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‘Gender balance’ Bill breaks UK law, women’s group tells Senedd

24 Apr 2024 5 minute read
The Senedd siambr during plenary

Martin Shipton

Representatives of a gender critical women’s group have told MSs that a Welsh Government Bill aimed at achieving a gender balanced Senedd is in breach of UK law.

As part of its Cooperation Agreement with Plaid Cymru, the government is proposing to expand the number of MSs from 60 to 96 and change the system of electing Senedd Members to one based on multi-member super-constituencies and “closed lists” – where parties decide the order in which its candidates can be elected.

A separate Bill proposes to force parties to select equal numbers of male and female candidates and to allow any candidate to identify as a woman if they decide to do so.

Presiding Officer Elin Jones has received legal advice that the second Bill does not comply with equality legislation, but the Welsh Government is pressing ahead with it, maintaining that it is lawful.

Supreme Court

In a paper to the Senedd committee which is scrutinising both Bills, the Women’s Rights Network (WRN) Cymru stated: “The direction of travel for this Bill is towards the Supreme Court.

“There is dispute around the legislative competence of the Welsh Government to implement this Bill. The Llywydd [Presiding Officer] has stated her opinion based on legal advice that the necessary legislative competence is lacking. The scrutiny committee headed by David Rees makes the same point.

“The definition of a person as a woman or not-a-woman based on a ‘gender statement’ does not align with the definition of a woman in the Equality Act 2010, nor with the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The For Women Scotland ruling [on the legal definition of a woman] published in February 2024 confirms that this is a reserved matter [to Westminster].

“To carry out positive action on behalf of any protected characteristic, it must be shown to be a proportionate means to a legitimate aim. No such case has been made. Action to remove the challenges faced by women or implementation of voluntary shortlists, for example, would be more proportionate.

“It has not been demonstrated that women are being treated unfairly. Nor that having more than 50% women elected is proportionate or would achieve the desired outcome (of a more accountable and effective Senedd).

“The Government of Wales Act Equal Opportunities provision does not permit regulation for equal opportunities; requires Equal Opportunity provisions to comply with the Equality Act 2010; requires provision to be based on the Equality Act 2010 Protected Characteristics (gender is not a Protected Characteristic).”

Structural barriers

Cathy Larkman, Wales lead for WRN Cymru, told the committee: “We do not believe these gender quotas will work to improve the position of women in Wales. One of the reasons would be that, aside from the legality issues, this Bill will do nothing to remove the structural barriers that women face in Wales.

“There are many competent and capable women out there. We believe that women deserve a seat at the table. We believe women should be represented in political life, and have fair opportunity as well to be able to represent themselves and the nation.

“We don’t believe that this Bill, as drafted, will do that. In the last sentence 22.3% of women in Wales stated they were disabled. In Wales we have over 180,000 unpaid female carers. Some 46% of households living in poverty are lone parent households, and overwhelmingly the lone parent is female.

“Those women will not be helped. This bill will do nothing to remove the structural barriers facing those women. But it will help the women who either don’t have those barriers, or have already managed to overcome them, to be prioritised.”


After the meeting Ms Larkman, a retired police superintendent with South Wales Police, said: “We are pleased to have been given the opportunity to address the Senedd Reform Bill committee on the intention of the Welsh Government to introduce ‘gender quotas’ via their Electoral Candidates Lists Bill.

“We would very much like to see more women in Wales empowered to stand for political office. We recognise that there is a wealth of talent among women that is currently untapped, and that more must be done to ensure that these women have the confidence to come forward and that they will receive support. However, legislation to improve political representation must be legal and must comply with the Equality Act.

“It is deeply concerning that this Bill would actually permit men to make a ‘gender statement’ that they are a woman, in order to take advantage of the priority it would afford them on electoral lists. In addition, there would be no scrutiny of such statements and no sanction for making a false declaration.

“This legislation must therefore comply with the Equality Act 2010. A woman is a female of any age and self identification is not the law in the UK.

“We trust that our evidence has assisted the committee today and that this will be an important first step in ensuring that a greater breadth of women’s voices are heard.”

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1 month ago

What is XY and YY chromosomes?

The 23rd pair of chromosomes are known as the sex chromosomes, because they decide if you will be born male or female. Females have two X chromosomes, while males have one X and one Y chromosome. The Superman syndrome occurs when males receive an extra Y chromosome at conception, creating an XYY combination.27 May 2023

Mary Adams
Mary Adams
1 month ago

In respect of the closed list ballot sheets, this is blatantly non democratic and aims to provide Welsh Labour with complete Party control.
In respect of the gender equality bill, as a lawyer Gething knows very well this is a reserved matter and the Senedd does not have the authority to pass it. It is grandstanding and will use money in legal costs that could be better spent on services for people

1 month ago

At this point, if any law recognises trans people exists, the gender critical groups are going to challenge it regardless of the merit of the law.

1 month ago

This bill is a complete and utter waste of time. When I vote for my candidate I do so on whoever is best to represent my views. I couldn’t care less if they were male, female, or whatever they identify as. Gender quotas are an affront to democracy, for goodness sake, drop the bill.

1 month ago

It’s not a bill that is needed. It’s the toxic legacy of politics and the hours they work that needs to change. You will get a much more balance of MS’s if it appeals to a wider range of peoples work/life balance.

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