EQUALITIES minister Kemi Badenoch has rejected claims the UK’s Government decision to veto Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill was based on “public opinion.”

Giving evidence to Westminster’s Equalities committee, the Tory minister said it had been purely because of “legal necessity.”

However, she also said public opinion was "on the side of the UK Government."

Last month, for the first time in devolution, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack made an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act to stop the legislation from receiving royal assent.

The Bill - passed by MSPs just before Christmas - simplifies the process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate by removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

It also reduces the length of time someone would need to live in their acquired gender from two years to less than 12 months, and lowers the minimum age for applications from 18 to 16. 

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In his statement of reasons, Mr Jack warned it would impact the UK-wide Equality Act, and create "two parallel and very different regimes" for issuing and interpreting Gender Recognition Certificates.

During the committee hearing, Ms Badenoch, who is both Secretary of State for International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities, was asked by Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy what attempts had been made to “avoid reaching a point where Section 35 had to be triggered.”

The minister told MPs: “Well, we had conversations with Scottish ministers. But the template of interaction when Bills are going through is that we in Westminster don't interfere. 

“So there's a limited scope for how much you can do without getting in the way. We believe in devolution. 

“And we could see that there were very clear attempts from within the Scottish Parliament, across all parties, to try and look at issues that were raised about the Bill and how it would impact the general UK settlement on the Gender Recognition Act. And that should have been sufficient. 

“We saw many amendments which would have been quite helpful all rejected. 

“And I had a call with Shona Robinson. I know the Secretary of State for Scotland also had calls with his counterparts, where we expressed concerns about policy in general terms.

“But in terms of trying to intervene to stop it getting to a Section 35, that is the responsibility for the Scottish Government, not for us.”

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Asked if she had discussed with the Scottish Government “how they could move forward,” the minister said the threat of legal action meant it was “up to them to reach out and we haven't had any representations on looking at the Bill.” 

“If they want to amend the Bill, they've got plenty of time. There's no time limit to that. I think if they want to challenge the Section 35 there is a time limit. 

“But in terms of amending the Bill, I think that the debate around this issue has been extensive enough that they will know what needs to be done. 
“And that's really making sure that the safeguarding elements, especially as the impact on the Equality Act, which they do, as we put that in the statement of reasons, that those issues are addressed.”

Ms Badenoch rejected the Labour MP’s question that triggering Section 35 had “undermined the Scottish Government's autonomy to draft legislation on LGBTQ plus issues.”

“The Section 35 is part of the Scotland Act. So it was something that was devised along with Scottish Members of Parliament across all parties. It's part of the devolution settlement. 

“And it is a break that's never been used before. This was quite a significant intervention. 

“But it's been clear since that intervention that the public opinion is on the side of the UK Government, not the Scottish Government.”

Asked how she was measuring that, Ms Badenoch said it was “pretty obvious.” 

“There have been surveys, there have been, I think, as we can see from even the reactions that they're having during their leadership contest -  which I won't go into, that's not my business - but it is very evident that public opinion is on the side of the UK Government.

“And I think it will become more evident whether we see a challenge to the Section 35 or not.”

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Asked if the Section 35 had been driven by that public opinion, Ms Badenoch said no. 

“It should be driven by legal necessity. Of course, it should be. The justification for Section 35 was not public opinion.” 

A recent poll by Lord Ashcroft found that most Scots oppose the gender recognition reform law, with even a quarter of SNP voters backing Westminster’s decision to veto it.

Last month, Nicola Sturgeon's office said any decision on a legal challenge to the Section 35 would be a matter for the next first minister.

Of the three candidates gunning for the top job, only Humza Yousaf has committed to pushing ahead with the judicial review. Both Kate Forbes and Ash Regan have distanced themselves from the court action.