Politicians must be careful in how they speak about trans people to prevent them being “targeted in an inappropriate way”, a minister has said.

Minister for women and MP for Lewes Maria Caulfield urged MPs to be mindful of their language as they debated a petition from 110,000 people calling for the Equality Act to be clarified so the terms “man” and “woman” legally mean biological sex and not “sex as modified by a Gender Recognition Certificate”.

It was considered alongside a rival petition, which has almost 139,000 signatures, and says the proposed change would “remove legal protections for trans people, an already marginalised group”.

Ms Caulfield told the Westminster Hall debate: “We do have to be careful that we are making assumptions that one of the reasons that women want single sex space is because they feel of a predatory nature of trans people.

“That isn’t the case. For the vast majority of women, they just want to be with other women.

“But we do need to be mindful of our language and tone so that trans communities do not feel they are being given labels or targeted in an inappropriate way.”

Earlier in the debate, Conservative MP Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) said: “Whilst academic elites cave into aggressive misogynistic trans activism, ordinary women are frightened to go to hospital. Ordinary men fear for the safety of their daughters in public toilets.

“Ordinary children are subjected to a psychological experiment which they are told they can choose their gender, and ordinary toddlers are used to satisfy the sexual fetish of adult men dressed as eroticised women.

“Understanding the difference between male and female underpins society, safety and security. We must clarify the Equality Act to give ordinary people the certainty that our laws can be trusted to protect women and children, and that sex means sex.”

SNP MP Hannah Bardell responded: “I feel it incumbent upon me to make a point of order on the fact that trans people are being characterised as predators.

“That is deeply undemocratic and deeply worrying in this debate, and that is not what this debate is about, and for the Member to be using language like that and terms like that is unparliamentary.”

But Ms Cates replied: “I was making the point that the vast majority of sexual predation happens by men of women and children, and those are the rules that society has evolved to protect against.”

Ahead of the debate, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said biological sex is “fundamentally important”, but Ms Caulfield said the government had not yet finished considering whether to make changes to the Equality Act.

After being asked to investigate changes to the Act, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in April said that while it found “no straightforward balance”, the change could bring “greater legal clarity” in eight areas including hospital wards and sport.

Ms Caulfield told MPs said: “I know that members in this chamber today will be eager to hear updates and reassurances and the timeline around our next steps, but these issues under discussion today are complex and we need to be proceeding carefully and respectfully, because as we have heard in the chamber there are a wide number of people who would be affected by any change.


“I hope that members will agree it is only right and proper that we take timely consideration of the advice that we have been given before coming to any conclusions.”

Conservative former minister Tim Loughton gave his backing to calls for the Act to be amended, claiming it was about “clarification, not change”.

He said: “There is currently confusion about how the Equality Act operates in relation to sex that is jeopardising provision of single sex and separate sex services allowed for by the act.”

On sport, he said: “It’s not fair on women and girls who’ve spent years training in their sport only to have it snatched away by competing against somebody who is biologically different.”

Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown Lloyd Russell-Moyle backed calls to leave the Act as it is.

He said: “People are complex and that’s why flexibility in the law, the current law as it stands, is important.

“Actually, by defining it too much, what you suddenly do is assume that everyone lives in these easy binary boxes.”