Labour Women’s Declaration working group, representing those who aim to uphold women’s sex-based rights within Labour and Labour policy, were disappointed to follow the ‘urgent questions’ session with Liz Truss and hear so many MPs, from all parties, attack the Minister for Women and Equalities regarding her statement on Tuesday about changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
Many of the MPs who spoke repeated that ‘trans rights are human rights’, as if human rights were being denied by not permitting individuals to change their legal sex and acquire a new birth certificate through nothing more than self-declaration. Changing legal sex is a serious matter and not one that should be undertaken lightly, so it is reassuring that Truss’s statement and the government’s response to the consultation recognises this, by acknowledging the need for checks and balances whilst also being cognisant of the need for compassion and kindness in the system, in recognition that these are real lived experiences.
Claims were made that transgender people’s views had not been considered, and that Ms Truss had gone against the expressed views of those who responded to the consultation (we know that 39% were the ‘form’ response from Stonewall which did not make comment on any of the questions concerning women’s rights). There was no question in the consultation explicitly asking if respondents were for or against self-identification, so the 70% in favour that has been bandied about has no basis in the consultation analysis. There seems to be a misunderstanding about the purpose of a consultation – it is not a referendum, and this one was not the mere formality that too many had assumed it to be. There were many criticisms concerning the length of time it has taken since the consultation closed for Ms Truss to come to the House with the government’s decisions. In fact, having received the consultation analysis, she took the matter seriously and went on to consult with many interested parties. This is a marker of how comprehensively she has addressed the issue, and her emphasis on healthcare and waiting times demonstrates how much thought has gone into her response. One MP (Wera Hobhouse, LibDem) repeatedly pressed to know who she had met with. It was pleasing to hear Ms Truss calmly state that she had met with 140 organisations, both LGBT and women’s organisations.
The Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Marsha de Cordova, after presenting what appears to be an agreed Labour response about the outcome as being ‘disappointing’, focussed on the issue of healthcare (which is what Liz Truss has explained as being the matter of most concern to transgender people). She also asked a crucial question concerning what would be done to ensure that the Government Equality Office and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission produce statutory guidance in keeping with the legislation. The EHRC had to amend its inaccurate advice concerning the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act on 14 August 2020 (but failed to inform any of the many bodies that had previously used it) and we are very pleased that our Shadow Women and Equalities Minister is keen to have good advice on the provisions for women made available to all the authorities and businesses in this country who have been misled.
We also want to thank Felicity Buchan and Jackie Doyle-Price, Conservative MPs who stood up for women’s sex-based rights in this session. With the exception of these two and the Minister and the Shadow Minister, all MPs who spoke ignored entirely the impact on women of the system of transgender self-declaration which they were championing. It is distressing that after all these decades, women’s rights are still so rarely at the forefront of consideration.
We will continue as Labour Women’s Declaration working group to stand up for women’s rights in all aspects of policy and the workings of the Labour Party. To find out more about us and what we do, register for our free webinar on 20 October via this link .