Gender Recognition Act: Devolution row over Scotland's law spills over into Wales

Kier Starmer hasn't said if he agrees with blocking the Scottish legislation, but has said that he has some "concerns" about it. Credit: PA

Welsh Conservatives have welcomed the decision by the UK Government to block the Scottish Government’s plan to reform gender recognition laws despite it being passed by the Scottish Parliament. 

The UK Government’s Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, announced he will use a never-before utilised section of the 1998 Scotland Act to prevent the bill from gaining royal assent.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called it a “full-frontal attack on our democratically-elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters”.

Here in Wales, Mark Drakeford has backed the move and said that his government would seek the same powers to introduce similar legislation.

The Welsh Government’s Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, was also critical of the UK Government’s move, saying “First Minister being clear that we don’t have the powers, but we would like the powers and we would consider how to legislate if we had them.”

He said he thinks that "the trans community are being used as a wedge issue. This is an area where you need more understanding and kindness. And the way this has been approached, is an ideal way to do neither of those things.”

Speaking to reporters at the Welsh Government’s regular press conference, he went on to say that “this is really something that anyone who believes in devolution should be genuinely concerned about.”

But Conservatives in the Senedd have a different view. 

Shadow Constitution minister, Darren Millar, said that “This would not have been an easy decision by the Prime Minister, but it is the right one. 

 “The legislation does not have majority support amongst the public and legitimate concerns by Scottish Conservative colleagues were rejected as this transformative bill was forced through. 

 “We need a UK-wide approach to gender recognition, not a piecemeal one that pits groups against each other and divides communities.”  

Mark Drakeford was asked his view during his weekly question session in the Senedd last week. 

The First Minister's position could put him at odds with his fellow Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer. 

The party's UK leader hasn't said if he agrees with blocking the Scottish legislation but has said that he has some "concerns" about it, stating that 16 was too young an age to consider changing gender.

Conservative MS Laura Anne Jones said “there are obvious, justified concerns” about the Scottish legislation and urged him to “rule out such legislation in Wales.”

Not only would the First Minister rule it out, but he also backed Nicola Sturgeon’s proposals. 

He told Senedd Members: “I have indeed had an opportunity to hear directly from the Scottish First Minister about the passage of that Bill, and it was very thoroughly and very carefully debated through the Scottish Parliament's own procedures. 

“It was supported, in the end, by Members from all political parties in the Scottish Parliament, including Members of the Conservative party, and I just don't accept the characterisation that the Member has made. 

“We will do as I've said, Llywydd: we will seek the powers. If we obtain those powers, we will put them to work here in Wales, and we will put proposals in front of this Welsh Parliament, so that those people seeking gender recognition are able to do so in a way that is not stigmatised and does not involve them having to go through a lengthy medicalised route in order to establish themselves in the way they themselves would wish to see established.”

The UK Government’s Scottish Secretary says he’ll invoke Section 35 of the Scotland Act because the proposed legislation will would have an “adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation”.

He is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons today (Tuesday) about the decision. 

But Shona Robison, the Social Justice Secretary at Holyrood, insisted that Scottish ministers are “very, very confident in our position of this legislation being competent”.

She told the BBC that “We’re very confident it does not impact on UK legislation, and we will take whatever steps we need to ensure the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament is not frustrated.”

She argued that blocking the Bill from gaining royal assent is “the action of an increasing draconian UK Tory Government”, saying: “It is not just this they have done, this is the latest in a string of actions undermining rights, from laws to ban strikes to other areas of people’s rights, to now using one of the most marginalised groups as a political weapon.”