Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer was given to an Urgent Question in the House of Commons on Thursday 24 September.
“We want transgender people to be free to live and prosper in modern Britain. We have looked carefully at the issues raised in the consultation, including potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It is the Government’s view that the balance struck in this legislation is correct, in that there are proper checks and balances in the system and also support for people who want to change their legal sex.
We will make the gender recognition certificate process kinder and more straightforward. We will cut bureaucracy by enabling applications via GOV.UK, and we will also reduce the fee from £140 to a nominal amount. We know from our research that improving healthcare support is a priority for transgender people. That is why we are opening at least three new gender clinics this year, which will see waiting lists cut by 1,600 patients by 2022, and it is why the GEO is providing funding for Dr Michael Brady, the UK’s national LGBT health adviser, and working with him and the NHS to improve transgender people’s experience.
It is also important that we protect single-sex spaces in line with the Equality Act 2010. The law is clear that service providers are able to restrict access to single-sex spaces on the basis of biological sex. It is also important that under-18s are properly supported in line with their age and decision-making capabilities. That is why Dr Hilary Cass, former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, will lead an independent review into gender identity services for children and young people. The review will look to ensure that young people get the best possible support and expertise throughout their care, and it will report back next year. Together, this upholds the rights of transgender people and women, ensures that our system is kinder and more straightforward, and addresses the concerns of transgender people.”
My Lords, the consultation lasted two years and received more than 100,000 responses, the vast majority of which backed reform. The result is the continuation of a lengthy process that the Women and Equalities Committee said
“runs contrary to the dignity and personal autonomy of applicants.”
What evidence does the Minister have that medicalisation remains necessary from the jurisdictions that do not medicalise the process?
In July, the APPG on Global Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights presented a report to Liz Truss in which we sought to deliver reassurance around trans people and deliver trans rights. Did the Minister see or consider that report? Can she explain why it was rejected, bearing in mind that it was also backed by the LGBT groups of the main political parties, including her own? This decision has caused huge hurt to the trans community, and Labour believes that it is simply wrong.
My Lords, there has indeed been an extensive consultation on this matter. There were numerous contributions, including those outlined by the noble Lord. The matter of medical diagnosis is one for clinicians. After due consideration, the balance has been taken that the issues were to do with cost, bureaucracy and access to healthcare. The system as outlined in the Statement has been changed: the fee has been reduced to a nominal amount and the process has been digitalised.
Digitalising a system that dehumanises our fellow citizens is not kindness; it is callous and cynical, as the repeated use of the phrase “trans people and women” shows. I have one question for the Minister. Do this Government intend to amend the Equality Act or any of the guidance issued under it—yes or no?
My Lords, I recognise that the Government want a kinder and more straightforward process. I understand that there are to be more gender clinics. Can the Minister shed any more light on when those clinics will become operational and whether they really will help those people waiting to go through gender reassignment surgery?
My Lords, the Government plan to open three further clinics, including one in Liverpool and a further one in London. I will have to write to the noble Baroness on specific timings, but it is hoped that those clinics will reduce waiting lists by about 1,600 people. Between 2015-16 and 2018-19, we doubled the funding spent on gender-specific medical services.
My Lords, the Statement plainly tries to strike a balance between a number of contentious issues, and I have no objection to the fact that it tries to do so. I speak as someone who, with the local branches of the TUC, helped to establish a number of women’s refuges. Will the Minister join those of us who deplore the trolling and the vile threats to JK Rowling and to other women who have expressed their concerns, largely to try to protect single-sex services? Given the evidence of conflict of rights between two protected groups, what action will Her Majesty’s Government take to ensure that accurate advice is given so that the Equality Act 2010 can be properly implemented with regards to single-sex services, including single-sex wards, prisons, rape crisis centres and refuges? I add that it will not be possible just to wish away the understandable fear of many of the people who are in those refuges because of their harsh experiences.
My Lords, on single-sex spaces, the overwhelming majority of occasions on which they are used—we can all bear testament to that—is on self-identification, and the Government do not intend to interfere with that. There are of course exemptions under the Equality Act where it is justified to do so, where, in the case of a refuge, it could be justified to recommend different services or refuse a service. However, one of the main things that the Government are hoping that the response to the consultation will achieve is time for feelings on both sides to be allayed and for people to speak to one another and exchange views on this matter with respect, compassion and dignity.
My Lords, having initiated and moved the sensitive policy affecting the trans community in competitive sport in the GRA 2004, I hope the Government continue to agree with me that, while in all sport there should be a zero-tolerance policy towards transphobia, it is right that the case of the trans community is not breached where prohibition or restriction of their participation is necessary to secure fair competition or the safety of competitors, including that of transsexual people themselves. I thank the Government for retaining the status quo in this context and for ensuring that this very sensitive issue is a matter for the international federations of sport.
My Lords, indeed, the situation remains unchanged in relation to competitive sport. It is a matter for each of the governing bodies of the respective sports to make their own rules regarding the participation of trans people in that particular sport, and the Government support that position.
My Lords, the Secretary of State’s response is woefully inadequate and fails to take account of the Government’s own consultation, so it is clear to me that the Secretary of State is not in command of this brief. Indeed, it took her four and a half months to respond to my letter on this issue—this is at a time when gross defamation and misrepresentation of trans people, particularly trans women, has been whipped up by the media and some Members of your Lordships’ House. Therefore, will the Minister explain how the Government will address the real needs of trans people, as indicated overwhelmingly in the consultation, and will she clarify the statement by the Secretary of State that self-declaration would be abused by men? What evidence of widespread abuse does the Secretary of State have from other jurisdictions that have moved to self-ID, or does the Secretary of State believe that British men are uniquely abusive?
My Lords, self-identification is a legal process that we believe needs formality. It is not something that anyone considers without giving due attention to that, so we do not believe that we need to move away from the current system. On the information that has been received and the increase in the numbers of, for instance, transphobic or hate crimes, the Law Commission has been asked to look at all aspects of this, including misogyny, and as the noble Lord will be aware, the Government have appointed Dr Michael Brady to advise NHS England and others about healthcare for LGBT people.
My Lords, as can be seen from today’s debate, this is a controversial issue. I want to see a fair deal for transgender people and their ability to identify as trans. However, I believe that there is a balance to be struck, and the Statement issued by the Government is a balanced approach. I would welcome a comment from the Minister as to whether any further guidance needs to be issued on NHS wards, for example, which I think have proceeded on the basis of self-identification; there may be other examples. I welcome the reference to women’s refuges, and I echo the Minister’s final point: I hope that this debate can take place in an atmosphere where all views are respected.
My Lords, indeed, the Government want every individual to be respected and to be able to live their lives freely and prosper. I am grateful for the noble Lord’s comments. We hope that there will be a balanced and sensitive debate after this response to the consultation. Indeed, on single-sex spaces, where it is justified, whether in an NHS ward or a refuge, there is the potential to exclude people on the basis of their biological gender, but only where it is justified.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the aim of improving healthcare support for transgender people, but I would like to follow up my noble friend Lord Young’s point. The fact is that a number of public bodies have made policies which make it almost impossible to provide the single-sex spaces that are allowed under the Equality Act. Will the Minister urgently look at guidance to those public bodies about ensuring that they act within the spirit and the law of that Act?
My Lords, as I have outlined, as there is no legislative change, there is not a case for renewing wholesale the guidance. The Statement makes clear the law around single-sex spaces, and I believe that most people who responded to the consultation felt that there will be no change to the use of those spaces in that regard. However, we keep the guidance under review.