Scottish Parliament

August 2019
Written evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Committee as part of their scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2020/21

12 June 2019
Stage 3 debate of the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

Col.60 Claire Baker MSP (Mid Scotland Fife) (Labour): I understand the concerns that were raised by the Equality Network, which said that reversing the position that was taken in 2011 would be highly problematic. Transgender people have legal rights to privacy, dignity and respect, and the organisation argued that it is not appropriate to insist that people disclose their biological sex at birth. Murray Blackburn Mackenzie argued that such an approach damages data integrity and quality, and that it sets a precedent for other data gathering exercises and surveys, resulting in the loss of robust data on the protected characteristic of sex.

Col.67 Joan McAlpine MSP (South Scotland) (SNP): The sex question should also be based on biological sex, in my view. In 2011, without any public scrutiny, the census included online guidance that said that the sex question could, for the first time, be answered according to how people felt. The briefing from Murray Blackburn Mackenzie points out that that decision was based on a flawed private consultant’s report that erroneously said that sex included gender reassignment. It also points out that as we have no idea how many trans-identifying people— including non-binary—live in Scotland, no amount of testing by NRS can tell us how the data might be affected in 2021 by a self-identifying sex question.

Col.68 Joan McAlpine MSP (South Scotland) (SNP): I hope that the cabinet secretary will take my points on board and, more importantly, the expertise of Professor McVie, Murray Blackburn MacKenzie and the Office for National Statistics. The census is the gold standard of statistics, and it is important that it is committed to both accuracy and material reality.

Col.76 Claire Baker MSP (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Labour): Murray Blackburn Mackenzie’s briefing sets out concerns about what it describes as “Losing sight of women’s interests”. Joan McAlpine raised those issues. There is concern that the protected characteristic of sex is being diminished and even ignored. Those points must not be dismissed; they need to be addressed. We must not close down debate, and open debate must take place without fear or threat to anyone.

10 January 2019
General Question Time: Public Sector Equality Duty (Sex)

6. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what work it is doing to ensure that all public bodies are fulfilling their public sector equality duty with regard specifically to the protected characteristic of “sex” as represented in the Equality Act 2010. (S5O-02754)

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville): The Equality Act 2010 is largely reserved. However, a framework to help public authorities to meet the requirements of the public sector equality duty has been set by the Scottish ministers through regulations. The Scottish Government expects all relevant organisations to comply with the requirements of the 2010 act in relation to all protected characteristics. Responsibility for oversight of compliance with the 2010 act, including compliance with the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, rests with the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The commission is independent and cannot be directed by the Scottish ministers. Private individuals may also seek to enforce their rights under the Equality Act 2010 in courts and tribunals.

Joan McAlpine: Is the cabinet secretary aware of recent research by the academic consultancy, Murray Blackburn Mackenzie, that found that only seven out of the 32 local authorities in Scotland had a clear definition of sex as a protected characteristic, while others conflated sex with gender identity, which has no definition in law, or gender reassignment, which is a completely separate protected characteristic? Many Scottish Government documents also conflate those things. That undermines the Equality Act 2010 exemptions that are designed to protect women and girls. Does the cabinet secretary agree that to support women and girls we need clear data on sex, and would she consider issuing guidelines to ensure that every public authority in Scotland adheres to that aspect of the Equality Act 2010?

Shirley-Anne Somerville: The protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act 2010 relates to being a man or a woman. We accept that sex and gender are distinct concepts. The Scottish Government agrees that there is a need to have disaggregated data to allow for the impacts of policies on men and women to be demonstrated. In Scotland there is both technical guidance and non-statutory guidance on the public sector equality duty for public bodies, which is published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Scottish Government expects all relevant organisations to comply with the requirements of the 2010 act and with the published guidance.

14 December 2018
Supplementary written evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee on the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.

13 December 2018
Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill
Stage 1 oral evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee,  Lucy Hunter Blackburn

3 December 2018
Written evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee on the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.