Rishi Sunak has indicated that he will change the law to protect single sex spaces for women - saying biological sex is “fundamentally important”.
The Prime Minister said his Government is considering advice from the equalities watchdog and is prepared to do what is necessary to bar trans people from women’s changing rooms and sporting competitions.
It follows concerns that current legislation is unclear on the issue and could allow trans women from entering female-only spaces even though they are biologically male.
His intervention comes just days before MPs debate calls to make the 2010 Equality Act clearer on the issue. More than 100,000 have signed a petition demanding reforms.
Campaigners want the Act rewritten to make it clear that when it says people cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, this means biological sex rather than the gender someone identifies as.
But some Tory backbenchers are worried that the Government has gone cold on the idea of changing the law, which could dominate debate in the run-up to the next election.
Speaking on the way to Washington, where he met President Biden, he said he would consider the proposed legal changes.
“I’ve been very clear that when it comes to matters like this, biological sex is fundamentally important,” he said.
“I’ve said that multiple times and with regard to the Equality Act, in particular, the Government has specifically asked for advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on this particular topic, and then obviously, we will review that.
“It’s something I’ve spoken about in the past as being important to me, and we’ve asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission for advice on this particular issue.”
It came as Gillan Keegan, the Education Secretary, said she was looking at new rules to protect single-sex toilets in schools - as well as new guidance on pronouns.
Speaking to reporters at the Tory Northern Research Group conference in Doncaster, she said: “It’s definitely something that we’re looking at. So that will be a big part of the (gender) guidance. And it’s going to be out for consultation before summer recess.”
“It covers it in a way that we take very seriously single-sex spaces.”
She said the guidance would also cover the issue of the use of pronouns in schools.
She added that a separate review of sex and relationships education would consider whether the rules needed toughening up to ensure teachers were not teaching contested views as facts.
During the Tory leadership campaign last year, Mr Sunak said he wanted to ensure the facts of biology are written into the Act.
He said: “I think biology is critically important as we think about some of the very practical functions, like toilets or sports.”
The EHRC advice, published in April, concluded it would be better in most cases to change the word “sex” in the 2010 act to “biological sex”.
It recommended that such a change would “bring legal clarity” in eight areas, including sports and single-sex areas.
At the time, a Downing Street source said he had asked Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister, to take this work forward.
“The Prime Minister remains committed to his campaign pledge,” the source said. “This is a sensitive and complicated issue but the Secretary of State is taking that work forward and he supports her in doing so.”
But no proposals have yet been brought forward. One sticking point is a concern that MPs could seek to add amendments to any laws, giving powers to groups such as menopausal women to claim discrimination.
And since the EHRC advice was brought out, activists at the organisation were accused of trying to force Kishwer Falkner, the chairman, out as part of a “witch-hunt”, although the “coup” failed.
It emerged on Friday that new NHS Confederation guidance says patients may be found guilty of discrimination if they refuse the care of a transgender medic.
The document warns that patients have no right to be told a healthcare worker’s assigned sex at birth. However, transgender health workers can choose not to treat patients if they feel uncomfortable doing so.
The issue of women’s safe spaces will be debated in Westminster Hall on Monday after more than 100,000 people signed a petition in favour of a change in the law.
The group Sex Matters says the change would be the “right way to bring clarity to the law and protect everyone”, including transgender people.
The group says that in most situations covered by the Act, everyone should be treated equally, including people identifying as transgender.
But it points out the legislation includes specific provisions to allow single-sex only spaces, including in schools and colleges, services and charities, as well as jobs that can only be carried out by a woman or a man.
A spokesman for Sex Matters said: “The question for the debate is whether the law should be made clearer, so as to establish beyond doubt that a Gender Recognition Certificate does not redefine the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ in the Equality Act, or change a person’s sex in relation to sex discrimination.
“This would make clear that having a certificate does not give male people the right to compete in women’s sports, or to undress or shower with women and girls, or to be employed in a job that involves intimate contact with women (such as where a teacher, doctor, nurse, police officer or prison guard carries out private examinations or searches).
“As the poll shows, fewer than a third of people think that trans inclusion should include overstepping these boundaries.”