No immediate plans to protect women, Minister confirms

14 June 2023

The government has confirmed there are no immediate plans to amend the equality law to protect children, women’s sports and single-sex spaces.

The Minister for Women’s Health, Maria Caulfield, revealed that amendments to the Equality Act 2010 are being considered but warned that it would “take time” before any final decision was made.

“What we don’t want to do is to create additional problems by changing or clarifying the Equality Act that are unforeseen,” Ms Caulfield said.

Her comments were made during a Westminster Hall debate on whether a change in law was needed.

On Monday, MPs debated two petitions concerning how sex is defined under the Equality Act 2010; one that sought to redefine it as biological sex, and another that opposed such a change.

In response to both petitions, the government initially told signatories in January that “appropriate checks” were already in place and “changes to the Equality Act are not necessary”.

However, the Prime Minister must have remembered his leadership pledge to review the Equality Act which he said had allowed “woke nonsense to permeate public life” and said legislation should “block biological men from competing in women’s sport”.

Just one month later, in February, the government wrote to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to ask for its consideration about whether the definition of sex is “sufficiently clear and strikes the appropriate balance of interests between different protected characteristics”.

The body responded on 4 April stating that the overall conversation on amending the definition warranted further discussion.

MPs in favour of ‘necessary’ change

During Monday’s debate, a majority of Conservative MPs argued that a change in law was necessary to better protect women and girls.

Among them was Miriam Cates who expressed dismay that “aggressive misogynistic trans activism” has meant “women are frightened to go to hospital”, “men fear for the safety of their daughters in public toilets” and “children are subjected to a psychological experiment which they are told they can choose their gender”.

Calling for the law to be clarified to better protect these people, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge said: “There is nothing more destabilising to society than to dismantle the legal, social and cultural guardrails that protect women and children by pretending that males become females and vice versa, and allowing that to creep into our law.”

Ranil Jayawardena, the Conservative MP for North East Hampshire, urged MPs to grasp the opportunity to “protect children and uphold women’s rights”.

Expressing concern for his two young daughters, he brought fresh attention to a Policy Exchange report that had found that almost 1 in 5 schools in the UK no longer have single-sex changing rooms and a 28% no longer maintain single-sex lavatories.

He added: “The legal definition of sex matters in so many areas of life: schools, sports, health, crime and prisons. I want the rules of our society to be safe, clear and fair, for my daughters as much as for women and girls across Britain.”

Andrew Lewer, the Conservative MP for Northampton South, highlighted how a lack of clarity in the law has led to concerning new guidance from the NHS which states that patients have “no right to be told that the person treating them is trans or non-binary”, and that if a woman refuses treatment from a ‘transwoman’ they should be warned that “any further intolerant behaviour may result in discharge from the medical practice”. 

Meanwhile, Conservative MPs Sir Peter Bottomley and Nick Fletcher expressed concern for women’s sport noting that men have started taking the places of women on podiums across many different sports.

Diverse opinions among Labour MPs

Views from Labour MPs were more diverse.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities in the UK, Annelise Dodds, said the opposition would “respond accordingly” when the government set out its proposals.

She added that while the Labour Party “supports the protection of certain spaces that are for biological women such as refuges”, the next Labour government “will put equality at the heart of their policies and break new ground for women and for LGBT+ people”.

Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said that “the status quo is not working” and called for single-sex spaces to be protected.

Labour MP Rosie Duffield, who has faced “horrible abuse” for standing up for women’s rights – even from within her own party, agreed that it was now time to “offer clarity on the law”. The MP for Canterbury has said she’ll continue to speak out, “death threats or not”, and revealed that many of her constituents and other members of the general public had thanked her for her bravery in supporting women’s rights at a time when they were scared to do so.

Sadly, Jess Phillips and Rosie Duffield were in the minority of Labour MPs with Olivia Blake, Luke Pollard, Dame Angela Eagle, Dame Nia Giffith and Lloyd Russell-Moyle all warning that any amendment to the Equality Act 2010 would damage transgender ‘rights’.

You can read the full official transcription of the debate on Hansard.

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