Question for Short Debate
My Lords, a number of institutions have recently converted the communal toilets available to the public from Ladies and Gents as separate toilets to gender neutral. Is this desirable and justified? Has there been research into why this is a good idea? Have needs been identified? Have women been consulted? I am not aware of anybody quoting any of that sort of stuff, so let us look at the consequences of these changes. Who is disadvantaged by them? Women who prefer not to be in an enclosed, unobserved space with men. That can obviously apply to women whose religion or custom forbids such things, but a number of women have had uncomfortable experiences with men in the past and there are some very strange men in this world and it is entirely reasonable for women to want a separate space.
I found myself using a gender-neutral toilet at the Department for Education and found it a really uncomfortable experience to come out of a cubicle not knowing whether I would frighten a woman who thought she was in a women’s toilet or was not expecting to be in the company of a man. I do not want to cause that sort of discomfort. It does not suit me to have just gender-neutral toilets. Many women have expectations of toilets being clean places. Most men will know that not all men leave toilets clean—not even in this place. Women do not like to be around overt male sexual behaviours in a space that they find hard to get out of. Many men—they have even flashed me—act in such a way, and it seems reasonable that women should have a space where they can be free of that.
In some places such as nightclubs, the Ladies can be a refuge from serious unwanted behaviour, and I do not think that any woman really wants to wash her bloody underwear when she has flooded during a period in front of men. So, altogether, what are we doing? Why are we seeking to make women feel unsafe in the toilet provision we make for them—unsafe and uncomfortable? What is the justification for it? Who is gaining an advantage in this process?
Some people feel that if they use the toilet that appears to be appropriate for their sex they will be questioned about their apparent gender. I can understand that discomfort. There are occasions when one accompanies someone of the opposite gender, such as when I am looking after my daughter or when a carer is looking after someone of the opposite sex and wants to use a facility where both of them can go. But people who are genuinely advantaged by this change are essentially the woke administrators of public institutions. I see very few people who would genuinely benefit from having universal gender-neutral toilet provision.
A much better way of catering for these people is to provide a limited gender-neutral facility. We could do as we have done with disabled toilets and provide separate facilities and label them so that the expectations are clearly that one does not use them unless one needs them. If that is not possible, we could convert the Gents. Pretty well all men could survive having a brave enough woman as company in the Gents. I do not think it would upset them. They may be a bit ashamed of the way they are behaving, but I do not think they would be otherwise disadvantaged. If we are going to provide gender-neutral facilities, convert the Gents; do not convert the Ladies. On changing facilities, I do not think that there are any circumstances under which it is appropriate for women’s changing rooms to include exposed male genitalia. That is going beyond what we would all consider reasonable.
So we should legislate; we cannot let this trend go on. A facility that we have provided for women all my life is being removed from them without their consent and without consultation with them—without any consultation at all, as far as I can see. We should legislate so that organisations that live off public funds provide women with toilet and changing facilities that match their established need—by which I mean that the organisation should conduct proper inquiries as to what that established need is.
The question alongside this is who should use women’s facilities. Noble Lords who listened to my last speech on the subject will know that I am thoroughly in favour of breaking down gender boundaries. We should all have the freedom to act, behave and dress in a way that is permitted to anyone of any gender. Gender boundaries have done us no good in education and careers, and by and large they have set back women in their ambitions. They do not make life easier for male nurses either, and we should do away with them. I do not personally have any difficulty with the idea of self-identification as to how we behave and act in the world. But that does not necessarily mean that men should have access to women-only spaces, and that I should be able to march into the Ladies over there just because it is a nicer facility than the Gents and I feel like identifying as a woman at the moment. Women have facilities set aside for them for many good reasons, as I set out.
There should be a genuine and open discussion about who should be allowed in the Ladies and similar women’s facilities and under what circumstances, and that discussion should take place without insults. The first requirement for that is that the Government should step up. The Government have a responsibility to hold the ring in these discussions. They have vacated the ring and allowed it to become a space for warring interest groups, and that has been extremely destructive. Also, the principal interest groups—those with the strongest and longest reputations—need to commit themselves to discussion. Stonewall should put away its kimono and baseball bat and settle down to the idea that maybe it needs to modify its rather extreme views. The Fawcett Society should listen to its founder and the quote that is on the statue in Parliament Square,
“Courage calls to courage everywhere”,
and get involved in the discussion in a serious way.
At the moment, we have a serious firefight, but the people who are getting hurt are not the combatants, they are the transgender and other vulnerable people who are on the sidelines. It is our responsibility as a Government and as a society to settle these things in a civilised way and to produce a civilised outcome. I do think that there is the potential for that. If we settle down to do it, we shall be successful.
There are many aspects of the relationships between women and trans women, and men and trans men, that need sorting out. We need to sort out who is allowed to compete in sport, who is allowed in which kind of spaces and what kind of services people are allowed to request from someone of the natal gender they require. I do not see why women should be required to provide intimate services, such as a search, to someone not of their own sex. I do not see why women should have to be examined by someone who is genetically male if they would prefer someone genetically female. These are difficult questions, I think they need sorting out, and I urge the Government to get a grip.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for securing this debate. I think that we all understood that it was going to be wider than perhaps its title proposed. Before we come on to that, I want to make a personal and specific comment about the number of disabled toilets and changing rooms available in public places and whether they are fit for purpose. The debate of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is about finessing issues, but disabled people often find that there are not disabled facilities available for them and they are in a slightly more difficult position.
I cannot count the number of times I have gone into a disabled toilet in a public building and discovered that it is also a dumping ground, usually, but not only, for cleaning materials and equipment. One restaurant just the other side of Parliament Square was using its disabled toilet as a spare chair store, so you could not even get in through the door, let alone approach the toilet itself. This is not a matter that requires change or regulation. It is always about staff training and the culture of an organisation.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was carefully trying to assess where the boundaries are in this difficult debate about women-only spaces. He argued that some people need them because they believe that they feel less safe and that men or others, whether trans or not, risk making these spaces unsafe. That could be a difficult assertion. In my years working with victims of abuse and domestic violence, one common feature is that people could never have imagined their perpetrator as being dangerous to them until it was too late. Abusers look like us—all of us.
In January, a woman who posed as a teenage boy was jailed for grooming girls as young as 13, starting online and then meeting them. The judge described her behaviour as predatory and her targets as vulnerable girls who often started with low self-esteem—that is why they were the targets. Five years ago, the Daily Telegraph wrote an excellent article on female paedophiles, following the jailing of Marie Black and Carol Stadler, who were part of a gang in Norwich. The article quoted forensic psychologist, Nina Burrowes, who said of female abusers:
“I do … believe [women sexually abusing children] happens less often than men, but it happens a lot more than you realise. I suspect it’s much more underreported”.
She suggests that society has not been willing to learn more about female paedophilia. She said:
“We find it abhorrent because it challenges our ideas of women and motherhood … We like to live with the idea that men are dangerous and women are safe, so when you see children [talking] to a male stranger in the park it’s dangerous but if they are talking to a woman it isn’t.”
Can the Minister give the House data on the actual incidents recorded in changing rooms and toilets, broken down by gender and type of crime, such as theft and assault? What practical arrangements can be made to police these spaces? Many people find that they are turning up in a space that is deemed by some to be inappropriate. It would be very difficult if it was expected to be policed solely by other users of that space.
I want toilets, changing rooms and all public spaces to be safe for all users. The data does not show us that transwomen are more dangerous than anybody else. On the contrary, there is considerable evidence that LGBT people, especially transpeople, are more likely to be attacked, more likely to suffer abuse and hate crime and more likely to be at risk of suicide because of the pressure.
I just hope that we can pause for a moment and consider how a transwoman, portrayed as a possible danger to families by some, might feel. Last week I saw on the BBC website an amazing young poet, Gray Crosbie, tell of their experience. The concerns of non-binary, intersex and transpeople are rarely heard. I am quoting selectively from their poem:
“Our society has a limited capacity for people who don’t fit the norm …
And we are normally offered female or male
Mark the box with a tick, make yourself fit ...
But I am more that other.
Into this society entirely divisible by two into woman and man
But I relate most to the ampersand (and I need a haircut!) …
But still too often there’s some of us are standing clutching our bladders trying to decipher which bathroom symbol we better resemble, based on what we are wearing or on how brave we are feeling.
There’s a day to day struggle that people quietly battle like find a way to wear your own skin whilst navigating a world in which we don’t always fit in … life can be tough out there
So do you have to make a fuss”.
I absolutely accept the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has brought this debate but I am concerned that perhaps this matter is overstated.
My Lords, I am pleased to support my noble friend and noble Baronesses in this short but very important debate. As usual, I shall speak quite bluntly.
As one of 800,000 wheelchair users, I, too, have an interest in access to toilets and I agree with what has been said so far about their inadequacy. There are over 70,000 public buildings in the UK that wheelchair users cannot get into, let alone have the luxury of deciding which toilet to use. My blunt message to the Government tonight is this: when will you stand up to the small, militant, transgender fascist lobby and say that the rights of 32 million real women and 800,000 wheelchair users are more important than the rights of tens of thousands who identify as transgender?
As every doctor and even first-year medical student knows, there are only two biological sexes, male and female, with a tiny number of people who are known as genuine hermaphrodites, male pseudo-hermaphrodites or female pseudo-hermaphrodites. These people have some male and female chromosomes and it is a well-recognised medical condition that deserves respect and support. Whether Miss Rebecca Long Bailey MP likes it or not, sex is biological and binary and is not a social construct.
However—and this is very important—medical science quite rightly recognises the well-known medical condition that there are people who feel an overwhelming sense of a different gender identity. That is perfectly okay and acceptable. The Gender Recognition Act quite rightly lets these people change their sexual identity after showing the gender recognition panel that they have transitioned over a two-year period. That is a wise and sensible process and does not deprive any transsexual person of any rights, real or imagined.
I urge the Government, therefore, to drop the suggestion that the process should be abandoned and not to permit the absurdity of self-identification, with the huge loss in freedom and safety for women that that would entail. I say “absurdity” but it is more of an obscenity, because we have the reality, as seen in Answers to Parliamentary Questions tabled by me, of male rapist convicts suddenly telling the Prison Service that they are identifying as women and our useless, incompetent, politically correct Prison Service immediately transferring them to female prison wings where they have raped and sexually assaulted real women prisoners. What a wonderful sexual predators charter. The Prison Service should move these men back to the male wings immediately until they have satisfied the two-year transitional condition.
As a man—even one in a wheelchair—I cannot imagine the fear and lack of safe space that women can face when they go to the loo and some big, hulking male brute comes in demanding to use the facilities because he has decided that he wants to identify as a woman that day. I entirely respect his right to adopt a woman’s sexual identity, but not until he has satisfied the 2004 Act and fully transitioned over the two-year period.
Of course, I have often attempted to get wheelchair access to buildings, but I made some big mistakes in my two failed attempts to get the Government to amend the Equality Act. What all we 800,000 wheelchair users should have done was claim that we were self-identifying as women or men and then a whole industry would have moved into high gear to get us access to anywhere we wanted in the country, and no doubt we would have had the police running around as well, checking out wheelchair transgender hate crimes.
This excessive nonsense has to stop. I repeat that I deeply respect those who want or need to change their sexual identity, but I want the Government to stand up to the militant, fascist transgender lobby—the small militant minority—particularly those who try to change the sex of children. I and many doctors are deeply concerned about the work of the Tavistock clinic, which is giving puberty-blocking drugs to children aged 11—children who may not know at that young age what their sexual identity will be in later life. Giving sex-change drugs to young children might completely destroy their lives if, later on when they mature, they come to a different view on their sexual identity.
I support the proposition put forward by my noble friend Lord Lucas that at least half of public toilets and changing facilities should be reserved for women. That means less than half for men, but that is okay because, as a man, I am always mystified that queues for women’s toilets seem to be a lot longer than queues for the male ones, although we had better not go into that. My noble friend’s proposal would allow all transgender people to have a choice, once they have transitioned as per our law, and there must be no question of others who have merely self-identified picking and choosing on a daily basis what toilet they use.
My Lords, a YouGov poll from 2017 found that 59% of women queue for toilets on a regular basis compared with 11% of men. We all know about that, and many studies and recommendations have not been implemented. However, the situation goes much broader than that, because there really are not enough public toilets in the UK. There was a 13% decline in the number provided by local authorities between 2010 and 2018, according to a report by the BBC’s Reality Check in 2018, and this decline has coincided with cuts in local government funding since 2011.
There is no verifiable data on the total number of public toilets in the UK but the British Toilet Association estimates that there has been a 60% reduction just in the last decade. Therefore, there is a huge problem, the issue being that there are too few public toilets.
This is not a small and isolated problem. Fourteen million adults in the UK have a problem controlling their bladder and 6.5 million have bowel issues. According to NHS England, women are five times more likely to develop urinary incontinence than men. Fewer public toilets make it harder for these people to leave their home. A Royal Society for Public Health survey in 2018 found that one in five people do not feel able to go out as often as they would like due to the lack of public toilets provided throughout this country. The same survey found that 56% of respondents restricted fluid intake before going out to reduce the need to find a toilet.
Although overall the lack of public toilets has a greater impact on women, there are other toilet issues facing men. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Continence Care, which I am very proud to have chaired and now jointly chair, has launched a campaign called Bins for Boys. Currently, most male toilets do not have sanitary bins. However, many men have problems with continence, just as women do, so that is appalling. For example, here in the Palace of Westminster there is only one sanitary bin in the 57 male toilets, so what do the men who have a problem with continence do in the whole of this palace?
One bit of good news is that in stations—in London, at least; I do not know what happens in the rest of the country—there is now no charge for public toilets. That is a huge improvement and we are very pleased about that.
This is an important and widespread issue but it is largely hidden and must be publicised. It is something that people do not like to talk about but, in my view, they should, and it is an issue that needs to be resolved. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for introducing this debate because it has given me an opportunity to bring up some of the wider matters relating to continence and incontinence in this country.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important topic. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, in her view that this is one of the most important topics that rarely gets discussed.
I request the Minister to think about the point I am about to make, which concerns the confusion the Equality Act 2010 has created around the definition of a woman. I will offer a comparison between the Act and annexe B of the National Health Service guidelines on same-sex accommodation. Why have I chosen the National Health Service? It is the single biggest employer in Britain and probably offers the most comprehensive suite of changing and toilet facilities of any organisation.
Annexe B is headed, “Delivering same-sex accommodation for trans people and gender variant children”. I point out to the Minister that this misrepresents the legislation that it purports to represent. The second paragraph starts:
“Under the Equality Act 2010, individuals who have proposed, begun or completed reassignment of gender enjoy legal protection against discrimination. A trans person does not need to have had, or be planning, any medical gender reassignment treatment to be protected under the Equality Act: it is enough if they are undergoing a personal process of changing gender”.
As is clear, instead of quoting the Equality Act, this guideline paraphrases Section 7(1), which states:
“A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex”.
While the need to be proposing to transition, in the process of transitioning or to have completed transition is included, the NHS guideline omits the phrase,
“by changing physiological or other attributes of sex”.
In order to qualify for the protected characteristic of gender reassignment within the meaning of the Act, the individual must intend to embark on or to have actively embarked on a process of physiological change. While the Act indicates that this should include surgery, the minimum requirement should be that the individual is taking cross-sex hormones or can provide evidence to prove that they are planning to do so.
With regard to,
“changing … other attributes of sex”,
since sex is biological, this refers to making some kinds of anatomical change. The Equality Act as passed into law never intended that individuals could simply self-ID as the sex they are not. Instead, the Act established qualifying criteria. Individuals wanting to claim protection from discrimination by virtue of gender reassignment had either to be changing aspects of their physiology or be able to prove an established intention to do so.
Proof that the authors of the NHS guidance have misunderstood Section 7(1) of the Equality Act comes in the second half of the second paragraph:
“In addition, good practice requires that clinical responses be patient-centred, respectful and flexible towards all transgender people whether they live continuously or temporarily in a gender role that does not conform to their natal sex”.
Section 7 of the Act offers nothing whatsoever about living in a gender role: it is about making physical changes or at least having evidence-based intentions to do so. A man could wear a frock, rouge and nail gel every day of the week for 10 years without qualifying for the protected characteristic of gender reassignment according to the Equality Act 2010.
It must be concluded that the NHS hospital guidelines contained in annexe B are significantly divorced from the wording and intent of the legislation that they claim to reflect. I want the Minister to think about that and identify whether the NHS should in fact withdraw its guidelines and do something that actually follows the Act.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for tabling this debate. I thought quite a lot before putting my name down because how quickly this debate can become contentious. When I previously posted on social media about single-sex spaces, I did not receive some of the backlash that other women have; I received some positive messages, some not. More concerning ones pointed out that I was being monitored, down to people identifying what I had retweeted and insinuating that I needed to watch what I say on the subject. It is really important that we enable people to have an open debate about this issue, to get to the best possible solution for everyone.
I have read a lot around this issue in the last year or so and know that it is quite easy to go down a rabbit hole. It very quickly becomes a complex discussion, but we must think about everyone’s safety, privacy and dignity. Everyone should feel safe and not intimidated or bullied when going to the toilet. How I use my platform is something that I take really seriously: I do not want anyone to be victimised or hurt, but we need to find a solution that protects people.
We need a redesign of all the toilets that we have. I personally favour an option of single-sex toilets—male and female—but also gender-neutral toilets, in appropriate numbers that enable people to use them. The best gender-neutral toilets that I have seen have floor-to-ceiling doors, basins and bins—my noble friend Lady Greengross would be very pleased. Something that we do not discuss enough is that they all have wheelchair access, which is a joy to behold as a disabled person.
Let me be very clear that the vast majority of people will not use access to women’s spaces to get close to women and girls in an unhealthy way. But I have been involved in elite sport for the last 40 years, and we have seen that a small number of horrible individuals will use their position to get close to children, women and boys. That is why we need to have protections in place. There is a reason that the UN, WaterAid and other organisations have called for single-sex spaces. Social convention is there to safeguard women and girls to prevent harm. Eroding social convention will make it harder to maintain these boundaries.
Sadly, we live in a world of upskirting, secret filming of women and girls in toilets, and rape videos posted online and made available for purchase or subscription. Maybe we know more about abuse these days, but we have hundreds of years of history of this. Much as I want it to go away, we are not at that point yet. Historically, there are not enough spaces for women’s toilets whether in sports venues, theatres or public buildings. I grew up in a world where there were no accessible toilets. As a young child, visiting the Tower of London at seven years old, I asked someone where the nearest accessible toilet was; I was told Paddington —brilliant.
We talk about the urinary leash: women not being able to leave their homes because of the risk of not being able find toilets. As a disabled person, I face that problem every single day. When an accessible toilet is not being used as a storeroom, there is a last-moment celebration. Every train I get on and every new building I go to, I have to think about whether there is an accessible toilet. I was in a restaurant last week. Everyone checked that it was accessible for me to get in there but, right at the last minute, they realised that the women’s toilets were downstairs. There was a panic because, if I needed to go, I would have to tell about 10 people and they would have to clear out the men’s toilets for me to use them. That is not a position that any woman wants to be in. We need to have more accessible toilets. It is great that there is recognition of invisible impairments, but this comes back to redesigning what we have.
A lot of disabled toilets are locked for a reason. Apparently, they are places where people go to take drugs and have sex. That is the excuse and the reason given for why they are locked. But the Radar scheme, which is available in so many places, does not show on the outside whether or not the toilet door is locked. I was in one of these toilets recently, when a gentleman did not realise and opened the door and walked in on me. We both panicked, and it felt like for ever before the door closed again. That is one option I have. If there is somebody in an accessible toilet who needs to be in there for a long period of time, the only other option I have is to use the women’s toilet. In that instance, I have to go with the door open. I am not sure whether I have publicly declared this before, but I am incontinent; I have to catheterise. I have to sit with my chair in the door of the toilet. Without going into the details, I am in a potentially vulnerable position when I catheterise myself. I need to wash my hands before and straight afterwards; it is even more difficult when I have my period. My biggest fear is that someone will run away with my chair for a bit of a laugh. As a disabled person, that is a very vulnerable position to be in.
This is why I believe we have to think more clearly about how we configure toilets; how we provide the best opportunity for everybody. I look forward to continuing this debate.
My Lords, this debate has been going on for about 50 years; first, on television, when Jan Morris was asked about it. The unfortunate thing is that, in those 50 years, we seem not to have accumulated any more information or evidence on which to base the debate. We are stuck having the same discussion over and over again. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Lucas: what purpose is served by having this debate over and over again in the same terms? Various points have been made this evening which really are a proxy debate for the Gender Recognition Act. I could take issue with many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, but I do not have time to do that this evening.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that he might bear in mind when making his criticisms of Stonewall and the Fawcett Society that they have repeatedly had to face the sort of intemperate remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, used to express his very firmly felt view. To what extent are we moving the issue forward each time we have this debate? I do not think that we are, and I do not think that we are doing women any great favours by increasing their fears without an evidence base on which to do so.
I was hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was going to come up with some data and research to back up his assertion, but he did not. So, I ask him: what research has been done on crimes recorded by types of unisex toilet? Was there a breakdown according to the type of crime—harassment, assault or breach of the peace? Is there any research that tells us whether people are more inclined to report crimes in mixed-sex facilities because they dislike them, as he outlined? Is there a distinction between the number of crimes committed in mixed-sex facilities in different venues—pubs versus museums, for example?
It seems to me that we need to do two things. First, we should look at America, where these bathroom Bills have been brought in. Rather than being policed, there is, frankly, a vigilante approach. In those cases where people take it into their own hands to decide who is conforming to the law and who is not, it is quite often based on people’s physical outward display—so lesbian women who look very butch get challenged going into women’s toilets. I do not think that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is intending, but it is a potential consequence.
We are proposing to take away from trans women a right that they already have: trans women use women’s toilets all the time, and so far, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas: he might have seen in the briefing pack provided by the Library authorities the article by Andrew Gilligan when he was a Times journalist. He made a rather crude FOI request about different types of crimes, and he concluded that it is men whom women should fear: it is not trans women who are the perpetrators of the crimes against them. Unfortunately, as we have seen in this short debate, the noble Lord’s intent gets twisted, and we cannot get the kind of rational debate that he wants.
I ask the Minister: since there is no evidence that the Equality Act 2010 is having a negative effect and putting the rights of trans women and women at odds with each other, does she believe that it is right to keep the Equality Act, given that it affords protection to both women and trans people, and will the Government make sure that they do not water down those legal protections?
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for tabling this Question for Short Debate. I should again declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, because many of these facilities are provided by local authorities.
The noble Lord has raised a very important issue. I hope we can have a longer debate in this Session. I know that the noble Lord has tabled many Questions, but the Government should consider having a longer debate in the next few months—that would be very welcome.
I very much support the work of the British Toilet Association in its campaign to make more toilets available generally to the public. There has been a noticeable and disappointing reduction in the number of facilities, and a number of noble Lords have made reference to that. The noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Grey-Thompson, raised important issues about the facilities for disabled people and how we still have a considerable way to go to deliver an adequate number of toilets to meet people’s needs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, was absolutely right when she said that we must have an open and respectful debate that addresses concerns about protecting people. I was very sorry to hear that she has again suffered abuse on social media: we need to deal with that in this House and elsewhere—it is just unacceptable.
The provision of toilets and changing-room facilities in public buildings has had considerable attention in the media recently, and that is to be welcomed. It is only by discussing these issues that we can come to a position where we are generally agreed on the way forward. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that these matters need to be resolved by talking in a calm and non-aggressive manner, and by dealing with the issues in a sensitive way.
There are three issues which need serious consideration. There is parity of access to toilet facilities between men and women and the fact that that there need to be more women’s facilities than men’s to achieve that parity, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned in his contribution. Then there are the needs of the trans community to be able to access toilets and changing-room facilities and to feel safe, protected and not discriminated against. The third issue is the need for women to be able to access toilet and changing facilities, and, again, to feel safe, protected and not discriminated against. It is easy to say that; delivering it is more difficult. But respecting people, respecting difference and seeking ways to move forward on that basis must be the right thing to do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made the point that it is often members of the trans community who are abused in these situations. We need to take that point to heart. We also need to make policy, regulations and decisions based on evidence, not discrimination, and to challenge ourselves on what we think are acceptable norms or attitudes.
I listened carefully to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I agree that at least—and probably more than—half of all facilities should be reserved for women. Some of the noble Lord’s comments were not particularly helpful. This is not about satisfying an aggressive, militant lobby, but about ensuring that we are all treated with respect. If we do that and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, called for, if people come together and discuss this matter in that way, we can get a reasonable solution. I also agree with the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, about both Stonewall and the Fawcett Society.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, raised a number of questions about the NHS. I look forward to the response to those points from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist. I see the argument for gender-neutral facilities as clearly as I do the argument for women-only facilities; both are valid. I would want to accommodate both demands in public buildings. Some may oppose that as a way forward and, although attitudes may change over time, I cannot at present see how we can have either/or. Some public buildings have partly switched over to gender-neutral toilets and you can design and deliver excellent facilities, taking into consideration the needs of all. I may be wrong, but I think I am right in saying that the public toilets in the main reception of Southwark Council are all gender-neutral.
I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for raising this issue, which must be discussed again and again in this House. Only by having a debate can we come to reasonable solutions on issues that concern many people. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this Question.
My Lords, this has been a far more wide-ranging debate than the Question initially suggested. On reflection, the start of my speech may not be as relevant as I thought it was earlier today, but I will bash ahead anyway. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for introducing this debate and for asking the Government to outline plans to ensure that half of all facilities are reserved for women only.
It might be helpful to start by considering the history of public lavatories in Britain. George Jennings, a plumber from Brighton, showcased his first flushing lavatory at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Early public loos were called “public waiting rooms”, and the vast majority were for men’s convenience. Women rarely travelled further than where family and friends resided and had limited facilities away from home. This lack of lavatories impeded women’s access to public space and to workplaces. The Ladies’ Sanitary Association campaigned from the 1850s onwards, succeeding in the opening of the first few women’s lavatories in Britain. By 1915, after the success of suffragettes campaigning for the right to vote, the provision of female lavatories was still unequal. However, as women were now entering previously male-dominated professions, people began to campaign for better facilities at work. Some employers did not want to install women’s loos, especially after World War I, as they believed that women were stealing men’s employment. Some Victorian lavatories were becoming increasingly elegant, such as the gentlemen’s public conveniences at Rothesay pier on the Isle of Bute. These have recently been restored. For 40p, you can see the ornate tiling and mosaic delight of male loos.
Even today, the renewal and restoration project here in the Palace of Westminster concerns us all. The programme of works is designed to protect the Palace and its historic legacy for future generations. One anticipated long-term benefit is a more open, accessible Parliament for all.
Under the 1992 workplace regulations, it became illegal for an employer to not ensure that men and women have separate facilities. Thank goodness we look after all sexes much better now. Building regulations work through a set of “functional requirements”. These set out, at a high level, what buildings must be and provide. On lavatories, the building regulations require provision of adequate and suitable “sanitary conveniences”, in part G, and reasonable provision for people to gain access to and use such facilities, in part M. Statutory guidance supporting the building regulations refers to British Standards for lavatories, and to further standards which are developed by industry experts.
British Standards are voluntary by themselves, but we often refer to them within statutory guidance as an approved means of complying with the building regs. We refer to BS 6465-1, which is a British Standard on toilet provision with the full title Sanitary Installation: Code of Practice for the Design of Sanitary Facilities and Scales of Provision of Sanitary and Associated Appliances. The standard applies to new buildings undergoing major refurbishment and to many building types, including public buildings and locations with communal changing, such as shops, sports centres, swimming pools and recreational facilities.
The standard contains helpful guidance on the likely gender ratio of, for example, a workforce. It considers the number of people requiring sanitary provision, and tables male-to-female ratios and numbers of sanitary fittings needed for the size and type of building. Developers will use an estimate of the population coming to their building and follow the guidance to balance the provision. If the gender ratio of occupants is not known at the design stage, or there are likely to be a similar number of men and women, the standard suggests a set of assumptions to use. It suggests providing 20% more facilities than the anticipated use. If the guidance is followed, it would result in an equal number of male and female toilets. The standard does not explicitly recommend unisex facilities or changing rooms, but says:
“Where unisex toilets are provided, WCs should be in self-contained toilets with full height walls and doors.”
This standard is made by experts in the field coming to an evidence-based consensus on best practice.
Other standards can also help. Those designing offices might follow the British Council for Offices guidance, and there is also the Health and Safety Executive’s approved code of practice. In addition, health and safety legislation within a workplace details the requirements for separate rooms for men and women and the ratios of loos for each sex. Local authorities also have the power to specify the numbers and positions of sanitary appliances at places of entertainment. This includes directing the owner to maintain and keep clean such provisions, and defines the needs for indoor and outdoor facilities, such as sports centres. Where there are problems, a local authority can decide and require the owner to put them right. If gender and lavatories are causing people problems, a local authority can use Section 20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to require an owner to put them right.
My noble friend Lady Nicholson mentioned her concerns relating to the Equality Act 2010. Lavatories and changing spaces are part of each person’s everyday activities. Access to facilities when you need them is important regardless of disability, pregnancy or chronic illness, and whatever your ethnicity, age, sex or gender. We have protected characteristics and rights under the Equality Act 2010. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that the Act provides protection against discrimination and unfair treatment on the basis of the protected characteristics in the Act—age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The Act is clear that trans people should be treated according to the gender they present, although it also states that transgender people can be excluded from single-sex places if it is proportionate. However, it is for providers to determine this on a case-by-case basis.
The protected characteristic of gender reassignment encompasses people who are intending to, are undergoing or have undergone gender transition. This does not require any medical intervention to have occurred. We have heard some people’s concerns that progressing the rights of transgender people should not have a detrimental effect on the rights of others, especially women. We are committed to maintaining the safeguards that protect vulnerable women and allow organisations to provide single-sex services. The law makes it clear that separate male or female services exist for a reason: to provide gender-appropriate services.
The Government are committed to tackling harassment and abusive behaviours by all individuals and to ensuring that safe spaces are safe for those using them. The Equality Act also allows people with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment to be excluded from a single-sex service where it is necessary and proportionate. Each organisation owning a building shapes its premises to suit its need, and it is not the Government’s role to tell them how. Regulations and standards need to keep abreast of change in our culture, population and technology. We have both government guidance and independent best practice standards that combine to guide property owners on how best to provide access and balance the mix of lavatories and changing rooms.
A great deal of work is being carried out in reviewing the regulatory system for buildings and the building regulations. This work builds on the recommendations of the independent review of building regulations and fire safety led by Dame Judith Hackitt, which recommended a different, more coherent approach to the regulatory framework. Noble Lords will recall that we have already agreed to take forward the recommendations of Dame Judith’s report, in full, as the basis for regulatory reforms to building and fire safety. This work includes plans to review and upgrade our statutory guidance in due course.
I turn to the specific questions asked by noble Lords. On the point made by my noble friend Lord Lucas, I have probably covered that there is no requirement for gender-neutral toilets and regulations, and neither regulation nor standards prescribe gender-neutral toilets.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Grey- Thompson, have mentioned to me outside the Chamber, as well as in their contributions this evening, the lamentable lack of disabled facilities, in both numbers and in the appropriateness of their size. I am sad to say that that is still the case within the Palace of Westminster. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made a very good point when she said that some of it—such as restaurants using disabled facilities as storage facilities—is partly down to the need for better staff training and inculcating that culture within an organisation. It is not always a question of legislation, as she said. I am afraid that the data on incidences of theft and assault is not data that this department keeps. It will be kept by the Home Office and I will gladly endeavour to try to find out some statistics on the incidence of theft and assault in public loos, and equally, what practical arrangements are made to police these spaces.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, mentioned the redesign of loos. We are looking at the guidance supporting the building regulations and, as part of our review, the toilet guidance is being reviewed, including on accessible toilets. We have had a consultation on changing toilets, and we are looking at the wider, inclusive nature of provision in public buildings. I have covered the data on crime and assaults.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, rightly drew attention to the decline in the number of public loos. I know that is not specifically the subject of this evening’s debate, but it was a point very well made and one which I am particularly aware of, having raised a Question in the House on this only last year. She mentioned the greater impact that this has for women, but also mentioned the good work that the APPG is doing in highlighting the “bins for boys” initiative, which we should take note of, and that Network Rail has abolished all charges for loos in most London railway stations. I think that concludes my remarks, but if there is anything I have missed out, I would be delighted to write to noble Lords.