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Gender Recognition Act 2004

Volume 806: debated on Monday 19 October 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Ministerial Statement by Baroness Berridge on 22 September (HLWS457), what further advice they intend to give to public bodies following the conclusion of the review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

My Lords, the Government recently announced our response to and the results of the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act. We are now focusing on digitising and streamlining the process, and reducing the fee. We hope these changes will make the process less bureaucratic for transgender people. At this stage, we are not proposing further legislative guidance, but we will keep this under review.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that in sensitive discussions about the interaction between the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act, those most affected, namely women and transgender people, should have freedom to speak, and that intimidation and no-platforming are not acceptable? Will the Government reiterate their belief in the importance of single-sex places provided by the Equality Act, and make it clear to public bodies that it is not acceptable to insist on gender-neutral services at the expense of providing women-only safe spaces in refuges and rape crisis centres?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that freedom of speech in this area, on all sides, needs to be conducted in a manner that is respectful of people with very differing views. Yes, the Equality Act has an exemption, so that single-sex spaces can be provided and, where justified, somebody can be refused access to that space.

My Lords, I am sure that, today, the Minister will explicitly commit the Government to sticking to the statutory definitions required for collecting data on sex discrimination and will guide ACAS to do so. Since gender identification would not provide reliable data for the statistical analysis needed to understand historical patterns, what advice will the Government give to ensure complete clarity in the data required to comply with the legislation? Given the comparable difficulty in defining gender if it relies solely on self-identity, will the Government commit to advising the NHS on the specific rights of women who do not have male bodies to access single-sex wards and medical facilities?

My Lords, as I have outlined, the NHS, as a public body, knows that it is the Equality Act that outlines its provision of services, and so single-sex wards can be provided. There is specific NHS guidance that, at present, states that transgender people should be accommodated according to their presentation but that decisions need to be made in the best interests of patients. We leave it to front-line clinicians, who are aware of the circumstances on their wards and in their hospitals, to make those decisions.

My Lords, I welcome the statement by the Minister, particularly on freedom of information. Trans women and men have found themselves vilified, deeply misrepresented and defamed, and seen, in total, as a threat, when all they want to do is get on with their lives, harming no one. Great harm has been done to them and their families—and, sadly, by some Members of your Lordships’ House. Therefore, I ask the Minister this: given that many trans people face routine discrimination in public services, what steps will she take to ensure that public services are equipped to support trans people, including through staff training?

My Lords, it is deeply regretful that there has been vilification on both sides of this debate. We hope to move on from this consultation and that both sides can respect the differing views. The consultation made it clear that health service provision was a concern; there is specific training now through the Royal College of Physicians to ensure that medical practitioners are more alert to the issues of transgender people.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the excellent educational material on sexual education for children in schools, which her department recently published. En passant, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on her nomination as the next chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission. This material brings into sharp relief the previous advice that the Government seem to have been given by the Equal Opportunities Commission, which led the Department for Education to publish a decade-long sequence of materials, which vary greatly from the current new guidance. Is the Minister willing to have a meeting with me to discuss the detailed points of issue that I have raised?

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on her appointment. I would be happy to meet with the noble Baroness. It is key to remember that the relationships and health education guidance that the department has put out was put out partly in response to the IICSA inquiry, which recommended that relationships education was a way to protect children so they would know what was a healthy relationship and when someone was perhaps approaching them for ulterior motives.

My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the terms in which it was asked, emanates directly from a campaign supported by, among others, the Heritage Foundation in America, which intends to deny trans women in particular the equality and dignity that they deserve. Can the Minister tell the House whether there is any evidence—as opposed to assertion—that public services are in any doubt about how to ensure the safety of women and trans women in public services under the terms of the Equality Act as it exists now?

My Lords, the data is not collected centrally. A number of providers, including public providers, are making use of the single-sex space exemption. It must not be forgotten that people are electing a gender-specific service—a single-sex toilet, for example—each and every day, and in the overwhelming majority of situations there is not a problem. The Government do not want to interfere with that.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register. I welcome the Government’s improvements to the healthcare of trans people. In drawing up policy in relation to this sensitive issue, can the Minister ensure that the Government will always be guided by a careful assessment of the evidence, including the global evidence of best practice in this area and a proper regard to the human rights and dignities of every individual, and will always reject any invitation to fight or join in a culture war on this issue from whichever side, such as we have seen far too often in debate over the last few months?

My Lords, I can only agree with my noble friend and thank him that he is to chair the international conference for LGBT, which was in the manifesto. I hope that we can exhibit at that conference a manner of disagreeing respectfully with one another when views differ on each side.

What advice will Her Majesty’s Government give to sports bodies, when national policies differ from those of international federations?

My Lords, the Equality Act made a specific exemption, as I am sure the noble Baroness is aware, so national sporting bodies could set their own criteria for participation in sport. We are not currently aware of any disparity between national and international guidance and governing bodies, but if the noble Baroness knows of specific examples, can she please write to me? I will then endeavour to see whether the UK Government have a role in that.

My Lords, the consultation strongly favoured legislative reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, yet the Government have failed to take steps towards a process of gender recognition for trans people that is straightforward, accessible and de-medicalised. What assurance can the Minister give that, in digitising the gender recognition application process, the Government can ensure that the medical component of the process is streamlined and focuses on the legal requirements of the Act, removing the need for intrusive, degrading and unnecessarily detailed medical reports that are so distressing to the trans community?

My Lords, the Government are keen to streamline this process and make it as kind and fair as possible. I hear the comments made by the noble Baroness regarding medical evidence; that is a matter for clinicians. But she is correct that we do not want an overly complex paper system to become an overly complex digital system, so part of this is ensuring that the process is simplified before it is digitised.

Is the Minister aware that some local authorities have withdrawn trans-inclusive guidance to schools because of threats of judicial reviews? Does she agree that the safety and welfare of schoolchildren should never be used as a political football by campaigns, and is she concerned that some such campaigns do just that and do not declare their sources of support and funding?

My Lords, the department has put out comprehensive resources for health education in primary schools and health and sex education at secondary schools, has resourced teachers, and had a commitment in the manifesto in relation to avoiding bullying. We hope that as a result of this consultation, both sides can live in peace with one another and disagree properly without undue recourse to the courts.