The UK government blocked the Scottish Gender Recognition Act over concerns for “single-sex” spaces and “equal pay” protections, Scotland secretary Alister Jack has told Parliament.
The Scottish secretary spoke in the House of Commons on Tuesday (January 17) and set out why the UK government is blocking Holyrood’s landmark gender recognition law.
Several months after an 86-39 vote win to make obtaining a certificate easier for trans people and lower the age it was available to 16, the UK government announced on Monday (16 January) it would block the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) bill from passing.
Addressing the Commons, Jack declared the bill would be blocked, despite stating that “transgender people deserve our respect, our support and our understanding”.
Jack told the House he has “not taken this decision lightly” but the government believed the bill would have a “serious adverse impact among other things on the operation of the Equality Act 2010”.
“Those adverse effects include impacts on the operation of single-sex clubs, associations, and schools and protections such as equal pay.”
He did not explain how, and when later quizzed on what a Gender Recognition Certificate was for, could not explain that either.
‘Not a power to be used lightly’
“The bill also risks creating significant complications from having two different gender recognition regimes in the UK, and allowing more fraudulent or bad faith applications,” the minister continued.
In his speech, Jack stated the UK government would publish a full statement of reasons, alongside the order, for blocking the bill.
This list will “set in full the adverse effects the government is concerned about”.
Jack also addressed MPs – who were extremely vocal in the Commons – who he accused of seeking to “politicise this decision” and make it “some kind of constitutional outrage”.
He said: “This is not about preventing the Scottish parliament from legislating on devolved matters, but about ensuring that we do not have legal frameworks in one part of the United Kingdom which has adverse effects on reserved matters.
“And we should be clear that this is absolutely not about the United Kingdom government being able to veto Scottish parliament legislation whenever it chooses, as some have implied, the power can only be exercised on specific grounds.
“And the fact that this is the first time it has been necessary to exercise the power, and almost 25 years of devolution, emphasises that it is not a power to be used lightly.”
The “beginning of the end” for the UK
The government announced it would halt the bill yesterday (January 16), which was passed by the Scottish parliament on December 22, by 86 votes to 39.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill would make it easier for trans people to update the sex marker on their birth certificates, as well as lowering the application process to 16 and 17-year-olds for the first time.
In an unprecedented move, the UK government will use a Section 35 order under the Scotland Act to prevent the Scottish bill from becoming law because he is “concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation”.
This is the first time such an order has been used since Scotland was given devolved powers, with LGBTQ+ activists warning the move marked the “beginning of the end” of the United Kingdom as a union.
LGBTQ+ protesters gathered outside Downing Street to rally against the UK government’s decision to block the Scottish reform bill. (PinkNews)
Earlier today (January 17), the Scottish government rejected an offer from Rishi Sunak to assist with a revised version of the Scottish gender recognition reform bill and instead will seek legal action.
Scottish National Party cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government – Shona Robinson – told the BBC’s Today programme that the move to block the bill was “more about the politics than it is about the legislation”.
Robinson said: “Using the section 35 nuclear option, I think, reveals that they don’t have a legal basis to challenge it, and this is more about the politics than it is about the legislation.
“And I don’t think the UK government are going to come forward with a suggestion of a tweak here or a tweak there. They are fundamentally against this bill. They don’t like this bill.
“They are using their power to stop the democratically elected Scottish parliament taking forward legislation that had the overwhelming support for that parliament.”
Read Alister Jack’s full Commons statement:
Today I will make an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 preventing the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill from proceeding to royal assent.
This order will mean the presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament will not submit the bill for royal assent. This government believes, however, that transgender people deserve our respect, our support and our understanding.
My decision is centred on the legislation that has consequences for the operation of reserved matters, including equality legislation across Scotland, England and Wales.
The Scottish Government’s bill would introduce a new process for applying for legal gender recognition to Scotland. The changes include reducing the minimum age a person can apply for a gender recognition certificate from 18 to 16 and removing the need for a medical diagnosis and evidence of having lived for two years in the required gender.
The bill would amend the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which legislates for a single gender recognition system across the United Kingdom and which received a legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament.
The approach taken in the Scottish Government’s gender recognition reform bill was the subject of intense debate in the Scottish Parliament.
A number of significant amendments were tabled right up until the end of the bill’s passage, and the Minister for Women and Equalities corresponded with and met with the Cabinet Secretary Shona Robison to discuss the UK government’s concerns, before the bill had reached its final stage.
Mr. Speaker, I have not taken this decision lightly.
The government has looked closely at the potential impact of the bill and I visited all relevant policy and operational implications together with the Minister for Women and Equalities, and it is our assessment that the bill would have a serious adverse impact among other things on the operation of the Equality Act 2010.
Those adverse effects include impacts on the operation of single sex clubs, associations, and schools and protections such as equal pay.
The government says the concerns of many members of the public and civic society groups regarding the potential impact of the bill on women and girls.
The bill also risks creating significant complications from having two different gender recognition regimes in the UK, and allowing more fraudulent or bad faith applications.
The government is today publishing a full statement of reasons alongside the order, which will set in full the adverse effects the government is concerned about.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to address the claims put forward by those who would seek to politicise this decision and claim that this is some kind of constitutional outrage – and you can hear them Mr. Speaker, you can hear them.
The section 35 power was included in the Scotland Act which established the Scottish Parliament. This is the first time the power has been exercised and I acknowledge that this is a significant decision.
The pauses section 35 of the Scotland dates are not new, and this government has not created them. They have existed as long as devolution itself and we should be clear that the power was included in that.
But the architects of the devolution for a reason, Donald Jr. himself noted that the power struck an important balance the section 35 Power provides a sensible measure to ensure the default legislation does not have adverse impacts on reserved matters, including on the equalities legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010.
This is not about preventing the Scottish Parliament from legislating on devolved matters, but about ensuring that we do not have legal frameworks in one part of the United Kingdom which have adverse effects on reserved matters.
And we should be clear that this is absolutely not about the United Kingdom Government being able to veto Scottish Parliament legislation whenever it chooses, as some have implied, the power can only be exercised on specific grounds.
And the fact that this is the first time it has been necessary to exercise the power and almost 25 years of devolution emphasises that it is not a power to be used lightly.
In the instance of the gender recognition reform Scotland bill, I have concluded that the bill would have serious adverse effects on the operation of the Equality Act 2010.
And as I’ve set out in my correspondence with the First Minister yesterday, I prefer not to be in this situation.
The United Kingdom Government does all we can to respect the devolution settlement and to resolve disputes. It is open to the Scottish Government to bring back an amended bill for reconsideration in the Scottish Parliament.
So to conclude, Mr Speaker, I have set out to the Scottish Government that they should that should they choose to do so I hope we can work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of the United Kingdom Parliament legislation and I commend this statement to the house.