Earl of Leicester debates involving the Cabinet Office during the 2019 Parliament

Conversion Therapy Prohibition (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Bill [HL]

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Friday 9th February 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I will describe what can, and in many cases does, happen if conversion therapy—a pejorative description; I would prefer to call it “psychological inquiry”—is not employed to gently tease out of an individual the reasons that they believe they are born in the wrong body or need to die to be reborn. What other issues might be at play here—unhappiness at home, internalised homophobia, mental health issues, autism, bullying, a child in care or exposure to extreme and violent pornography? Will a new trans identity solve all those problems? It may solve a few, but not a majority. In all cases, psychological investigation should take place before affirmation of the gender identity, prescription of puberty blockers and more take place.

The argument that puberty blockers are reversable is a complete lie. They set children on a pathway to further steps that have indisputably irreversible consequences. The Cass review highlighted that data from both the Netherlands and the study conducted by our own GIDS demonstrated that almost all children, 96.5%, and young people, 98%,

“who are put on puberty blockers go on to sex hormone treatment”.

By contrast, prepubertal gender confusion resolves in up to 90% of cases if the child is allowed to go through puberty naturally. Gently discussing these issues allows time for that natural process.

Dr David Bell asserts:

“Once you start them on that path, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

That is borne out in the testimony of several detransitioners, such as Ritchie Herron. He describes a “conveyor belt system” that is “all affirmation, no question”. That extends to cross-sex hormones, which have irreversible consequences such as sterility, and thence to surgical intervention. Herron had surgery in 2018 but was left infertile, incontinent and in pain—all conditions he will suffer for the rest of his life.

I will speak of another detransitioner who realises what a terrible mistake she made. She was not given any psychological therapy. Her gender dysphoria was not questioned, and she was met with constant affirmation. Here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt. I congratulate her on her well-reasoned speech and commend the curious approach, but I disagree with her on the point of affirmation. If an anorexic child believes and states that she is not thin enough, doctors and therapists do not affirm that, because it is patently not true. It would be ridiculous to say to that young girl, “We affirm your views. You must lose more weight”.

Much has been said about Keira Bell, so I will not repeat that. This has not been said: as a young girl, she was a tomboy; as she grew up, she developed feelings of same-sex attraction and thence internalised homophobia. She was from a broken home; her mother was an alcoholic and she went to live with her father, who kicked her out. Her only option was to live in youth hostels. In her vulnerable condition, she came upon the enticing idea of changing sex as a means of finding the solution to happiness. She got a referral to GIDS—we know about that. The NHS website still states the following—we checked it yesterday—on puberty blockers:

“Although GIDS advises this is a physically reversible treatment if stopped”—

I think that GIDS has been somewhat discredited—

“it is not known what the psychological effects may be”.

Puberty blockers do not just stop puberty; they stop the most important part of growth as you go through puberty.

Physicians knew she was from a broken home and suicidal; that should have been explored to find out what the issues were. You heard all the things that happened to her. Every development worsened her health. At 22, she realised she had gone down an irreversible road, so she tried to arrest the decline by stopping the hormones. She has been left deeply unhappy and desperately trying to live a normal life as a young woman. Yesterday, she told me that

“it was the job of the professionals to consider all my co-morbidities, not just to affirm my naïve hope that everything could be solved with hormones and surgery”.

In view of heartbreaking stories such as those, from the ever-increasing number of detransitioners, is it surprising that parents would want to protect their children from stepping on to this conveyor belt? The vague drafting of the Bill will risk criminalising such parents.

Therapy is desperately needed to counter the affirmation narrative. What we are seeing here, with the stories of Ritchie Herron, Keira Bell and countless others, is an appalling lack of care. I am afraid, with the sterilisation of children and mutilation of young adults’ bodies, we are stepping into Dr Mengele territory in the 21st century and in a western democracy. This is the real conversion therapy: physically trying to change the sex of a beautiful young girl into a boy, then failing, and with no post-operative guidance. It is ideologically driven and not necessary.

Elections Bill

Earl of Leicester Excerpts
Earl of Leicester Portrait Earl Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, what a treat it was to listen to the wonderful maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham. Let us hope for many more in this Chamber.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I speak to just one aspect of the Bill: photo identification. The Elections Bill will implement photo identification in polling stations in UK parliamentary elections in Great Britain and local elections in England. Councils will offer a free voter card if an elector wants one. Some form of photo ID is needed to deter and prevent personation fraud. At present, it is harder to take out a library book or collect a parcel from a post office than it is to vote in someone else’s name.

In 2003, the last Labour Government introduced photo identification at polling stations in Northern Ireland. It has helped prevent election fraud and has not harmed voter participation. Labour Government Ministers said then that:

“Personation at the polling station will be made much more difficult by the requirement for all voters to provide a specified form of photographic identification … The measures will tackle electoral abuse effectively without disadvantaging honest voters … to ensure that no one is disfranchised because of them.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/7/01; col. 739.]

They said they would not be introducing the measure if they believed that thousands of voters would not be able to vote because it.

If Labour now thinks identification to vote is so wrong, why is it not campaigning to repeal its own laws? Should electoral fraud be tolerated in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland? Does Labour believe that most European countries which require photo ID engage in so-called voter suppression? Many constituency Labour parties currently require two types of voter identification to vote in Labour Party candidate selections—members are told to bring photo ID. Shadow Minister Cat Smith has attacked voter ID, saying we should consider

“how difficult it is for so many people in this country to have access to ID, because it is expensive—£80-odd for a passport and £43 for a driving licence.”—[Official Report, Commons, 7/9/21; col. 210.]

But photo ID in either of those two forms was required to attend the 2019 and 2021 Labour Party conferences. This is political opportunism by the Labour Party.

Labour has claimed that the rollout of individual electoral registration in Great Britain, as used in Northern Ireland, would lead to mass disfranchisement, yet the electoral register in the 2019 general election was at its highest ever level. Its shrill claims on voter identification are similarly bogus and are also shown to be false by the extensive Northern Ireland experience and the 2018 and 2019 pilots held in some areas of England.

There have been no reported cases of polling station personation in Northern Ireland since the law changed in 2003. Indeed, the Electoral Commission observed in 2015 that

“there have been no reported cases of personation. Voters’ confidence that elections are well-run in Northern Ireland is consistently higher than in Great Britain, and there are virtually no allegations of electoral fraud at polling stations”.

Furthermore, in its 2021 public opinion tracker, the Electoral Commission did not record a single Northern Irish respondent reporting

“I don’t have any ID / I wouldn’t be able to vote”.

International election observers have repeatedly called for the introduction of identification in polling stations in Great Britain, saying that its absence is a security risk. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE, has said that

“serious consideration should be given to introducing a more robust mechanism for identification of voters.”

Furthermore, our own Electoral Commission has called for the introduction of identification in Great Britain for many years, at least since 2014.

With regard to some noble Lords on the Opposition Benches stating that there is very little voter personation in our elections and that there has been only one successful prosecution, by definition personation is a crime of deception. A low number of reported cases equally suggests that such deception may not be detected. Personation is very difficult to prove and prosecute. Data is limited by the nature of the crime.

Finally, on the possibility that photo identification might deter hesitant minority groups from voting, I find this view somewhat patronising. Electoral fraud undermines the fundamental right to vote in free and fair elections. It deprives voters of their voice and their ability to have their say. Evaluations of the 2019 election pilots found that voter identification increased confidence among ethnic minorities that elections were free from fraud and abuse to 97%. Confidence also increased among younger voters. The Electoral Commission’s research has warned that residents are at greater risk of electoral fraud in ethnically diverse areas. I commend and support the Bill.

Earl of Leicester Portrait Earl Leicester (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is an honour to make my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. I will not dwell on the six generations of the Coke family who, in 162 years of taking their seat—or not—in this House, only mustered three speeches, two of them by my father, concerning the railways, in 1998 and 1999. As you can see, my family, who have the obstinate habit of spelling our name “Coke” and not, as it is pronounced, “Cook”, have not been over- talkative in this House.

An earlier antecedent, Sir Edward Coke, was a Member of Parliament and ultimately rose to become Lord Chief Justice to King James I. He is immortalised in one of the 12 bronze relief panels on the doors of the Supreme Court in Washington DC, where he is seen barring the King from entering Parliament. He defended common law against the divine right of the monarchy. This and other ideas of Coke’s were important to a fledgling republic; indeed, a number of them were written into the US constitution. In the English Civil War our family were, not unnaturally, Parliamentarians.

Perhaps my family was distracted from your Lordships’ House by the business of managing a large estate in Norfolk and seeing that proper use was made of its resources. We are still the custodians of that estate at Holkham, managing it sustainably and to sustain the myriad families that work there and rely on it. I have been up there for nearly three decades and have been wholly responsible for it for the last 15 years. Its prime activities are my main interests: the environment, agriculture, heritage and tourism.

In 2012 we resumed management of the Holkham National Nature Reserve from Natural England. It is arguably the most important NNR in the country. Through positive conservation and effective predator control, it yields large numbers of fledglings that survive to adulthood, and it outperforms many other sites. The greatest success has been the natural colonisation and fledging of more than 435 spoonbills, a species which became extinct in this country 400 years ago. The breeding population has doubled in the last two years. Our population of lapwings, a species that has seen a 57% decline across the UK, is back to what it was 20 years ago. This is all because of subtle management changes, trying different things and not sticking to rigid prescriptions.

While the Government have an ambition to halt declines, Holkham is reversing them. On the farm, the principles of regenerative agriculture have been put into practice this last decade. We are not organic, and probably will not ever be, though I have challenged the farm team to farm without artificial inputs by 2030. This year was the first that no insecticides were used. Nitrogen input on the potatoes was reduced by 22%, having been reduced by 10% in each of the previous two years, but they still, importantly, yielded good yields. With cattle extensively grazing the nature reserve and sheep grazing the cover crops in a six-course rotation, we are relearning the lessons that Coke of Norfolk espoused during the agricultural revolution.

I fervently believe that regenerative agriculture provides one of the main solutions for combating climate change. It is a shame that COP 26 appeared to miss the opportunity to focus on it. The woodland is actively managed for profit, amenity and increased biodiversity, using the principles of continuous cover forestry. One of my passions these last 25 years has been renewable energy. We have invested in ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, biomass boilers, solar and a large, 2.5-megawatt anaerobic digester that pumps gas directly into the national grid. We have not invested in wind power, principally for aesthetic reasons; anyway, there are plenty more effective wind turbines 15 miles off the Norfolk coast.

Living in Holkham Hall, one of the 10 treasure houses of England, still replete with a full and much-cherished collection from the Grand Tour, I hope to speak authoritatively on heritage matters. My degree at the University of Manchester was in history of art. After university, I spent six years in the Army. We still retain a great number of cottages, and for these we operate an ethical housing policy, letting to local people and key workers only as we attempt to retain social cohesion and village life in a popular holiday destination. The estate has embraced tourism and leisure in the last 25 years and operates a holiday park—the recipient of the David Bellamy gold award for over 20 years—and a small hotel, the Victoria Inn. We run events and cafes. I have worked in nearly all of them.

I am president of Visit East of England and a board member of ALVA, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. None of this would be possible without the wonderful team we employ. They are our greatest asset—well trained, welcoming, espousing great values, employed for their attitude and empowered to make decisions. We have been a real living wage employer since 2017, with 290 employees on the payroll at the end of October. Personally, I tend towards a contrarian view and generally support the underdog, hence my dogged support of Norwich City Football Club. I like to challenge, and I often ask, “Why?”—perhaps too many times.

I apologise for the digression from the Bill we are discussing. I welcome the revival of the prerogative power to dissolve and call a new Parliament. This returns us to the best constitutional practices. Prerogative powers and constitutional conventions are a particular feature of our constitution. They provide the necessary flexibility and agility for our parliamentary democracy. The events of the 2017-19 Parliament demonstrated the negative impact the 2011 Act had on our parliamentary democracy and it led to paralysis. In these circumstances, the Government were unable to secure their business or return the issue to the electorate to break the deadlock because Parliament was unwilling to withdraw confidence or support an election. This meant bespoke legislation was needed in 2019 to have another election. The Bill seeks to put in place arrangements that deliver increased legal, constitutional and political certainty around the process for the Dissolution of Parliament and the calling of a new Parliament.

I am hugely grateful for the warm and kind welcome I have received from all quarters of this House, regardless of political hue. I thank the staff of the House, who have been without fail all hugely helpful to me, from the discretion of the doorkeepers to the forbearance of the dining room staff when I had forgotten to pay for my dinner. I thank all those who enabled me to be here today—my family and wife in particular, and the team I leave managing Holkham—as we strive to enact our vision to make it the most pioneering and sustainable rural estate in the UK. I hope your Lordships will approve that a Coke, after 174 years of near-total silence, should once again try to stir the broth of public debate in this House.