2 Lord Henley debates involving the Department for Education

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

Lord Henley Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - -

Before the Front-Benchers intervene, I wondered if I could ask my noble friend a question.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is not the end of the debate; it is just that I have chosen to speak at the beginning.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley (Con)
- Hansard - -

I give way to the noble Baroness. I will come in later.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the noble Lord is aware, it is perfectly all right to speak now, but I always think when doing statutory instruments that, if you have a lot of questions, as I have, it is only fair to put them in first, so the Minister and the team can think about them.

I thank the Minister for her explanation. I would like to make one little prod or poke, as it were, to the Government over this matter because it was the subject of the first Statement that the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities chose to make in her job. She did not choose to talk about why more black mothers and babies die in the maternity units in our hospitals or why we have huge misogyny in our uniformed services. She did not choose to talk about the increase in violence that our LGBT+ communities are experiencing or the problems that disabled people have with our train service and in getting jobs. She chose not to speak about those things and the fact that she chose to speak about this issue says something. Reading that debate, I think that it probably achieved the exact political purpose she wanted.

However, we can agree, I think, that it is important that this list of approved countries is kept up to date, as the Labour Government provided for when we passed the GRA in 2003. I was there and involved in the discussions around the then Bill; I helped to put it on the statute book. The list was last updated in 2011. The Government at the time said that they expected to update it within five years, but that was 13 years ago, so it is timely that we should be doing this now. My first question is: have the Government stated when they expect this order to be updated next? What is the intended timescale as we move forward? The reason why we wanted to do this in 2003 is that we knew that the world was changing constantly in this area.

With the limited information on the criteria that have been adopted by the Government in making these decisions—there is a headline list included in the Explanatory Memorandum but no further detail—can the Minister give the Committee more detail on what criteria will be applied and an assurance that they will be consistent across each case? For absolute clarity, will the changes made by this instrument have an impact on those in the UK who already hold a GRC via the overseas route? What about the applications that are currently outstanding but were initiated before this order comes into force? Can the Minister give details on how the countries affected by this instrument were both consulted ahead of the change and notified that the change was being made?

Will the changes in this instrument have any impact on the mutual recognition of UK GRCs in other countries? Further, what discussions have Ministers had about mutual recognition in other areas including equal marriage, adoption and pensions, and whether they may be impacted? Can the Minister assure the Committee that those rights are safeguarded and that discussions have been had with the relevant countries on those issues? The Explanatory Memorandum confirms that the Northern Ireland Executive and the Scottish Government were consulted; I would like to know what the outcome of that consultation was.

Finally, my colleagues in the Commons asked about Germany. There seems to be some confusion as to whether it is being removed from the list. Can the Minister give us an update for clarity? What changes are being made to the German system and when will those changes come into effect? Will there be further changes to this list in the near future to respond to those changes?

Those are my questions. If the Minister cannot give us all those details in her answer, I would be quite happy for her to write to us and put her answer in the Library.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for trying to get in to speak before her. I want to make only a brief intervention in this debate, merely because I am intrigued to know about the list of approved countries and territories and what is included. We have in the Explanatory Note a list of the countries that were included in 2011. It includes quite a lot of Australian states and territories, some of which have, I think, been added to this list. It then goes on to include others, including—as one would expect—countries of a progressive sort, such as Sweden.

What I find particularly peculiar is that it then includes countries such as Iran. What is the Iranian legislation on this matter? Are we allowed to see it? Is it appropriate? Is Iranian legislation really fit for purpose on a matter of this sort? I appreciate that, as my noble friend put it, only 4% of applicants are using the overseas route, so we are talking about tiny numbers, but the inclusion of countries such as Iran and one or two others—I shall not mention them, but Iran is probably the most obvious—requires some proper explanation from the Government about why they are there and what is the Iranian legislation behind it.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction of this SI. As she said, last December the Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch MP, announced that she was planning to update the approved list of countries and territories and remove countries that do not require a medical diagnosis in order to gain legal gender recognition. Her statement was based on a belief that checks and balances and a medical diagnosis are required. There is no evidence of higher crime rates or higher risks to women in those jurisdictions which use self-declaration of gender, so Minister Badenoch’s belief is unsupported by the evidence.

According to the Government’s statistics, fewer than 50 gender recognition certifications were granted through the overseas path in 2022-23 and the average number granted each year in the period from 2009 to 2020 was approximately 17. There is no breakdown of the countries where the original legal gender recognition was granted and there is no data about whether any of the individuals who gained legal gender recognition in the UK using this route have been prosecuted or convicted of any criminal offence. The actual impact of removing various countries is minimal according to the number of GRCs issued, but it may have important repercussions for those who are currently eligible but will not be under this proposed order, and there is no evidence that these individuals should have their current right removed. There is no reason to do so.

The impact of these proposals is unknown, due to the lack of statistics around the countries of origin and crime, but we should not assume that it is negligible. The Council of Europe’s Resolution 2048, which was passed in 2015, says that states should

“develop quick, transparent and accessible procedures, based on self-determination, for changing the name and registered sex of transgender people on birth certificates, identity cards, passports, educational certificates and other similar documents; make these procedures available for all people who seek to use them, irrespective of age, medical status, financial situation or police record”.

The UK remains a member of the Council of Europe, which is not the same organisation as the European Union.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, Germany remains on the list of approved countries despite introducing legal gender recognition by self-declaration in August 2023. Ireland is not on the current list, and it is not on the proposed list. It is proposed to remove recognition by parts of Australia, the entirety of New Zealand, certain states in the USA and lots of European Union countries. India and China have been added. India allows hijra to be recognised as a third gender, as well as allowing transition between male and female. It places surgical requirements for recognition as male or female, but the recognition is granted by a district magistrate. However, very few people are able to access the law due to difficulties in getting appropriate healthcare and fighting discrimination. In short, there is no consistency in the application process for the proposed countries.

However, there is one thing in common: they do not follow either the UN’s or the Council of Europe’s recommendations—that is the only thing. We are getting to the real reason why this Government, and Minister Badenoch in particular, chose to do this. This is the Government who could not find time to ban conversion therapy and the harm that that does to our community, and this is the Government who are seeking to remove a lot of protections from the LGBT community. Yet they found time to do this, which is likely to affect 20 people at most—people for whom there is absolutely no evidence that they pose any threat to anybody at all.

This is part of this Government’s ongoing war on human rights and the protections that human rights afford to minorities. It is part of their ongoing campaign to destroy human rights and the organisations set up to protect the rights of people who are, and should continue to be, protected under equalities legislation. The message from this legislation to the LGBT community is clear: you are no longer safe while this Government are in office. It is high time that they should go.

Education Bill

Lord Henley Excerpts
Wednesday 14th September 2011

(12 years, 10 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I had better say to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that I will not move Amendment 145 because I had a wonderful e-mail from the Minister saying that he had done everything he possibly could and that all sorts of wonderful reductions in paperwork were on the way. All I can say is thank you.

Lord Henley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, and I have been waiting rather a long time for our cameo role in this Bill. I hope that my voice lasts the course of this debate. It has been a very useful debate, and I hope that I can manage to answer some of the points and give an indication of where the Government are going and how we wish to continue to speak to all noble Lords involved with apprenticeships and address the concerns that have been expressed. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for saying that he welcomes what we are doing but wants, as I think he put it, to stretch out our commitment. That is the theme behind a lot of the amendments that have been tabled, and I would like to discuss them in due course.

However, if the noble Lord will bear with me, I shall start with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, supported by a weighty list of noble Lords from all sides of the House. I know they have been discussing their amendment with my colleague John Hayes, and I am very grateful for that. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, had a further useful conversation with my honourable friend earlier this afternoon and that he is willing to work with the Government on a government amendment that would come forward on Report to achieve the shared aim of promoting apprenticeships to young people in a way that fits in with the redefined apprenticeships offer. I hope that after discussing this matter with my noble friend Lord Wakeham and the other noble Lords who tabled the amendment, the noble Lord will send his proposal to me or to my honourable friend. We have a reasonable amount of time because of the odd way this House is sitting and then breaking off so that we can all go off to our conferences. I do not know whether the noble Lord is going, but some of us are. There is certainly time for discussions to continue to take place on that. I give an assurance that doors are still open and that discussion will continue to take place.

I now return to the noble Lord, Lord Young, and congratulate him on his speech. I apologise for the fact that he was interrupted not once, but twice by Division Bells in the Chamber. I shall deal with one or two of the points that he raised in his amendment. First, he mentioned his concerns about the number of 16 to 18 starts. The figures the department has are that there were 99,400 starts in 2008-09, 116,000 starts in 2009-10 and 102,900 starts in the first nine months of 2010-11, and one hopes that there will be more. We hope that we will continue to see some sort of increase. I hope that the noble Lord will find those figures useful.

He also commented on targets. I note that the Government of whom he was a distinguished member were very keen on targets. I have always been less keen on targets and think that they can very often distort and end up producing the wrong result because people merely go for whatever the number is on paper. We do not want to have targets in this area, but we obviously have to work to planning assumptions modelled by the analysts based on previous years and future ambitions. That is where we get the figures that he was talking about. I think he should consider that targets in themselves can sometimes produce the wrong result.

I shall turn in slightly more detail to the noble Lord’s three amendments: Amendments 144AA, 144AB and 144C. Amendment 144AA deals with the offer. I understand the noble Lord’s concern, and I can assure him that the Government wholeheartedly share it. We also want to see many young people starting their careers on a sound basis through apprenticeship, as the noble Lord did himself. We differ only in our view about the most effective way to achieve that. That is why my honourable friend wants further discussions with the noble Lords behind that amendment.

The previous Government, of whom the noble Lord was a member, did much good work in building the apprenticeship programme. We accept that. They substantially increased the number of people undertaking an apprenticeship and put in place many of the structures and procedures that make the apprenticeship programme what it is today. We acknowledge that. However, the original offer set out in the 2009 legislation of an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified young people in specific groups would mean the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency having to find jobs with employers for all the eligible young people who wanted an apprenticeship, but neither he nor Government can tell employers whom to employ. I think the noble Lord will accept that point.

Our redefined offer in this Bill constitutes a more robust deal for those same groups of young people because we know we can deliver it. The duty on the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to prioritise funding for their training once they have an apprenticeship place sets the right balance between the employer-led nature of the programme and the need for support from government that young people can rely on.

In Amendment 144AB, the noble Lord suggests that procurement could be used as a vehicle for encouraging employers to take on a number of apprentices. Amendments 144AB and 144AC raise three issues: first, increasing the number of apprentices working on government projects, secondly, regularly publishing the numbers and planned numbers of apprentices in the Civil Service, and thirdly, linking apprenticeships and Investors in People status. I know my honourable friend recently met the noble Lord to discuss all those subjects and to explain the Government’s fundamental belief in a voluntary rather than a regulatory approach. I have always believed that in government. It is a better approach to follow to avoid additional burdens, particularly on smaller employers and smaller businesses. I know that my honourable friend outlined the actions he is leading to drive up the number of apprenticeships in the public sector.

On procurement, the Government want to encourage more businesses to offer apprenticeships for the clear benefits they bring to individuals and employers, but we do not believe that the best approach is to impose this by adding to the mountain of rules and regulations that businesses face on procurement at the moment and which are really very substantial. Rather, we are committed to simplifying and streamlining the procurement process to reduce burdens for suppliers and public sector bodies. Within these parameters, I know that my honourable friend has reiterated to the noble Lord his intention to look again at our policies and the way they could encourage more apprenticeship places, without disadvantaging SMEs or, of course, breaching the law.

Turning to the noble Lord’s amendment on Investors in People status, I am sure that he would agree that Investors in People is the mark of an employer that cares deeply about the long-term skills needs of its workforce and understands the business advantages of skilled and motivated staff but, because of the wide range of benefits of Investors in People status to staff and employers, we would not want further to discourage take-up of the standard. If we were to add extra conditions at this stage, such as needing to demonstrate a commitment to apprenticeships, we possibly risk inadvertently reducing employer engagement with the programme.

Amendment 144C, which was tabled by my noble friend Lord Addington, relates to apprenticeship specification and disabled people. I understand that he is seeking assurances that learners who demonstrate that they have the skills and experience to meet the requirements of an apprenticeship certificate should not be prevented from receiving a certificate on the basis of any recognised disability. I understand that we have written to the noble Lord to provide reassurances on this and to explain the steps that we are taking to ensure that apprentices with a disability are at no disadvantage in the certification process for an apprenticeship. If my noble friend feels that is not sufficient, my honourable friend would be happy to have further discussions with my noble friend between this stage and Report.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend. I should have said thank you at the time. I hope he will appreciate that this is based on the fact that something is going wrong, not on some theoretical idea. It is based on practical problems at the moment.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
- Hansard - -

I am very grateful to my noble friend for putting it in those terms. That makes it even more important that he talks to the department and to my honourable friend and tries to secure some sort of agreement. We now have a reasonable amount of time. I know the noble Lord will be heading off to wherever the Liberal Democrats hold their conference but, in due course, he will be back and then discussions can take place in the appropriate manner.

I want to deal with a couple of other points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, raised a question concerning people with disabilities and the offer. I can confirm that disabled people aged 19 to 24 are covered by the offer and that that group will be prescribed in regulations. There is also the commitment given by the previous Government during the passage of the ASCLA—as we now seem to call it—to take on an inclusive approach. They are also being advised on this by external disability experts. No doubt we will be able to let the noble Lord know a little more in due course.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford asked about the response to the Wolf report on incentives to employers. We accepted that recommendation in the Wolf report. The National Apprenticeship Service has recently run pilots looking at incentive payments and we need to consider these and other research into employer payments to ensure that we avoid dead weight when implementing this recommendation. That is work in progress.

Before my voice finally gives out, I say that we are all travelling in roughly the same direction. We might be going at different speeds and there might be tensions in how we do it, but I believe that much more can be done through further discussions. I believe that we are all committed to the same outcome, which is seeing increasing numbers of apprentices across both public and private sectors and increasing employer participation in the programme. With those assurances, I hope that all noble Lords who have put forward their amendments and spoken to them so eloquently will feel able to withdraw them and, where appropriate, I hope that conversations can continue between now and Report.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Perhaps I may make a few brief comments in relation to what has been said. I support the intentions of my noble friend Lord Layard in his amendment. I would like it to go a bit further but we are all travelling in the same direction. I was not exactly sure what the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, meant when he said I had gone off key in the latter part of what I said, but I agree with him on his point about literacy and numeracy skills. Interestingly, if you can get young people involved in the apprenticeship process, it refocuses them on the importance of learning. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I would want to do everything I can to assist in that process. We discussed a whole range of disabilities, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, will testify—he always makes sure that we do. I thought we reached some useful agreements. I am glad that the incentive to employers was answered and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for her support, and likewise my noble friend Lord Monks.

On the status of apprenticeships, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey. One thing that we got slightly wrong was that, by focusing on getting 50 per cent of young people to go to university, we gave the impression that the vocational route was a second-class route. We need to do a lot more on that. Gradually, the tide is turning. On a lot of apprenticeship schemes, when the apprentices complete their training there is a graduation ceremony. We need to do more on this.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to targets. Whether or not we delete “target” and insert “planning assumption”, we will still have to make calculations. Before the Government say that the 2015 commitment is not the right approach, it would be interesting to see the planning assumption for what the demand would be. I say that it could be done, and that it is absolutely the right signal that should be sent to young people and to the country.

The noble Lord said that he preferred a voluntary approach when it came to contracts, and that apprenticeships would place an additional burden. I wish that he would not use that term. Apprenticeships are not a burden on companies. They think that they are, but when they take on apprentices they frequently realise what a good investment they are. I do not see them as a burden. When we worked with the Olympic committee and Crossrail, we found that they understood the value of apprenticeships. The Government should take a long, hard look at making them a key part of government procurement contracts. I do not believe that it would disadvantage SMEs, but I will not go over the debate again. With IiPs, what disturbed me was that again there was no reference to apprenticeships. If we are to say that these companies invest in people, surely apprenticeships ought to be part of the investment. I do not know how we should go about it, but something should be done.

I will of course withdraw the amendment, because that is how we operate in Grand Committee. However, we will return to these issues on Report. I welcome the offer of further discussions because I, too, want to make progress. I thank the Minister, John Hayes, for our previous discussion. It was a worthwhile exchange of views. With those comments and caveats, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.