I am determined that everyone in the UK should be free to live their lives and fulfil their potential regardless of their sex, gender identity, race or disability. I am also clear that transgender people should be free to prosper in modern Britain.
I am encouraged that my colleagues in the Government Equalities Office have, over recent years, looked carefully and thoroughly into the gender recognition process, including considering potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). After careful consideration, it is their view that this existing legislation strikes the right balance between ensuring there are proper checks and balances in the system and ensuring there is support in place for people who want to change their legal sex.
However, it was clear from the consultation that changes are needed to improve the process and experience transgender people have when applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). When responding to the National LGBT survey, transgender people highlighted two key obstacles in the process: bureaucracy and cost. I am especially glad that these are being addressed, with the entire procedure moving online and the existing £140 fee being reduced to £5. This fee reduction is already in effect and I understand that the Government's Equality Hub is working at speed to move the application process online, with more details to be set out in due course. I know that the Government wants to ensure that applying for a GRC is as straightforward and dignified as possible, and I am confident these changes will make a noticeable difference to the transgender people who use the system.
This is a complex area to reform and I believe that the Government is getting the balance right.
Together with my colleagues in government, I want every individual, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity to have the confidence and the freedom to be themselves.
Regarding the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, I believe that transgender people deserve respect, support and understanding. I am aware that the announcement by the Secretary of State for Scotland which will prevent the Bill from proceeding to Royal Assent, is about the legislation's consequences for the operation of UK wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.
It is the assessment of the UK Government that the Bill will have significantly adverse effects, including the impact on the operation of the Equality Act 2010. In particular, the Government has said it shares the concerns of many experts and civil society groups regarding the potential impact of the Bill on the safety of women and children.
I can assure you that this decision has not been taken lightly, and the UK Government fully respects the Scottish Parliament's competency to make decisions within devolved areas but it cannot ignore the significant consequences of this Bill for reserved areas.
I understand that the consultation highlighted the fact that gender recognition reform is not the top area of priority for transgender people. Rather, one of the most important concerns brought to light was healthcare, with many transgender people reporting concerns with the length of waiting lists at NHS gender clinics. I agree that waiting times can be far too long and I am deeply concerned about the distress this can cause.
Four new gender clinics were opened in 2021, which should see waiting lists reduce. This should provide transgender people with greater patient choice, shorter waiting times, better geographical coverage and, crucially, easier access. It will also make it easier to fulfil the medical requirements of obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate.
I understand that, following a wide-ranging debate at the BMA’s annual representative meeting, doctors backed a motion calling on the Government to pursue a simplified way for transgender and non-binary individuals to gain legal recognition of their gender. The motion also related to access to healthcare for under-18s, as well as transgender people receiving healthcare in settings appropriate to their gender. Although the motion passed, I am aware that some doctors expressed concern that those with experience of working with people with gender dysphoria have the skills to offer emotional and physical wellbeing support that may be helpful to transgender people, and it is important not to remove access to those expertise. The Government Equalities Office has now published its response to the Gender Recognition Act consultation but I am sure my colleagues in government will take into account the BMA's position during their consideration of future policy.
I am committed to protecting women’s rights and freedoms. That is why I am pleased that the Government recognises the importance of the protection of single-sex spaces, as provided for in the Equality Act.
The Equality Act 2010 not only protects transgender people from discrimination, but also makes it clear that providers have the right to restrict use of spaces on the basis of sex, and exclude transgender people, with or without a Gender Recognition Certificate, if this is justified. This position is unchanged since 2010 and I continue to believe it strikes the right balance.
I completely agree that everyone should feel safe when accessing services such as public toilets. The Equality Act allows service providers to offer services to one sex only, for example men’s or women’s toilets or changing rooms. Transgender people can be excluded from single-sex facilities if service providers have a legitimate reason for doing so and if exclusion is the least discriminatory way to proceed.
I know that many people also have concerns about the impact of this legislation on children. I have raised this with colleagues in the Government Equalities Office who have assured me of their commitment to ensuring under 18s are protected from making decisions that are irreversible in the future. I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to live their life but I do think it is very important we protect young people, who are still developing their decision making processes and capabilities, from taking action which they potentially cannot reverse.
The passport is a unique and important document. An individual’s sex is gathered at the point of application to assist in the determination of identity. The showing of a sex marking on the passport accords with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Currently, UK law only recognises male and female sexes, and to introduce a third category denoted by an ‘X’ in the passport would require a change in primary legislation. Before such legislation could be introduced, the Government would need to consider the impact that such a change would have on the personal safety and well-being of the individual, as well as wider issues including public protection, and combating identity theft and fraud. I will continue to monitor this issue closely.
The number of gender identity clinics has increased over the last year, with gender identity clinics now established in London, Manchester, Merseyside and the East of England.
This year access will be improved further with a new clinic that will be established in Sussex. By 2024, it is expected that the clinics will reduce the current waiting list by a third. In addition, the General Medical Council has published guidance for GP services to ensure that transgender people have timely access to gender transition medication.