Conversion therapy bill fails to pass

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

A bill proposing a ban on so-called conversion therapy failed to pass in the House of Commons on Friday after it ran out of time. 

A number of MPs stood up to speak during the debate on Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle's Private Member's Bill, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman who said she feared she would be criminalised for teaching her children that "a man cannot be a woman" and "a boy cannot be a girl". 

Neale Hanvey, Alba Party MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said that the ban proposed in the bill would have a "pernicious" effect on family life and that parents would have "a sword of Damocles hanging over their head" if they tried to challenge their child's wish to transition.

"Being open and able to speak freely with their child about difficult issues at the dinner table is one of the most important roles a parent has, but this would snuff out the ability to facilitate such conversations," he said. 

He warned that the proposed ban would make non-affirming conversations about gender and sexuality "nigh-on impossible".

"Teachers, youth workers, nurses, doctors, social workers, church leaders and parents would be forced to think twice or refuse to entertain such a conversation, for fear of accusation and criminal prosecution," he said. 

Paul Bristow, Conservative MP for Peterborough, said that both Christian and Muslim leaders had raised their concerns at a meeting the day before the debate. 

He said that the bill "risks silencing people for offering honest and good-natured support, often to very vulnerable people". 

"The bill also does not comply with protections of the rights to freedom of speech and to religion set out in the European convention on human rights, as has already been said," he said.

"That was one of the main action points of our meeting yesterday. It cannot somehow become illegal for a priest or an imam to offer advice to a member of their congregation. Obviously, that would be unthinkable." 

Equalities Minister Maria Caulfield, speaking on behalf of the government, said that the bill "carries a lack of legislative clarity which risks unintended consequences". She said that the government would be bringing forward its own draft bill after the publication of the Cass review, expected in the coming weeks.

Other MPs argued that it would be difficult to legislate without clear definitions of harmful conversion therapy practices and transgenderism. 

Miriam Cates MP said, "If it can't be defined in law, how can we safely legislate for it? How can we ban someone from converting someone to or from transgender if you can't define transgender?"

Others pointed out that abusive practices are already illegal under existing law. 

Braverman added that there was "a complete absence of verifiable, quantitative evidence demonstrating that harmful conversion practices are widespread or occurring frequently in this country".

"There is very little evidence that conversion therapy is a current problem in this country," she said.

"The various surveys that have been quoted, such as the national LGBT survey of 2017 or the Ozanne Foundation's faith and sexuality survey, have severe shortcomings in their evidence base and the ways in which they were compiled.

"A police freedom of information request demonstrated that police forces throughout the UK, when asked whether they had received any reports of electroshock treatment or corrective rape between 2010 and 2020, responded with relevant data and confirmed that no police force had ever recorded any such complaint."

As the debate ran out of time, the Private Member's Bill was unable to progress and is unlikely to be considered further.