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Gender Neutral Drafting

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 8 March 2007

For many years the drafting of primary legislation has relied on section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1978, under which words referring to the masculine gender include the feminine. In practice this means that male pronouns are used on their own in contexts where a reference to women and men is intended, and also that words such as chairman are used for offices capable of being held by either gender. Many believe that this practice tends to reinforce historic gender stereotypes and presents an obstacle to clearer understanding for those unfamiliar with the convention.

I have worked with colleagues in Government to secure agreement, that it would be right, where practicable, to avoid this practice in future and, accordingly, Parliamentary Counsel has been asked to adopt gender-neutral drafting.

From the beginning of next Session, Government Bills will take a form which achieves gender-neutral drafting so far as it is practicable, at no more than a reasonable cost to brevity or intelligibility. This policy already applies to tax law rewrite Bills and is consistent with the practice in many other jurisdictions in the English-speaking world.

The Government recognise that, in practice, Parliamentary Counsel will need to adopt a flexible approach to this change (for example, in at least some of the cases where existing legislation originally drafted in the former style is being amended).

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) for raising this matter with me.