of the all-party group on Azerbaijan, and I am also a gay man. This afternoon, I had a meeting with Stonewall and I have given it my assurance that I will raise this issue formally with Azerbaijan’s ambassador to London to get assurances that the sort of behaviour towards LGBT people that we saw in September will not be repeated.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and I wish him luck in his efforts.
Ideologies that suppress, torture and kill simply because of one human’s feelings towards another are unacceptable. We in the UK must show international leadership, as it is very important in this issue. The United States was once a beacon for all kinds of individual rights and I would like to share with Members my disappointment, which I am sure they share, at the decisions of the latest American President to ban further recruitment of trans soldiers and to deny the funding of certain medical treatments for those soldiers. If someone is brave enough to fight for their country, their country should be brave enough to fight for them.
In this country, we have a number of measures that are helping internationally. I welcome the Magna Carta fund of £1.5 million, which is being pushed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I also welcome the Government’s recent provision of £3 million to help tackle homophobic bullying in schools in England and Wales. The Scottish Government’s “respect me” campaign has been very successful and the anti-bullying service it promotes is also welcomed, but I seek more joined-up campaigns across the UK to promote LGBT rights.
This country is a leader, but we have to maintain that position of leadership. In my constituency, we are able to collect statistics on sexual orientation-aggravated crime in two centres, Alloa and Perth, and in 2015-16 there were 21 cases of such crimes—that is 21 too many. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege, along with other Scottish Members, to hear from a representative from the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, who talked about a number of individuals’ journeys and their challenges in dealing with their sexuality. One story that has stuck with me ever since was that of a young man who was so tortured by his sexuality and how he could fit in with his local community that he had gone as far as to pick a tree outside his house from which to hang himself, so that he could be easily collected by his family. I am sure other Members will join me in acknowledging the many tales of people tearing themselves apart because of the way they feel. They ask themselves one question: can I love who I do and still be good, still be a success, still be able to contribute to my community? In this House, the answer we must give is an unequivocal yes. I support the TIE campaign, which has been mentioned by Opposition Members and which promotes inclusive education to make sure LGBT issues are included in the curriculum. That is not to promote one path or another; it seeks just to give young people the confidence to walk the path that is their own.
We must uphold LGBT rights with the same ferocity as we uphold the rights of any other of our citizens. We must tackle discrimination, at home and abroad, and give everyone the confidence to live their life and contribute to our society. Unlike so many issues debated in this House, equality in law is something we can all agree with, and I hope that every Member in this House can commit to it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham); we always welcome allies in these debates, and we have heard a number of powerful speeches. The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) has done an excellent job, as does the all-party group, in bringing forward and raising the voices of those around the world who cannot speak for themselves.
Let us consider the following:
“gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends and our neighbours.
Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality.”
Those are the excellent words of Hillary Rodham Clinton —words to which I have returned on many occasions in recent years.
As someone who took until I was 32 to come to terms with my own sexuality, I spent a lot of my early life hiding from myself, my feelings and my emotions, and from the truth of who I am and who I love. But I never, ever had to hide from the state or the police, or out of fear of being persecuted or killed. Sadly, as we have heard, that is the experience of many LGBT people around the globe in places such as Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. In those countries, in 2017, being LGBT is punishable by death. It is therefore vital that we shine a light, as we have with many powerful speeches today, on those people who are being persecuted and who cannot speak for themselves.
As we know, the gay men in Chechnya who were unable to hide have been beaten, tortured or killed, and the stories that have emerged have sickened us all. There has been cross-party condemnation of those acts. It is good that international pressure has led to investigations, but questions remain about President Putin’s commitment to stopping these heinous crimes, and as The Guardian reported in May:
“Rights activists worry that Chechen authorities will do everything to obstruct the federal investigation into the allegations.”
The UK Government must continue to put pressure on Russia, and any future trade deals during or after Brexit must not be traded against human rights.
I am very proud that the UK and Scotland have come so far. Scotland is now recognised as one of the most progressive countries in the world on LGBT rights. As the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) pointed out, the SNP is now the gayest party in this Parliament. I was proud to bring those numbers up and to be the most recent Member to come out. I am also proud that our leader in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, was one of the first leaders to take part in a Pride event and to speak at Glasgow Pride earlier this year. It is not a competition, though, although it was interesting to hear that a person now has to be gay to become a Conservative candidate—that is most definitely progress!
Like other Members, I pay tribute to Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson from the Time for Inclusive Education campaign. They came to Parliament recently, and I was glad to co-host an event with the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Gerard Killen) that they attended. They told us Jordan’s story, which is so powerful, and they have done so much to put pressure on the Scottish Government and on other Governments around the world. TIE has been recognised by the UN as a leading light—another example of how we are leading the world.
There are so many charities and organisations that we could recognise, but I want to draw particular attention to Stonewall and the Kaleidoscope Trust, which do important work not only here in the UK but around the world. A friend of mine who was openly gay at secondary school—something I was frankly too terrified to be—told me recently that had it not been for the support she had from Stonewall, she may not have survived. Stonewall was quite simply a lifeline that saved her life.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the reason why we have such a difficulty with bullying over LGBTI issues in schools throughout the United Kingdom is the legacy of the section 28 legislation, which made it very difficult for teachers to deal with these issues? Will she add to the list of those to whom she pays tribute the Labour Government in Scotland who, with SNP support, repealed that legislation in 2000, and the politicians and activists who fought for so many years against that pernicious legislation? I remember going on a march against it in Manchester in 1987. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute not to me, but to the people who fought that legislation?
Yes. I absolutely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. There is a great sense of consensus in the Chamber today. It is important that we pay tribute to those who came before us, including those in that Labour Government in Scotland, as well as to what the Conservative UK Government are doing now. The Minister for Women and Equalities is doing a lot of work on education and LGBT matters. It is so important that we all speak up and that we work together. We may disagree on many, many issues, but there will be areas of agreement.
There are some chinks of light internationally in the battle for LGBT rights. Countries such as Australia are finally catching up and having a public survey or plebiscite on equal marriage. I should declare an interest as the partner of an Australian citizen. It saddens me that she does not have the same rights at home in Australia as she has here in Scotland and the UK.
I also pay tribute to the Minister for Europe and the Americas, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), who is not in his place now but was earlier, and who took part, along with other Members, in a programme I made with the BBC’s “Victoria Derbyshire” programme about politicians and their experiences of coming out. I might not always agree with him, but I respect the position he took recently on LGBT rights when he addressed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He said that,
“the UK is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls and of LGBT people everywhere, and to building a wider international consensus around efforts to advance equality and justice. That includes here in the US, because this is another area on which the UK government and the US Administration do not see entirely eye to eye. We have made clear that we oppose all discrimination, including within the Armed Forces.”
The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire referred to President Trump’s abhorrent stance on transgender people in the army. The restoration of the military ban on transgender people is just another regressive and divisive step that he has made, and it is good to see the UK Government standing up to it. Perhaps President Trump could take inspiration from former President Jimmy Carter, who famously said:
“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America”.
The hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) asked an important question about PrEP. I am sure he will join me in congratulating the SNP Government in Scotland on having made PrEP free on the NHS in Scotland. We would be happy to share our experience and hope that his Government will come forward with similar plans as soon as possible. He previously asked a question about which British embassies flew the rainbow flag on Pride day and International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and got the following response:
“The promotion and protection of LGBT rights is a UK foreign policy priority”
“no…records are kept”.
I am sure he will agree that if we are to promote LGBT rights, we should be tracking the progress of our embassies and missions around the world. I am sure it is a policy priority for them all.
Progress has been made, however, and there are other chinks of light, including in Taiwan and Malta. The latter has become the first European country to ban conversion therapy—something we will all find utterly abhorrent.
In conclusion, someone at Pride in London spoke powerfully before the march about how across the UK we must continue to have lists and celebrate our LGBT leaders and to march for those who cannot march. Most importantly, we must set the best possible example to the rest of the world and make sure that no one is persecuted just for loving the person they love.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell).
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this important debate and the Backbench Business Committee, which keeps keeping me in the Chamber on a Thursday afternoon for really important cross-party debates. I know that my right hon. Friend is working hard on LGBTI rights here at home and abroad. Parliamentarians from across the House, by coming out and, most importantly, speaking out, are leading the way. It takes courage. As a fellow human, I see and support that courage.
We in the UK, which is leading the world on LGBT rights, have been on a positive journey. We will all have friends, family members, neighbours or colleagues openly identifying themselves as belonging to the LGBT community. And this has been reflected in Government policy. We have made huge strides since 2010, particularly under David Cameron, with the introduction of marriage equality, Turing’s law and the abolition of offences that have affected so many people, and this summer when the Prime Minister announced the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. I am fortunate to be working alongside a constituent, Tara, and the transgender community, which is working so hard on these issues. I welcome all the Government’s plans, and look forward to them moving forward.
As a former member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I am absolutely delighted that it is this Parliament that has carried out the first investigation into transgender rights. We were absolutely right to do that—some 650,000 people have been identified as transgender. We must tackle the issue as it affects families, mental health, our NHS and our communities. Our work in this area is world leading.
May I thank Julie and the lesbian and gay liaison team at Hampshire police for all the work that they do across our communities? We all want equality for all. It makes us safer, happier, and healthier. I also wish to thank those who work openly on this matter in the NHS, the fire service and all our communities, because by working together we become stronger, and by working with trans people in particular our communities become stronger.
It is hate crime awareness week, and we all have a huge responsibility to be temperate in our language and in our actions. Tolerance matters. Hate crime can leave an individual, a family or a community isolated from society. It highlights a broken society, and the UK is no place for hate. Tolerance and understanding make this a safer place in which to live.
I congratulate the Hampshire police and crime commissioner on his focus on joint working with the Hampshire Citizens Advice service on safe reporting spaces. I also congratulate the Isle of Wight on securing the right to host a UK Pride event in 2018, so next year will be a great occasion. I have been contacted by constituents in Eastleigh who also want to hold a Pride event. They want to see their town flying the flag. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) also say the same thing.
We are here today listening to stories about those living in fear across the world. We must remember that being who you are is not a crime, but targeting, bullying or threatening a person—wherever they live and whoever they are—is a crime. People do not have to put up with that behaviour. They should report it and ask for help. I congratulate Hampshire and Isle of Wight Youth Commission, which has carried out a project on tackling such behaviour. The behaviour is learned—perhaps from school or college—and it is unacceptable. If we can achieve all this here, we need to focus our attention abroad. We have heard about the perils of being born in Chechnya, Azerbaijan or Egypt. One’s heart sinks when one hears that, in Chechnya, an LGBTI person does not even exist.
We have also been talking about Australia, where voting is compulsory. We can see the simple question that should be posed: should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? A strong yes vote would be a huge victory for LGBTI Australians, and such a move would help their Government to send out a clear global message.
I welcome what we are doing in the UK to make the lives of people around the world better through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and through our aid budget. We must ensure that we continue to work with the UN Free and Equal campaign, which has reached an estimated 2 billion people through the use of social media, which gives us a huge ability to change attitudes.
We have made some huge strides in LGBTI rights here in the UK. We as parliamentarians do set an example in our local communities, in this Chamber and across the globe.
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I will not seek her support immediately for the amendments to which I am about to refer, because they relate to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and she may want to look at them more carefully, but may I encourage her to look at amendments 287 to 290, which are supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International? They are relevant to ensuring that, as part of that process of conversion from EU law to UK law, we do preserve human rights aspects of that EU law, which often has been used in support of LGBT rights. I hope that she will at least look at them.
To me, Brexit means Brexit. It is not about going back on equality. I feel extremely strongly about that.
I mentioned the WHO, which made such a regrettable decision, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley mentioned, but I am sure that UK pressure really made a difference in reversing that decision. So, yes, the world does watch us. The Prime Minister’s speech at the PinkNews awards this month recognised that. I support the fact that she, Ministers and colleagues from across the House have the chance to support the LGBTI community. I look forward to my children—not just my children’s children—growing up in a world where sexuality and gender are no measure at all by which to judge a person.
I thank the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this debate, which is important, particularly in light of some of the recent reports from Azerbaijan, Egypt and Crimea.
I visited Azerbaijan many times, in particular Baku and Ganja, when I was a member of the Council of Europe’s advisory council on youth. I found the young people there to be tolerant, progressive and open-looking. It is often young people who help to create change in our societies. The reports of a Government crackdown are worrying. I remember raising the reports of a Government crackdown in Azerbaijan in 2006, after one of my first visits there. The ambassador’s comments are reassuring, but we need more than just warm words. We need some concrete action from the Azeri Government. I am sure that the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), who is the vice-chair of the APPG on Azerbaijan, will follow that up.
The youth are often the predominant group that the authorities crack down upon. The case in Egypt, where the crackdown was at a pop concert, is an example of where young people, as well as LGBT people, are disproportionately targeted. They were targeted for flying a flag—I mean, really! It beggars belief.
We cannot just be bystanders. We must be clear that we have a moral duty to speak out for human rights and against human rights abuses. Why are there laws against LGBT people in so many countries? Why is there section 377 of India’s penal code? Why are there sections 76 and 77 of Jamaica’s Offences Against the Person Act 1861? The date might give us a clue. Why is there section 377A of Singapore’s penal code—the exact same number as the similar section of India’s penal code? Why? Because, of course, those laws were imposed by British colonial rule and imperialism.
It was the imperial law—combined with our imposition of the imperial Christian religion at the time and expressed by an imperial English language—that enforced the homophobia that still exists in so many of our Commonwealth countries. It was often enforced against the practices and will of the local historical narrative in those countries. Study after study shows that former British colonies are more likely to criminalise homosexual acts than any other former colonial state or state that was always independent. Some 57% of states criminalising homosexuality have a British colonial background.
The hon. Gentleman is raising a lot of historical points, which is fine, but does he agree that now is the opportunity to use some of our long-standing relationships with these countries to improve those LGBT rights and follow our good example?
That is exactly what I am coming to. I am trying to say that it is our duty to speak up because we were the ones that historically imposed some of these laws. We cannot just wash our hands and say, “Well, we’re anti-colonialists now, so we’ll just let you get on with it.” We have a duty to be proactive in our response. That is exactly the issue I am coming to, and I think we will agree on it.
Some 70% of Commonwealth countries have some sort of criminalisation of homosexual acts. Of course, we have CHOGM in this country next year, and we need to make sure that we are leading the way. I was at the CHOGM event in Sri Lanka—I was also at the event in Malta—as an observer for the Commonwealth Youth Forum, and it was very interesting in a number of respects. The young people had an interesting and detailed discussion around anti-LGBT discrimination. When the discussion was in the open plenary, it was touch and go whether we would pass some of the anti-LGBT discrimination clauses we were trying to get into the declaration. When we asked for them to go to a secret ballot, they passed overwhelmingly. When I asked the young people from Commonwealth countries, “Why the change later on?” they said, “Because we are afraid of our elders. We are afraid of often more established forces in our countries. But we and our friends, our colleagues and other young people in our countries do not see LGBT+ people as a problem. We actually see them as equal, and they should have their human rights respected.” That is very positive, and it is why it is so important that DFID and the Foreign Office continue to support young people in our Commonwealth countries and in other countries around the world in putting that argument.
Our role is not just to go into these countries again and to say, “Oh well, our old penal code was wrong. Reverse it.” Our role is to stand shoulder to shoulder with other LGBT activists—brothers and sisters—around the world and to support them. That is why it is so important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) mentioned earlier, that embassies and DFID have small pots of cash to support groups on the ground. That is why it is so important that ambassadors know that they will get the backing of the FCO if they put their neck on the line to support local LGBT groups on the ground.
I was in Uganda earlier in the year speaking to some of the LGBT groups there, and they are very thankful for the ongoing support our high commission offers them, but one thing they do say is that when the high commissioner changes, there is sometimes a slight change of direction, and that needs to be something we are concerned about. The FCO needs to give clear guidelines to all ambassadors and high commissioners to make sure they know we have their backs.
I will wrap up by saying that we have an opportunity at CHOGM and the UN to push for support for people on the ground, and we must not let that opportunity go, while also speaking up against countries that breach human rights.
When we talk about these abuses around the world, it is best to speak with a sense of humility about the challenges we still face with homophobia in our own country. In the Brighton and Hove area—which I am proud to represent as one of its three MPs—we saw a savage homophobic attack in May last year against two young people, Dain Finney and his partner James. They were visitors to Brighton, but they were savagely attacked that night.
Just this week, we have also seen how somebody who ended up as a Member of Parliament, having been elected this year, used a type of homophobic language before first coming to this place that was really quite extreme and quite offensive.
There are three things about the response to both those cases that set us as a country apart from those countries that we are talking about and that we aim to tackle in this debate. First, in the case of Dain and James—the two men assaulted in Brighton—the men who assaulted them were arrested and convicted, and they are currently serving a five-year custodial sentence. The state was on the victims’ side, but in some other countries—from Russia to Uganda—the police and the judiciary are often the ones carrying out the homophobia in the first place, whether through violence or the use of laws that are homophobic. They are not protecting the citizens they should be protecting.
After the assaults in Brighton that left Dain Finney with both eye sockets broken, both cheekbones broken and his nose broken, he said:
“I hope that what happened to us reminds people that discrimination of any kind isn’t acceptable and we need to be challenging it when it does happen or when we see it. No one should live their lives in fear and I would just urge people to be themselves and walk out the door each day with their heads held high.”
I know that those words, coming from a 22-year-old victim of hate crime, will be inspiring to Members across the House. However, this debate concerns people who live in countries where victims cannot hold their heads high because they suffer the fear of arrest, torture and even execution. Their own states will not protect them, so we as a country have to deliver some of the change that their own states are incapable of delivering themselves.
In the recent instance of the appalling words used by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Jared O’Mara) to describe gay people, it is noticeable that both Parliament and the media were convulsed with revulsion by his words and the sentiment that lay behind them, even though they were in his distant past. It is right that he has been suspended from the Labour party, while these words and actions are being investigated, but in Parliaments in Tanzania, Chechnya, Russia and too many countries of Africa, offensive homophobic rhetoric is not challenged —it has become the norm.
The excellent report from the APPG on global LGBT rights makes sobering reading. The work put into by parliamentarians and campaigning organisations was intense and immense, but really worth it. I was particularly struck by the legislative assault on same-sex relationships by the state in Uganda and in Nigeria. Legislation was introduced in both countries that strengthened the penalties for same-sex activity and drastically limited the ability of LGBT people to organise in defence of their rights. Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage (Prohibitions) Act contains provisions that criminalise the formation, operation and support of gay clubs, societies and organisations, with sentences of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The curtailment of the ability of LGBT communities to organise themselves, to receive funds and to provide services to and advocate on behalf of LGBT people goes beyond mere homophobia—it is a direct assault on civil society itself. In terms of finding ways to deliver change in these countries, the erosion of civil society worries me the most.
In Britain, the transformation from a country with section 28 in statute to one of equal rights and gay marriage was not conceived, led and delivered solely within the four walls of this Parliament. Most of the leadership came from outside—from within our communities and our remarkable voluntary and campaigning sectors. It was one of the best examples of civil society and legislators working together, almost in partnership, to deliver positive social change. It is notable that many of the countries we have talked about today have suffered an erosion or curtailment of wider civil rights first as part of a programme of eroding the rights of gay people. This makes people more vulnerable to abuse, both state-sponsored and from within the institutions of family and community that surround them.
I urge Minsters to act unrelentingly in this area to support lawyers trying to challenge abuse in-country by using the expertise and resources not just of DFID but of the Ministry of Justice, to train our ambassadors appropriately in the issue, to ensure that this is a priority of our whole Government and to use our position in every multinational and multilateral body—from the UN to the Commonwealth, to the monetary and banking organisations—to make sure that in the case of any country that chooses to repress rather than support people who want the basic human right to be gay and to be happy, Britain is always on the side of those people.
We have had an excellent debate this afternoon. I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and his all-party parliamentary group on global LGBT rights for being instrumental in securing the debate.
I suggest that the litmus test of how much we in the United Kingdom really care about global LGBT rights is how we treat LGBT+ people who come to the United Kingdom, seeking sanctuary, from countries where they have been persecuted. Sadly, our record on that is not all it might be.
Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s questions, I raised with the Prime Minister new guidance put out by the Home Office recently—earlier this year—on Afghanistan, suggesting that gay asylum seekers can return to Afghanistan if they pretend to be straight. That guidance flies in the face of the Supreme Court decision referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald). I was disappointed yesterday when I sought an undertaking from the Prime Minister that the Home Office would stop the practice of deporting LGBT+ people to Afghanistan with the instruction that they pretend to be straight, and she was not able to give me that undertaking on the spot. If she wants to go to the PinkNews awards and be lauded as an advocate of LGBT rights, she should know what is going on in her own Government, but she did not seem to know about that. I am glad to say, however, that the Home Secretary has approached me and said that she will look into the issue carefully.
This country is one of the few in Europe that detain people who have come here as LGBT asylum seekers. On this very date a year ago, Stonewall and the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group—I pay tribute to UK LGIG for helping me to prepare my short speech today—produced a report, “No Safe Refuge”, which detailed the experiences of asylum seekers in detention in this country. People who have come to the countries of the United Kingdom seeking sanctuary have been held in UK detention centres, where they have been asked about their past and had bad experiences with homophobic staff and other asylum seekers. Their physical and emotional wellbeing has been affected in detention and their access to health and legal services has been restricted. The report exposed many lapses in standards, with staff often ill-equipped to deal with LGBT people. Many of the people interviewed recounted shocking instances of homophobia at every level of our system, from guards to other detainees, interpreters and even legal representatives.
We must look at how we treat people fleeing persecution in other countries because they are LGBT+ who come to the United Kingdom looking for sanctuary. This morning, my office spoke to Paul Dillane, the executive director at UK LGIG. He told us that, a year since the report on the treatment of LGBT asylum seekers in detention was published, there has still been no formal response from the Government. If we in the United Kingdom want to promote ourselves as supportive of LGBT+ rights and if we want to stand here and criticise other countries that are not, we must, across the parties, tackle the disgraceful treatment that some LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees receive in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister responding to the debate will note what I have said and pass it on to the relevant Department. It simply will not do to pose as great defenders of LGBTI+ rights when we treat people who come to this country seeking sanctuary so badly.
I thank the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for securing this important debate. We have had a very good discussion, with important and moving contributions from Members in all parts of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) paid tribute to activists around the world who have been murdered and talked about the leverage our country has in trade talks post Brexit. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) talked about gay football players, although I think the Football Association will have to change considerably before what he wants to happen does so. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) talked about sustainable development goals and paid tribute to DFID and trade unions for the role they play in securing LGBT rights. The hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) gave a moving account of his lived experience of coming out.
Tragically, of those LGBT people killed in the Americas in 2013-14, 46% were trans women, and more than 2,000 trans gender and gender-diverse people were murdered in 65 countries between 2008 and 2015, according to the trans murder monitoring project. Although Labour has often led the way on LGBT+ rights, it is important, given that we are discussing the global situation and as the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) has just said, that we in the UK get our own house in order. People fleeing persecution often end up on our shores. Therefore, how we treat people fleeing violence, persecution and death is vital in the battle for human rights.
Like the hon. and learned Lady, I was disappointed to read the article in The Guardian, which reported that deported gay Afghans were told to pretend to be straight. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said on the Floor of the House that it was her Government who changed the rules on asylum seekers who face persecution in their home of origin because of their identity. That is true, because the Supreme Court found in June 2010 that it was not lawful for the Home Office to apply a “reasonably tolerable test” to determine whether an individual could avoid the risk of future persecution by concealing their sexual identity in their country of origin.
Although the coalition Government welcomed that decision, this Government are still sending out letters such as this from the Home Office to a frightened LGBT+ person:
“You claim to have a well-founded fear of persecution in Bangladesh on the basis of your sexual orientation. I have considered your claim on behalf of the Secretary of State… You have not shown that there are substantial grounds for believing that you face a real risk of suffering serious harm.”
The letter acknowledges that Bangladesh is a Muslim country where homosexuality is lawfully forbidden, but it ends—I am embarrassed and ashamed to read this out, given what has been said in the debate—with the following:
“It is considered that you do not have such a high profile in Bangladesh”.
I am stunned and shocked by that and do not know what it actually means in its entirety. Our asylum policy should be based not on whether someone has a high profile, money or anything else, but on the laws of our country being applied equally, fairly and compassionately.
There is an argument known as the Anne Frank principle, about which Lord Justice Pill said:
“It would have been no defence to a claim that Anne Frank faced well-founded fear of persecution in 1942 to say that she was safe in a comfortable attic. Had she left the attic, a human activity she could reasonably be expected to enjoy, her Jewish identity would have led to her persecution. Refugee status cannot be denied by expecting a person to conceal aspects of identity or suppress behaviour the person should be allowed to express.”
This Government’s action puts them at odds with the United Nations guidelines on refugees and the 2012 UN “Born Free and Equal” report, whose five pillars are protect, prevent, repeal, prohibit and safeguard.
Despite positive developments in most countries, including ours, there remains a lack of comprehensive policies to address rights violations against LGBT+ and intersex people. There is a concern that cases that have already reached the appeal rights exhausted stage are not exhausted and need to be revisited. I hope that the Minister will address that issue when he gets to his feet.
On domestic politics, it is always necessary in these circumstances to talk about what a Labour Government would do on LGBT+ rights. Our manifesto said:
“A Labour government will reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to ensure they protect Trans people by changing the protected characteristic of ‘gender assignment’ to ‘gender identity’… Labour will bring the law on LGBT hate crimes into line with hate crimes based on race and faith, by making them aggravated offences.
To tackle bullying of LGBT young people, Labour will ensure that all teachers”
and health and social care workers
“receive initial and ongoing training”.
The hon. Member for Reigate will be interested to hear that a Labour Government
“will ensure that NHS England completes the trial programme to provide PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) as quickly as possible, and fully roll out the treatment to high-risk groups to help reduce HIV infection.”
Labour will also
“appoint dedicated global ambassadors for women’s rights, LGBT rights and religious freedom to fight discrimination and promote equality globally.”
Three months ago the Prime Minister said of her own party’s record on LBGT rights:
“I acknowledge where we have been wrong on these issues in the past. There will justifiably be scepticism about the positions taken and votes cast down through the years by the Conservative Party, and by me”.
This has been a very conciliatory debate; I would like to help the Prime Minister and the Government to ease that scepticism. The Government now have a close working relationship with the Democratic Unionist party. When the Minister rises to his feet, will he make it clear to the House that he will help to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland? Human rights are important to all humans. Let us lead the way in the UK.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on securing this important debate and on a powerful opening speech. As the chair of the all-party group on global LGBT rights, he knows just how important it is that we tackle widespread violence and discrimination against LGBT people around the world. I pay tribute to him for the commitment and energy that he gives to this cause. This has been an excellent debate, with many powerful and moving speeches, including by my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) and the hon. Members for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) and for Hove (Peter Kyle).
This year we are marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Over the past 50 years, this country has made considerable progress, including by introducing same-sex marriage in 2013, equalising the age of consent and introducing the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The effect of successive Governments’ efforts in recent decades means that the UK has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world for LGBT people. Yet we also know that LGBT people still experience discrimination in their day-to-day lives. The Government are committed to eliminating all prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people in this country, wherever its last vestiges remain.
As the hon. Member for Livingston pointed out, achieving that begins at school. It is important that all schools are truly inclusive for LGBT pupils. The Government want to tackle the bullying of LGBT pupils that, sadly, happens all too often. That is why we are currently running a £3 million anti-bullying programme to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Young people should feel safe and able to be open at school so that they can focus on their studies.
I seek some clarity on the issue of sex education, which the Government are making compulsory. I welcome that, but what does the Minister think should be done on LGBT rights within that, including in faith schools, which take a different approach to the issue?
We will consult on the content of relationships and sex education shortly, but we want to ensure that it is LGBT-inclusive.
We announced in July that the Government also want to consult on reforming the Gender Recognition Act to ensure that we are providing the best possible support for transgender people. We know that many trans people now find the focus on medical checks in the gender recognition process very intrusive and stigmatising. In July, the Government launched a national LGBT survey, to help us to understand the experiences of all LGBT people in the UK. The survey closed earlier this month and the response we received was unprecedented, with well over 100,000 responses. That makes it one of the largest surveys of its kind in the world. The survey will be hugely important in policy development on LGBT issues.
One area of focus for the all-party group was LGBT asylum seekers, an issue also raised by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald). We are focusing on building an inclusive society. An important element of that is ensuring that Britain is a safe haven for those who may be experiencing persecution and abuse because they are LGBT. We must ensure that LGBT people seeking to escape extreme discrimination are safe in this country while their claims are processed. In September last year, the Government introduced the “adult at risk” concept into decision making on immigration. This concept acts on the assumption that vulnerable people who may be at risk of particular harm in detention should not be detained. That builds on the existing legal framework already in place. We have worked closely with organisations such as Stonewall, the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group and the UN High Commission for Refugees to develop guidance and training for staff in detention centres. We continue to liaise with these groups to consider what further improvements can be made.
As a world leader on LGBT equality, this country has a moral duty to work to improve the lives of LGBT people living in other countries. It is sadly the case that homosexuality is still illegal in 72 countries and punishable by death in eight. The Government remain committed to working with like-minded countries and with the Equal Rights Coalition, of which the UK is a founding member, to stand up for LGBT rights internationally. At the very highest levels of government, we are challenging those who inflict or allow discrimination against LGBT people. We urge those countries that continue to criminalise same-sex relations to take steps towards decriminalisation, and we urge all countries to ensure that they have legislation that protects LGBT people from all forms of discrimination.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs raised the issue of funding of local LGBT groups internationally. We have committed over £1.6 million from the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy to projects working to promote and protect LGBT rights. That includes about £350,000 for the UN Free & Equal campaign. Last year, the UK supported the establishment of the UN’s first ever independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, and we vigorously defended his mandate when it was challenged by other states. We truly regret the resignation of the independent expert due to ill health and commend Professor Muntarbhorn for his work. It is vital that a successor be found quickly to continue this important work. We will continue to support that mandate.
My hon. Friends the Members for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) raised the issue of rainbow flags. We are proud to fly the rainbow flag on our buildings both at home and abroad for key events in the LGBT calendar, such as Pride. We work closely with our heads of mission around the world to ensure that flags are flown. We will continue to do so. I hope the flag will be flown in as many countries as possible.
Will the Minister give way?
I am sorry, but I am running out of time.
Turning to the Commonwealth, it is currently the case that 36 out of 52 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality. The UK Government have a special duty and responsibility to help change hearts and minds in our fellow Commonwealth countries. Next April, we are hosting the Commonwealth summit in London and Windsor. We will be using this opportunity to make sure that we discuss the important issue of LGBT equality in the Commonwealth.
Many hon. Members raised concerns about particular countries and the tragic difficulties faced by LGBT people in countries around the world. This year, there have been numerous reports regarding the horrific situation in Chechnya for LGBT people. The UK was among the first countries that expressed concern about the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya. We continue to lobby the Russian Government to investigate properly and to hold perpetrators to account. On 13 April, the Foreign Secretary co-signed a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov calling on the Russian Government to investigate and ensure the safety of journalists and activists investigating those abuses. Officials at our embassy in Moscow have also raised concerns at a senior level with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
We are also concerned about the recent crackdown on LGBT rights in Egypt. The Egyptian Government are well aware of our position on LGBT rights and we have called on the Government of Egypt to uphold and protect the rights of all minorities in the country. We are concerned about reports which suggest that some LGBT people detained in Egypt have been tortured, and we are continuing to monitor human rights there. We also continue to urge the Egyptian Government to implement the human rights provisions in their own constitution, and to investigate all reports of abuse against detainees.
We are also deeply concerned about reports that some members of the LGBT community in Azerbaijan have been arrested and detained by the authorities. We are monitoring the human rights situation in that country closely, and we regularly press its Government to meet their international obligations to protect the rights of all its citizens, including those who are LGBT. Officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have raised those specific reports with the Government of Azerbaijan, and we have received assurances that those who were arrested have now been released.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) expressed his concerns about Tanzania. We are, again, very concerned by the increased anti-homosexual rhetoric and the deteriorating environment for LGBT people there. Our high commission, along with partners and international LGBT organisations in Dar es Salaam, are monitoring the situation closely. As a close friend and partner of Tanzania, we have conversations about this and many other human rights issues with its Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) raised the issue of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. In December last year, NHS England and Public Health England announced that up to £10 million would be made available for a three-year trial of PrEP to answer outstanding questions about future access and implementation. The trial is intended to establish the most effective way in which to distribute the drug in order to have the greatest possible impact on reducing the spread of HIV.
The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) referred to the action plan on business and human rights. Last year the Government published guidance for businesses to implement the United Nations guiding principles on business and human rights, and that update reaffirms the UK’s commitment to the implementation of those principles.
This has been a hugely important debate. It has sent a united message from this Parliament to all the countries that criminalise being LGBT to take steps towards the decriminalisation of something that is simply a part of an individual’s nature.
During the debate, I learnt that 13 lawyers and activists in Tanzania had just been released on bail. They had been arrested last week and charged with the so-called crime of promoting homosexuality, which crime does not exist under Tanzania’s penal code. They were released on bail, and then rearrested. Their so-called crime was simply to challenge the country’s arbitrary ban on HIV care centres. During their detention in Dar es Salaam, the police applied to the courts in Tanzania to carry out forced medical examinations to establish whether or not those individuals were homosexual. Fortunately, the courts denied the application. There could not be a more sobering reminder of what is happening around the world in countries that, as my right hon. Friend the Minister just said, are friends of our own country, are members of the Commonwealth and have signed up to UN and Commonwealth charter commitments.
It is right that across the House, on an entirely non-partisan basis, Members of all parties have spoken out against these terrible abuses of LGBT rights, which are abuses of human rights. We have sent a signal today—and I am grateful that both Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Government have reinforced that signal—that abuses of LGBT rights cannot be tolerated, and that we expect and look to the authorities in the countries concerned to uphold the universal commitments to which every country has signed up.
We should not be fearful of taking a stance on these issues, because activists in those countries are looking to us—their friends and allies—to take such a stance. I am grateful to Members in all parts of the House for doing so today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered global LGBT rights.