‘Business-like’ talks between Scottish and UK ministers amid gender reform row

Senior figures in the Scottish and UK governments had “business-like” talks  over gender recognition reforms as the row over Westminster’s decision to block legislation raged on.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack discussed the matter with Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison.

The talks took place a week after the Tories confirmed the UK Government would use the never-before-utilised powers under Section 35 of the Scotland Act to prevent gender recognition reforms passed by Holyrood from going forward for royal assent.

Mr Jack has now offered to have the Advocate General for Scotland Keith Stewart – the UK Government’s most senior adviser on Scots law – look at any amendments the Scottish Government may wish to make to the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The talks took place after Ms Robison challenged the Scottish Secretary to revoke the Section 35 order – with Mr Jack understood to have been clear he will not do so “on the basis of the clear advice he has received that the Gender Recognition Reform Bill would have adverse effects on GB laws”.

Talks between Alister Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison had previously demanded the Section 35 order be revoked. (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Talks between Alister Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison had previously demanded the Section 35 order be revoked. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The talks were described as “business like”, with a source within the UK Government later saying: “Mr Jack offered the services of UK Government law officers to examine any amended Scottish Government legislation.”

It comes as SNP MSP Alasdair Allan attacked Mr Jack over his “no-shows” at Holyrood committee meetings

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Constitution Committee had wanted to question the Scottish Secretary on the constitutional implications of his use of Section 35.

But in a letter to committee convener Clare Adamson, the Tory MP said that as Nicola Sturgeon had stated that the issue would “inevitably end up in court”, he did “not believe it would be appropriate to attend” the meeting.

Both Mr Jack and UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch had also declined to attend an earlier meeting of Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.

Mr Allan hit out at the “gutless UK Government”, accusing Tory politicians at Westminster of being “unwilling to face the Scottish Parliament, after launching a full-frontal attack on devolution”.

Alasdair Allan
SNP MSP Alasdair Allan branded the UK Government ‘gutless’ over its refusal to send ministers to Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)

Reacting to their refusal to give evidence, Mr Allan said: “Well, there we have it – three invitations, two Tory ministers and one feeble excuse for a gutless UK Government unwilling to face the Scottish Parliament, after launching a full-frontal attack on devolution.

“The Tories lack the courage to explain their undemocratic decisions to a Parliament they seem intent on wrecking. The level of contempt they are showing to the people of Scotland is disgraceful.

“All the Tories’ talk of working together and their claims that Scotland is part of a ‘Union of equals’ lie exposed as entirely disingenuous. Frankly, few people believed them on this a week ago, but now we see they don’t even believe it themselves.

“Fundamentally, they are no-shows at Holyrood because they have no answers.

“Their actions are an affront to Scottish democracy and yet another reason why Scotland must become independent to escape the Tories and Westminster control for good.”

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was passed by Holyrood in December, seeks to simplify and speed up the process trans people go through to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Mr Jack has however said that it would have an “adverse impact” on the operation of UK equalities legislation and that using Section 35 to stop the Bill from becoming law was the “necessary and correct course of action”.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State for Scotland has made 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.

“This was done after thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications. This legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.

“Transgender people deserve our respect, support and understanding. Our decision is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.

“The Secretary of State for Scotland met the Scottish Government today, and reiterated that the Bill has adverse effects on GB-wide equalities legislation. Mr Jack said he was content for his officials to provide a view on a revised Bill ahead of it going to the Scottish Parliament.”