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Alister Jack justifies gender reforms bill block in letter to Holyrood committee

Alister Jack <i>(Image: PA)</i>
Alister Jack (Image: PA)

Alister Jack has handed over written evidence to a Holyrood committee on Scotland’s gender recognition reforms despite telling the committee he will not appear in person.

Mr Jack told Holyrood’s Equalities Committee and Constitution Committee that he could not appear to give evidence on his decision to block the legislation because he did not want to prejudice any potential court proceedings.

The gender recognition reforms, overwhelmingly backed by MSPs, would mean transgender people would not require a gender dysphoria diagnosis to obtain a gender recognition certificate with a move to a system of self-ID.

Read more: Herald View: Alister Jack's action threatens future of devolution

But Mr Jack has used a section 35 order of the Scotland Act to block the legislation from becoming law, claiming it impacts UK-wide laws such as the Equality Act.

He has also raised concerns about two systems running in parallel, despite the matter being devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

In written evidence to MSPs, Mr Jack suggested that the legislation “would make modifications of the law as it applies to reserved matters and would have an adverse effect on, amongst other things, the operation of GB-wide equality law”.

He added: “Those adverse effects include impacts on the operation of single-sex clubs, associations and schools, protections such as equal pay, and chilling effects on single-sex services.”

Read more: Alister Jack snubs Holyrood committee over gender reforms block

The committee had asked for clarity over why he has invoked section 35 for the first time in the history of devolution, instead of a section 33 order that would suggest the matter is outwith devolved competence.

Mr Jack said: “When it created the framework for the Scottish Parliament’s legislative powers, the UK Parliament recognised that there might be circumstances in which legislation which was within legislative competence might nonetheless cause problems for reserved matters which were sufficiently serious to warrant intervention.”

The minister insisted that he would “fully respect the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate within its competence”.

But he added: “However, neither I nor the UK Government can ignore the adverse effects of the GRR Bill for reserved matters, particularly on the operation of GB-wide equalities legislation.

Read more: Shona Robison blasts Alister Jack's 'flat refusal to engage' over GRR

“I also set out that it is for the Scottish Government to bring forward a bill that addresses the adverse effects as set out in the Statement of Reasons. The Scotland Act 1998 specifically provides for a reconsideration stage in the Scottish Parliament for these circumstances.

“I noted that the Scottish Government would need to address the adverse effects on the operation of reserved law in order to bring forward a revised Bill.

“Should the Scottish Government do so, I have set out that I am content for my officials, and officials in the Office of the Advocate General, to provide a view on a revised bill ahead of it going to the Scottish Parliament.

“This would be without prejudice to the formal processes contained in the Scotland Act 1998 following a Bill’s completion of its passage through the Scottish Parliament.”