My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, whose constituent I used to be when I lived in Vauxhall. As three previous speakers mentioned their Tottenham connection, I should mention that, rather than fight the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, I stood as the candidate in Tottenham. I fought Tottenham, and Tottenham fought back.
If I may, I will rattle through my congratulations. First, I congratulate the Attorney-General, whose forthcoming happy event has given rise to this debate. Secondly, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister, whose good sense, patience and quiet determination have brought about this change. Thirdly, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Noakes, whose brilliant leadership and eloquence have infused this whole debate and raised its tone.
Fourthly, I congratulate all the speakers at Second Reading, in which I did not take part. They showed what is best about this House—how it can be a revising Chamber where party allegiances are secondary to the determination to get things right, and thank heavens they did get things right. It would have been deplorable if we, as a revising Chamber, could not even revise a Bill whose original wording did not make sense.
Why does it matter? I was taught as a child “Sticks and stones may hurt your bones but words will never hurt you”, but this is not about insults. It is not even primarily about the rights of women and transgender people; it is about the control of language. Totalitarians of all stripes know that controlling language is a crucial step in gaining control of society. If you determine the vocabulary, you often determine how people think. Orwell spelled it out in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He said that
“the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
That, of course, is part of what is happening.
Incidentally, I do not think that the agenda being pursued by those seeking to control our vocabulary is driven by any sympathy for transgender people. On the contrary, it seeks to use trans people as shock troops in pursuit of an extreme form of egalitarianism which aims not to give equal rights to all of us, despite our manifest and manifold differences, but instead to deny the existence of those differences.
Happily, today that agenda has been rolled back. I hope that we have sent a message to those in the Cabinet Office and those who draft legislation in the future that will be as clear and robust as a message that was sent—as I discovered when I was responsible for Customs and Excise—by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise back in 1865 to a hapless clerk whose wording they did not like. They wrote:
“The Commission observe that you make use of many affected phrases and incongruous words … all of which you use in a sense the words do not bear. I am ordered to acquaint you that if you hereafter continue in that … way of writing and to murder the language in such a manner, you will be discharged for a fool.”
I hope that that message has hit home loud and clear today from this Chamber.