Gender Recognition Reform Bill passes first parliamentary hurdle
The Gender Recognition Reform Bill has passed its first hurdle at the Scottish Parliament.
MSPs backed the general principles of the bill by 88 votes to 33, with four abstentions.
The legislation aims to make it easier for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC), in particular by removing medical barriers and allowing people to self-identify as their acquired gender.
But some women’s groups have expressed concern about the knock-on impact this could have on women’s rights and access to services for women.
Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said while she was “sympathetic to these concerns,” there was “no evidence to suggest that the rights of women and girls are impacted negatively by the bill”.
She added: “The bill will not change the provision of single sex services, prisons or sport, because none of these are dependent on possession of a GRC.”
The SNP imposed a whip on MSPs to back the bill, causing government minister Ash Regan to resign ahead of the debate after concluding she could not support it.
John Mason, Stephanie Callaghan, Fergus Ewing, Kenny Gibson, Ruth Maguire and Michelle Thomson also defied the SNP whip to vote against.
Scottish Conservative MSPs were given a free vote on the bill, with the majority voting against it. Jamie Greene and Sandesh Gulhane backed it.
Rachael Hamilton, a Tory MSP, said it was important to discuss the implications of issuing more GRCs to a wider group.
The bill’s policy memorandum estimates Scottish applications for GRCs would increase to 250-300 per year.
Hamilton said while it was important to improve rights for trans people, “we also need to protect vulnerable young girls and the hard-won rights of women and girls.”
Suggesting “legitimate concerns have been ignored” during the progress of the bill so far, she added: “It is a task our legislators here – and it’s a hard one – to ensure that safeguards exist so that this system is not taken advantage of.”
Scottish Labour MSPs backed the bill. The party’s social justice spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy said it was clear the process of obtaining an GRC “needs to change”.
She said: “It is clear to me that women’s and trans rights can, must and do already exist without one causing detriment to the other – mostly because people respect one another, but also because the protections in the Equality Act make that so.”
She confirmed her intention bring forward an amendment to clarify nothing in the bill impacts the Equality Act. She added that that Act “gets the interaction between sex and gender perfectly correct”.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the reforms had been “a long time coming”.
He said the passage of time between initial pledges to make the changes had created room for “myth and hyperbole”. “What is proposed in this bill is simply a technical amendment to the law,” he added.
Green MSP Maggie Chapman said there was still a long way to go on trans equality, but added: "Today, together, we set out a path in the right direction."
Miles Briggs and Jackson Carlaw of the Conservatives and Annabelle Ewing and Jim Fairlie of the SNP abstained.
The bill will now move to the amending stage. MSPs are expected to bring forward amendments on data collection, the application process, safeguards and post-legislative scrutiny.