Stewart Jackson: Why is a Tory Government risking criminalising professionals – and the health of young people too?

21 Feb

Stewart Jackson is a former Conservative MP and Special Adviser, and is the Founder and Director of UK Political Insight.

Given the precarious position that the Prime Minister finds himself in, one has to rank the Government’s commitment to legislate for the so-called Conversion Therapy Bill “in spring 2022” as particularly brave, foolhardy or tin-eared.

The need to engineer a rapprochement with the Conservative Parliamentary Party is inconsistent with such a divisive and unnecessary measure.

It appears to be driven by a desire to placate the shrill zealotry of Stonewall – now discredited by its absolutist stance on trans rights, and estranged from many former LGBT supporters with whom, along with other critics, it seems unwilling to engage.

Indeed, the Bill seems to be a solution looking for a problem. In a meeting with religious leaders, the Government Equalities Office, which is sponsoring the Bill, failed even to identify what the legal definition of “conversion therapy” actually is, according to one of those present.

Those advocating the changes are desperate to avoid scrutiny and rush through the legislation. Nonetheless, the Government extended the consultation on the Bill until earlier this month after threats of judicial review.  It takes a unique talent to unite the fractious Tory tribes against these proposals.

Those concerned by aspects of the Bill reportedly include Damian Green, Chairman of the Conservative One Nation Group; other former Ministers, such as Jackie Doyle-Price; such middle ground stalwarts as Pauline Latham and Sir Robert Syms; and social conservatives such as Miriam Cates, Sally-Ann Hart, and Tim Loughton. Not to mention peers, faith groups, charities, the Economist and, most recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The ECHR has rightly highlighted  the need for proper pre-legislative scrutiny, and has warned against the unintended consequences of rushed legislation.  Supporters of the measure have also failed to take into account evolving research from the United States on paediatric and youth gender dysphoria, and that fact that the Government’s own Cass Review on gender identity services for children and young people will not be published until this summer.

In a nutshell, there is concern that rushed and poorly drafted legislation will threaten the basic tenets of fairness, freedom of speech, religious belief and tolerance, and the professionalism and autonomy of a number of caring sectors – such medicine, nursing, therapy, pastoral care and youth work and education.  Not to mention parents and guardians, all of whom risk being criminalised by poor legislation and activists with a narrow and extreme agenda.

For there is a real possibility that certain types of private consensual and routine conversations regarding sexual orientation and gender identity will become subject to criminal sanction.  And that it will not be possible for those charged with helping children and young people in particular to have open and explorative discussions about sexual identity and gender issues.

Thus, in the case of gender dysphoria, legitimate alternatives to radical and life changing pharmaceutical and surgical interventions could effectively become illegal. Do we want primary legislation that prevents clinicians from offering their patients the best treatment for their unique medical issues? As Baroness Jenkin has said: “when a child is suffering, it is crucial that they are allowed time, space and supportive therapy to discover why they feel the way they do.”

Such a bar would impact on young people with mental health problems and suicide ideation. Some of the alternatives would be irreversible. Government pledges of a “common sense” approach will count for very little if the legislation enacted is interpreted in a draconian manner.

These deeply flawed proposals arose from the well-meaning intentions of the May Government, and are now driven by a small claque of social liberals in 10 Downing Street – irrespective of the fact that there is already, and rightly, widespread opposition to physical and mental coercion based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, and tough legislation in place to combat it. In this respect, the UK has always been a pathfinder internationally. Who wouldn’t want to protect vulnerable people from bullying and coercion?

There is also real possibility that the Bill will fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights in regards to Article 8 (Respect for Private and Family Life) and Article 9 (Freedom of Thought, Belief and Religion).  And that the Government may find itself liable for punitive damages in future litigation arising from the practices sanctioned by the Bill.

Like other May Government landmines – think Stop and Search, Windrush and the Northern Ireland Protocol – ideas touted as common sense and the right thing to do can obscure intractable issues and bring about unintended consequences.

All in all, there is no compelling case for this new legislation, or even persuasive evidence that it is actually required.  And the Government’s failure to outline a proper case for it hasn’t helped to dispel fears of a fait accomplis, with MPs being railroaded to an arbitrary deadline.

The Prime Minister has enough on his plate already. He needs the courage to reject this proposal, and face down a tiny minority, most of whom would never vote for him and his party, not least for the health of his battered administration.

Victoria Hewson: The NHS single sex accommodation policy is a dire reflection on how far gender ideology has travelled

13 Aug

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and co-founder of Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate. She and Rebecca Lowe, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.

It has been heartening to see some positive developments in the sex and gender debate recently. Prominent and respected individuals like Baroness Jenkin and Nimko Ali have made considered comments questioning gender ideology.

While the inclusion of Laurel Hubbard in the women’s weightlifting competition at the Olympics was regrettable (not least for the young woman whose place at the games was taken by Hubbard) it has prompted a more informed consideration of trans participation in sports by governing bodies and in the media. 

But a quick scan of relevant stories from the past couple of weeks shows that troubling policies and lobbying are still widespread. 

The Telegraph reported that hospitals across England accommodate patients on wards on the basis of gender (including self-identified gender) rather than sex. This has led to males, including sex offenders, being treated on women-only wards 

Looking back at the origin of the legally binding commitment to single sex wards, it is clear that Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary at the time, was unequivocal that patients would be separated based on biological sex, for reasons of privacy and dignity, as well as safety.

This seems obvious when one considers the vulnerable state of many people being treated in hospital, including the elderly and those who are in mental health wards, who often unable to leave.

The applicable NHS guidance on meeting the commitment is indeed unequivocal on single sex sleeping, bathing and toilet facilities. Until it comes to the Annex on trans patients and gender-variant children. Which undermines the entire policy by mandating that ‘Trans people should be accommodated according to their presentation: the way they dress, and the name and pronouns they currently use’ – even if they have not legally changed their name or gender and even if their transition is only temporary.

Moreover, ‘Non-binary individuals, who do not identify as being male or female, should also be asked discreetly about their preferences, and allocated to the male or female ward according to their choice.’ Transgender-identifying children are also to be accommodated in line with their gender identity, even if the parents disagree: ‘the child’s preference should prevail even if the child is not Gillick competent.’ 

The guidance claims that the NHS is required to manage wards in this way, and can only carry out risk assessments to exclude transwomen from female wards on a case by case basis. This is, of course, the preferred interpretation of the Equality Act put forward by Stonewall and other activists, and it fundamentally undermines the premise of single sex wards when any man can simply assert that they identify as a woman and must be taken at their word.

Carrying out individual risk assessments on trans patients would entail a significant burden on clinical staff and ward managers, and it is unclear what risks are to be assessed, if fears and threats to the personal dignity of fellow patients who do not wish to sleep and undergo medical and care procedures alongside members of the opposite sex are effectively excluded as a consideration. As with the case of prisons, if this is truly what the Equality Act requires, it is surely time for the law to be changed. 

We have written in this column before about the disproportionate influence that LGBT charity Stonewall seems to exert, in both public and private sectors. The deference to its legal advice and guidance was criticised by barrister Akua Reindorf in her report to the University of Essex on the ‘no platforming’ of certain speakers at the university.

A number of organisations have subsequently distanced themselves from the charity. Now research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance has revealed that over just a three year period, Stonewall received at least £3,105,877 from 327 public sector organisations for its Diversity Champions scheme, conferences, events and training programmes. This included almost half a million pounds from the NHS.

The TPA has rightly noted that Stonewall’s privileged (and well-funded) position has allowed it to lobby and campaign at the taxpayers’ expense. The TPA has called for this taxpayer-funded lobbying to come to an end so that public money is not being used to distort political decision making and to advance policy positions which many taxpayers may seriously disagree with. 

The vision of gender identity activists has been allowed to infiltrate public life for a generation, either because politicians and activists did not understand the implications of phasing out references to ‘sex’ to replace them with ‘gender’, or because they thought it was the right thing to do to support transgender people. In either case, the practical consequences for women and girls and for fairness and accountability in public services have not been properly considered.

Unwinding these consequences seems likely to be the work of a generation too, and greater transparency about the relevant policies in bodies like the NHS and the pernicious influence of Stonewall is essential for that purpose. We await with interest the outcome of current Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s review of the NHS single sex accommodation policy.