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Government Confirms It Will Block Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill

A section 35 order will be used to block Scotland's gender recognition reform bill (Alamy)

3 min read

The Westminster government has said it will use a Section 35 order to block the Scottish government's gender recognition reform legislation amid concerns over its impact on UK-wide legislation.

The legislation, which was passed by MSPs last month, seeks to make it easier for trans people to legally change their gender but there are concerns that it changes the Equality Act, a reserved piece of legislation.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has now said he will make a section 35 order under the Scotland Act to prevent the legislation receiving royal assent. It is the first time the power has been used in its history. 

He said:  “I have decided to make an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, preventing the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from proceeding to royal assent.

“After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation. 

“Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding. My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters. 

“I have not taken this decision lightly. The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action. 

“If the Scottish government chooses to bring an amended Bill back for reconsideration in the Scottish Parliament, I hope we can work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of UK Parliament legislation." 

Earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her government was “very, very, very” confident of defending the Gender Recognition Reform Bill should the UK government attempt to block it becoming law.

Speaking at a press conference in Monday morning, Nicola Sturgeon accused the UK government of using trans people as a “political weapon”, adding that moving the stop the legislation would be “unconscionable and indefensible and really quite disgraceful”.

Sturgeon said: “We will vigorously defend the legislation, depending on if there is a challenge – and I hope there won’t be, but the indications would suggest that may be what we are looking at – but it would depend what route for that the UK government takes.

“If it’s a Section 33 challenge then that will go to the Supreme Court as I understand it and we will defend the bill in the Supreme Court. A Section 35 challenge, that would require I think the Scottish government to judicially review that decision.

“These are technicalities but what I will say in general is that we will absolutely robustly and vigorously, and with a very, very, very high degree of confidence, defend the legislation.”

She also said the move would be evidence of the UK government’s “complete contempt for the Scottish Parliament”.

This story first appeared on Holyrood

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