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Speech: Amendment to the Gender Recognitions Reforms (Scotland) Bill to protect Equality Act 2010

Scottish Labour have sought throughout this process, to focus on the bill and its drafting, and to reject the culture wars that have dominated some of the discussion. Casting trans people as threats or women as bigots is not helpful, what we need is good law and clear guidance, and that’s what I and my party have been working to achieve.

Whilst many concerns relate to issues that are not in the bill, we do understand that some people, including women, are frightened that they will lose some of the rights they have, particularly to single sex services - we know these are rights that they have fought hard for.

Colleagues will know that it is the Equality Act 2010, introduced by the last Labour Government that provides protection from discrimination for women and trans people, and it is our view that nothing in the Gender Recognition Reforms (Scotland) Bill will affect that. In the case of gender reassignment, the protection from discrimination exists whether or not a GRC is in place, and whether or not the person has undergone medical treatment for transition.

The protections in the Equality Act 2010 also allow single sex services, such as Women’s Refuges, to exclude men and trans people in certain circumstances. It is Scottish Labour’s view that the Equality Act is reserved, cannot be altered by devolved legislation, therefore it is our understanding that these protections will and must still apply if this bill passes. This is a matter of great importance for many people concerned about the current reforms, and we recognise the desire for reassurance - that is why I am moving this amendment.

This protection that allows for the operation of single sex spaces works as an exemption to the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex or gender reassignment but only when it is a proportionate response to meeting a legitimate aim. For example, in the case of a women’s single sex service, a trans woman without a GRC could be excluded on the grounds that they are legally a man. A trans woman with a GRC (and therefore legally a woman) could also be excluded but on the grounds that they have reassigned their gender and sex on their birth certificate.

Both of these exemptions are important for the protection and dignity of women accessing such services and must be protected.

That is why we support both reform of the Gender Recognition Act and the continued implementation of protections and provisions within the 2010 Equality Act.

I therefore believe it should be clear in the legislation that nothing in it modifies the protections in the Equality Act. In proposing this amendment I am seeking to ensure that, should it pass, it is clear that parliament believes that the GRA must be considered alongside the Equality Act.

It is also my belief that reading the act in as a whole is crucial because it is the interaction of all schedules in the Equality Act that bring its strength. Only including aspects on sex from the EA could mean that at a later date, it is assumed we did not give importance to gender reassignment, which, when applying the exemptions to single sex spaces, this element could be key for. This is why I believe that my amendment, which focuses on the act in its entirety, affords the best and strongest protection for trans people, and women and all of us, covers the protections in section 11 and 195 as others in this group seek to do, and will carry the confidence of the public.

I will therefore abstain on several other amendments in this grouping that pick out specific sections of the act (and on Jeremy Balfour’s ECHR one for the same reason) – my amendment seeks to cover all of these, without separating them from other aspects of the act. I will also support amendments that are seeking guidance on how the two acts work together. This, I believe, will be crucial for the public to have confidence in the law, and for organisations to be clear about what they can and can’t do.

Convenor, my amendment ensures any future dispute over Parliament’s intention in passing the Gender Recognition Reforms (Scotland) Bill is made clear: each and every protection and provision of the 2010 Equality Act will and must continue to have effect, despite the passage of this Bill.

Convenor, I move the amendment in my name.

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