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by Louise Wilson
20 December 2022
Gender recognition reform: MSPs reject amendments after government concerns about competence

Shona Robison wrote to relevant members yesterday warning the amendments would render the bill incompetent

Gender recognition reform: MSPs reject amendments after government concerns about competence

Amendments to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill which the Scottish Government warned would force it to pause the legislation has been rejected.

Parliament was suspended after protests from the public gallery in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

A series of other votes on similar amendments will take place later on Wednesday.

Those attempted changes, put forward by Conservative Russell Findlay and SNP MSP Michelle Thomson, attempted to prevent men who had been charged or convicted of sexual offences from obtaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC).

But Shona Robison, the social justice secretary, had previously warned the members that there was a “serious risk” that these changes would put the bill beyond the competency of the Scottish Parliament.

Ministers said the amendments would make the bill incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights as it would require all applying for a GRC to be asked if they had been charged with a sexual offence.

She warned: “We would have no option but to move to delay the stage 3 debate and the relevant sections of the bill would need to be referred back to the relevant committee for further stage 2 consideration.”

Pressing forward with his set of amendments, Findlay said his intent was to prevent “those men who will inevitably seek to exploit the inherent weaknesses in the proposed new system of gender recognition certificates”.

“Currently there’s nothing in the bill preventing predatory men from applying for a GRC,” he added.

Thomson said her amendment aimed to pause applications for GRCs from men “charged with a sexual offence but not yet convicted and placed on the sexual offenders’ register”.

The MSP, who is a survivor of sexual assault, warned that allowing such applications to go ahead had the risk of traumatising and harming their female victims. “The probability of the situation I depict is low, but if it were to occur, the outcome on the victim could be devastating,” she said.

Responding directly to the amendments in the debate, Robison said safeguards had already been put in place which were a “proportionate approach to provide useful safeguards based on assessment and management of risk in individual cases”.

Highlighting that the GRC process at present does not prevent sex offenders from applying, she said the government had moved to respond to such concerns.

“The current assessments by the gender recognition panel are not based on risk of harm. Following stage 2, this bill now introduces mechanisms to allow for a risk-based approach that actually, in many ways, go further than the current system,” she said.

The first amendment from Findlay to be voted on was rejected by a margin of just five votes.

Thomson's amendment saw a tie of 61 to 61, but was ultimately rejected as the Presiding Officer must cast a vote in favour of the status quo (leaving the bill unamended).

Amendments put forward by herself and SNP MSP Gillian Martin seek to respond to Thomson’s concern by extending the new risk-based approach to those not yet convicted.

A third amendment lodged by Labour’s Jackie Baillie was also flagged by Robison as potentially putting the bill outwith Holyrood’s competence. That amendment will also be debated later on Tuesday evening.

The debate continues today and tomorrow, with the final vote currently set for 6:30pm on Wednesday.

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