Tories could strip Holyrood of power to pass gender laws after general election

-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

The UK Government could strip Holyrood of the power to pass gender laws after the general election.

The Tories have said that they will change the Equality Act to define the protected characteristic of sex as “biological sex”.

The Equality Act is reserved to Westminster but some laws have been devolved. This includes legislation around gender recognition certificates.

But now the Conservatives want to return gender powers to London which would ban Scotland from passing gender recognition laws without UK Government consent.

Holyrood's attempt to allow trans people to change their gender without a medical diagnosis was blocked by the UK Government last year.

It provoked outrage among the SNP but the Scottish Government lost a legal battle when it appealed the decision.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he wants to amend equality laws to prevent “confusion” on sex and gender.

They claim the change will make it simpler for service providers for women and girls, such as those running sessions for domestic abuse victims, to prevent biological males from taking part.

The party says the proposed change to the law will not remove the existing and continuing protections against discrimination on the basis of gender reassignment provided by the Equality Act.

Tory equalities minister Kemi Badenoch confirmed the change was because of Holyrood's gender reforms.

She told Sky News: “The biggest reason is because of what Scotland was doing with its Gender Recognition Bill.”

The Scottish Parliament passed its gender recognition reform bill in December 2022.

But Tory Scotland Secretary Alister Jack used a Section 35 order to block it. This was the first time that Westminster had used this part of the Scotland Act to block a Holyrood law since devolution was established in 1999.

The bill would have made it easier for trans people to "self ID" - meaning they could change their gender without a medical diagnosis.

The bill had been supported by members of all parties in the Scottish Parliament.

SNP First Minister John Swinney said the move “is just another step in the Conservative attempts to erode the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

“It’s been going on for some time.”

He added: “I want the Scottish Parliament to be a parliament that can address all of the issues that affect the lives of people in Scotland.

“So, what the Conservatives are doing today is part of a deliberate strategy to undermine the powers of the Scottish Parliament.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: "It's typical of this Conservative party, one to fight the culture war and second to fight a constitutional fight on what is a really important and serious issue.

"It's another one of those dead cat kind of strategies...but I think people will see through it. The Equality Act protects biological sex and I recognise people want more reassurance and protection that is fine.

"We would issue appropriate guidance on single sex spaces based on biological sex and the easiest way of doing that is by electing a Labour government to issue that guidance rather than [having] this culture war and a pretence that we have to go through a long legislative process."

Asked if Holyrood should have power over gender laws, he said: "I believe in the primacy of the Equality Act that has always been the case. It was introduced by the Labour party. It has given much needed protections to communities across the country.

"We recognise that through the process of the GRR bill. The SNP promised us as part of that process there would be no negative interaction with the Equality Act, that's proven not to be the case in the court ruling.

"Therefore I think there is an approach that doesn't require a culture war, that doesn't require a constitutional fight but can be resolved by two governments working together to deliver protections for people across the country, that means protecting the Equality Act, recognising the primacy of the Equality Act and ensuring we protect single sex spaces based on biological sex while also removing the indignities in the process of obtaining a GRC which impacts on the trans community."

Pressed on whether Labour would support the Conservatives' plan, he said: "No. This has worked since devolution, it has worked for 25 years. We accept there have been issues over the past few years and concerns expressed but we believe in the primacy of the Equality Act.

"We believe the Equality Act does protect biological sex and we believe by issuing guidance we can give further reassurances and clarifications.

"But this does not require a constitutional fight. It doesn't require any kind of powers being grabbed."

To sign up to the Daily Record Politics newsletter, click here