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18 December 2023   |    Letters

Letter in the National, 18th December 2023

We had this letter in the National newspaper, on 18th December 2023:

Joanna Cherry wrote in her column (Alister Jack’s gender reform block was no attack on devolution, Dec 15) that parliamentary committees should hear evidence from all sides of the debate when considering a bill. I completely agree. That’s what the Equalities Committee did with the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, hearing from a wide range of witnesses, including supporters and opponents of the bill.

Alister Jack did not do that before vetoing the bill. Most of the submissions he considered were from opponents. In her judgement on the use of Section 35, Lady Haldane ruled that there was no obligation on Mr Jack to consider balanced evidence. She noted: “The time frame did not permit an extensive information gathering exercise as had been carried out by the Scottish Parliament before the introduction of the bill.”

Joanna Cherry wrote that Lady Haldane found that Jack’s decision was “perfectly rational”. Lady Haldane did not in fact use those words. She did however note of his decision: “Others may have reached a different conclusion on the same material. This is plainly a situation where another decision might have been made with equal propriety.”

The bar set here is low. To pass a bill requires taking a full range of evidence and then careful consideration and public debate on the range of possible responses. To veto the same bill requires neither of those things.

Liberal democracies around the world have introduced legislation similar to the GRR Bill. The Conservative UK Government under Theresa May committed to do so for England. It was the lurch to the right under Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak that resulted in a change of policy, which has now been imposed here too.

Tim Hopkins

Director, Equality Network

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