Good morning. Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, is one of the least known and most powerless members of the cabinet. The Scottish government largely decides how public services are delivered in Scotland, and where the UK government is in overall charge, it is generally another cabinet minister, not Jack. But today he finds himself at the centre of an unprecedented row between Westminster and Holyrood, because he is the minister who has to issue the section 35 order that the UK government is using to block the Scottish government’s gender recognition reform bill. It is the first time a section 35 order has been issued since devolution started almost a quarter of a century ago.
Jack issued a statement about this last night, but he is expected to face questions from MPs when he delivers a statement to the Commons later. Here is our overnight story.
Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, was doing the morning interview round today. One of the objections to the Scottish bill is that it will allow people to start the process of changing gender from the age of 16 and, when asked if she thought this was too young on Sky News, she did not agree. She replied:
No, I don’t actually [think 16 is too young]. I was working at 16, I was paying tax at 16, I was making decisions for myself at 16.
This made her sound more liberal on this than Keir Starmer, who yesterday said he thought 16 was too young.
But, by the time she appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, perhaps realising that her initial answer put her at odds with her Tory colleagues, she said that for some people, 16 might be too young. Asked about her answer earlier on Sky, she said:
I said ‘Look, you know, at 16, I was working, I was paying tax’, but all 16-year-olds are different.
Obviously, everybody has a different view. It’s really, really important that we take into account parents’ views, teachers’ views, children’s views, and other stakeholders’ views as well because it is quite tricky.
But what I said was, you know, for me, myself, I felt able to take decisions for myself at 16. But… I’d grown up quite quickly and I was actually working full-time at 16.
Keegan also said that the government was right to intervene, and that the section 35 process was included in the Scotland Act precisely for circumstances like this. She said:
The secretary of state for Scotland has used this power because we can’t have two competing gender and equality legislations.
So we need to look at that and need to work out what to do, and he’ll be setting out and making a statement later on today in parliament.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.
11.30am: Grant Shapps, the business secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
11.30am: Downing Street holds its lobby briefing.
12pm: Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, speaks at an Institute for Government conference. Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westminster, and Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, are also speaking.
After 12.30pm: Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, is expected to make a statement to MPs about the government’s decision to block Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill.
Afternoon: MPs debate the remaining stages of the online safety bill. Ministers will confirm that, in response to a potential revolt by Tory MPs, they will accept an amendment that could see social media executives facing jail if they persistently fail to protect children.
I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org