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by Louise Wilson
25 January 2023
SNP bid to overturn block on gender reform bill

SNP bid to overturn block on gender reform bill

The SNP is seeking to overturn the UK Government’s block on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

Westminster leader Stephen Flynn has submitted a motion which would annul the section 35 order laid by Scottish secretary Alister Jack last week.

The power, included in the Scotland Act, allows Jack to prevent any legislation passed by Holyrood being submitted for royal assent if he believes it impacts on reserved legislation.

The UK Government has argued the bill, which seeks to remove medical barriers and reduce the time limit it takes for trans people to legally change their gender, would have a “serious adverse impact” on the Equality Act.

In a separate letter to Scottish ministers, Jack has reitereated that they  must amend the bill to address these adverse effects.

The SNP has said using the section 35 power to prevent legislation passed by a majority of MSPs was an “unprecedented attack on Scottish democracy”.

Flynn’s motion is backed by Lib Dem, Plaid Cymru and SDLP MPs. He said: “It speaks volumes that the overwhelming majority of Scotland's MPs, and cross-party MPs from across the devolved nations, oppose this Tory assault on devolution.

“MPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland know that if the Tories get away with this shameful attack on democracy, the entire devolution settlement is under threat – with the risk of any future Bill passed by a devolved parliament at risk of being struck down by Westminster.”

The debate is unlikely to go ahead as it would require the UK Government to make time for it. 

The Scottish secretary - who has rejected a second invitation to appear before MSPs to discuss the section 35 order - has told Shona Robison, the social justice secretary, that "it is for the Scottish Government to bring forward a bill that addresses the adverse effects that are set out in the Statement of Reasons".

He added: "For the avoidance of doubt I wish to re-emphasise that it is not the role of my office to draft legislation intended for the Scottish Parliament, however, we would be happy to consider any queries you may have once you have a revised draft of the bill."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon  raised concerns about further use of section 35 orders during a press conference on Monday. She said the move meant the passage of any bills at Holyrood would be “completely at the whim” of the Scottish secretary, who has “unfettered discretion” to use this power.

Jack has previously denied this accusation. He said: “We should be clear that this is absolutely not about the UK Government being able to veto Scottish Parliament legislation whenever it chooses, as some have implied.

“The power can only be exercised on specific grounds and the fact that this is the first time it has been necessary to exercise the power in almost 25 years of devolution emphasises that it is not a power to be used lightly.”

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