MPs blast government for ‘unacceptable stress’ caused to LGBTQ+ community by conversion-therapy ban delay

MPs have said that delays and changes to the content of the bill aimed at ending so-called conversion therapy are causing “unacceptable stress” to LGBTQ+ people. 

On Wednesday (12 July), equalities minister Stuart Andrew took oral questions from MPs on all sides of the chamber on matters pertaining to the work of women and equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch. 

During the session, the topic of conversion practices was hot on the lips of MPs with a number questioning the on-going delay to legislation outlawing it, five years on from the government’s initial pledge to do so. 

Addressing the chamber, Andrew said the government “remains committed” to publishing a draft bill in the current parliamentary session, which would then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee. 

When questioned by Stephen Farry, the Alliance of Northern Ireland MP for North Downs, on the reason for the delays, Andrew said it was a “complex matter”, adding “it is right that we get this legislation right”. 

Farry’s query was echoed by shadow women and equalities minister, Anneliese Dodds. She pointed out that it had been 1,835 days since the government first promised to ban the practice. 

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“That’s longer than it takes to make a good bill. It’s longer than it took to build the Empire State Building and the Shard put together,” the Labour MP said. 

“We were told in January that a bill would be published shortly. Seven months later, can the minister tell LGBT people how many more days, weeks, months or even years they must wait?”

Andrew’s only response was to refer to his previous statement. 

It’s been five years since the government pledged to end conversion therapy. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Dodds continued: “The answer that the honourable gentleman gave a moment ago was the answer stating that we would see something before the end of this parliament. Well, I’m afraid that’s not good enough for those LGBT people who’ve been waiting for too long. 

“We’ve heard from the government and its consultation on this ban – even that was almost two years ago now – that they would still allow some of the worst practitioners off the hook by including a consent loophole. 

“Does the minister seriously think that LGBT people can consent to abuse? And if not, end the charade and remove that loophole so that every LGBT person is protected.” 

Andrew hit back, saying Dodds had not seen the bill and so “making these comments is a bit early”. 

He continued by reiterating that the bill was complex.

“We want to make sure that it outlaws those awful practices, but also ensures that people don’t feel a chilling effect like clinicians, parents [and] teachers,” he said.

“I think it is right that we get stakeholders, we get people from this house, engaging in that so it’s in the best possible position when it is presented.” 

Issues around the changing content of the bill were also brought up. 

Initially, when the government pledged to ban conversion therapy, under Theresa May’s government, the bill was set to be inclusive of all LGBTQ+ people. 

Under May’s successor, Boris Johnson, the ban was set to be quietly scrapped but a U-turn was made just days later after a public outcry – only for the government to say it would exclude trans people from the ban

The controversial move to only protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people was eventually reversed and the draft bill which is expected to be inclusive of all LGBTQ+ identities

Addressing this point, Caroline Nokes, the Conservative chairwoman of the women and equalities select committee, asked Andrew if he agreed that conversion therapy is abhorrent and – if so – was it abhorrent for everyone. 

“I absolutely agree that it is abhorrent and, moreover, it doesn’t work,” Andrew said. “And yes, I believe that is with regard to everyone.”

A protester calla for a ban on conversion therapy during London Trans+ Pride. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Given that the bill is being worked on behind closed doors, there has been concern among LGBTQ+ groups that a loophole could be written into the legislation allowing adults to “consent” to conversion.

LGBTQ+ activist and conversion-therapy survivor Jayne Ozanne told PinkNews in June that the loophole is “so large”, the bill would be rendered meaningless.

“I myself willingly consented to nearly 20 years of conversion therapy and it nearly killed me,” she said. “I am one of the fortunate ones who survived. Others tragically have not.”

Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for women and equalities, cited these concerns alongside the “unacceptable stress, confusion and fear” the long delays have caused LGBTQ+ people.

Andrew replied that he did not want anyone to “fear, fear”, adding: “I recognise the delay has caused some issues for the community, but I can assure them that we are on their side.”