I think the point of a gender recognition certificate is the difficulty that trans people have in getting their legal gender recognised by very many bodies. That is why reform of the GRA to allow for an easier process to obtain a GRC is needed. We may need to come on to a discussion later about whether GRCs are fit for purpose in their entirety, and I would welcome that discussion, but given what we have been left with through these two bits of legislation, the first step is reform of the GRA to get us to that point—then we can look to the future.
The changes that were recommended in the Government’s 2018 consultation and in the two Women and Equalities Committee inquiries focused on three particular asks. The first was for the removal of the requirement to obtain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before applying for a gender recognition certificate, as well as removing the need to provide medical reports detailing all treatment that people have undertaken. Both sides of the debate throughout the Select Committee inquiry agreed with that. The 2018 Government consultation showed that 64% agreed with removing the need for a diagnosis and 80% supported the need to remove detailed medical reporting.
The second ask was for the removal of the spousal veto, which requires a married transperson to obtain consent from their spouse before getting their legal gender recognised. Again, in the Select Committee inquiry there was agreement about this from both sides, and 85% of consultation respondents agreed that it should be scrapped.
Finally, there was a call to remove the need for transpeople to provide evidence that they have lived in their so-called “acquired gender” for two years prior to obtaining a GRC. That was condemned very strongly by both sides because it was felt that it reinforces gender stereotypes, and because there is no agreement on how to define or prove that someone has lived as a man or a woman for two years before obtaining legal recognition of their gender. Again, nearly 80% of people who took part in the Government consultation agreed that that should be removed.
Instead of having to collate all the information and submit it to the gender recognition panel, which from the anecdotal evidence we received is very confusing because there does not seem to be any accountability as to who sits on that panel or how it operates, the call was instead for a form of Registrar General to be introduced in England and Wales, before whom transpeople would have to make a legal declaration to an official in order to obtain a gender recognition certificate and legal recognition of their gender. That would, of course, come with consequences in law for any false declarations being made.
That change would not allow people to self-identify without an application to an official. The phrase “self-identify” has been confusing and, potentially, unhelpful. I admit that it conjures up images to those on the outside, who might think people can just wake up one day and decide to change their gender. That is not what the petition calls for, and I do not think anyone here would recommend that.
The model I have outlined has already been introduced in a number of countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, France, Portugal, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg and Malta, as well as four provinces of Canada and 10 states in the United States, and it is being introduced in New Zealand and Germany. The Irish model is probably the closest example to what some campaigners have been asking for, and is reported to have worked particularly well.
There is a lot of agreement, Sir George, about reform of the application process to obtain a GRC, so I hope the Government can take that away and look at it again, and that colleagues here, as well as those who have not taken part in the debate but would have liked to, can come together to realise that politics is a battle for hearts and minds, but we do not need to be at each other’s throats to talk about this subject.
There are strongly held views, and a temptation to steer the conversation into areas that are not directly relevant to the GRC, but we have to appreciate that transpeople face huge challenges in the country today, not least recognition of their gender, as well as the violent and sexual crimes to which they are subjected. They are twice as likely as other LGBT+ people to be subjected to conversion therapy, for example, and they face discrimination in their everyday lives.
However, there is reasonable and understandable concern, particularly from women, about the protection of sex-based rights. That comes from unacceptably high levels of physical and sexual violence towards women, which creates concerns about erosions of these rights. We must allow space and time for everyone to legitimately be heard, and to find a way forward.
Change is a slow process. I know that is frustrating to hear, particularly in the age of social media in which we live, where we demand instant gratification and action, but in my short time in this House I have found the real world, and the battle for hearts and minds, to be infinitely more complex. We have a duty to lead from the front, in order to remove the toxicity from the debate, because continuing in that way will not end well. It will just push people further in one of two directions, or leave them afraid to say anything or to act.
I urge colleagues to join me today in trying to take the toxicity out of this debate. Let this be the moment that we come together to do more and express the real and genuine concerns held on both sides, so we can work towards what everyone wants: a society where the rights of all are respected, and where what people get out of the country is what they are willing to put in.
Let us try to be the leaders on this issue that the country needs right now and calm this debate down, working together across the divide to find the answers and find the way forward.