Former Labour minister backs Tory intervention in Scotland's gender reforms
Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett has backed the UK Government’s move to block Holyrood’s gender reforms, saying the unprecedented use of a Section 35 order was the right thing to do.
Appearing on the BBC’s Politics Live show during Prime Minister’s Questions, Blunkett, who served as home secretary under Tony Blair, said Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is “a bit all over the place” on gender reform but that the Tory government has got it right.
“I happen to think on this issue – this very complex issue – [the government] was right to use Section 35,” he said.
There has been much public debate about Scottish secretary Alister Jack’s decision to use Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block the enactment of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (GRR), a piece of Scottish legislation passed in December that will introduce self-identification as part of wider changes designed to make it easier for transgender people to gain a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).
Blunkett said the case of a double rapist, who attacked two women in Clydebank and Glasgow while living as a man but was convicted as trans woman Isla Bryson at the High Court in Glasgow this week, highlights problems with the reforms in that self-ID puts women at risk.
“There’s a guy called Adam Graham, or he was Adam Graham, a two-time rapist, who decided to trans and could end up in a women’s prison in Scotland,” he said. “This is just not acceptable.”
Under the terms of the GRR the age at which a person can obtain a GRC would also be lowered, from 18 to 16, which has been criticised by Starmer, who said “16 is too young to change legal gender”.
The Labour Party in general is supportive of gender reform, however, and Starmer has not backed the UK Government’s challenge to the Scottish legislation.
Blunkett said the party’s positioning is “a bit all over the place” and that the party, which passed the Equality Act the Tories fear the GRR will alter, has got to be clearer on where it stands.
“We’ve just got to be clear – respect, equality, ensuring people are treated properly, that we don’t alienate, that we care about how people are feeling and their development and the emotions they are going though, but not pandering to situations which put aside 50 years of equality campaigning for women,” he said.
Despite Blunkett’s intervention, Lord Falconer, a Labour peer who served as both Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in Blair’s government, has opposed Jack’s Section 35 move.
Last week he tweeted that Jack’s reasons for using the veto, which is allowed under the terms of the devolution agreement that created the Scottish Parliament, “did not justify the use of Section 35”.
Writing in The Scotsman newspaper today, Falconer said “there is considerable doubt whether the UK Government has the legal power to block” the GRR.
“Because the bill is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament (there is no doubt that the conditions for the granting of a GRC are undoubtedly for Holyrood to determine) a block on a Scottish bill which does exactly that is only possible if, as a threshold requirement, the law change introduced by the Scottish bill 'modifies the law as it applies to [equality law]'. This phrase comes from s35 of the Scotland Act 1998,” he wrote.
“GRCs are not referred to in the Equality Bill in relation to safe-space safeguarding provisions. A GRC can be taken into account by the safe-space provider if appropriate in determining how to ensure appropriate security.
“This is the position now, and would be the position if the bill gets royal assent. The law on GRCs as it applies to this aspect of equality law is not changed by the bill. This threshold requirement is not a question of reasonable belief by Alister Jack. It’s a question of hard law, and does not appear to be met.”
The UK and Scottish governments have been at loggerheads since Jack invoked Section 35, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling it a “full-frontal assault on democracy”.
Falconer said there is “too much politics and too much law in this saga” and that if the matter ends up in court, as Sturgeon has indicated, it will not lead to a tidy resolution.
“The courts don’t do compromise, mediation and balance,” he wrote. “They do yes or no. And that is unlikely to solve the problem here.”