KATE Forbes has refused to say if she will support her Government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act amid reports some SNP MSPs want to avoid punishment if they break the party whip.

The Finance and Economy Secretary was pressed ahead of the SNP Government tabling the long-awaited legislation at Holyrood on Thursday.

Ms Forbes, who is seen as a potential successor to Nicola Sturgeon, said that whether a free vote is allowed on the legislation was a matter for the SNP group of MSPs, but acknowledged her duties of collective responsibility as party of the Scottish Government – meaning she would be expected to back the administration’s plans.

The senior minister has called for “constructive, respectful debate” when the Scottish Government attempts to make it easier for trans people to legally change their gender.

But she refused to say whether she would support her Government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act.

Ms Forbes expressed dismay about the discourse over the plans to simplify how to obtain a gender recognition certificate, with vocal opposition from some campaigners about the proposals.

Changing the legislation “at the earliest opportunity” was an SNP manifesto pledge at last year’s election, with similar policies set out by Scottish Labour, the Scottish Greens and Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The Scottish Government’s equalities minister Shona Robison is due to introduce the proposed Bill at Holyrood on Thursday, following two public consultations.

The draft Gender Recognition Bill plans to reduce to six months the time it takes for transgender people to get a certificate recognising their gender.

Applicants would first have to live as their acquired gender for a minimum of three months before seeking a gender recognition certificate, with a further three-month period of “reflection” being required before this can be confirmed.

The reforms also seek to reduce the age at which someone can apply for a gender recognition certificate from 18 to 16.

Speaking to the PA news agency in Dundee, Ms Forbes said: “I think it’s important that the Bill is introduced to Parliament, that Shona Robison is able to deliver her ministerial statement and then that parliamentary scrutiny takes its course.

“I am very conscious that I’ve said a number of things over the last few months, largely about the nature of the debate.

“My plea would be for a constructive, respectful debate when it’s introduced.

“We haven’t seen that to date and my hope would be that we allow for an opportunity to debate it.

“Because we know that on one hand, right now the gender recognition process is very invasive, it’s very onerous.

“On the other hand, we know that we need to protect women’s rights.

“There is a way forward, but that way forward can only be achieved if all sides are willing to respect one another in the debate.”

Asked about reports of MSPs calling for a free vote on the subject, Ms Forbes added: “Any questions about a vote are for the group, but I’m also very conscious of my duties when it comes to collective responsibility as a member of the Government.”