Thank you Presiding Officer.
Trans rights are human rights, they are inalienable, indivisible, and interdependent. Human rights are our rights not because we are women, or trans, or gay, or disabled, or black, but because we are human, and society and parliament have a legal obligation to uphold them.
For trans people, being recognised in law for who you are is fundamental to this.
In committee and throughout my equality and human rights campaigning, I have heard, and I am in no doubt, that the process to do this is de-humanising, intrusive, offensive, expensive and lengthy and needs to change.
I and Scottish Labour will therefore be voting for this bill at stage one today. We have always been at the forefront of equality and human rights and we will always defend and protect them.
Taking unnecessary and unhelpful medical requirements out of the process and replacing it with something that is dignified, more accessible, administrative in nature and delivers a process in which both trans people and the wider public can have confidence, is not just long overdue or compliant with international best practise, it is essential for a society that believes in equality and human rights and it is the right thing to do.
As the Bill proceeds Scottish Labour will seek to ensure the new arrangements for the application and administration of GRCs does that. We believe that to ensure this, there are a number of areas where the legislation can be improved, including on the process the Registrar General will put in place to apply for a GRC, the provisions around age, on signposting to support and information and on the data collected about GRCs and as is the duty upon all of us a legislatures, we stand ready to scrutinise the bill and do that.
But before I turn to the detail, I want to say a word about the conversation so far.
It is my view that, delays to the legislation have allowed a vacuum to develop and people to interpret the bill as something that it is not, to reach wrong or unproven conclusions about what its impacts may be. This has made conversations around it very difficult, and at times, hurtful and damaging.
I also know that there are people, including some women, who have concerns about the impact of the bill, and specifically on the protection of single sex services.
As a disabled woman I know that all rights, are hard fought and hard won. And so I understand the strength of feeling, and I understand why people need strong assurance that their rights will be protected.
It is essential that everyone’s rights are protected.
In all the evidence I have heard (and that is a lot) it is clear to me that women’s and trans rights can, must and do already exist without one causing detriment to the other. Mostly because people respect one and other, but also because the protections in the Equality Act make that so.
Labour introduced that act, and it rightly protects both women and trans people from discrimination.
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. As this bill progresses, Scottish Labour believe it should be clear in the legislation that nothing in it affects the protections in the Equality Act. We will bring an amendment to the bill at Stage 2 to do that and following the positive conversations I’ve had with the Cabinet Secretary, I’d be grateful if she indicate the Government’s support this for this in closing.
I and my party are committed to reform, but we all need organisations to be empowered to do the right thing, and everyone to be able to enjoy their rights equally and in peace. That needs leadership and clarity. This would help bring that and I ask the Government to work with us on this, and indeed on the other areas of the bill we believe it should be strengthened and improved.
As it stands, the bill sets out who can apply for a GRC, but not how. There is no detail on what the application to the Registrar General will look like, the information the Registrar General will require in an application, nor what information they will give applicants who apply. The use of the term ‘acquired gender,’ in section 4 is unclear and does not recognise that the steps prior to seeking legal recognition will have been long and well thought out, the same is true of ‘reflection period’ introduced by section 3, and I know that many trans people find this deeply offensive. Beyond the terminology, this area of the process and the length of these periods are considered by many, to be arbitrary. Clarity on the rationale for that from the Scottish Government would be welcome.
We note that the government have said that the National Records of Scotland should draft guidance on the process, but we’d like to see more detail. We’d also like clarity around the regulatory powers introduced by section 11 that allow the Registrar General to request additional evidence. Specifically on that point, we seek reassurance that medicalisation cannot be-reintroduced to the process.
We also have concerns about the limitations of the term ‘ordinarily resident,’ in section 2 which may exclude refugees and asylum seekers from the process. I do not believe this would be fair. We note the comments on this in the government’s response to the committee report and we’d like the opportunity to discuss this further.
Too often trans people wait years for services or support, information they need is rarely available and they can be left isolated. Whilst we note the government has referred to guidance in it’s response to the committee report, we believe that it should take the opportunity in this legislation to include in the bill clear obligations for signposting to support and information for applicants.
Lastly, there are also concerns around the low-level data collection requirements set out in Section 15. Knowing the impacts of this bill – positive, negative and neutral – is essential. As is stands, the data collection and reporting mechanisms outlined are not comprehensive enough to allow for proper evaluation of the impacts of the legislation and should be strengthened.
Presiding officer, trans people have already been waiting far too long for these changes, they deserve nothing less than good legislation that allows them to be recognised for who they are. Scottish Labour are determined to ensure we get just that, to scrutinise this legislation to ensure it meets its objectives and delivers the change trans people need and deserve.