Amendment 97ZA of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently at the House of Lords doesn’t exactly sound like front page news. But the motion, moved by Lord Blencathra and debated and subsequently withdrawn last night, revealed the still-confused state of the debate around transwomen.
According to Blencathra, the amendment would “provide that all prisoners should live in accommodation provided in consideration of both their sex registered at birth and their gender identity.” In the chamber he added:
But where would that leave transwomen like me? I might have been “registered male at birth” but my body has undergone significant upheaval since then. Long before the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, transwomen were quietly accommodated in the female estate. In 1989, for example, Stephanie Booth was incarcerated at Askham Grange women’s prison.
But even in the 1980s I suspect nobody consulted the female prisoners about the loss of their single-sex accommodation.
By 2017, there were 125 transgender prisoners in England and Wales, 60 of whom had been convicted of one or more sexual offences. The Karen White fiasco then exposed the failings of a system that put women at risk (White, a convicted rapist, sexually assaulted two women).
Responding last night for the government, Lord Wolfson pointed out that, “we learned the lessons of that and since 2019 there have been no such assaults.” But this is about more than safety; dignity and privacy matter greatly to women.
Unfortunately, Blencathra’s argument went down poorly with those who have swallowed the ideology that transwomen are women and, presumably, should be lumped in with women. Without a hint of irony, Lord Herbert — who opposed the amendment — said, “it is a decision about whether we are to be guided by ideology or pragmatism and, I would suggest, compassion.”
Yet as Baroness Fox pointed out, “the solution should be to make the male estate safer and fit for purpose for all … the purpose of women’s prisons is not to protect vulnerable males”.
After the debate, Fox told UnHerd that the debate “felt like a good dose of gas lighting. They were describing a world that doesn’t exist and accusing us of making up a world that does exist.” Quite.
Women are vulnerable in the prison estate. So are transwomen, but we are not the same as women. Being accommodated separately from men does not mean we should be accommodated with women. Blencathra was right. Last night he withdrew his amendment but in closing he said, “The battle for common sense and the rights of women will intensify.” He was right about that as well.