Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
This has been an excellent debate on Pride Month. Indeed, I am exceptionally proud to respond to it on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition as shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and a proud LGBT parliamentarian. After today’s by-election in Batley and Spen, I hope that another LGBT MP will join us tomorrow, in Kim Leadbeater.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for securing this essential debate, and specifically to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) and the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) for bringing it forward.
I pay specific tribute to the moving contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden), and I thank the many contributors to this debate, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing North (James Murray), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), for Luton North (Sarah Owen), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson).
On a personal level, as the Member of Parliament for Warrington North I am particularly pleased that there has been such a strong showing from the north-west, given the attempts by the Conservative party and the media to paint the interests of the so-called red wall and the interests of the LGBT community as somehow at odds with each other. I know that that could not be further from the truth in communities like mine.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North was exactly right when she drew parallels between the hate crime and discrimination faced by other groups and that faced by the LGBT community. We all have more in common than that which divides us, and none of us are equal until we are all equal.
Pride Month is an opportunity to celebrate both who we are and how far we have come, and the giants on whose shoulders we stand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North said. It is also an opportunity to highlight ongoing issues and to challenge the Government and our society to go further to reach full equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people and other groups.
In the years since the Labour Government came to power in 1997, we have seen dramatic action to remove barriers for LGBT people, including the scrapping of the Conservatives’ homophobic section 28; the creation of civil partnerships; the introduction of same-sex adoption; and the protections of the Equality Act. And yes, we have subsequently seen the establishment of same-sex marriage, supported by the Labour party. Unfortunately, that progress is now under threat from Members on the Government Benches, who have been described by members of their own LGBT advisory panel as
“creating a hostile environment for LGBT people”.
Although this is a year when the pandemic has prevented the Pride marches that we all enjoy—indeed, I lament the fact that my wonderfully supportive mum sashaying down the streets of Manchester in her rainbow feather boa has been again postponed—these changes have made the UK a better country and one where community, corporate, media and political groups will wave the Pride flag this month, rightly recognising and celebrating these advances. I thank them for their visibility, but there is further to go.
Just last week, UEFA gave its logo a Pride makeover while refusing the city of Munich’s request to illuminate its stadium with rainbow colours for Germany’s match against Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, on the grounds that it was “political”. Well, I am sorry, but supporting LGBT rights is political. We are not a colourful add-on to brands that do not challenge ongoing homophobia or transphobia. A rainbow does not mean that every storm has ended.
I mention Orbán because he was only the second EU leader that the Prime Minister invited to visit after leaving the EU—rolling out the red carpet for Europe’s leading promoter of anti-LGBT ideology and laws. Under Orbán, as has been raised by many hon. Members across the House today, Hungary has banned same-sex adoption, implemented a section 28-style ban on gay people from featuring in school education materials or TV shows for under-18s, and ended legal recognition for gender changes. Actions speak louder than words.
Globally, 72 countries still criminalise same-sex relationships and the death penalty is threatened in eight of them. In more than half of the world, LGBT people may not be protected from discrimination by workplace law, and most Governments deny trans people the right legally to change their name and gender. What more can Ministers do to change this, particularly in the Commonwealth, where these rights are still criminalised in a majority of countries?
It is all very well for Government Members to laud their “Safe To Be Me” conference, but LGBT people in the UK are not safe to be with them. This is a Government who are actively rowing back on their commitments to LGBT people, from dropping their plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act 2004, to delaying the urgent need to ban so-called conversion therapy, to attacking LGBT charities and pursuing a culture war against so-called woke issues—or, as they are better known, basic human rights.
Here in the UK, we have seen hate crimes against LGBT people surge in recent years. Reported hate crimes have almost tripled, from 6,655 in 2014-15 to 18,465 in 2019-20, and 80% of LGBT people do not report hate crimes. Behind those statistics, there are people hurting now. Although we are privileged in this place, even being an MP does not shield us from this. Since being elected, I have received a number of hateful communications sent to my parliamentary office based on my sexuality, and LGBT MPs receive disgusting abuse online and in person, as has sadly been raised by a number of hon. Members during this debate. The rise in hate crime is deeply concerning, yet the Government seem complacent and would rather spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a royal yacht than use it to crack down on hate crime. What will the Minister promise to do about it?
Trans people face daily discrimination, and it is vital that steps are taken to provide the equality of services and support that people need. Specialist health needs are often best addressed by trans health services offered by the NHS Gender Identity Development Service, but figures obtained by the BBC show that more than 13,500 transgender and non-binary adults are on the NHS GIDS waiting list in England. The average wait for a first appointment is 18 months, according to the national LGBT charity, the LGBT Foundation. That is in breach of patients’ legal entitlement under the NHS constitution to have their first appointment in a specialist service within 18 weeks of referral. The Government have promised to open three new clinics to reduce waiting lists by 1,600 by next year, but that will still leave more than 10,000 people, so what more will the Minister do, or will he blame that on the previous Health Secretary? Instead of taking action to end unlawful wait times and to update the Gender Recognition Act, the Government waste time and resources on stoking division within the LGBT community.
Last month marked 40 years since the first HIV cases were reported and, as we mourn and remember the members of our community who did not make old bones due to the AIDS pandemic, and the many elders whose support and wisdom my generation grew up without, we are all glad of how far we have moved on since then. In the UK, with our medical resources, HIV is no longer a death sentence. That is not yet the case throughout the world, however, and it is another reason why the Government should not cut our aid budget. We are waiting for Ministers to publish the HIV action plan that would set out action to end new cases of HIV in England by 2030 and specifically what that says about increased testing for HIV and the availability of PrEP.
All those issues lead to disproportionately high levels of poor mental health among LGBT people, with half saying they have experienced depression. That has been an even greater challenge during lockdown, particularly among younger people, who in many cases have been confined with people—sometimes including family—who are unaware of or hostile to their sexual identities. As we heard in the incredibly powerful and courageous speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton, that can manifest itself in many ways, including turning to drugs and alcohol to try to bury the hurt and trauma, as facing up to it without support can be too painful to bear.
Unfortunately, unlike with other equality groups, we do not have enough data to assess the impact of the pandemic on LGBT people. Have Ministers asked those questions, or sought to find out over the past year? What will they now do to reach out to LGBT people to ascertain the facts?
There is also some confusion as to what plan the Government are working on to end LGBT inequality. Will the Minister confirm to the House today whether the LGBT action plan—published in 2018 and endorsed by the Prime Minister during the general election campaign—is still the work plan being followed by the Government Equalities Office? If so, what funding is being committed to achieve those outcomes? If not, what plan is the GEO following?
It is absolutely unacceptable that the Government have failed to bring forward legislative proposals to ban conversion therapies. It was promised under the previous Prime Minister in 2018 and then delayed and delayed and delayed. Now fears are growing that it will not be a comprehensive ban after all. Labour is clear: we will support a ban on all harmful conversion practices for LGBT people. Anything less will be just another broken Tory promise. We must hope that the current Minister has not converted her party away from its previous commitment and we will be scrutinising the legislation closely when it is finally brought forward.
That is not an alarmist view. The Conservatives have made it clear that they are not a party interested in supporting LGBT people. Last November, the Conservatives ended the £4 million funding for anti-LGBT bullying in our schools, in a move that echoes Thatcher’s section 28. This year alone, we have seen their whole LGBT advisory panel disbanded, with members citing a hostile environment for LGBT people. I commend the principles of those advisers but, I am afraid, in this Pride Month, what Ministers should instead feel is shame.