Fresh challenge for Welsh Government’s gender-balanced Senedd plan
The introduction of a Bill to the Scottish Parliament that will end the rights of transgender women to identify as female when applying for public appointments should prompt the Welsh Government to ditch a similar plan relating to membership of the Senedd, according to a campaign group.
The Women’s Rights Network says that by persisting with legislation that would allow transgender women to take seats earmarked for women in a gender-balanced Senedd, the Welsh Government is at risk of squandering large amounts of public money.
The Scottish Government’s legal bid to allow transgender women to self-identify as female was vetoed by the UK Government and Parliament on the grounds that competency in this policy area is reserved to Westminster. This followed an earlier judgement of the Court of Session in Scotland.
The short Bill being introduced to the Scottish Parliament will remove the ability of transgender women to self-identify as female under the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018.
Plans to increase the number of Senedd Members from 60 to 96 and change the electoral system to one that is wholly proportional have already been published in a Draft Bill by the Welsh Government.
But the Bill left out another reform to which both Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru are committed: creating a gender-balanced Senedd by having quotas for male and female candidates.
Instead, the Welsh Government has said that a second Draft Bill covering this aspect will be published before the end of 2023.
Welsh Government sources have told us that drafting the gender balance Bill has posed legal challenges. One of the areas of difficulty relates to the ability of transgender women to self-identify as female when standing as Senedd election candidates. As yet, details of the final draft of the relevant clauses have not been revealed.
Responding to the latest development in Scotland, Cathy Larkman of Wales Women’s Rights Network said: “It’s quite astonishing that the Welsh Government are effectively shutting their eyes and putting their fingers in their ears. They are ignoring how attempts to expand the definition of women in Scotland to include men who wish to self-identify as women have played out legally.
“This wilful disregard will come as no surprise to the women’s groups who have tried time and again, to bring our concerns about women’s sex-based rights to the attention of Welsh Government ministers, but have been roundly ignored. A Government that does not want to hear concerns of the public if they dissent from their own, is not a healthy and accountable one. By expanding the definition of ‘woman’ in legislation for which they did not have the powers, the Scottish Government had sought to include males who identify as women onto public boards, in positions meant to improve opportunities for, and representation for actual women.
“This is all very similar to Welsh Government’s intentions in their Gender Quotas Bill, where they are also attempting to introduce a system of self-ID, at a cost to women and our representation in political life. The Court of Session in Scotland in early 2022 was very clear – the definition of ‘woman’ was outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament in that it related to reserved matters.
“The situation will be the same in Wales, yet they appear determined to ignore that and potentially squander more public money in the courts defending the indefensible. We hope for the sake of Welsh women and the Welsh public generally, that they start listening to their legal advice and step back from this ideologically driven and deeply misogynistic path.”
Asked to respond to the latest piece of legislation in the Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have nothing further to add to our previous line. We are working to introduce a bill to make our parliament more representative of the people it serves, which includes provisions to introduce candidate quotas for people seeking election to the Senedd.
“Our proposed model for quotas is designed to maximise the chances of achieving a Senedd comprised of at least 50% women. Work is ongoing on the Bill.”
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