Gender Recognition (Approved Countries and Territories and Saving Provision) Order 2023

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Tuesday 12th March 2024

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Moved by
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Gender Recognition (Approved Countries and Territories and Saving Provision) Order 2023.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, this statutory instrument updates the list of countries and territories from which citizens are eligible to use the fast-track recognition process to obtain a gender recognition certificate. We laid the statutory instrument before the House on 6 December 2023. Subject to parliamentary approval, this will be the first time that the approved overseas countries and territories list has been updated since July 2011.

The Statement given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equalities on 6 December in the House of Commons generated a wide debate. The Commons Committee debate touched on the importance of communicating these changes clearly. It is important that everyone understands why we are updating this international gender recognition process, and that includes our colleagues internationally. Importantly, this debate is focused on the details of the SI and our need to make this update.

We are making these changes because the Government believe that it should not be possible for a person who would not satisfy the criteria to obtain legal gender recognition through the standard route under UK legislation to use the overseas recognition route to obtain a UK GRC. This would damage the integrity and credibility of the process of the GRA. There have been many changes in the international approach to gender recognition since the list was last updated in 2011. We have provided details of overseas countries and territories to be removed and added to the list laid on 6 December, which is available to view on legislation.gov.uk.

We have undertaken thorough checks, in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to verify our understanding of each overseas system in question and have measured them against the UK’s standard route to obtain gender recognition. My right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Minister for Equalities have both engaged extensively with posts, including those in the USA, Canada and Australia. I am confident that the international community understands the extent of the changes and their impacts on their citizens.

The overseas route to obtaining a gender recognition certificate sees low volumes of applicants. Of the 370 total applications in the last quarter, only 4% used the overseas route. Of the 7,043 applications received since 2009-10, 94% were standard applications and 5% were overseas applications. The impact on transgender people in this country and abroad will be minimal and this update brings the overseas route back in line with the standard route, allowing for more equality in application requirements.

Finally, it is extremely important to ensure parity with those who have taken the UK standard route to obtaining a gender recognition certificate. It would not be fair for the overseas route to be based on less rigorous requirements and consequently for the certificate to be acquired more easily. I beg to move.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley (Con)
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Before the Front-Benchers intervene, I wondered if I could ask my noble friend a question.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for participating in this short debate. I accept that the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, come from her own perspective, but her description of this Government’s records on human rights is not something that I recognise personally. I hope that, in my opening remarks, I was able to provide the Grand Committee with some clarity on the purpose and effects of this legislation.

I will try to take some of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in turn. She asked about our international engagement and how other countries would be aware of these changes. Diplomatic posts have been notified of the changes. We provided them with comprehensive question and answer documents that address potential misconceptions about what this statutory instrument does. We have worked very closely at ministerial and official levels with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office throughout the process, and we are monitoring the international reaction to the legislation.

The noble Baroness remarked on the delay in this work. I can only agree with her that it is overdue. We have delivered on other commitments, such as the reduction in the fee. There is no firm date for the next update of the list; we have said that we will review it frequently.

The noble Baroness also asked about how we are applying the criteria. As outlined in the Explanatory Notes to Section 2(4) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, we have determined the phrasing “at least as rigorous” to mean, in this instance, that the criteria must match the UK legal gender recognition process. This has been applied consistently across every country and territory. Where there have been equivalences that are compliant with the UK system, we have acknowledged those, too. The full list of criteria used for this update can be found in the Explanatory Memorandum to the draft order on the legislation section of GOV.UK.

My noble friend Lord Henley asked specifically about Iran. The detail that we have on the Iranian legislation is that it goes beyond our criteria. He asked whether we had reviewed that; my assumption is yes, but if there is anything different from that, I will write to him to clarify.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about the impact on outstanding applications that are in process. This is not retrospective so, if people have started the process and were eligible formerly, they would still be granted a certificate.

The noble Baroness asked about the feedback from Northern Ireland and Scotland. Obviously, we had to consult with them ahead of laying the instrument. There was no comment from the Northern Ireland Administration, and the Scottish Administration had some criticisms of the Government’s approach, which is perhaps unsurprising given their approach to this issue.

I think I have answered most of the noble Baronesses’ questions, but we will check in Hansard and—

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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What about Germany?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The legislation in Germany has not yet been passed. The noble Baroness alluded to this—forgive me; it was on my list.

As a team within the equalities hub, we remain very open to discussing these topics and some of the wider policies that both noble Baronesses raised.

Motion agreed.