MSPs debating the introduction of new questions to the 2021 Census unanimously agreed changes which would ensure there was no “perceived conflation of sex and gender”.
Government minister Fiona Hyslop told the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee which has been dealing with the Bill, that her amendments would give “transgender matters” an entry which could be filled out on a purely voluntary basis.
The Bill will also, for the first time, have a voluntary question on sexual orientation.
Ms Hyslop said: “I committed to bring forward these amendments to address the issue of the perceived conflation of sex and gender.
“Officials have engaged with stakeholders in developing the amendments and the National Records of Scotland has worked with the Equality Network and others, including women's groups who responded to the Committee’s call for evidence, and no issues were raised, there was only support.
“The question on transgender status and history is voluntary and it is vital that nobody feels in any way compelled to answer the question. It is right it should be voluntary and that means there is no penalty in not answering.”
The amendments now mean that the Bill’s title reads that it is “An Act of the Scottish Parliament to amend the Census Act 1920 to enable particulars about trans status and history and sexual orientation to be gathered voluntarily.”
Vice-convener of the Committee, Scottish Labour’s Claire Baker, said the amendments were welcome as they reflected “the wider debate by the Committee and provide necessary clarity.”
Ms Hyslop added: “The amendment will allow the focus of the Bill to be achieved. There’s currently limited evidence on the experiences of transgender people in Scotland and currently no fully tested question with which to collect information.
“The Bill does not determine the text of the voluntary questions but paves the way for them and allows for them to be voluntary. The Census will be taking a leading role gathering evidence to provide support and protection for Scotland’s transgender population.”
Scottish Conservative Jamie Green raised concern about the guidance issued with the Census. He said: “We took a lot of evidence around this and the confusion over previous guidance.
“We don’t know the wording of the questions yet but I feel it’s important that there’s explicit guidance given it’s clear what particulars are required and how people should answer the questions, which arose around conflation of sex and gender. We need to ensure that guidance is clear for those to whom the changes in the census affects.”
Ms Hyslop assured him that the guidance would be “very clear” and that the National Records of Scotland had been developing plans to “embed the word voluntary” into the text of the questions.
Speaking after the Committee, SNP convener Joan McAlpine said: "The Bill is now amended to address concerns that it appeared to conflate sex with gender identity. This is an important and welcome change made in response to the Committee's recommendations.
"The wording of any questions will not be determined until after the Bill is passed. However I would expect any questions on the census to adhere to the principle that sex and gender identity should be kept completely separate."
The Bill will be debated in Parliament again later this year.