‘Cruel’ bid to force trans people into wrong prisons condemned in House of Lords

·6-min read

An amendment that would have resulted in trans people being incarcerated in the wrong prisons has been withdrawn from the House of Lords due to a lack of support.

Unelected Tory peer Lord Blencathra proposed an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the House of Lords on Monday (10 January) which would require that prisoners be treated “by reference to their sex registered at birth”.

If passed, the amendment would have meant that trans people “who should not be accommodated with prisoners of the same sex as registered at birth” would have to be housed in “separate accommodation” specifically for trans prisoners.

Lord Blencathra’s amendment would have applied whether or not a prisoner had a gender recognition certificate.

Presenting his amendment in the House of Lords, Lord Blencathra said he accepted that an earlier amendment he tried to introduce on the issue was “unbalanced” because it failed to protect trans women who could face “unacceptable risk if housed in male prisons”.

Lord Blencathra wants trans people housed in a separate facility

He told the House of Lords that female prisoners are an “exceptionally vulnerable group” and said their prisons should be “single sex”.

Lord Blencathra went on to refer to trans women as being “of the male sex” and said they could be housed in a “specialist transgender unit”, which would prevent “access to or association with female prisoners”.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Lord Blencathra claimed that 94 per cent of trans women are currently housed in male prisons and said this was proof that they were safe in those institutions.

Lord Cormack spoke in support of the amendment, suggesting that cis women could be put at risk if they were housed alongside trans women, who he referred to as “physically male”.

“Protect them all, yes, but in particular, let us have regard for the women,” Lord Cormack said.

Baroness Fox of Buckley also expressed her support for the amendment. She read out a series of tweets from so-called “gender critical” feminists who believe trans women should be excluded from female prisons to support her argument and referred to trans women as “males” throughout her remarks.

“I know that some noble Lords may be feeling uncomfortable that I am using the word ‘male’ to describe transgender women – such is the muddle that we have got into in conflating sex and gender,” she said.

“I was doing that to emphasise their sex, rather than to be offensive or cause any problems, but such is the weight of coercive control and political pressure around identity politics that it can be difficult sometimes to state biological truth – and the biological truth is that sex and gender are distinct,” she claimed.

Baroness Meyer also expressed her support for the amendment. She said prison policy has been “captured by a concern for the protection of trans prisoners at the cost of imprisoned women’s most fundamental rights”.

‘Puzzling’ amendment was heavily criticised in House of Lords

Opposing the amendment, Lord Paddick said he was “happy to stand up for womanhood” but characterised Lord Blencathra’s efforts to exclude trans women from female prisons as “puzzling”.

Brian Paddick photographed in 2012.
Brian Paddick photographed in 2012.

He said it would be “enormously dangerous” to place a trans woman in a men’s prison. He went on to argue that it would be “demeaning” to place them in “specially segregated facilities”.

“It would fail to recognise what legislation in this country has recognised for the last 15 years: that people who happen to be born in the wrong sex deserve our compassion and deserve recognition of their position,” he said.

Lord Hope of Craighead said it was “cruel” to treat trans people as if they were still the gender they were assigned at birth, while Lord Michael Cashman said the Ministry of Justice’s current policy of individually assessing trans prisoners is “absolutely right”.

“This amendment, even though it has been placed in good faith and, as the mover said, with good intention, deeply concerns me because it perpetuates the stereotype of trans women and trans men as sexual predators – as a threat to other women, and trans men as a threat to the wider society,” Lord Cashman said.

Lord Faulks said the amendment lacked nuance and argued that legislating on the issue “would be extremely inappropriate”, while others questioned how far-reaching the amendment could actually be if passed.

Baroness Barker spoke out against the amendment, saying she was speaking “as a woman who cares deeply about the physical safety of women”.

She said Lord Blencathra is “putting to us an amendment that is not based on evidence and is a retrograde step”.

Closing out the debate, Lord Blencathra argued that cis women in prison are “afraid” of trans women. He said he tabled the amendment “in their interests”.

“I am not going to be successful today, but I say to all my noble friends on the front bench, in all departments, that this policy of downgrading the rights of biological sex women is heading for the scrapheap of history,” he said.

“I beg leave to withdraw my amendment, not because I am wrong but because I cannot win in the numbers tonight,” Lord Blencathra added.

Anti-trans amendment represents ‘yet another attack on human rights’

In a statement, the Trans Legal Project said it was “delighted” that the amendment had been withdrawn.

“Casting all trans people as potentially violent sexual predators, as this House of Lords amendment sought to do, flies directly in the face of the law and of basic fairness,” the group said.

“It would have seen all trans people who were charged with an offence assigned by default to prisons of their birth sex. This would have happened irrespective of their legal gender including to those holding a gender recognition certificate, the (possibly many) years since they had successfully transitioned, or the severity or nature of their crime.

“It also would have included those held on remand who may subsequently have been found entirely innocent.”

The Trans Legal Project added: “All women deserve to feel safe in prison. With respect to the allocation of the very small number of trans prisoners currently held in custody, the current case-by-case system works and is supported by prison governors.”

The amendment marks the second time Lord Blencathra has tried to force trans people into the wrong prisons. In November, he proposed an amendment to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 that would have created a clause titled “sex-specific incarceration for violent and sexual offenders”.

If adopted, the amendment would have meant that any trans person convicted, or even suspected, of a violent or sexual crime, must “be treated with respect to housing on the prison estate by reference to the sex registered at birth”.

That amendment was also defeated in the House of Lords.

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