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by Kirsteen Paterson
23 May 2023
Alister Jack: UK block to Scottish gender reforms is 'defence of devolution'

Alister Jack: UK block to Scottish gender reforms is 'defence of devolution'

Blocking Scottish gender reforms is a ‘defence of devolution’, the Scottish secretary has said.

Alister Jack has rejected claims by First Minister Humza Yousaf that his veto of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill is an "attack on devolution".

The Scottish Government has asked the Court of Session to intervene after Jack blocked the bill from becoming law in the first-ever use of the Scotland Act's Section 35 power. 

Under questioning from MPs, Jack said: "I've heard the first minister say it's an attack on devolution. It's not an attack on devolution. The Scotland Act has Section 35 in it and it's there for a very good reason."

Jack went on: "Rather than having devolved legislation clashing with GB-wide legislation, I thought it was right to use Section 35.

"They want to go to court and so be it."

The court challenge is the first of its kind. Jack said it is "not the role of the UK Government to amend the bill" and that he did not take the decision to veto lightly.

The comments came at a session of the Scottish Affairs Committee, in which Hastings-and-Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart raised the case of Melrose butcher Andrew Miller, who has admitted sexual offences against an 11-year-old girl. 

Miller, who also uses the name Amy George, was wearing women's clothing at the time and is now awaiting sentence.

He is being held in the male prison estate and the first minister has said he "would not expect that to change".

The session also saw Jack defend Foreign Secretary James Cleverly's warning that Scottish ministers should not undermine UK Government policy in meetings with overseas governments.

Jack said of the differences between the governments: "They want to destroy the United Kingdom, they want to bring it to an end, they want to break it, whatever language you want to use, and they know I want to strengthen it by having more UK Government investment into local authorities, real devolution as I call it.

"If we're honest with each other, that's my strategy, that's their strategy, we then find the bit in the middle where we can meet and work together. 

"I'm not going to pretend that I'm giving any ground on powers that would allow a ref to take place, for instance. I'm not going to pretend for a minute I'm going to do that."

On whether Cleverly's letter was "provocative", Jack said of Scottish Government minister Angus Robertson: "It didn't go down very well with old Air Miles Angus for a very good reason; that's because he took offence for us calling him out for visiting governments and talking to them about leaving."

He went on: "When these meetings are taking place and we have representatives from the Foreign Office in the meetings and discussions are taking place that undermine the UK's position on Brexit or foreign affairs or to discuss the break-up of the United Kingdom, that's where we take exception. Everything else, we want to work together."

Jack said: "If you speak to consuls and ambassadors from countries like France or Spain and say to them, 'how would you feel if the UK Government facilitated meetings for the Catalans in Westminster or your embassy did that?', or the French embassy facilitated for the Corsicans to come and meet UK Government ministers, I think President Macron, I think he might take a dim view."

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