Today’s statement by Liz Truss brings much needed clarity on the UK Government’s proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act. We have previously argued that a shift to a system of self-declaration, without the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, would considerably expand the scope of the Act beyond its original aims.
The reduction in the application fee is something we previously identified as one of a number of possible administrative changes that would improve the Gender Recognition Certificate application process, without moving to self-declaration. We have also highlighted the need to address waiting times for access to specialist services.
That the GRC system currently operates on a UK-wide basis, and the changes do not appear to require primary legislation, suggests that the administrative measures announced today could apply across the UK, although further clarity on this is needed.
Equality Act 2010
We welcome the clarification that Equality Act 2010 “allows service providers to restrict access to single sex spaces on the basis of biological sex if there is a clear justification”. This does not preclude organisations from providing other, additional spaces and facilities to ensure that the rights of all groups are respected, without conflict. We remain concerned that, as the Scottish Government and relevant Westminster Committee have highlighted, the protections currently provided for women only spaces and services are not clearly understood: much clearer guidance is required in this area of law. Today’s statement however does confirm that the operation of single-sex spaces and services can be on a general policy basis, without any need for individual-by-individual assessment.
Potential reform in Scotland and cross-border implications
Now that the UK government has set out its plans for reform, the cross-border issues raised by the Scottish government’s consultation paper come into sharper relief. These are discussed further here. The Scottish Government has yet to set out what consideration it has given to the potential of cross-border effects of its own proposals.
Scottish Government consultation on GRA reform
The UK Government has now published a detailed report on the responses to its consultation on GRA reform. Meanwhile, it is six months since the Scottish Government’s own GRA reform consultation closed and no details have been released of the responses. None have been published by the Scottish Government: even the number is unknown. The Scottish Government appears to have suspended any work on letting the contract for the external analysis of the responses. This leaves everyone except the Scottish Government unsighted on what feedback it received.
We are concerned that if the responses are not published and no analysis undertaken before the end of this parliament, they may be deemed after May to be the business of a former administration and all plans to publish or analyse them will fall. The responses submitted earlier this year represent a large amount of work across civil society, much of it undertaken by people working in their own time. They are a resource for any future consideration of this issue in Scotland and so we hope the Scottish Government will confirm that it still plans to make consultation responses public in the usual way, and to proceed with commissioning an analysis of responses before next May.