Conversion therapy ban ‘on Rishi Sunak’s desk’ with loophole for ‘consenting adults’

Rishi Sunak walking out the door of Number 10.

A long-awaited draft ban on so-called conversion therapy is ready and awaiting for the final sign-off from prime minister Rishi Sunak, according to reports.

It’s understood that the bill contains a loophole for “consenting adults”, despite experts and advocates warning the government that such a loophole could render the legislation useless.

ITV News reported on Wednesday (21 June) that the bill was sent to Sunak earlier this week, and that it will cover conversion therapy which attempts to change both a person’s sexuality and gender identity.

However, those who conduct conversion practices on adults deemed to have “consented” would not be prosecuted under the ban.

Conversion therapy survivor and activist Jayne Ozanne, a former advisor to the government, said: “Allowing people to consent to these abusive practices renders a bill all but meaningless.

“It shows government has prioritised listening to perpetrators over survivors and has ignored advice of international human rights lawyers.”

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The draft bill will be put to parliament for scrutiny once approved by Sunak.

The consent loophole first appeared in a 2021 proposal and public consultation by the government, led at the time by Boris Johnson.

At the time, the government said its definition of consent would be “robust and stringent”, relying on the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that defines consent as a person “agreeing by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.

However, many argued that no person could give genuine consent to a practice that the UN has likened to torture.

Conversion therapy refers to attempts to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity, which is impossible. In the UK, most conversion therapy is faith-based.

It has taken the UK government five years to implement a ban after former prime minister Theresa May first proposed one in 2018.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson U-turned on attempts to drop the ban in 2022.

He then issued a new pledge to implement the ban but without protections for trans people.

The government has since changed tack to include transgender people.

A Government Equality Hub spokesperson said: “This government is committed to protecting people at risk from conversion practices.

“As part of this we will publish a draft Bill setting out our approach, which will be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses in this parliamentary session. This will allow for in-depth analysis and challenge to test the policy and drafting and ensure we address any risk of unintended impacts.”