Danny Kruger: Trans. The distinction between the sexes is real. And on self-identification, the Government must uphold it.

15 Jul

Danny Kruger is MP for Devizes.

The politics of sex and gender is a minefield, made more dangerous by a great confusion of language. But at root the issues are straightforward, and the Government should gently but clearly assert the truth. Two facts need stating.

First: gender is no business of the state. Gender is the complex, psycho-social construction we build on the foundation of our immutable sexual biology. For most of us, our gender conforms to our sex. A small number of people, however, feel uncomfortable in their biological sex, and adopt a different gender. This is their right. If biological males wish to live as women, or biological women as men, in a free and tolerant society they should encounter no objection.

Second: sex is the business of the state. The distinction between maleness and femaleness, the essential qualities written into our biology, is a fundamental building block of society. For someone to cross the border between the two, formally to assume the legal status and the rights of the opposite sex, is a big deal, properly requiring the permission of government.

This permission is available through the (misnamed) Gender Recognition Act 2004, which allows people to be recognised as legally belonging to a different sex (nothing to do with gender) from their biological one. Recognition consists of the award of a (misnamed) Gender Reassignment Certificate (GRC). To get a GRC you need a diagnosis of the medical condition known as gender dysphoria, defined as acute psychological discomfort arising from the sense of inhabiting the wrong sex, plus a period of living as a man (if a biological woman) or vice versa.

Some trans activists, backed by the LGBT lobby group Stonewall, are conflating these two facts, by seeking a change to the GRA to let people change their legal sex as easily as they can change their gender. They argue that people should be allowed to ‘self-identify – to receive a GRC simply on the basis of asserting their desire for one, with no need for a gender dysphoria diagnosis or a ‘lived identity’ period.

These activists won a victory in 2016 when the Women and Equalities Select Committee recommended reform of the GRA to allow self-ID and the Conservative Government of the time agreed to a public consultation. That consultation closed in late 2018, but our turbulent politics since then meant that the nettle has never been grasped. It appears the new Government is now preparing to respond to the consultation and state its position on self-ID and the GRA.

I fervently hope that ministers will confirm the status quo. They should also issue clear guidance that service providers should be allowed to establish single-sex facilities and services based on birth sex, assuming this is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

But though the thought of a predatory man simply claiming a GRC and gaining access to female-only changing rooms, hospital wards and prisons is troubling, to my mind the argument against self-ID is not the immediate practical one about single-sex spaces. The case for a high bar for anyone crossing the line between legal ‘man’ and legal ‘woman’ is more fundamental.

The distinction between the sexes is real. Preserving this distinction is to defend the grammar of our common life, and to uphold the essential point that our society and legal order are founded on the truth as we understand it. To concede the claims of the extreme trans lobby – that sex is not fixed in biology, but simply ‘assigned’ at birth – is to sell the pass. We will be in Wonderland, or in 1984, where truth is what the people in charge decide it is.

We are arguably already there. Lewis Carroll described a child perplexed by the antics of grownups living in an alternative reality. The Tavistock NHS Clinic, where children are told they can be the sex they want to be and given puberty-blocking hormone treatments, is our Wonderland.

Debbie Hayton, the courageous campaigner against this madness (and a transwoman herself), quotes Orwell: ‘If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.’ Such is our intellectual corruption that front bench Labour politicians can argue that sex (not gender) is a social construct. Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, should stand against this, and unequivocally say what is true. Our party, and the country, will applaud.

Fay Jones: A ban on the rough sex defence – and other benefits of this Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill

10 Jul

Fay Jones is MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.

Lockdown has provided many with the chance to spend some rare family time together – learning a new Tik Tok dance or doing a Joe Wicks workout.  But for an alarming number of people, Covid 19 has not been their biggest threat.  For those suffering from domestic abuse, enduring lockdown with an abuser will only have increased the daily fear and anguish.

Consequently, I am enormously proud that this Government made the Domestic Abuse Bill one of its biggest priorities during the pandemic.  It could have chosen to drop the legislation; it stalled during Brexit and then fell again at the general election – but such is this Government’s commitment to victims that Ministers were given license to push it through.  From my spot on the Domestic Abuse committee, I saw just how much this Government wants to champion the rights of those who have been abused, and how good a track record the Conservative Party has on this issue.

While the Labour Party has always tried to argue it sits on the side of ‘the many and not the few’ – history does not support this, particularly in the field of criminal justice.  It was a Conservative Government that brought forward The Children Act 1989.  One of the last achievements of the Major Government was the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which created the offence of harassment.  Making stalking an offence came from the Coalition Government’s Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.  Indeed, during Monday night’s debate, Theresa May rightly accepted plaudits from across the House for pushing through both the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the early stages of last night’s Domestic Abuse Bill.

The Domestic Abuse Bill will deliver meaningful change; creating a Domestic Abuse commissioner designed to map the availability of services, establishing Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders to provide victims with extra protection, prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in family courts and legally recognising children as victims of abuse for the first time.  For many the biggest achievement of the bill is banning the ‘Rough Sex Defence’.  An enormous step in itself, this is evidence that Parliament works best when it acts cross party.  The combined campaigning strength of Mark Garnier and Harriet Harman have delivered a change in the law which will forever prevent murderers from arguing ‘they were asking for it.’

From my perspective, the Bill is also a good example of the strength of the Union.  In 2015, the Welsh Government passed its Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act.  However in November last year, the Auditor General for Wales reported a ‘fragmentation’ in service availability as there was no single agency to coordinate the system.  This is something that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner can look into – demonstrating that the ‘jagged edge of devolution’ can be overcome with tenacious, pro-Union Ministers.

The Domestic Abuse Bill is landmark legislation which will go a significant way to protecting the estimated 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year and it is by no means the stand-alone example of this Government putting victims first. It is the latest in a long track record of legislative milestones.  Conservatives should never shy away from this record – it is a record of leadership and collaboration which is what the public wants to see from its Government.  Above all, it is a record of standing alongside those who truly need our help.

Peter Lampl: To build social justice and get the economy working, schools must open fully in September

1 Jul

Sir Peter Lampl is founder and Chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation.

Pubs, pubs, pubs. If you were to believe most of the ministerial and media rhetoric during these last few weeks, you would conclude that getting them open was the biggest priority to revive this country post-Coronavirus.

While no doubt there are many out there thirsty for a pint, this is a huge distraction. The fact is that the single best way to both kickstart the economy, and to fix the damage that has been done to our social fabric, is to guarantee that schools open in full this September.

There can be no ifs and buts. The damage that was done by the (quite understandable) decision to close down our education system is so wide-ranging it is almost inconceivable. The cost to both GDP and the life prospects of our children will take an age to recover.

And so we must be absolutely clear that, as ministerial focus pivots from the immediate emergency, the threat to the NHS and saving many thousands of lives, on to the economic crisis opening up before us, the education system must share equal top billing.

The damage done to educational outcomes and to social mobility is frightening. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) – which I chair – has estimated that some ten years of progress closing the attainment gap between our most deprived young people and their wealthier classmates has been reversed by closing schools for three months.

The efforts of most heads and teachers has been heroic, but the provision of online teaching has been patchy, and the ability of school staff to reach those children most in need of their help has been stretched at best. A University College London study found that 20 per cent of pupils (two million) still do less than one hour of schoolwork a day at home, or none at all, while many private school students are doing six hours.

Research from the Sutton Trust, which I also chair, showed that of the work that is received back from pupils, 50 per cent of teachers in independent schools report they’re receiving more than three quarters of it.   This compares with only eight per cent in the least advantaged state schools.

And during this crisis, there have been too many people playing politics. The Government has said one thing, heads another, unions another, councils another. Parents have been left in the middle baffled – while their kids lose out to a frankly terrifying degree. Messages have been mixed and this has undermined confidence in the system.

No more.

The Department for Education, the Treasury and Downing Street must speak with one voice on this. The economic revival they so desperately seek goes hand in hand with nurseries, primaries, secondaries, colleges and universities reopening to the greatest degree possible.

We can’t get parents back to work without their kids being looked after in primary or nursery schools. And we can’t hope to achieve growth unless schools and colleges and universities are producing people ready to work. In the longer term, the cost of the damage to the country’s wider prospects of the education system misfiring will be in the billions.

The building blocks are starting to be put in place. The announcement last week of £1 billion to spend on tutoring, and on catch up support throughout the summer and into next year, is really welcome. Both the EEF and the Sutton Trust are excited to be working with the Government to make sure this money has the greatest possible impact.

And the announcement of a change in social distancing from two metres to one metre – although again, framed to allow pub, restaurants and hotels to open – creates a great opportunity for schools. No longer will heads be restricted to 15 kids in a classroom. At one metre social distancing – and recognising that, especially in primary schools, the risks are very low indeed – we can, and must, move towards having all or almost all children safely back into schools.

No-one – principals, lecturers, heads, teachers, students, parents – can be left in any doubt that the Government will be laser-like in its focus on this. The promise of support, funding, and clear, timely advice to all parties must be forthcoming.

Ministers must also be clear about the extent of their ambition: this must not be a half-way house. All schools must be open, all lessons taught by teachers, exams must be sat, sports fixtures played, uniforms worn, and extra-curricular activities enjoyed.

It is to be welcomed that we are going to have a detailed plan at the end of this week to achieve this ambition. We hear that the Prime Minister is “deeply frustrated” that we haven’t had as many kids back in yet. But government rhetoric must be matched by action, and steadiness of nerve.

There is a long time to go between now and September. The Government will experience many huge problems in the coming months. It will find itself fighting many economic and healthcare crises, and it will be forced to publish many more no doubt horrifying financial figures. There will continue to be vested interests arguing that we must remain on pause, or that we should focus on other areas instead.

The DfE must ensure that education does not get lost in all this noise. Where efforts are required across government, this must happen. Ministers and senior civil servants must fight for the attention of Downing Street and the Treasury. No one can be allowed to forget how much rides on getting school gates open at the end of the summer holidays.

I’ve spent the past 20 years working to improve social mobility and on transforming the life chances for young people. We cannot allow this virus to deflect us from this most important agenda. There is no time to waste: schools and their students need certainty about September now.