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by Kirsteen Paterson
19 January 2023
UK Government insists it raised concerns with Scottish ministers before block to gender reform bill

Alister Jack issued the section 35 order

UK Government insists it raised concerns with Scottish ministers before block to gender reform bill

The UK Government "raised a number of concerns" with the Scottish Government on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill before it was passed, it is claimed.

Scotland Secretary Alister Jack blocked the bill earlier this week, saying its contents would affect UK-wide equalities law.

The landmark move has seen veto powers incorporated in Section 35 of the Scotland Act used for the first time, and provoked an angry response from the Scottish Government.

Earlier today Scotland's social justice secretary Shona Robison called on Jack to revoke the order, saying that "at no point" did the UK Government "ask to amend the provisions in the bill" before it was voted through by MSPs in December.

The bill was carried by a rate of around two votes to one after days of debate.

The UK Government has offered to work with counterparts in Holyrood to amend the legislation. However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has accused the Conservative administration of making a "full frontal attack" on democracy.

Robison said: "At every stage of the bill's progress and development, the Scottish Government kept the UK Government informed through normal routes of engagement. At no point did they ask to amend the provisions in the bill - neither during the extensive periods of public consultation nor during the drafting and parliamentary stages. 

"The Scottish Parliament was treated the same way and did not hear from the UK Government during the passage of the bill.

"Put bluntly, this was a one-way conversation up until the final moments this bill should have gone for royal assent and become law. So for the Scottish secretary to announce this week that he was unilaterally vetoing the bill is fundamentally disrespectful to Scotland's parliament and the MSPs who have been part of its scrutiny, consideration and passing."

Calling the move "harmful to trans people", she said her administration is "still digesting" the UK Government's statement of reasons for acting. She went on: "The Scottish Government is absolutely determined to vigorously defend the bill and the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament."

Responding, a UK Government spokesperson said it "raised a number of concerns relating to the impact of the Scottish Government's proposals with Scottish ministers, as part of our constructive approach, in advance of the legislation passing", with women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch writing to Robison to outline her concerns and a call for a pause on the bill to allow for further engagement.

The spokesperson said the veto was exercised "after thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications": "This legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.

"Transgender people deserve our respect, support and understanding. Our decision is about the legislation's consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters."

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