Conversion therapy ban back on the table in Sunak U-turn after backlash from MPs

A trans-inclusive ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ practices is back on the table after backlash from Conservative MPs and warnings ministers could quit if it is shelved. 

On Thursday (19 October), The Times reported on its front page that prime minister Rishi Sunak will include a draft bill in the King’s Speech on 7 November, which will make it a criminal offence to attempt to change someone’s sexuality and gender identity in England and Wales.

The Times report, which was corroborated by ITV News UK editor Paul Brand, comes one day after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called on the PM to include a ban in the King’s Speech. 

Earlier in the summer, rumours circulated that Sunak was planning to dump the bill over concerns it would have “unintended consequences” for teachers, parents and therapists who are working with children struggling with their gender identity. 

Taking to X, the platform previously known as Twitter, Brand wrote that his source within the government confirmed the bill only covers “coercive” practices and has safeguards for parents and clinicians.

“Campaigners will still feel it’s a compromise (only coercive practices) but those close to bill hope there’ll be chance to amend later,” the news editor said.

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Sources suggest Simon Hart, the chief whip, warned Sunak the government could face a revolt by MPs if the bill was not brought forth, with Tory MPs potentially working with Labour instead to bring amendments to the crime and justice bill as a means of introducing a ban.

“Simon has been brilliant on this. He’s listened to our concerns and been a real champion for us. He gets it,” one anonymous MP told the Times.

The Murdoch-owned title also reports that equalities minister Stuart Andrew is willing to reconsider his position in government if the bill is not introduced.

‘All conversion therapy is coercive’

Speaking with PinkNews, former government equalities advisor and conversion therapy survivor Jayne Ozanne said she was “pleased” to see the U-turn by the prime minister which puts the legislation back on the agenda, but is “extremely concerned that making victims prove coercion will mean this a bill in name only”. 

Ozanne said: “All conversion therapy is coercive, but proving it puts the onus on the victim and lets perpetrators walk free. 

“There is precious little time to get this through parliament, especially if the government stick with their plan of conducting pre legislative scrutiny. 

“I’m left feeling this is a cynical move to avoid haemorrhaging votes, rather than a genuine attempt to protect LGBT+ people’s lives.” 

Reverend Dr Helen Hall, an associate professor at Nottingham Trent University and member of Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum, said in a statement shared with PinkNews: “Conversion practices always involve coercive controlling behaviour.

“However, asking to prove coercion is in many cases asking people to prove that their friends & family bullied them.

“What’s more, the fear of rejection and stigma from one’s family or community is what allows coercion to operate and what makes it difficult to prove or recognise.

If an individual says that they are coerced then they will face exactly that rejection and stigma.”

Dr Hall added: “The government recently raised the age of marriage to 18 because the laws forbidding forced marriage weren’t enough because they put the onus on vulnerable people to object.

“Coercion based prohibitions also put the onus on vulnerable people to object. By definition these individuals are often not able to do that.”

Bringing in a ban on conversion therapy has been a long time coming.

A ban was first promised in 2018 under Theresa May but was nearly shelved by her successor Boris Johnson, who then decided to exclude trans people from a ban before backtracking after public outcry.

Since then, the legislation has faced continuous delays.

In January, the government said it was planning to publish a draft bill “shortly” but that has still not appeared.