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

Debate between Lord Henley and Baroness Thornton
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
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.