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Gender Recognition

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2023

It is this Government’s policy that the UK does not recognise self-identification for the purpose of obtaining a gender recognition certificate. However, the Government are determined that everyone should be able to live their lives free from unfair discrimination. We are proud to have passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and Turing’s law. We also introduced a modernised and affordable gender-recognition process, while recognising the need to maintain checks and balances.

Today, we are laying an order to update the list of approved overseas countries and territories for parliamentary approval. That is provided for under section 1(1)(b) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and follows previous periodic updates. This is long overdue. The list of approved overseas countries and territories was last updated in 2011. A commitment was made to keep the list under review, so this is a further step in implementing our response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation.

We are doing this because some countries and territories on the list have made changes to their systems and would not now be considered to have similarly rigorous systems as the UK’s. Inadvertently allowing self-ID for obtaining GRCs is not Government policy. It should not be possible for a person who does not satisfy the criteria for UK legal gender recognition to use the overseas route to do so. We also need to ensure parity with UK applicants: it would not be fair for the overseas route to be based on less rigorous evidential requirements. That would damage the integrity and credibility of the process in the Gender Recognition Act.

We have finalised details of overseas countries and territories to be removed and added to the list laid today via an affirmative statutory instrument. We have undertaken thorough checks in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to verify our understanding of each overseas system in question and measure it against the UK’s standard route to obtain gender recognition.

My officials and I formally engaged with colleagues and Ministers from devolved Governments in advance of laying this statutory instrument. The Government are committed to ensuring that this outcome of the 2020 Gender Recognition Act consultation is followed through and upheld, and the overseas list will be updated via statutory instrument more regularly in future.

This work is important because of the complex interactions between the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010. The complexity of the legal situation was reinforced by the judgment in December 2022 by Lady Haldane in the judicial review brought by For Women Scotland, upheld on appeal last month by the Inner House of the Court of Session, which effectively stated that a gender recognition certificate changes a person’s sex for the purposes of the protections conferred by the Equality Act. Labour’s Gender Recognition Act 2004 and Equality Act 2010 did not envisage that the words “sex” and “gender” would be used as differently as they are today. That is having an impact on all policy that draws on those Acts, including on tackling conversion practices and guidance for gender-questioning children.

To that end, I am exploring how we can rectify these issues across the board and provide legal certainty. That will reduce the tensions that have emerged as a result of the confusion around the terms “sex” and “gender”, first by ensuring that we are evidence-led in the approach we take—for example, when considering appropriate treatment of children on the NHS, we should be fully informed by the final report from the Cass review, which is due early next year; given the complexity of this area, the review is understandably taking longer than originally expected—secondly, by ensuring consistency in how we implement policy across the board; and thirdly, by exploring whether we need more clarity in law. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recommended that we clarify the definition of sex in the Equality Act, while ensuring that any further proposed legislation fully takes into account the complexity of issues.

We should not leave ordinary people to suffer unintended consequences because we in Parliament are shy of dealing with difficult issues. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Minister for Women and Equalities for advance sight of her statement. I welcome the chance to respond to her on these important issues. Such opportunities are vanishingly rare, given that I believe this is the first oral statement she has made on the women and equalities brief this year. Like Santa Claus, it seems she gets to work when Christmas is around the corner.

I started this morning by joining a debate on the Government’s continued failure to ban conversion practices, a promise that was made over half a decade ago. I was sorry not to see the Minister there to explain that failure in person—no conversion practices ban, no commitment to making every strand of hate crime an aggravated offence in order to tackle the staggering rise in violent hate crime targeting LGBT+ people, and no provision to schools of the guidance that has been promised repeatedly but not delivered. She has been unable to deliver in any of those areas, and she even tried in her statement to say that legislation passed over 13 years ago has caused those delays—you couldn’t make it up.

Let us be clear. There are millions of British LGBT+ people in this country. I would love to hear from the right hon. Lady what she is doing for them, after her Government ditched their LGBT action plan, disbanded their LGBT advisory panel and frittered away taxpayers’ money on a cancelled international conference that LGBT+ organisations refused to attend.

Of course it is important that the list of approved countries is kept up to date. That was what Labour provided for when we passed the GRA back in 2004. The list was last amended in 2011, when two countries were removed from it and nine added. At that time, the Government said that they expected that it would be necessary to update the list

“within the next five years.”

Here we are 12 years later and the Minister has just got around to it. That is the kind of timescale our country has grown used to when it comes to Conservative delivery. Indeed, even she herself said that it is long overdue.

The right hon. Lady outlined several changes, and it is important that we understand fully why the decisions have been made. Why is there so little information on why they have been taken? As just one example, as I understand it, Germany approved self-ID this summer, but it is still on the list. Is that because its changes apply to birth certificates rather than to GRCs—it does not have such a certificate—or is it because of the timing of its reforms? There is no clarity and no information. We are talking about likely very small numbers of people, but for those individuals it is important to get this right. It is extremely difficult to determine the Department’s approach on the basis of an extremely thin explanation.

Many people living in this country who hold GRCs from the overseas route will be worried about what this means for them. Will the Minister be clear—do the changes impact their rights in any way? What about those with applications that are still outstanding?

As a result of the changes, many countries that are close allies of the UK have been removed from the list. Will the Minister explain whether she has had bilateral discussions with each of them over the implications of this move? She referred to thorough checks, but not to any bilateral engagement; does that mean that none took place? If so, why was there no such engagement on an issue on which I suspect we as the UK would expect to be consulted were the shoe on the other foot?

On that note, what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the changes on the mutual recognition of UK GRCs in other countries? Did she consult her newly appointed colleague in the other place, the Foreign Secretary, about the diplomatic impact of the changes? If so, does he agree with them? I note that, for example, China is now on the approved list, but our four closest Five Eyes allies are not.

The Minister mentioned that there was consultation with the Scottish and Northern Irish authorities, but she did not say what the upshot of that was. She also did not indicate what the impact of the change is on our arrangements with Ireland. Will she please clarify that?

Finally, changes to the rights of foreign nationals in this country may lead to wider concerns about the mutual recognition of marriage rights, and other rights such as adoption. Will the Minister clarify whether the Government have any plans in those policy areas?

Let me be clear: Labour wants to modernise the Gender Recognition Act while making sure that that does not override the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act. We recognise that sex and gender are different, as the Equality Act does, but I am afraid the Minister’s statement only underlines how chaotic her Government’s approach has become, with the Conservatives apparently completely divided on these issues and focused on rhetoric rather than delivery. LGBT+ people deserve better.

It is extraordinary that the hon. Lady would say that the Conservatives are divided on this issue. Does the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) agree with her? The disgraceful way that she has been treated by members of the Labour party shows that we beg to differ. We are united on this side of the House; they are not.

The hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) asked quite a number of questions and I will take the time to go through them in sequence. First, she complained that this is the first time she has heard me give a statement on this issue. The fact of the matter is that I am in this House for oral statements and there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and the Minister for Equalities has been in Westminster Hall. One thing I am very keen to do is to stop the Labour party using this issue as a political football. They have messed this—[Interruption.] They laugh, but it was Labour party MPs who, during the debacle over section 35, stood on a platform, on stage, with an attempted murderer complaining about this Government, so I refuse to countenance any criticism from them. They have messed around so much on this issue.

The hon. Lady claims that Labour has a policy on gender recognition. It is the policy we announced three years ago. Hollow, empty, repetitive—they have done absolutely no work whatsoever on this issue. Let me take her questions in turn. She asked why countries such as Germany have been removed from the list—

The hon. Lady questioned why certain countries are on the list and others are not. Again, I heard lots of laughter from Members on the Back Benches. I am going to have to reinforce this really important point: this is not a tool for foreign policy. This is a tool that is used to make sure that other countries’ systems are as rigorous as ours. I understand why people will have concerns, but this is not about virtue signalling as to which countries we like or which countries we do not like—far from it. This is about whether another country’s system meets our guidelines.

The hon. Lady talked about countries such as China. It is a very good question and I will explain to her why some countries that we might not expect to be are on the list. I will use the example of Kazakhstan, where to obtain gender recognition applicants must undergo gender reassignment surgery. That includes forced sterilisation, something which we condemn completely. It is banned in our country and is a form of conversion practice. Recognising certification for someone who has undergone that is a compassionate acknowledgement of what some transgender people in other countries have had to go through to obtain their certification. Are we really going to say to people with GRCs from China or Kazakhstan who have been forcibly sterilised by their state that we do not think they are serious about legally changing their gender? Of course not. That is why we have included certain countries. If people have gone through such extreme measures for gender recognition, we should not be giving them any additional issues here.

There are countries with which we work very closely, and with which we carried out a good deal of extended engagement. I am also the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, and I work with embassies across the world and Ministers across the world. I spoke to other countries’ Ministers about this issue, and they recognised the sovereignty of the UK. Ambassadors have been notified. We engaged in a great deal of collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office throughout this process, and we are monitoring the international reaction to the legislation. Members can be assured that diplomatic posts have been notified of the changes, and we have provided them with comprehensive question-and-answer documents that address any potential misconceptions about what this statutory instrument does.

That returns me to what I was saying about why I am so careful with the interventions that I make about equalities. Labour Members do not do their homework. They stand up in the Chamber and produce repetitive lines from social media. They think that they can use LGBT people as a shield for silly policy. We are going to do the policy properly: we are taking a lot of time to do this right. Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), the Minister for Equalities, I am keen to ensure that LGBT people across the UK understand that this Government are making sure that we are doing things in a way that will not collapse once it makes contact with reality.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement. I agree with her that the law concerning sex and gender needs to be clarified, which is why later this afternoon I will present a private Member’s Bill to do just that. First, the Bill will make it clear that single-sex spaces and sex as defined in the Equality Act 2010 are on the basis of biological sex, and secondly, it will protect those under 18 who are undergoing hormone treatment for gender dysphoria. It will also ensure that the state does not formally recognise social transitioning for those under 18. Given what my right hon. Friend has said, may I ask whether the Government will back my Bill?

I certainly support any effort to clarify the law, and we should start from first principles. No child is born in the wrong body, and no child should be put on a pathway towards irreversible medical transition. I am also conscious that it will take time to amend law, and I am therefore focusing on what will work for now. That is why we are publishing guidance to give clarity to schools as soon as possible. I remember discussing the growing problem of what we describe as social transitioning with my right hon. Friend when she was the Minister for Women and Equalities. I am pleased that she has come round to my point of view, and I am keen to work with her to see how we can ensure that the legislation works properly in practice.

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement, although I would have welcomed a good deal more detail. I do not know whether it is because the UK Government have been missing in action on their own commitment to ban conversion therapy for the last five years, but they seem much more interested in culture wars than in looking after the rights of some of the most vulnerable people. Of course, this is the same UK Government who are intent on blocking the democratic will, expressed across parties, of the Scottish Parliament. Again, they seem to be more interested in constitutional shenanigans than in human rights.

The Minister talked about unintended consequences. Has she undertaken an impact assessment of the impact of this change on the safety, health and wellbeing of those affected? What conversations has she had with international counterparts, and what specific evidence did she receive ahead of the change that made her decide to remove these named territories? Can she tell us exactly what will happen to those already living here, and living under their new gender, who come from the places that she is now removing from the list? Can she say where this leaves the motion of reciprocal arrangements? What of those from the UK who are living elsewhere? Does she recognise that the UK is travelling rapidly backwards on the rights of LGBT people and that this decision is very much out of step with other progressive countries around the world? What consideration has she given to the UK’s international reputation?

From sending vulnerable refugees to Rwanda, placing barriers in front of care workers who want to come to the UK and now this, we can see the dearth of compassion at the heart of the UK Government writ large. We have all heard the reports that the Conservative party intends to fight the general election on the trans debate and culture wars, but nobody’s identity should be in question. As the Minister herself said, nobody’s identity should be used as a political football. We need to stop that. She needs to reflect and she needs to change tack.

I completely disagree with the hon. Lady. She talks about our using this issue as a culture wars football, yet the Labour Opposition spokesperson says that this is the first time that she has heard us say anything about this in the House. Surely both cannot be true. I think it is extraordinary that she is telling us that we are not compassionate. It is her Government in Scotland who were allowing rapists to be housed in women’s prisons while using self-identity as a cover, so I will not accept that. We are the ones who are thinking about women’s rights. We are the ones who are thinking about safeguarding. We are the ones who are thinking about vulnerability.

The hon. Lady asks me about reciprocal arrangements. The fact is that our system is a lot more rigorous, so there is no reason for others to stop accepting our certificates because they have not changed. It is because other countries have changed their process that we are updating this policy. We cannot have a situation where there are rules for people in this country and where we allow people from other countries with different rules to be able to access things that people in the UK cannot access. This is about equality before the law. This is about parity. Reciprocal arrangements will be fine. She also asked about people already living here. This is not retrospective legislation, so it will not impact people who are already here. We are just making it clear: self-ID is not something that this Government support. We do not believe that this is something that people should just declare, because that creates the very same problems that she saw in Scotland in the Isla Bryson case, with rapists going into women’s prisons. We will not allow that to happen on this Government’s watch.

Of course we cannot change biological sex. The GRC establishes legal sex for the purpose of exercising certain rights. Given that we have had a massive shift in rights since the Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2004, particularly with same sex marriage, can my right hon. Friend advise me exactly what additional rights are granted through the giving of a GRC?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. This is one area where we are trying to provide clarity. As a result of the Haldane judgment, there is now confusion between biological sex and legal sex and certainly in terms of the interpretation that people put on it. A gender recognition certificate had different standards in terms of what could be obtained until this judgment. We want to make it clear, for instance, that single-sex spaces will still be protected. We will do a lot more to clarify that. As I said, the Haldane judgment changes that, which is one reason why we need to look at this very carefully. There were 30 pages in the Appeal Court report, which shows how complex this issue is. The law is no longer clear. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the law is now a mess because of changing times. We need to provide clarity. We cannot assume that the wording as was intended in 2004 and 2010 still works in 2023, and we are carrying out work to fix that.

I will be calling only those who were here at the start of the statement. Members will know if they were not here, so I do not expect them to stand.

Well, Madam Deputy Speaker, not wishing to be upstaged by the ex-Home Secretary, the Minister whose job it is to defend vulnerable minorities chooses to make her first statement this year in the House to announce two measures attacking transgender people. Why does she think that the UK, which was the first for four years up until 2015 in the European league of LGBT rights, and has now fallen to 17th under her watch?

I completely reject the right hon. Gentleman’s assertion. I have come to the Floor of the House for an SI, which is unusual for a Secretary of State, because I think it is important that Members across the House have the opportunity to ask questions. I am not afraid of anybody on the Opposition Benches. I am not afraid of a single one of them, because I know that they do not take this seriously. The right hon. Gentleman asks why we have fallen. It is because self-ID is something that we differ in opinion with from other countries—[Interruption.] It is. It is a fact. We are different. But just because other countries believe that self-ID is the way does not mean that we in the UK have to do what everybody else is doing.

The issues of gender recognition and self-ID that my right hon. Friend is working to clarify are increasingly an issue in amateur and professional sports, with the risk of serious injury to women and girls and also examples of unfairness. Does she agree that, in general, for most sports, it is safer and fairer to separate on the basis of biological sex?

I do agree. Certainly in the majority of physical sports it is fairer and safer to separate on the basis of biological sex, and it is crucial that sporting bodies understand their responsibilities to women. A poor understanding of equalities law has led to women such as the pool player Lynne Pinches having to take legal action to ensure fair competition in their sport, and girls often fear being physically injured by biological males. Rather than speaking up about the abuse, they endure it because they are scared of being called bigots. I would say to people across the House that calling people transphobic and calling them bigots when they express concern is creating a chilling effect. I had a group of schoolchildren, teenage girls, in my office who told me that because of mixed-sex sports they are bullied and pushed around—one of them talked about her glasses been broken—because the boys are using the opportunity to bully. We should think about children and we should think about protecting them, so I disagree with the labelling of anyone who has a different opinion as transphobic. That is what is causing the problems in this debate, and I am determined to bring some light rather than the heat that others continue to generate.

I actually agree with the Secretary of State that putting labels of any sort on people in any part of this debate is unacceptable and we should not indulge it. The Secretary of State also said that this is an important decision, and I agree with that too; it is an important statement. She also said that this has to be evidence-based, and I completely agree with that. Could she tell us which organisations in this country concerned with LGBT rights and with human rights generally she consulted on this statement, and what their responses and recommendations were?

The hon. Lady is right; we did carry out extensive consultations, but remember, this is something that we do repeatedly and periodically. The fact that we have not carried this out since 2011 shows that we have been remiss in our duties, and that is something that I am fixing. One of the issues is that a lot of people do not understand the law when it comes to self-identification. We are providing clarity there. We have engaged with numerous LGBT groups, but the fact of the matter is that many of them support self-ID. That is not this Government’s policy. Stonewall does not decide the law in this country—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Whatever it is that people want to campaign on, we will listen and we will hear, but we have been very clear about this. This is something that we are not budging on. We are updating the law in accordance with Government policy, and we will continue to do so.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, which provides some much-needed clarity, because self-ID does threaten the dignity and safety of women and girls. She is absolutely right to say that the UK should not recognise GRCs from countries that operate policies of self-ID. Sex matters, in life and in law, and it is right that the UK has its own rigorous processes for gaining GRCs, but these safeguards do not apply to the process of changing sex markers on passports and driving licences, which are far more commonly used for identification in everyday life. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the Passport Office’s 2021 review and decide whether we can stop this self-ID by the back door through driving licences and passports?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is a good one. This is one of the things that came to light as we looked at Government policy across the board and it is an example of how the law needs updating. The reason that we have this is not that the Government supported self-ID but that before the same-sex marriage law came into being we wanted people to be able to change their legal documents so that they could get married. Now that we have a law that has fixed that, we should again look at some of the measures we put in place earlier, and that is why my hon. Friend is right to raise this. It is a Home Office issue, but I will raise it with the Home Secretary and see what we can do to repair it.

I will say this as gently as I can. As a gay man, I feel less safe today than I did three years or five years ago. Why? Sometimes it is because of the rhetoric used in the public debate, including by the Minister. [Interruption.] I am afraid we are not able to have a debate. Let us have a debate; I would be very happy to debate. I am just making the point that many of us feel less safe today, and when people over there on the Government Benches cheer, as they just did, it chills me to the bone—it genuinely does.

I will ask the Minister two very simple questions. First, how many people does she think today’s decision will affect—a precise number? Secondly, she will know that there are lots of people in the UK who have entered into a same-sex civil partnership or marriage and would like that to be recognised in other countries around the world, so that they can live their lives there, wherever it may be. What has she done since being in power to ensure that more countries recognise same-sex civil partnerships and marriages?

I, too, will speak very gently. The hon. Gentleman says that my rhetoric chills him to the bone. I would be really keen to hear what exactly it is that I have said, either in this statement or previously, that is so chilling. I will tell him what chilled me. In May 2021, against official advice—I stress that officials said, “You should not have this meeting”—I met a young lady called Keira Bell, a lesbian, who told me of the horrific experience she had had at the Tavistock clinic. It was an eye-opening experience. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) talked about “transing away the gay” in his speech in Westminster Hall. We are seeing, I would say, almost an epidemic of young gay children being told that they are trans and being put on a medical pathway for irreversible decisions, and they are regretting it.

This is what I am doing for young LGBT children: I am making sure that they do not find themselves being sterilised because they are being exploited by people who do not understand what these issues are. I am saying this on the advice of clinicians and academics, because clinicians from the Tavistock clinic have been whistleblowing, talking about what these issues are. The hon. Gentleman says that he is traumatised; we are traumatised by what is happening to young children, and we will run away from this issue no longer.

Like millions of people across this country, including the LGB Alliance, I am concerned by the erosion of hard-won rights of women and girls, not least the right to female-only spaces. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a coherent policy across the whole of Government—every single Department—to ensure that we protect female-only spaces, and that we should make that a core commitment ahead of the next election?

I do agree, and I agree that it has to be across the board in Government. Some of that work is already under way. But I think it goes far beyond that. This cannot be a left or right issue, and it cannot be an issue on which certain people are personally invested in their own campaigns and cannot see the other point of view; it needs to be something that we work on together, on both sides of the House. If, while I am making a technical statement and explaining our thinking, Members across the House are talking about how they are traumatised, that is not serious policymaking. We need to be able to have a proper conversation, take the heat out of the debate and speak properly, as Members of Parliament representing all our constituents.

It infuriates me to hear people in this Chamber speak about the LGBT community as if it is one homogenous group. We are not one homogenous group, and there are many LGB and T people who oppose self-ID for obvious reasons. One of the issues that I am deeply concerned about is that many public bodies have not been observing their public sector equality duty properly. In some cases they have been erasing sex from legislation, which is outwith that duty. What action can be taken to ensure that legislation is fit for purpose and matches all the protected characteristics contained in the Equality Act 2010?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise that issue. That is why I mentioned the work that we are doing on clarifying the difference between sex and gender. As I said, these terms were used interchangeably when we originally legislated in the House, which has created confusion in terms of understanding.

Public authorities should aim for clarity in what they do. Many organisations, particularly hospitals, think that removing the term “women” is more inclusive. It really is not—it is excluding. I would gently say to them that if they are using phrases such as “chest feeding” or removing words such as “mother” from paperwork and forms, they are not helping. They are making things worse and they are creating confusion. I am going to work with public authorities. The Minister for Women is also a Health Minister. We take this issue very seriously, and we will see what more we can do to provide clarity. Providing clarity is the key point.

Women’s participation in sport is significantly lower than men’s. We need to encourage more girls and women to participate in sport because it is good for their long-term health as well as their mental wellbeing. We have heard stories—and I have heard stories in my constituency—of women and girls being put off sport by the presence of males for safety, privacy or fairness reasons. What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage girls to participate in sport and to protect integrity, fairness and privacy in women’s sport?

This is something that I have said it is crucial that sporting bodies understand. They are responsible for managing the rules in this space, and quite a lot of them have updated their guidance to reflect that, but not all of them. Young women in competitive sports should not have to silently accept that biological men will always beat them and take their chances to win gold. Generations of women before them have worked really hard to ensure that women have a place in sports and that those who excel are rewarded for that and are recognised.

The Equality Act 2010 is not a barrier to fair sport for women. It permits it, and it even requires it, so I shall work with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—the Minister for Equalities is a DCMS Minister—to ensure that fair sport is a right that every woman and every girl can enjoy.

I welcome the commitment by the Secretary of State to evidence-based policymaking and to awaiting the outcome of the Cass review. She will be aware, like me, that the interim report from the review stated that it had heard from young lesbians who felt pressurised to identify as transgender male. As a lesbian, that is something that concerns me.

As well as having evidence-based policymaking, does the Secretary of State think that it is important to be clear about what are and are not our obligations under international law? Does she agree that there is no international treaty to which the United Kingdom is a signatory that requires us to have a system of self-identification? The current system we have is legally compliant and is compliant with the European convention on human rights. While some people talk about self-ID as best practice, that is no more than an expression of their opinion. Does she recognise that self-identification raises real issues not just for the safety of women and girls but for their privacy and dignity, as well as for the rights of same-sex-attracted people freely to associate?

The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. Self-ID impacts on all the things she mentioned. We speak less about freedom of association and the impact on that. It goes to the point made by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) that we need in many respects to separate sexual orientation from what we refer to now as gender identity—that is, what is under the “T”. We have lumped them together before. That was helpful in many circumstances, but I have seen this issue arise in other equalities work that I have done around race, where we use the term BAME to lump together lots of different groups. When that occurred, we missed a lot of information about what was happening within those groups. We need as much granularity as possible if we are to serve people who are LGB as well as people who are T.

The hon. and learned Lady asks what work we are doing to stop lesbians being made to feel as if they have to be trans-identified males. I have asked the Equality Hub to do some work with The Lesbian Project, which I know is interested in fixing this problem. On the point of international treaties, she is absolutely right in what she says. So much of the criticism about how our international standing will fall is not evidence-based policy, but “not a good look-ism”. It says, “This is not a good look and we probably should not do it,” but that is not how we should be making policy. We should be looking at the facts, thinking clearly about the outcomes we want and acting accordingly. That is the way the Equality Hub, under my leadership, will continue to behave.

The Secretary of State for Education said today that to completely stop children being able to socially transition at school required change in equality law, yet children who do socially transition can end up on a pathway to puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries that leave them infertile and have an impact on their bone, and even their brain, development. This is tearing families apart up and down this country, and we cannot continue to let it happen in our schools. I will therefore be supporting the Bill from my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) this afternoon when she lays it before Parliament. Will the Secretary of State meet concerned colleagues from across the House to change this law in order to protect our children at school, because that is a must?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am happy to meet Members from across the House on this issue, but I stress that changing the law is not going to be easy. It will not be straightforward and it will need consensus, broadly, across the House, because of many of the issues I alluded to earlier.

On his earlier point about social transitioning, he is actually right. It is probably worth my putting on the record what social transitioning is, because I know that a lot of people may not necessarily be clear about what I am referring to. Social transitioning is a relatively new phenomenon. It is rooted in gender identity theory, which I must stress is a very contested ideology. The term is often used to refer to a range of actions that a child may take to appear more like the opposite sex, accompanied by an expectation that they will be treated as if they are. That may include requests for a child to change their name, the pronouns associated with them or their uniform, or to use different facilities from those provided for their biological sex. Not all of those requests will comply with legal duties on schools, particularly those to safeguard children.

Social transitioning is not a neutral act, as it has been recognised that it can have formative effects on a child’s future development, which is what my hon. Friend is alluding to when he talks about cross-sex hormones. We are taking this very seriously. We will have the gender questioning guidance out very shortly, and I hope it will address many of the issues he is concerned about.

I commend the Minister for her wisdom in her answers to all the questions she has been asked today. Will she confirm that just as a person can have a full driving licence at 16 in the United States of America and yet would not be able to apply for a full licence in the UK until our legal age is attained, the same premise is in operation here, in that our laws supersede those of other nations in this sovereign matter? In other words, decisions are made here by our Minister and our Government.

We do need to make sure that there is clarity across the board that it is Ministers in this country who are making those decisions clearly and being held to account in Parliament. A lot of loopholes have become apparent that allow people to change things through different means other than via Parliament. Some of that is about changing the colloquial meaning of quite a lot of expressions. Bringing as much as possible into law to provide clarity will be really important.

May I invite my right hon. Friend to agree that, despite some of the rhetoric we have heard in the House today, the United Kingdom is an immeasurably better place to grow up as a gay person than it was in decades gone by and that this House is at its best when it can find moderate consensus on what is right for our citizens? In that light, I ask her whether it is still the Government’s intention to bring forward conversion therapy ban legislation to this House. If the Government do intend to do that, will she give me and, through me, the House and the country an assurance that we will put often confused, vulnerable and frightened young people at the very heart of that, and that evidence-based decisions will inform the legislation the Government bring forward?

I am very happy to confirm that, and I thank my right hon. Friend for the measured tone in which he asked his question—it is a model for Opposition Members. We have done so much work under this specific Government and even under my watch, including on our HIV action plan and on trans healthcare. We have established five new community-based clinics for adults in this country. There is a lot that we are doing, so it is wrong to characterise us as not caring about LGBT people, and it also sends the wrong signal to our international partners. If they feel that we are not doing well, it is not because of what we are doing, but because of what Members are saying.

On conversion practices, let me give a little more clarity about what we are doing with a longer answer than normal. This is a matter of deep interest across this House, so I would like to set out my thinking fully. A commitment was given to publish a draft conversion practices Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. I am determined to meet that promise, as is the Minister for Equalities. Attempts at so-called conversion therapy are abhorrent and are largely already illegal, so a Bill would identify those practices as a particular threat to gay people and confirm the illegality of harmful processes intended to change someone’s sexuality.

In the time since that Bill was first promised, the issue has developed. Now, the threat to many young gay people is not conversion relating to their sexuality, but conversion relating to gender identity. Girls such Keira Bell, who was rushed on to puberty blockers by the NHS and had a double mastectomy, now regret the irreversible damage done to them. I believe that this is a new form of conversion therapy. Respected clinicians, such as those who left Tavistock, have made clear that they are fearful of giving honest clinical advice to a child because if they do not automatically affirm and medicalise a child’s new gender, they will be labelled transphobic. Any Bill needs to address many of those issues, and that is why we are going to publish a draft Bill.

It is a shame that the Secretary of State is not making a full statement on the issue of conversion therapy, because it is a concern for many Opposition Members, and we would like some actual facts, which she has not provided until now. She also has not provided the statutory instrument referred to in the statement; I do not see it lying on the Table, it is not in the Vote Office and it is not online, so we cannot scrutinise the names of the countries that are to be added to or removed from the list. From the Dispatch Box, could the Secretary of State could list those countries and clarify whether they include the United States? Has she received any diplomatic representations from the United States, or any other country whose status is due to be changed, opposing the decision she has announced?

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman about the statutory instrument. As far as I was aware, it had been laid. That is what I was told, so it is news to me. That should have been the case.

All the details that the hon. Gentleman has asked for will be provided in the SI. I am not going to read out a long list of countries from the Dispatch Box, but I have not received any message from the United States, so I do not think that that is an issue.

I thank my right hon. Friend for a clear and cogent explanation of why the Government are taking the action that they have. Does she agree that as we seek to address this very sensitive and important issue, it is important that we avoid the kind of language that we heard from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), precisely because it obscures the fact that we are trying to find a legislative way forward that protects the interests of vulnerable young people rather than sees them signposted—often prematurely—in a direction that is irreversibly harmful to them?

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend—he has said it far better than I could. Let us have the debate in this House, rather than having people out there have the debate, which creates the climate of fear that many have referred to. The harder they make it for people to speak honestly in this Chamber, the worse the situation will get, so I urge Members across the House to listen to my right hon. Friend, because the point he has made is really important. We in this House need to set an example; shouting, barracking and calling people “bigot” and “transphobic” is not going to help LGBT people in this country.

Will the Secretary of State talk about what the implications would be if sex were defined in law as biological? Would existing trans people have to act in all public appearances in accordance with their biological sex, so, unless they had a gender recognition certificate, trans men would have to use female toilets and trans women would have to use male toilets? I am genuinely trying to find out the implication of what she has announced, without any papers before us to look at.

The hon. Lady asks a good question. The way I would explain it is that this is not an issue that we had before. I wish that we did not have to make these changes, but the fact is that many trans people were living their lives peacefully and with dignity until others started exploiting the loopholes. It is not trans people whom we are trying to limit; it is the predators who are using the loopholes and giving the trans community a bad name.

We are trying to protect against the example that I used before: male prisoners claiming that they are female and going into female prisons. We need to continue to provide clarity, because many public authorities are confused and do not understand. People should use the toilets for their biological sex in the vast majority of cases. In some cases, that will be difficult, but we need to provide more clarity so that predators do not exploit the loophole. That is what we are trying to do. As I said, in the vast majority of cases, we are trying to protect vulnerable people.

This is my first time commenting on this issue. Recently, the “genderbread person” concept was found on a school intranet in Ipswich. It promoted the idea that biology does not matter and that it is all about what is in your head—complete self-identification. It also promoted outdated gender stereotypes and a list of hobbies and jobs associated with men and women, so presumably, if someone liked football, somebody might say to them, “Have you thought about being a boy?” That is completely regressive. Does the Minister agree that there is no place for a “genderbread” person in schools at all, and that we should be incredibly careful about promoting anything to do with gender ideology in primary schools?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. That is one thing that I am seeking to resolve. As we have not provided clarity in the law, a lot of the space has been filled by many dubious organisations that produce very dubious material with no basis whatsoever in biology or law. They push it because they think that they can get away with it. We as a Government have a responsibility to clear out that material from schools. I think that the Secretary of State for Education is looking at the materials that are being taught under relationships, sex and health education.

As my hon. Friend made clear, it is important that primary school children in particular are protected. That is why the guidance that we will put out on gender-questioning children will address that issue—except in the most extreme safeguarding cases—and I expect it to include clinical advice. We should not be socially transitioning any primary school children at all, or introducing them to those theories.

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. My fear, and that of my constituents, is that the aggressive activism with regard to gender puts gay and lesbian people in real danger of hate crimes and different activism. We also need to protect men, boys, women and girls. My biggest fear in all this is that self-identifying men in particular will cause confusion for women, who still do not have equality. We must ensure that women are safe in health treatment settings and single-sex spaces.

My hon. Friend is right. We need to ensure that we provide accurate data so that public authorities across the board, particularly hospitals, know exactly who and what they are dealing with. We have seen examples of people not receiving the right medical care after being identified as the wrong sex because of a GRC or a self-declared difference in sex or gender. We need to ensure that does not happen. We have seen issues across the board. The ONS is again looking at how to make the census clearer, because it was obvious that many people who completed it did not understand the question. That is what we are trying to say: this is a new space, a new area. Lots of things are developing. We should not be rushing to legislate; we should legislate carefully. That is why many of the things that people have been expecting are taking time. We are waiting for the Cass review, but we will carry out this work.

A few years ago, a loving, caring, intelligent and thoughtful married couple came to my surgery, and they were very distressed because they had just found out that their child had been questioning their gender at school and the school had, for several months, not informed them. This child had been counselled by two adults who had no appropriate qualifications. As we seek clarity on the law and the guidelines, will my right hon. Friend assure me that parents will be informed and included in those conversations, except in the most extraordinary circumstances?

I confirm that I want to make sure of that. As we saw in the guidance on gender-questioning children, it is absurd for such a significant change to be taking place without parents knowing. Of course, that may not be possible in the most extreme circumstances, but the vast majority of parents love their children and care for them. We should not treat parents as the enemy. They need to know what is going on because, quite a lot of the time, gender-questioning children have comorbidities—perhaps they are autistic or perhaps there is something else going on in the mental health space that needs clinical advice, rather than just putting them on the social transitioning pathway.

I thank the Secretary of State for reassuring us that the Government remain committed to protecting women’s rights and children with policies that are based on biological reality, not extreme ideology that conflates sex and gender. Does she agree that today’s statement will help to stop people finding loopholes around this?

Yes, I agree. The purpose of this SI is to provide clarity. The law has not really been updated since 2011. We need more frequent updates to ensure we keep up with what is happening in this space.

In answer to earlier questions about the availability of the SI, it was tabled at 12 noon. I am sorry that it was not ready for Members.

I spent my entire professional career working in state secondary schools as a teacher, and the one place where debates around gender self-identification should never apply is with children. As we have seen divisive critical race theory entering our schools, we are now seeing an equally divisive gender ideology. Will the Secretary of State confirm for my residents in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke that her announcement will help to ensure the classroom is a safe space for vulnerable young people?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. As a teacher, he knows how carefully we need to look after children, and how carefully we need to ensure we are safeguarding across the board. He is right, and this SI is just one step we are taking to provide clarity. There is more coming, and not all of it will be legislative. We will bring in measures to help people understand exactly what is going on. We should not assume that the knowledge we have in this House is present in the population. I have met people who do not understand the difference between being gay and being trans. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) is complaining that my answers are long. It is because I want people to hear the truth and to understand what the Government are doing.

The main feature of countries that have come off the list seems to be their adoption of laws that remove all safeguards on changing gender. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this approach is dangerous? What further steps is she taking to address its expansion?

I cannot control what other countries do. All we can do is emphasise our own policies. Across the House, we have conversations with international counterparts. There has been a lot of interest in what we are doing. I remember speaking to a Minister who said their country—I will not name the country—had brought in self-ID early because they thought we were going to do it, and that they were now thinking again. There are countries, even in Europe, that are taking steps to limit this, because they have seen the consequences and do not think that the benefits outweigh the disbenefits. I am glad that we in the UK are setting a standard for evidence-based policymaking and are showing others how to get this right.