We welcome today’s formal statement on the Scottish Government’s plans in relation to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The government has confirmed that work on the Bill is being suspended, as part of its response to the current emergency.
The statement by the Parliamentary business minister acknowledged that some people would be disappointed by the delay; but not that many others have expressed substantial concerns about the potential impact of the proposals, the underpinning analysis and evidence, and the process by which the proposals had been reached. Serious concerns and carefully substantiated concerns have been expressed from across and beyond the political spectrum.
In a letter sent today to only some interest groups Cabinet Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville stated that the consultation on the draft Bill was intended to secure consensus. In our consultation response we argued that it is highly unlikely that consensus will be reached based on the current approach to reform. Proceeding on the basis of the government’s current analysis carries a strong risk of legislation that is under-prepared and vulnerable to challenge, with collateral consequences that government and parliament would not intend.
Once the current situation ends, the Scottish Government must not go back to business as usual on this issue. Instead, it should secure cross-party support for a fully transparent process to review the existing gender recognition legislation, of the sort which has so far been lacking.
This process should start from a commitment to upholding rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Equality Act 2010 equally for everyone, with no hierarchy of protected characteristics, and involve properly from the start the full range of interests and perspectives.
Future reform should be based on addressing clearly scoped specific objections to the status quo, and distinguishing between practical objections and objections of principle. The Scottish Government needs to establish a shared position on the effect of current law, particularly the interaction of the GRA and the Equality Act, and to secure agreement on the evidence base. The government also needs to reach agreement on the purpose and intended beneficiaries of the GRA. It could then explore and formulate a range of policy solutions, not necessarily limited to legislative issues, so that any change is based on a secure consensus. The responses to the recent consultation will remain a valuable resource and should be fully and carefully considered as part of any further work.