MSPs say concerns raised about changes to gender act are ‘misleading’

Four members of Holyrood’s equalities committee have written a rebuke to their convener for actions which they say could “undermine confidence” in their work.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton, Conservatives Oliver Mundell and Annie Wells, and Scottish Labour’s Mary Fee, have said that concerns about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act raised by SNP MSP Ruth Maguire, were “misleading”.

They added that a public letter signed by Ms Maguire on the matter of women’s and transpeople’s rights, had been “received with concern by stakeholders in the LGBTI community and that has the potential to undermine their confidence in the wider work of our committee.”

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Earlier this week The Scotsman published a letter signed by 15 leading SNP politicians, including three government ministers and Ms Maguire, which said “conflating sex with gender identification affects a wide range of policy and service delivery, including data collection, education, health and social care, justice and sport. New information about this topic is emerging all the time and deserves to be properly scrutinised”.

Alex Cole Hamilton. Picture: Greg Macvean

It added: “Changing the definition of male and female is a matter of profound significance. It is not something we should rush.”

In response, the statement from her committee members’ says: “Ours represents the majority view of the committee and is offered in good faith and a shared desire to remove hostility from the debate and to foster a neutral space in which all arguments can be respectfully heard.”

They add: “We would respectfully point out that UK legislation already uses sex and gender interchangeably as terms in law. As such, we would argue that an imperative exists to update and modify gender recognition legislation to provide greater clarity and certainty around rights and protections.”

And they say that in terms of changing definitions: “This subject is undoubtedly a matter of profound significance, but we would suggest such language is misleading, given that proposals for reform of gender recognition legislation do not propose to change the meaning of the terms male or female.

“We would also argue that the current process of legal recognition of gender is harming vulnerable people right now and as such, attempts to provide greater clarity and inclusivity should not be forestalled.

“Naturally, we will all hold our own points of view on any given subject, but we also have a duty as committee members to help foster a respectful and neutral space in which all sides of any argument can be heard. That includes allowing the debate to proceed in the first place.

“Finally, our committee must seek to advance the rights and interests of all equalities groups and protected characteristics without preference or favour and we council our convener to proceed with caution in this matter. The open letter to which she is a signatory has been received with concern by stakeholders in the LGBTI community and that has the potential to undermine their confidence in the wider work of our committee.”

Speaking to The Scotsman Mr Cole-Hamilton said that while Ms Maguire was entitled to her own point of view but that as a committee “we also have a duty to create a safe and neutral space where any subject can be interrogated in an atmosphere of respect, and the leadership of the committee - Ruth and I - have a duty to set the tone.”

Asked if he believes sex and gender are interchangeable, he said: “They are already conflated within a lot of legislation which has been unhelpful for vulnerable people. We need to iron out the mess. I don’t want to pre-empt that debate.”

He added: “I have been under pressure to ask her to resign - from journalists - but I respect her as convener and will serve under her but she needs to advance with caution”.
James Morton, Scottish Trans Alliance Manager, said the committee statement upheld trans equality and “clarified that the proposed Gender Recognition Act reform would not alter the legal definitions of male and female. We look forward to engaging with the committee as they apply fair and accurate scrutiny of the reform.”

Ms Maguire said: “I welcome the committee members’ calm and measured statement.”