Gender Recognition Reform Bill: UK Government move to block legislation 'wrong approach', says Anas Sarwar
Mr Sarwar also said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer agrees with him on the need for reform and to protect devolution.
Scottish secretary Alister Jack issued an unprecedented section 35 order on Monday evening, blocking Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill from becoming law and sparking a dispute between the UK and Scottish governments.
On Tuesday, Labour MSP Monica Lennon said she was “disappointed” by comments from UK Labour leader Sir Keir, who said he had concerns about the Bill’s provisions for 16-year-olds.
Scottish Labour supported the Bill when it came to a vote at Holyrood last month, though two of its MSPs broke with the whip and opposed it. On Wednesday, Mr Sarwar spoke to journalists about his party’s stance on the issue.
He said: “The people that we have to remember at the heart of this are trans people, who are facing discrimination every single day, and women are concerned with protecting their rights. That’s why we have taken a grown-up approach through this process.
“The good faith way forward here is for us to recognise that there are some concerns, and those concerns are not alleviated by the section 35, which is the wrong approach, which is creating a constitutional fight and also a culture war.”
Mr Sarwar said the “right approach” was for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to produce guidance on how the law can work in a UK framework. Both governments should commit to addressing any concerns identified by the EHRC, he said.
Mr Sarwar said his party had been right to back the legislation at Holyrood, saying Labour had added an amendment that gave “a clear commitment that this Bill does not supersede the Equalities Act”.
Asked about Ms Lennon’s comments, Mr Sarwar said: “How Keir decides what the laws look like in other parts of the UK is absolutely a matter of the UK party. But where there is agreement is around protection of devolution, around reform, around protection of single-sex spaces, and removing the inhumanity of the process of attaining a GRC [gender recognition certificate].”
He said he hoped the dispute between the two governments did not go to court, but added that now looked likely.
Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray also discussed the use of section 35 on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme. He said: “The problem we’ve got at the moment is that both governments are refusing to find a resolution to this, they have been refusing to find a resolution to any of these cross-border problems and therefore we have ended up in a constitutional quagmire.”
Mr Murray also said Sir Keir and Ms Lennon were “perfectly entitled” to their views. He said: “How do we square them? By bringing in an independent body like the Equality and Human Rights Commission, otherwise these arguments will never go away.”
Labour peer Charles Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor, also claimed the UK Government was not justified in its use of section 35.
In a series of tweets, he analysed the legal reasoning published by UK ministers, saying the Bill would result in a few hundred more applications for gender recognition certificates.
Lord Falconer wrote: “The nuclear option of s35 couldn’t reasonably be triggered by the administrative inconvenience (which would be unlikely to apply in most cases) of having special files for 525 people’s benefit records. The Statement of Reasons did not justify the use of s35.”
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