Emergency committee session on GRR demanded by Scottish Conservatives
The Scottish Conservatives have written to the convenor of the equalities committee demanding an emergency session on the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill.
MSPs Rachael Hamilton and Pam Gosal wrote to Joe FitzPatrick MSP urging that evidence on the GRR bill from UN special rapporteur Reem Alsalem must be heard.
This comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon dismissed the concerns of the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, calling them “not well founded” and refused to pause the legislation. The nine-page letter to the Scottish Government outlines fears over reforms to how a gender recognition certificate (GRC) can be obtained, suggesting the process could be abused by predatory men.
MSPs from the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP have since met privately with the special rapporteur to discuss her concerns.
Alsalem said that the bill presented “potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity”, and that “empirical evidence” suggested predatory men could try to abuse the gender recognition process under the new reforms.
BBC Scotland has reported that the UK Government could refuse to recognise the legislation, which would cause issues for people in possession of a GRC if they were to relocate elsewhere in the UK.
A source told BBC Scotland that it is “absolutely” possible that recognition of documentation could be refused in areas of the UK outwith Scotland. It is believed the UK Government is not ruling out a legal challenge if the legislation is passed by MSPs.
Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison has said she would be "happy to meet” with Westminster Equalities Secretary Kemi Badenoch to discuss the issue.
The Scottish Conservative equalities spokesperson Rachael Hamilton MSP said: “It’s astonishing to see how recklessly the SNP have dismissed and ignored the concerns of a United Nations expert on violence against women and girls.
“Reem Alsalem has expressed grave fears that these reforms could risk women’s safety. That should have been enough to pause this misguided bill straight away.
“At the very least, it’s only a matter of due diligence that Ms Alsalem’s concerns should be considered by the parliamentary committee tasked with scrutinising this legislation.
“Instead, the SNP have done all they can to dismiss this damning evidence and try to railroad this potentially harmful legislation through parliament without proper scrutiny.
“It is now essential that the Equalities Committee is allowed to consider Ms Alsalem’s evidence in an official committee session – so that MSPs and the Scottish public can hear what she has to say.
“And this must happen before the legislation is voted into law so that we can address Ms Alsalem’s concerns and make sure we do not pass a bill that will harm women and girls.
“That’s why my colleague Pam Gosal and I have written to the convener of the committee.”
Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said: “Trans men and women are among the most stigmatised in our society and many find the current system for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate to be intrusive, medicalised and bureaucratic.
“This Bill does not introduce any new rights for trans people. It is about simplifying and improving the process for a trans person to gain legal recognition, which has been a right for 18 years.
“Our support for trans rights does not conflict with our continued strong commitment to uphold the rights and protections that women and girls currently have under the 2010 Equality Act. This Bill makes no changes to that Act.
“The Scottish Government has always been keen to seek consensus where possible and to work to support respectful debate. That will remain a guiding principle as the Bill progresses through Parliament.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government’s Minister for Women and Equalities has responded to a letter sent by the Scottish Government in October setting out relevant policy considerations for the UK Government, undertaking to work constructively on cross-border issues, and offering to meet.
“Ms Robison will be happy to meet with Ms Badenoch.”