MSPs halt work on transgender law reforms

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Reforms to the Gender Recognition Act have been halted by the Scottish government as priority is given to tackling the coronavirus crisis.

MSPs are focusing on emergency measures to deal with the pandemic and Holyrood meetings have been cut back.

Government business manager Graeme Dey said this "regrettably" meant that work on many others bills has to be stopped.

This includes work on a tourist tax, Gender Recognition Act reforms and Holyrood's own Brexit legislation.

A Holyrood election is due to be held in 2021 and "no consideration" has been given to delaying it, meaning bills which are put on hold are highly unlikely to become law before the end of the parliamentary term.

The transfer of control over some benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland has also been delayed, as has the latest update to the government's climate change plan.

Ministers had already put the brakes on plans to make it easier for people to change their legally recognised gender, with a fresh consultation on proposals concluding earlier in March.

However the government said it was still "committed" to updating the law so that trans people could get a gender recognition certificate without "unnecessary stress".

The reforms had faced criticism from some quarters, including prominent SNP politicians and some government ministers, over how they could affect women-only services.

The government had been seeking to "build maximum consensus" around the plans.

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image captionProtesters demonstrated outside Holyrood last June calling for reform of the Gender Recognition Act

With the UK in lockdown, MSPs are currently only holding infrequent meetings and are focused on agreeing emergency powers for dealing with the pandemic.

Mr Dey said this means the government would need to "deprioritise" bills which are not "essential in the immediate term".

He said that "some bills are in all probability not going to be restarted" this term, and others will now not be introduced.

Work on legislation to introduce a "tourist tax" has been halted, as have the GRA reforms. Mr Dey said this was an "unavoidable consequence of the focus on efforts to halt the virus".

The government's "continuity" bill - which would seek to keep Scotland in line with various EU rules and regulations post-Brexit - has also been put on hold, although the minister said it may be reactivated should there be no extension to the current transition period.

Plans for the transfer of benefits to Social Security Scotland has also been put on hold, with the introduction of alternative Personal Independence Payments and child disability allowances put off.

The administration of these benefits will remain with the Department of Work and Pensions in the immediacy, with Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville calling the pause "deeply depressing".

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