Before I call Elliot Colburn to move the motion, it will help if I say that as this is a heavily subscribed debate, I might have to impose a five-minute time limit. The more Members keep their contributions brief, the more likely I can avoid doing that.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 613556, relating to transgender conversion therapy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I will heed your words and try to keep my remarks as brief as possible.
The petition, entitled “Ensure Trans people are fully protected under any conversion therapy ban”, states:
“Ensure any ban fully includes trans people and all forms of conversion therapy. It’s shameful that the UK intends to deliberately exclude trans people from a ban in contrast to the approach taken by many countries, despite trans people being at a greater risk of experiencing the harmful & degrading practices. The government’s own figures show that trans people are nearly twice as likely to be at risk of experiencing the harmful & degrading practices of conversion therapy. A ban needs to ensure all forms of conversion therapy are banned.”
The petition remains open, and as of this morning when I checked as I wrote this speech, there were more than 145,000 signatures, including over 220 from my own Carshalton and Wallington constituency. I thank the petition creator and the organisations and charities that helped to brief me in advance of today’s debate, and indeed colleagues around this packed Chamber, which has got even busier since I last looked up from my notes. It is great to see the Public Gallery so full as well.
There is no doubt that trans issues have caused polarisation in the United Kingdom, with threats, intimidation and even violence from both sides of the debate. No doubt today will amount to much of the same, particularly with the horrible things being said on social media.
I apologise for not being able to miss a meeting that I have at five o’clock. My hon. Friend has talked about the vile way some people are treated, which probably includes the way Kathleen Stock and Helen Joyce have been treated. They have given very fair descriptions of trans issues and yet have experienced a great deal of bullying and online harm from people who ought to say, “Can’t we try to work together to do sensible things?”
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which highlights the fact that we do need to have respectful debates on both sides of the argument.
It might help, for the purposes of today’s debate, to narrow down exactly what the petition asks for and what this debate is all about. To be crystal clear, it is not about reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004, nor is it about access to single-sex spaces, trans women in sport, trans women in prisons, or any of the other issues that have caused such a stir in this place, in the media, in academia, and beyond. This debate and this petition are specifically about the harmful practices of so-called conversion therapy and whether we, as a House and as a country, think it is acceptable for anyone, regardless of who they are, to be subjected to such things with no recourse to justice. I will argue that nobody should be denied access to justice if they are being subjected to the abhorrent practices encapsulated by so-called conversion therapy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are enough laws already in place to cover the abhorrent practices that he talks about? We will be creating a problem with freedom of speech and people being able to talk to their children about the way they feel about themselves.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I am afraid I do not agree. There is nothing in the proposals and the consultation that the Government set out to suggest that there would be an impact on freedom of speech. Although a lot of the practices—a point that I was going to come on to in a minute—are already outlawed, there are many forms of conversion practices that are not, which is why a ban is necessary.
In relation to the previous point, does my hon. Friend agree with me the fact that so many respondents to the Government’s survey said that they had either been offered, or been subject to, conversion therapy shows that conversion therapy does exist for trans people?
I totally agree. The national LGBT survey in 2018 showed that trans people were twice as likely as LGB people to be offered, and to undergo, conversion therapy. Those practices can take many forms, but the evidence that has been presented shows that they all have the same aim—and all are harmful. That aim is to supress or change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is true that many of the harrowing stories we have heard about things such as corrective rape and physical assault, which many survivors have come forward to share, are already illegal.
I apologise for missing my hon. Friend’s opening remarks, but rape is already illegal—an offence. Can he identify an offence that will be included in the Bill that is not already an offence? What is the offence that is going to be created?
I will gladly identify that offence. As I just said, rape is already illegal. However, it is the pseudo-psychological and spiritual so-called talking and behavioural therapies—exorcisms, deliverance prayers and other such things—that are not currently illegal and are included in the proposed ban. Indeed, the ban makes those things aggravating factors when prosecuting. That is currently not in law, but it is necessary.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that there is ample evidence to show that transgender people submitted to any form of that conversion therapy potentially suffer greater psychological impacts, including harmful outcomes and lifetime suicide attempt risks?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I have had the privilege of listening to many survivors who have come forward to share their stories—I am sure many people in this place have—and those stories demonstrate just that fact.
The practices my hon. Friend has just described are basically exorcisms and witchcraft, frankly. Does he agree with me that we are dignifying such abhorrent practices by calling them therapies?
I absolutely agree. That is why language is so important—that is going to be the theme of my speech. The tight wording of the ban is very important. Conversion practices is a much better description than conversion therapies. I only used conversion therapy for today’s debate because it is the go-to term.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that part of the concern about a ban—wrongly, I think—is that it would catch people who are engaged in legitimate therapy aimed at relieving emotional and psychological distress?
That concern has been brought forward, but as I hope to say later, there is a way that we can alleviate those concerns and still pass an inclusive ban.
I thank the survivors who came forward to share their stories. It is true that conversion practices are happening in the UK right now. It is not something that happened decades ago but has now stopped; those kind of practices still happen in the UK today. Nor is it only happening here; the threat or action of sending people overseas to undergo such practices is still happening.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for listening directly to those who have been affected by this issue. It is often the voices of trans people that are missing from this debate. I was contacted by a constituent who said,
“as a trans woman, surely I deserve to feel safe, have some dignity and live my life in peace without being demonised?”
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the way that the exclusion has happened serves to further demonise an already demonised group?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I want to talk about some of the concerns that have been brought forward about a trans-inclusive ban, particularly those focused around unintended consequences —the potential of criminalising legitimate conversations between trans people and, for example, their parents, doctors or religious leaders. Those concerns are legitimate, and it comes down to us as legislators to ensure that we pass good legislation that does not catch those out.
I and many other hon. Members have seen the legal evidence provided to the Government Equalities Office that shows that it is perfectly possible to pass a ban without such unintended consequences. What is important is having a tightly worded Bill with clear language, as well as an extensive list in the legislation about what is and is not intended to be caught by a ban on conversion therapy. Let us be very clear: campaigners who have been fighting for this say that a ban is not intended to capture legitimate conversations, questions or even disagreements between individuals and their parents, doctors or religious leaders, for example. Legitimate explorative therapies, the teaching of scripture or even the ability to say that they do not agree with a person’s identity is not intended to be covered within the scope of a ban, and that should be explicitly stated within it.
The argument is also made that to exclude trans people is the right thing to do because sexual orientation and gender identity are different and so should not be covered by the same legislation. However, although they are different parts of a person’s individual identity, separating them would create big problems for the Government in law, as many trans people are also LGB, and vice versa. Plus, I believe that it would allow conversion therapy for LGB people to continue through the back door, because it could be claimed that it was being done because of their gender identity. We have seen that happening already. I have heard of cases of survivors who have come forward—for example, camp gay men and butch lesbians who have undergone conversion therapy because of their gender identity, not because of their sexual orientation. I believe that that is the reason why all leading medical, psychological and therapy organisations back an inclusive ban. Twenty-five organisations have signed up to the memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy in the UK, and more than 370 religious leaders from around the world are also calling for a ban on conversion therapy.
However, I do not think that I can put the need for a trans-inclusive ban much better than by referring to this perverse situation, which I would just like colleagues to consider. It is based on a real-life example of a set of twins—one gay and one trans. Both are forced to undergo hours of talking therapies to get them to change their identity. They are taken for exorcisms, with people shouting over them. They are monitored to ensure that they are not meeting anyone who might be considered “wrong”. They are unable to seek out accredited counselling and support and they have to endure treatment that is degrading and shaming.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because I genuinely have come to this debate to learn about the issues. I thought the most important word that he just uttered was “forced”. I think everyone could agree that no one should be forced into any sort of therapy. The question is whether we would be banning people from seeking this therapy if, for whatever unaccountable reason, they wished to do so. That is where a line needs to be clarified.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Indeed there is a consent clause in the Bill. That is an entirely separate debate. I know that many colleagues on both sides of the House do not agree with that—I am one of them.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think we are missing the point. Actually, the therapy in itself is the issue. It is likened to torture by many leading organisations. On the issue of sexual violence and LGBT survivors, 24% of the people that Galop spoke to had experienced sexual violence, but that figure leapt to 32% for the non-binary and to 35% for trans men. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that we should not be creating spaces that are safe for people to perpetrate sexual violence against individuals?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and I absolutely agree with her. Again, it comes back to the general theme of the debate—for me, at least—which is that this is about harmful practices and whether we think anyone, regardless of who they are, should undergo harmful practices. My answer is no.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this really important debate; he is making an excellent speech. The United Nations report in 2020 called for a global ban on conversion therapy. The UN said:
“Such practices constitute an egregious violation of rights to bodily autonomy, health, and free expression of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Does he agree with me that there is real clarity in that statement and that it is very useful for this debate?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and I absolutely agree with her. I am conscious of time, Sir Graham, so I will start to wrap up my remarks so that we can get on to other people’s contributions.
Going back to the example of a set of twins where one twin is gay and one is trans, as the proposals stand, the law would only protect one of those two individuals. The other twin would be left open to continually being subjected to the kind of practices that we have been discussing, with no legal protections. By deliberately excluding trans people from the ban, I believe that the message that we would send is that it is acceptable to inflict such behaviour on someone because of who they are, which just cannot be right.
There seems to be a bit of confusion about exactly what this so-called “therapy” entails. It is perhaps worth saying that these coercive and “abhorrent practices” do not work. By the way, “abhorrent practices” are the words of the Conservative Government, although they have done a reverse ferret on this, of course. Perhaps for those who have come to this debate to listen with an open mind, the hon. Gentleman might explain what those “abhorrent practices” involve and why they are not voluntary.
Absolutely. This comes back to the issue of consent. Can someone actually consent to having harm done to themselves, even if they have all the facts? For me the answer is no. Again, that comes back to the core point, which is that these are “abhorrent practices”—harmful practices and that cause people to have to undergo years of psychological therapy to try to get over what has been done to them, which is why they need to be banned in law.
Sir Graham, I am coming to the end of my remarks. What this issue boils down to is that achieving a trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban without any unintended consequences is, frankly, what we should be doing anyway—in other words, we should be producing good, tightly worded legislation. That has already been achieved in multiple countries and territories with no unintended consequences whatsoever, so we already have international working examples to draw upon when it comes to the drafting of this legislation.
All sectors of UK society, from health to religion, have supported calls for a trans-inclusive ban. That, after all, is what this debate is all about. It is not about the noise around trans issues, which I mentioned at the start of my remarks; it is about protecting people from harm, no matter who they are. We have a duty as parliamentarians to protect the people who we serve from harm, so I urge colleagues to join me in exercising that duty.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, let me say that I will start with an informal five-minute time limit. If Members can keep to that, I will not have to impose a formal time limit.
Thank you, Sir Graham, for calling me to speak so early in the debate.
It was a privilege to listen to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) as he described what needs to be a debate in which we dial down the hate and dial up the understanding. I am here to speak on behalf of trans and non-binary friends and allies in Plymouth, 482 of whom have signed this petition. I am proud to be Plymouth’s first ever out Member of Parliament and I take that responsibility seriously to provide a voice for LGBTQ+ people, to call out hate and extremism, and to say proudly, “Love is love, whoever you are”.
I have spoken in this place before about my view on trans people. We may be in a debate, but trans people themselves are not up for debate—they exist. The only question is whether or not the Government will recognise their existence and the rights that should go with that existence. My view on this subject is clear: trans men are men; trans women are women; and being non-binary is valid. In that space, however, we need to educate and inform people, and not just hit each other over the head with sticks. It is important that we conduct the debate in that way.
It is very welcome that at long last we have proposals to ban conversion therapy for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. This is a huge victory. It is the result of an awful lot of work and I am grateful to the campaigners from Stonewall, MindOut, the LGBT Foundation and many other organisations for their tireless work in making the positive case for how stopping this harm to people will make a positive difference to society.
This legislation has taken too long to be brought forward, but it is better late than never. Conversion therapy is abuse, and it is because it is cruel and abhorrent that young lesbian, gay and bisexual people face the humiliation and violence that comes with it. It is right that such therapy is banned. However, if we are banning it because we think those practices are vile, we need to ban it for everybody and not make an artificial distinction between people.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and he is making a very cogent case, as did the previous speaker, the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn). However, is it not the point that in a free, democratic and liberal society this process of so-called “conversion therapy” smacks of the Soviet Union, and surely it is not something that we should condone in a society such as ours?
I think the cultural reference might work better on someone from a different generation, but I understand what my right hon. Friend is trying to say. In the spirit of generosity that I am trying to advocate for, it is important that we make the case that everyone, regardless of who they are and who they fall in love with, should enjoy protections. That is a British value that we teach in our schools.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will make some progress, if I may, because I do not want to run out of time. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said that if trans and non-binary people are excluded from the ban, that would be a loophole that would allow these practices in through the back door. It would not be a back door; it would be a trapdoor, through which young LGB people would be pushed. That is why we need to be absolutely clear on this. Intersectionality exists; a person can be both trans and a lesbian, or both trans and bisexual. That intersectionality creates a grey zone in the law, and more people will fall into it if trans and non-binary people are excluded from the ban. That is not right.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will make some more progress, if I may. When I was a spotted, closeted teenager, there were not an awful lot of LGBT role models in society—no professional footballers or Olympic athletes. There are now. We have visibility in our society. I am pleased with all my heart that young people can now see LGBT people both in the public eye and on screen.
As some Members will know, I am an unapologetic fan of Netflix’s “Heartstopper”. I remember being both Nick and Charlie at school. Yasmin Finney, who plays Elle, is epic in her acting; however, for me, it is her class and visibility as a trans actor, and her transfer to the “Doctor Who” universe, that has inspired not only me but young trans people across the world. That visibility and legitimacy has saved lives.
It is that world, as Alice Oseman wrote in “Heartstopper” —where our diversity is celebrated, not excluded; where people are drawn together in a broad hug, not with a big stick—that we should aim for with this legislation. That is why I want every Member in this place to know that this message should go out to young LGBT people: regardless of who you are and who you love, you have the right to be loved, safe and valued, not just by society but in law. That is at the heart of today’s debate. Let us say to young LGB, trans and non-binary people that they are enough, we have listened to them, and we will value them.
Thank you for calling me to speak so early, Sir Graham. I rise to speak with a heavy heart, because I do not think we should be here. This issue is not something we should have to debate. I am furious, but my fury is nothing compared to the deep-set harm that this announcement has already caused to the transgender community, which has been harmed by us saying that trans people do not deserve the same rights and protections as their LGB brothers and sisters. Shamefully, the entire ban was almost cancelled; were it not for the actions of Conservative Back Benchers to ensure the ban was protected, it would have been.
The entire manner of the debate should shame us all. We need more compassion on all sides—there should not be any sides in this issue. So much of this debate has been misrepresentative and bears no relation to the reality of what such a ban would do. The ban is about preventing those who use so-called therapy as a smokescreen for their homophobic and transphobic exorcisms, and who claim that LGBTQ+ people do not deserve to love, be loved or live their life as they truly are.
Today, rather than explaining why we need an inclusive ban, I want to focus on the claim that any ban on conversion therapy would allow for only one form of therapy: the so-called affirmative model. It is usually accompanied by the claim that the ban on trans conversion therapy is designed specifically to push so-called gender ideology. I would like to know how the groups making such claims have seen the legislation, because I know that no Members present have. The Minister probably has not either, because it has not been drafted.
Conversion therapy often takes the form of one-directional talking therapies conducted by quacks in unregulated settings. There can be only one outcome for someone from such therapy: rejecting their trans self. Regulated psychotherapists and those from similar professions have always insisted that exploratory therapy should have no set outcome, but that outcome is what conversion therapy produces. What our children—indeed, trans people of any age—deserve and need is fully explorative and challenging conversations with accredited and regulated individuals who adhere to ethical tests, are regulated and would not push any pre-determined outcome. A regulated therapist would never say that someone must act on their attractions or feelings, or that they must eliminate them, and surely no one here can disagree with that.
Some claim that gay and lesbian people are being forced to convert to being transgender. There are always isolated cases—we can never say never—but let us not suggest that this is some widespread conspiracy. Even if someone did ascribe to such a belief, the legislation could help them, because it would ensure that the critical conversations took place with professionals, not the well-meaning.
Let us take on the claim, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), that a ban on CT would criminalise health practitioners. If it would, why do the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society, the Albany Trust, the British Medical Association, Mind, Relate, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Association of Christian Counsellors and many more stand behind a ban? The psychiatric and psychological professions reject conversion therapy because it is the opposite of open-ended exploration; it is a therapy with only one stopping point. It is not about keeping choices, but eliminating them entirely, and that is why mental health practitioners back the legislation. It will not criminalise them, or teachers, or parents who want to have conversations with their children. I know that, because I have worked since my election to secure a ban on conversion therapy. I came to this place saying that I would help deliver one.
The discussions have been methodical, serious and cautious. Licensed bodies want to get this right, and to have serious safeguards in place. Given that search for safeguards, I want to make it abundantly clear that psychological professionals have been clear and unequivocal that trans conversion therapy is a definable concept. They might have different views about many others things, but they are agreed on that.
The Cass review, which many cite as a reason to exclude transgender people from a ban, is unequivocal. It calls for expanded support for trans healthcare and better service provision. Hilary Cass has said that her work does not impede the bringing forward of a conversion therapy Bill that includes trans people, and that any Bill does not need to wait until the end of her work, so why is her work being appropriated in arguments against a ban? Her work is well under way.
I wish to clear up some misunderstandings about the Bill, and I am sorry that I will slightly run over. Despite how hard others are pushing to misrepresent it, the ban is not about transgender people in sport or prisons, any medical interventions or procedures, or gender-neutral toilets. The Government do not propose that the ban defines gender identity in legislation; they note that we already have the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and hate crime legislation that acknowledges transgender people. Nor are LGBT community groups asking for gender identity to be defined or introduced in law, so why are so-called lobbying organisations saying that we are trying to do that?
I want to make it very clear that an inclusive ban on conversion therapy is not some woke frontier for those who want to suppress freedom of speech. It is not some new frontier for politicians to weaponise in a culture war that they think is vote winning. My standing up for my rights—I hope that colleagues would agree that I have fought for the rights of women since I came to this place—is not incompatible with fighting for the rights of others. Women are people with cervixes. We are women. I do not chest-feed; I breastfeed my baby. Of course biology matters, but these positions are not at war with one another.
If we can come together, we can find mutual understanding. This is not a back-door effort to have a battle about rights, or to criminalise dissent from gender ideology. It is about punishing practices that leave real and enduring psychological scars, and about holding to account those who cause the misery. The only people who should fear the ban are those quacks and charlatans who profit from bigotry and torture, and who believe that their views are so superior to others’.
Let us protect our children and leave the professionals to do their jobs. Let us include transgender people in the ban, in order to protect them from those who are so divorced from decency and compassion—so hellbent on their world view and brand of torture—that they would cause people to end up depressed, with severe mental suffering or committing suicide. I will not stand for a ban that devalues my transgender friends, and I will amend the legislation if, when it comes forward, it does not include trans people. I will not stand for the division of the LGBT community—division that would give bigots a green light to continue torturing our trans friends. I call on the Government to do what is right and bring forward the work on transgender rights and inclusion in the Bill that they have promised. I ask them to stand by trans people, and give protections to those who urgently need them.
It is pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Graham; thank you for calling me so early. I commend the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on an excellent speech. I also warmly commend the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on a passionate and genuine speech, and I am very pleased to follow her.
I was struck by the fact that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington had to start by defining what this debate is not about. That is probably testament to just how poor the wider general discussion has become. This is not about infringing on anybody else’s rights. It is not about infringing on the rights of women in general, or their right to safe spaces; it is not infringing on the right to free speech; and, crucially, it is not about limiting the right to seek advice and help, or the right to have an honest conversation. It is about conversion therapy and the harm that it does, about the need for action against it, and about the need, from my perspective and my party’s perspective, to include trans people within that protection.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) says that existing laws already cover this. No, they do not. That is why we are here, and why the petition exists—because of the harm being done right now to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens—the most vulnerable people in society, who need action and our support. If the existing legislative framework covered this, we would not need to be here.
There is huge consensus on the need for action. The Scottish Human Rights Commission has said:
“It is well documented that the injury caused by practices of ‘conversion therapy’ are grounded on the premise that LGBT+ people are sick, diseased, and abnormal and must therefore be treated.4Some practices can potentially amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards specific LGBT+ people, while the very existence of ‘conversion therapy’ practices in our society promotes a culture in which LGBT+ people are seen as needing to be fixed, thereby undermining the dignity of all LGBT+ people.”
There is also consensus among religious organisations that the matter needs to be tackled. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, is in favour of a ban, along with the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Church of England, the Methodists, the Quakers, the Hindu Council UK and many others. Any reputable psychotherapy organisation is in favour of a ban, because they know what the harm perpetrated by these quacks—I was struck by the mention of witchcraft by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price)—does to their own reputation.
According to the UK Government’s own figures, the scale of the problem is considerable. The UK Government’s 2018 survey of 108,000 LGBT+ people showed that 2% have undergone therapy and 5% have been offered it. For the trans community, the figures are even higher: 9% of trans men have been offered this therapy, which is odious. The question for us legislators surely boils down to: where do we draw the line? How do we draw up legislation? In Scotland, we are doing that. In Scotland, this is a devolved competence, and the Scottish Government are committed to bringing forward a trans inclusionary ban. I trust MSPs to draw the line in the right place, in a way that looks after everybody’s rights, because these rights are not mutually exclusive.
I make a plea to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish parliamentarians present to work with us. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom on this subject. We should listen to people’s experiences and to what they say about the harm done, which is very real and genuine. Hundreds of thousands of our citizens right now are suffering as a result of this practice, and many hundreds of thousands more are living with the consequences of having undergone it. There is a clear need for legislation on it.
It is great to hear such a good debate on this issue. Many people have written to me saying that if a young person who thinks they are trans came to them, they would be scared of saying, “Well, why don’t you just watch and wait? Let’s give it six months,” or “Let’s see how you feel in a year, or two years.” People will be scared to say that, because they do not want to be called transphobic, or to be prosecuted under legislation that may come later. That is where I am coming from—from the point of view of parents, teachers, men of the cloth and others who want to be able to say, “Just watch and wait,” or to ask why.
I will take the intervention at face value as a genuine expression of concern. This is not an easy subject—I would be the first to acknowledge that—but that is why we need to make sure that the legislation is right. That is why we need to ensure that the line is drawn at the right place. I said in my opening remarks—I have them here—that this is not about infringing the right of anyone to seek advice and have an honest conversation, but there is a world of difference between that and the quackery and harm perpetrated by people who set themselves up in business doing this stuff.
I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), who talked about forcing someone to change their gender identity or their sexual orientation. Is this not all about the intention behind the conversation? There is no problem with a parent having a conversation with their child, but if someone enters a conversation wanting to force someone to do something that is contrary to what they are, that is crossing the line.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I am a solicitor, if we go back far enough. The law is well used to dealing with shades of grey. In many other situations—aggravated hate crime; discrimination; words that mean one thing in one context and a different thing in another—it is perfectly possible to come up with a proper legislative framework to protect people and the honest conversations that he is rightly concerned to see protected. I share that concern and would work with him on it.
The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but on the point about waiting to see, there is currently a wait of at least two years to have those conversations with a professional, so there is no rushing into this. I may be wrong, but someone cannot have surgery if they are under 18, and they cannot get access to puberty blockers for at least a couple of years. I may be misunderstanding the timeline; if so, he will advise me.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful and apposite point. On saying, “Just wait,” well, people are waiting, including all the legislators in this Chamber—we have waited far too long to act, and too many people are suffering. The concerns that are raised need to be dealt with and respectfully discussed, but to my mind there is a clear need to act. Too many people are suffering. We have a duty as legislators to keep our citizens safe from harm. Let us act together. Let us work together to keep safe the people whom we need to protect.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on leading this debate. I also congratulate Sammantha Harris, whom I met last week, on starting the petition.
As Sammantha told me, the exclusion of trans people from a conversion therapy ban would imply that they did not count. Well, trans people matter to me, speaking as a member of the LGBTQ community. They matter to me as members of my family, and as members of the community I represent, as do the 208 people in Darlington who signed the petition.
This debate is somewhat premature, given that draft legislation is yet to be published, but I can well understand the shock, disappointment and dismay of the trans community and their allies at learning that the abuse they face may not be included in legislation, while the abuse faced by their gay, lesbian and bisexual brothers and sisters will be. Since being elected in 2019, I have had the privilege of working with great people on the issue of conversion therapy. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), who we have heard from; she is an absolute champion. I also record my thanks to Jayne Ozanne from the Ozanne Foundation for her incredible and tireless work on this issue. Jayne, please know that your efforts are appreciated. Keep doing what you are doing.
Our country has come a long way on LGBT issues—further than I ever would have imagined. Banning conversion therapy—or, to call it what it really is, abuse, control and coercion—is the next logical and rational step on that journey. To seek to do that for only part of the LGBTQ community is divisive and irrational. Sadly, there are some who do not believe that such practices exist, and some who believe that the law already provides enough protection. These abuses do exist, and the law does not currently provide a framework to protect the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community. The upcoming legislation is a great opportunity to right that wrong. I firmly believe that a ban on conversion therapy that includes all members of the LGBTQ community is essential. This abuse has no place in a civilised society, and I am personally committed to seeing all forms of abuse of LGBTQ people banned.
Conversion therapy encompasses a wide range of practices, which all share the belief that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. It relies on the erroneous belief that LGBTQ people are sick and in need of a cure. These practices are cruel and harmful, and there is no evidence of them working. Having recently met members of the local LGBTQ community in Darlington, I know that they share my concerns about the potential exclusion of trans people from a future ban on these practices.
Today’s debate is not about women in sport, safe single-sex spaces, or the appropriate age for treatment for a person experiencing gender dysphoria.
I am so glad that my hon. Friend and other Members have made that point. Even as a member of the LGBTQ community myself, I recognise that there are some real challenges in those areas, but that is not what this is about. This is about something very simple—that someone cannot force someone to change their gender identity or sexual orientation, and that trans people need to be protected in the same way as other members of the community.
I am grateful for that intervention, and I could not agree more. This is a difficult topic, and it is important that we are having this debate now; it is important that all politicians are able to have an open, frank and honest discussion about this.
This debate is about sending a signal to the most marginalised in our society, who already experience prejudice and discrimination: “Your lives matter, and you should be protected from abuse, coercion and control just as much as the next person.” To not include trans people in a ban on conversion therapy—to allow loopholes in the legislation that allowed these abusive practices to continue to ruin people’s lives—would be a great wrong. Trans people already face more discrimination than gays, bisexuals and lesbians, and seeking to divide the L, G and B from the T will only marginalise trans people further.
This issue is very close to my heart, as a gay man with friends and family who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans. I can see just how much this issue affects real people’s lives, in my own family and in my constituency. I know that the Minister is a good man and a strong member and ally of the LGBT community. I know that he will be listening very closely to this debate and I hope that he will do all he can to ensure that a conversion abuse ban covers trans people too.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I thank the 145,000 people who signed the petition, ensuring that today’s debate would go ahead.
As politicians, we should always ask ourselves which side of history we are on. When the gay liberation movement started, it had almost no support in the House of Commons. When queer communities came under attack from homophobes and the police, it was left to us to defend ourselves. Now, once again, this Government seem to want the House to be on the wrong side of history. Well, I stand on the side of history that has learned lessons from the past—from when queer communities came under attack from homophobes and the police, and when AIDS arrived and its victims faced stigmatisation. I have seen those failures of Government in protecting the LGBTQI+ communities at first hand, and I am steadfast in my belief that conversion therapy must be banned for all, including transgender people.
Carolyn is a trans woman in her 70s. Recounting trans conversion therapy that she underwent in her youth, she said:
“When I remembered it…I would physically shake. It made me hate myself. 40 years later…I’d still have flashbacks.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that these practices are abusive and must be banned, and that the Government’s refusal to ban them is part of a cruel, cowardly and cynical tactic to distract us from their failings, stoke division, and target one of society’s most marginalised and disadvantaged groups?
I agree with my hon. Friend; we need this ban to come in without delay, without loopholes and without exclusions.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, particularly with the historical references. Those of us who were here during the grim days of section 28 remember just how horrible it was, and how brutally the media then treated LGBT communities. The proposal to not include trans people in the conversion therapy ban is unbelievably wrong, divisive and short-sighted. We need to be very clear, and when this legislation comes along, I hope there will be a majority in this House that says, “We need a total ban on conversion therapy,” as the Scottish Human Rights Commission and others have proposed, as the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) said earlier. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I do agree. My right hon. Friend referred to section 28. Interestingly, the first march I went on as an activist many years ago—more than I care to remember —was in opposition to section 28.
It is touching to hear the hon. Lady make those historical references. Does she agree that the rights of LGB people were only won by LGBT people, and that it if were not for the T people, she and I would not have the rights that we enjoy today?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There should be no division, as the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) said.
We know from numerous studies and polls that transphobes are in the minority, but unfortunately, that minority is hardening and seems to have this Government’s ear. As casual prejudice fills the airwaves and column inches, the Government’s failure to deliver a ban on conversion therapy for trans people sends a terrible message. Conversion therapy causes serious mental health problems for those who undergo it, and it has driven people to suicide. Trans people are twice as likely to have been offered conversion therapy as those who are cis, gay or bi, but the Government seem to exclude them even though they are the very people whom the ban would help the most. In Britain today, around half of trans people attempt suicide before the age of 26. Many face harassment, bullying and discrimination daily.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) mentioned, trans people and their very existence are not up for debate. Under the Prime Minister, this Government’s strategy is to harness prejudice and stoke a culture war, pitting communities against each other. It is not surprising that the Tories are undermining trans rights. If the Conservative party had a motto, it would probably be, “Never let basic humanity get in the way of a potential vote winner.” If the proposed legislation does not include trans people, it will not go far enough. It is essential to close all loopholes to prevent the possibility of this abuse continuing.
The Government know and have clearly acknowledged that conversion therapy is abuse, yet they seem willing to allow an entire community to continue to be subjected to it. History has judged how wrong some of our politicians have been in the past, and it will judge those who fail to protect our trans community now.
Order. I am grateful to Members for the brevity of their contributions. There are not quite as many Members standing as had indicated earlier that they wished to speak, so we can relax the time limit to seven minutes. I call Jackie Doyle-Price.
Thank you, Sir Graham. It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate. As legislators, our starting point must be to eradicate harms, but in doing so we must not create new ones. It is in that spirit that I will address the proposals in—well, we do not have a Bill yet, so we are flying a bit blind.
My concern is the use of the term “therapy” in this space, which has been discussed. We are talking about coercive and harmful practices based on an ideological opposition to being trans, gay, lesbian or bisexual, and those are the practices that we need to eradicate. The term “therapy” implies something that is benign and designed to alleviate distress, which is clearly not something we want to outlaw in this space—for sexuality as well as gender. My plea to the Government is to re-examine that language.
In respect of transgender identity, when an individual wishes to undergo medical transition or surgical intervention, a therapeutic pathway is essential to establish informed consent. We must not allow any law to be passed that would get in the way of those conversations and clinical interventions, which are designed to alleviate distress.
In the spirit of the point that I made in my speech that there are no two sides, I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. I suspect that she will find much unanimity in the Chamber that a ban should be about conversion practices. I am sure that the Minister, who campaigned for a ban for many years before he became a Minister, will be well aware of that and will be doing everything he can to ensure that the right Bill comes forward. I agree with my hon. Friend entirely, and I am sure others in the Chamber do as well.
I am grateful for that intervention. Indeed, although I have been outspoken on these issues, I have had this conversation with Jayne Ozanne, who shares this view. In terms of getting to a good law, I make this plea to everyone: we have heard lots of rhetoric today, but if we focus on creating a law that eradicates harm but gives support where it is needed, I think we can generate consensus. Notwithstanding the heat and noise on social media, there is much consensus in the Chamber.
I come to this matter having been the mental health Minister, with responsibility for gender medicine, when the General Synod of the Church of England passed the motion in favour of a conversion therapy ban. It is worth remembering that at that stage it was only about sexuality, and not about gender, which was added subsequently. At the time, however, I made it my business to look into exactly what the evidence was on the practices that we were trying outlaw.
Notwithstanding some of the experiences we have heard about, I could find no evidence of anything happening in a clinical setting after 1970. It became very clear that we were talking about practices that were often based in religious institutions, and very much based on an ideological belief against same-sex attraction and transgender. That is why we need to hammer down on outlawing exactly those things. That is the harm that we are trying to eradicate.
We have ended up with this vanilla term, “therapy”, for fear of alienating those people for whom these are issues of religious belief. Frankly, the risk of outlawing legitimate interventions should not get in the way of that. We need to be clear about what we are banning and that any therapeutic intervention designed to alleviate distress will not be eradicated by the legislation. I look forward to hearing words of comfort from my hon. Friend the Minister, with whom I have had many discussions about these things.
It is also worth noting that the term “trans” can mean any number of things, from declaring oneself non-binary to wanting to go the whole journey of medical and surgical transition. This is where the therapeutic care pathways are so important, because for some people gender dysphoria is a permanent condition that needs to be alleviated with treatment, but for others it can be a symptom of something else. This is not a straightforward condition that has the same pathology in all the people who experience it. We know that it is prevalent among people with autism and that it is very commonly experienced by girls going through puberty.
May I ask the hon. Lady and any other Members in the Chamber thinking of making that connection between trans and autism to be more thoughtful about how they express it? A number of people watching and listening to the debate will find it particularly unhelpful. I think that we can probably be a bit more nuanced in our language.
It is important that we understand what we are talking about with gender dysphoria. It can also be a symptom of trauma. It is very important that we have the therapeutic care pathways—[Interruption.] Members may shake their heads, but I am talking about this from experience, having looked deeply into this area of medicine when I was responsible for it. We need to ensure that we are not putting people on to irreversible care pathways that will do them harm. For example, at the Tavistock, where the care pathway is based on therapy, as many as 40% desist. That is why it is important that people are given the space to explore what they believe to be their gender, because it can often be about something else.
Does the hon. Member acknowledge the fact that puberty blockers —I think that is what she is referring to when she speaks about “irreversible” treatment, because they are the only medical treatment that under-18s can have—are not irreversible? The point is to pause puberty, which can be done for many reasons, such as premature puberty. The whole point of the blockers is that they are not irreversible.
Puberty blockers are not irreversible—the hon. Member is right. The fact of blocking puberty may mean that the individual does not subsequently go through it, but she is right in the sense that puberty blockers were invented for a different purpose than the treatment of gender dysphoria. They absolutely should be dispensed where appropriate, but they should not be used as a way of treating gender dysphoria without someone’s having gone through the therapeutic care pathway.
The real issue here is the provision of hormone treatment, which is now routinely dispensed to people from the age of 16. Again, the impacts of those things are irreversible. We see a generation of trans men who have desisted and will now have a loss of sexual function, permanent facial hair and male pattern baldness. A more sophisticated way of allowing them to explore their gender would mean that they do not go through such things.
Is the hon. Member not making a mistake by confusing what we are here to discuss banning? We are here to discuss banning pseudo-practices. We are not aiming to ban NHS therapies and practices that are conducted by professional medical experts; we are looking at banning conversion therapy, which is pseudo-scientific, often takes place in private settings and is not controlled.
I think the hon. Member is actually agreeing with my general thesis, which is that we should not use the term “therapy” in the Bill. Legitimate care pathways are exactly the things we should be ensuring that people can access, so that they get the right decision for them. As we know, if people cannot access those pathways through the national health service, there is a wild west out there on the internet, and people will start getting very harmful interventions that are not properly supervised.
Is not the key to all this the intention of whatever is going on? Conversion therapy sets out with a predetermined objective of stopping someone being something or forcing them to be something else. All the other therapies that my hon. Friend talks about are an exploratory process that may or may not, through the choice of the individual, lead to their taking puberty blockers or other things. The therapists themselves will not be entering into it with the intention to force them to do that, or to stop them being something else.
Again, I think my hon. Friend is agreeing with me. It is the term “therapy” that I am objecting to in the legislation because we are dignifying these practices with that description. Therapies are exactly the things that I have been describing. There is no doubt that we need better care pathways for people to explore their gender. My hon. Friend the Minister will probably have something to say about that as well.
That is really as much as I want to say. We must make sure that we call this practice out for what it is, we must make sure that the Bill only eradicates those harmful practices, and we must make sure that good, benign and positive therapeutic interventions will not be outlawed by the legislation.
At last the Government have proposed, and will bring forward, a conversion therapy Bill. I welcome that—it is progress. After all, I tabled a private Member’s Bill to ban conversion therapy in the last Parliament. However, the detail of the Government’s proposal is more than disappointing. The ban will protect people from therapies aimed at changing their sexual orientation, but therapies aimed at changing people’s gender identity will not be banned. If the Government recognise the harm that these cruel and medieval practices cause one group of people, why do they exclude the group that is the most harmed?
Trans people are twice as likely as the rest of the LGBT+ community to be subjected to conversion practices. A recent survey found that gender conversion practices, far from working, create lifelong, deeply traumatic consequences for survivors. Nearly half of respondents said that every aspect of their life, from their mental health to peer and family relationships, had considerably worsened. We all know that, all too often, the catastrophic mental ill health that is suffered leads to loss of life.
Gender conversion therapy is purposefully harmful and repressive. It targets already vulnerable people, and does so overwhelmingly at a very young age. Three quarters of those who have undergone conversion therapy were under the age of 24. Some began as early as the age of 12. These so-called therapies or practices include verbal abuse, isolation, physical abuse and, perhaps most disturbingly, “corrective” rape. For the exclusion of any doubt, we are not talking about professional medical treatment and therapy.
Does the hon. Lady agree with me that therapeutic and counselling interventions in these situations have to be non-directive, and that that per se excludes anything that has a predetermined purpose, as we are discussing?
I totally agree. What is damaging about all these practices is that they have an outcome before they even start. That is why they are so damaging.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that if we end up not banning all forms of conversion therapy, all it will do is encourage families to go further underground to seek practices, particularly through their churches? I know of a family whose church reached out to them. They were then referred to a quack in America who performed abhorrent practices on a young teenager who immediately said to their parents, “This is making me feel like who I am is less than I am.” Is my hon. Friend concerned that if the Government do not act, parents will not know where to turn?
I totally agree. We have to say this again and again: this is not about professional medical treatment and therapy. The conversion therapies that need to be banned are pseudoscientific practices, often conducted in private settings and, most crucially, they do not have an open outcome, but are aimed at changing what a person is.
Legal advice recently published by the Good Law Project makes it clear that the Government risk getting embroiled in legal challenges by breaching article 14 of the European convention on human rights. The advice states that
“the difference in treatment between sexual orientation and gender identity would need to be justified and proportionate.”
So far, the only justification that the Government have provided is to say that the issue is complex.
Why are we even having this debate? Opposition to a trans-inclusive ban is entirely built on stoking fear and division, based on deliberate misinformation. By the Government’s own admission, NHS gender identity services will not stop people having exploratory conversations with their doctors. Legal services will not be affected by a ban. There is no evidence of any negative impact in the countries that have already introduced a ban. Let us be clear: we are talking about preventing the abuse of LGBT+ and gender non-conforming people—our fellow human beings. We need to prevent abuse.
Furthermore, neither would religious freedom be affected by a change in the law. Religious freedom is the freedom to worship without discrimination. As a Christian, I have the right to practise my religion without discrimination. I do not have the right to cause harm. The Church of England has acknowledged that, stating that conversion practices have
“no place in the modern world”.
Nearly all countries that have banned gay conversion therapy have also banned gender conversion therapy. Canada, France and New Zealand, to name a few, have yet to encounter problems with freedom of speech or religious belief. It is baffling—I disagree that it is about getting votes—that the Conservative Government are not committed to banning trans-inclusive conversion therapy, even though their own voters are largely in favour of such a ban. Northern Ireland has moved a motion to ban conversion therapy in all forms. Scotland hopes to ban it by the end of 2023. The Government must follow suit.
The Equalities Minister called this country a global leader on LGBT rights, but it seems the Government have forgotten what the letter T stands for. How can we possibly call ourselves global leaders if we knowingly and purposefully fail to protect trans people from abhorrent practices? I plead with the Government to listen to what is overwhelmingly a consensus in this room—and outside—and make sure we ban conversion therapy in all its forms.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I speak very much in support of a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy.
I want to start by giving some context on what is happening in Northern Ireland, where the Assembly recently passed a motion on a ban on conversion therapy. It was carried overwhelmingly, with the opposition of only two parties: the Democratic Unionist party and a smaller political party. It never occurred to anyone supporting it that there would be a carve-out against the inclusion of trans people. If that is possible in a society that is perceived to be conservative and has had a reactionary approach to a whole range of equality issues over a number of years, it gives encouragement that it is possible throughout the UK and further afield. That needs to be pursued. The reality is that it was only a motion passed by the Assembly. In practice, although some initial work has been undertaken by Northern Ireland Departments, a large degree of credence will be given to what happens with any legislation in England and Wales. It is therefore important that action happens here quickly and that it is got right—and by “right”, I mean it must be fully trans-inclusive.
Same-sex sexual orientation and transgender identity should be considered—and are—perfectly normal situations. They are a part of the human variation. They are something to be celebrated and embraced, and we should treat everyone with equality and dignity for exactly who they are without question. The practices of so-called conversion therapy say far more about those who seek to engage them than they do about the subject. They are not about the welfare of those they seek to impose the practices on; they are about the hang-ups, bigotry and prejudice of those who seek to engage in them. Because they cannot accept people for who they are, they force people to conform to their narrow-minded approach to what the world should be, in denial of the broader reality.
I want to emphasise how vulnerable trans people are in our society. They are not aggressors, seeking to impose upon other people or to make life difficult. There is a much wider debate about gender recognition in that regard, which is distinct from today’s debate; however, it is worth stressing that in addition to people with trans identity being much more likely to subject to so-called conversion therapy practices, they have probably grown up marginalised in society. They are likely to have been subject to bullying, harassment and marginalisation and to have had difficulty with friendships.
A constituent got in touch with me recently to express concern about how isolated their child feels because they have a trans identity, and how difficult it is to find people to engage with. They were trying to build some sort of support network for that person. We should acknowledge that that is the daily reality experienced by people and do all we can to help them—not continue a situation in which people can be abused and punished through what is, in effect, a form of torture.
I want to speak in support of a trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices to represent the views of the 287 people in the City of Durham who signed the petition.
The Ban Conversion Therapy coalition defines conversion practices as those directed towards a person on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and for the purpose of changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person. Proposals to ban gender conversion practices would not affect legitimate clinical practices that are outcome-neutral, nor would they outlaw exploratory therapies or discussions, or limit religious beliefs or private prayer.
The main reason I oppose conversion practices in all forms is because they are harmful and do not work. Not only has a UN report found that conversion practices can amount to torture, but the UK Government have stated that
“There is no justification for these coercive and abhorrent practices and the evidence is clear that it does not work: it does not change a person from being LGBT and can cause long lasting damage to those who go through it.”
I could not agree more.
There is clear consensus on this issue across the medical community, with all the leading medical, psychological and therapy organisations, including the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, backing a trans-inclusive ban.
Last but not least, conversion practices are centred on the belief that certain gender identities or sexualities are the worst possible outcome for that person. There is acceptance that it is wrong to try to convert someone from their sexuality, because we believe that no one sexuality is more normal or moral than any other, so why should it not be the same when it comes to gender identity?
Before I finish, I will touch on the flawed concept of consent. This morning, I was in contact with Action for Trans Health Durham, which asked me to stress in this debate that there are countless avenues for someone to coerce a trans person into undertaking conversion therapy. It could be through the withdrawal of financial support, the withdrawal of access to loved ones, or the withdrawal of accommodation. The fact that trans people are also more likely to suffer from poor mental health and homelessness makes them more vulnerable to exploitation. Even if we set aside the fact that these practices should be banned outright due to the harm they cause, the fact that we can never be certain that anyone is undergoing such practices willingly means we must reject any consent loophole.
I support a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy for trans and non-binary people because allowing such practices to exist not only puts people at risk of harm but legitimises the idea that being trans is wrong, which is something I completely reject. I hope that one day basic rights for trans people will no longer be the subject of debate. Trans people should not be used as a political football. This Government could show that they are on the side of the LGBT community by banning these practices, but they refuse to do so. Instead, they would rather light up buildings with rainbows than make any meaningful change. Let me absolutely clear: there is no LGB without the T, and I will always stand in community with the LGBT community and their right to be who they are, enjoying the right to love whoever they love and the right to exist.
I filmed a conversion therapy once for a BBC documentary —I was a journalist before I became an MP—and that was when I first encountered a conversion therapist. He advertised himself as offering the last chance of a normal life, which of course lured young and vulnerable people who were terrified of their identity. I watched as this untrained pastor told a vulnerable and distressed young man that he had parted company with God and that was why he was anguished about his sexuality. Clearly distraught, the young man told me that he would commit suicide if the pastor failed to “cure” him.
I discovered that the pastor’s background was deeply disturbing, which is why I want some hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies present to be keenly aware of who we are talking about when we consider who is offering this so-called therapy. They are not experts who can help anyone. This pastor’s own son had committed suicide some years earlier because he, too, had a “dearth of masculinity”—or so his father had persuaded him. The pastor showed me the suicide note that his son had written him. The lad had connected up the exhaust pipe of his car to the family garage. His handwriting on the suicide note had trailed off as he lost consciousness and then lost his life, as the fumes filled his lungs. His dying wish was that his father would understand that the love he felt was real. He asked his father to meet his boyfriend and deliver him a note that he had written and left for him. The pastor told me that he had torn up that note and recommitted his life to the conversion therapy that had led his own son to suicide. This was the man who was offering conversion therapy to the vulnerable, with no controls under the law—conversion therapy, which the UK Conservative Government, breaking a manifesto commitment, appear now to be choosing not to outlaw.
We cannot allow this Government decision. If we believe the intelligence briefings from Conservative Back Benchers, the decision has already been made. It is our duty to do all we can to protect young people from the unrepentant cruelty of the pastor and his ilk, wallowing in prejudice and ignorance, for they are the reality of so-called conversion therapy. They take the most vulnerable in society, aiming to convince them that their nature can be altered. It is the cruellest of all deceptions.
Once upon a time, the Conservative Government agreed:
“There is no justification for these coercive and abhorrent practices”.
That was from a Conservative Government document, and I agree. The UK Government’s own research has found that trans people are twice as likely to experience conversion abuse as gay non-trans people. Galop, the anti-abuse charity, found that 11% of trans people have been subjected to conversion therapies by their own families. Just imagine the cruelty: the very people who should be looking after you and affirming who you are taking you off to the place of greatest danger.
I totally agree with my honourable friend. He will know that Galop also found that trans and non-binary people face a higher level of sexual violence than other members of the LGBT+ community, and it was designed to convert them from their gender identity. That is the reality of what we are dealing with, and why it has to be a fully inclusive ban.
Indeed, because some of these sordid people, as my honourable friend will know, rape those who are sent to their so-called care, in order to “cure” them of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the past year, Canada, France and New Zealand have all made the decision to ban trans conversion therapy. Scotland will shortly do so as well, I am proud to say. Some Members, as we heard earlier, say they have come with an open mind to learn. I believe in evidence-based policy making, so let us see what the experts say about this issue and who they are. The United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, the national health service, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Psychological Society, along with dozens of health, counselling and psychotherapy organisations across these islands, are all calling on the UK Government to end these practices for both gay and trans people. I would say that they are the experts—wouldn’t you?
Just in case anybody is trying to hide behind some kind of religious veil, only a few weeks ago the ancient Kirk, the Church of Scotland—my own Church; the Church in which generations of my family were ministers—lent its voice to the growing chorus of organisations that support banning trans conversion abuse. It is not a religious issue; it is cruel, it is damaging, and it does not work. It is surely our duty, as parliamentarians, to stand always on the side of the vulnerable. Let us do so on this.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I want to acknowledge the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), because he framed this debate in the right way—[Interruption.]
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on behalf of the many people in Newport West who have written to me with their stories, experiences, fears and hopes. This is an important subject for so many in this House and in the country, and I speak in an attempt to bring people together, to do away with the toxicity and inflamed passions and to speak about people—our children, our grandchildren and our neighbours.
I am conscious that this is not a day for long speeches or pontificating; if it was a day for long speeches, we should be listening to those outside this House who have had to experience the horrors of conversion therapy. I want to be clear: I completely and utterly refute any argument that conversion therapy works or is fair, decent or right. It is a disgraceful attempt to destroy the very essence of who a human being is and how they see themselves. I note the letter from the Women and Equalities Committee to the Minister, in which the Committee said:
“We have heard that the term ‘therapy’ is unhelpful, overly broad, misleading and confuses ethical, professional treatment with harmful practices.”
I absolutely echo those sentiments. If it is not right for some people—colleagues here today know that—then it cannot be right for anyone. It is as simple as that.
Before I was elected to this place in 2019, I spent my career working in our national health service across England and Wales. As would be expected, I know a little bit about health and wellbeing, which is why I wanted to speak in this debate. This is about safety and security for all. If we are, as we hear so often, committed to the health and wellbeing of our people, we simply must ensure that conversion therapy is outlawed for trans people and, indeed, all people.
In recent weeks and months, I have spoken to and engaged with representatives across our community in Newport West. Those discussions were held with a range of folks, from faith leaders to mental health charities and organisations. I met the Dean of Newport Cathedral, the Very Reverend Ian Black, and Adam Smith of LGBT+ Newport—they both agree completely. People want decency not division, respect not rage.
I hope the Minister will be able to provide some real clarity. I refer to a letter from the Petitions Committee that said:
“It was welcome to see the Government recommit to its plans for a legislative ban on conversion therapy practices intended to change a person’s sexual orientation in last week’s Queen’s Speech. However, concerns have been expressed that—contrary to the Government’s commitments when it launched its consultation on banning conversion therapy last year—transgender conversion therapy will not now be included in the scope of the Conversion Therapy Bill, but will instead be the subject of ‘separate work’.”
Can the Minister be clear about what “separate work” means? Can he tell us when we will finally see conversion therapy banned for all people?
A number of constituents wrote to me ahead of the debate to ask me to speak, and although they asked not to be mentioned, I know they are watching our discussion. To all of them, I say thank you. Thank you for speaking up and for standing firm despite the many obstacles in your way, and for sharing your stories and experiences with me as your Member of Parliament and you voice in this place.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on the sensitivity of his opening remarks. He set the scene incredibly well. He talked about access to justice. Justice as a concept means something different to each of us. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price): to do this work properly, we must extinguish the term “therapy” in any legislation, because it sanitises a practice that is absolutely not therapy. That is something I think we should approach with real sincerity.
Perversely, in some respects I am glad that the Government made the decision to withdraw the trans community from the Conversion Therapy (Prohibition) Bill—not necessarily because of their position on that, but because that led to the petition, which led to this discussion. Discussion has been absent for so long, and the absence of sensitive discussion has been deeply damaging. To really understand how we move forward, we must listen to some of the messages and understand them with sensitivity, rather than getting on our high horse and take a polarised position. We must harness our experience and insights, wherever they come from, to ensure that we make the right decision. Our job as legislators is to interrogate the legislation and ensure that it is fit for purpose and will deliver on its intent.
My perspective comes down to information. When I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and started my nursing career in the ’80s, Scotland was not the beacon of equality that it has become. It was a tough gig, to say the least. One of my first placements was on a surgical ward. A bus driver was brought in with abdominal pains and was rushed to surgery for a laparotomy. Surgeons opened him up and discovered that he had extensive cancer, before stitching him back up and sending him back to the ward. That was the end of the discussion with him. He was not told; his family had decided that he should not be told the truth, and everybody was quiet about it. Back then, it was not abnormal for the patient not to have that information.
That has fundamentally changed. We now have the concept of informed consent. When I worked in adolescent psychiatry, we did not affirm that the dysmorphia of dysmorphic anorexics was real; we gave them therapy to help them resolve the challenges that they faced.
The hon. Member will correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds as though he is suggesting that being trans, which is to do with somebody’s identity, is as harmful as anorexia—the most deadly psychiatric condition.
Absolutely not. I am not making that parallel at all; I am talking about information and consent.
During my clinical practice and academic research, I conducted primary research into the supportive care of adolescents as they went through their cancer journey. That grounded theory framed supportive care as care that maximises personhood by considering all aspects of that individual, maximising who they were as they went through that journey and ensuring that they were supported to be the best version of themselves despite the trauma of intensive treatment.
Informed consent is something that children and young people are incredibly capable of dealing with. I have had conversations with young people about how and where they would like to die, and whom they would like to be there with them. I have had conversations with young people who have come in at the start of their cancer journey about sperm and ovarian tissue cryopreservation. [Interruption.] I do not know why that is funny; it is quite a serious issue. Those conversations have been handled in an incredibly capable way by young people, who are absolutely able to deal with difficult and complex information. They could be guided through that process in an absolutely natural and capable way. Certainly, in my experience, young people’s ability to deal with such information should humble everyone in this place.
Many of the late effects of cancer are a rich gold mine that we should look at when considering the impact of puberty blockers, because there are parallels. When somebody makes the decision to detransition, what impact will it have on later life? When somebody has high-dose chemotherapy, all their rapidly replicating cells can be deeply damaged, so they can completely lose their fertility. That is why sperm and ovarian tissue cryopreservation are really important and one of the important questions that we need to ask ourselves on this important matter.
The next part of consent is when it is not possible.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who has already gone slightly over our informal time limit. I have just been advised that there is a problem with the sound on the broadcast. Any Members who have spoken while there has been a problem can be reassured that their words will be recorded in Hansard but may not be available on the broadcast. I have been advised to suspend the sitting for five minutes to allow the engineers to reconnect the sound.
[David Mundell in the Chair]
I am told that the technical issues have been resolved, so we can resume. Mr Hanvey, please start where you left off.
It is now a pleasure to serve to under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I was making a point about the provision of information to assist in decision making in complex situations. Encouraging somebody down a path that could lead to irreversible medical decisions without the provision of such information and the opportunity to consider all possibilities is an unforgivable dereliction of professional duty. In her interim report, Dr Cass states that:
“Primary and secondary care staff have told us that they feel under pressure to adopt an unquestioning affirmative approach and that this is at odds with the standard process of clinical assessment and diagnosis that they have been trained to undertake in all other clinical encounters.”
I agree with that fundamental principle.
I should make it very clear that I am drawing a distinction between someone who has arrived at a clear, considered position of a trans identity and someone who is embarking on the exploration of that. Those are two entirely different things. We have a duty of care to understand that the therapeutic need within that process must be supportive. I agree with every point that has been made that that process should not be coercive on either side. It must be balanced and therapeutic, and it must always be patient-led. Patients must lead the direction of conversation. They should not be influenced in either direction to arrive at a particular position.
Many Members have made the point today that we are talking not about therapeutic interventions from professionals, but about quackery. This debate has satisfied some of my deep concerns about what the legislation would mean. As I remarked at the beginning of my speech, I am glad that the Government have made this decision and that the petition has been raised, because we are having this conversation. My experience of asking questions about this legislation, based on my considerable clinical experience, is being accused of being a transphobe and even a homophobe—that would be a surprise to my husband. We have been together for 28 years, so it would be news to him.
I have gone on a little bit longer than intended, so I will wrap up. I cannot imagine what it must be like for someone to be told that their identity is wrong when they know deep in their heart and soul that that is who they are. Conversion therapy is an absolutely abhorrent practice and should be ruled out, but we must make it clear what therapy is and what quackery is. These are the fundamental questions I have asked myself about what the legislation means. What we must not do is come down on either side, where there is coercion against trans identity or unquestioning affirmation. It is vital that young people who are questioning their identity have the kind of support and guidance that was denied me as a young gay man growing up in the 70s and 80s.
I call Dame Nia Griffith, and I add my congratulations on her inclusion on Her Majesty’s birthday honours list.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Mundell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on their excellent opening speeches. I will try not to repeat too much of what they said.
I have been saddened that it has taken the Government so long to address the issue of banning conversion therapy, which was promised back in 2019, and I am absolutely horrified that the Government are retreating from including trans people in the ban. This is a shocking broken promise. I would like to give apologies for my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who cannot be here owing to another speaking engagement. I remind hon. Members that back in 2014 he introduced a private Member’s Bill to ban gay conversion therapy, which included protecting trans people, so this legislation is long overdue.
Let us be clear: conversion therapy is abhorrent. It sets out to direct an individual to one intended outcome. As has been made clear by many Members, a ban on conversion therapy does not affect legitimate clinical consultations with medical professionals. The effects of conversion therapy are devastating, from negative self-image to suicidal thoughts, with potentially tragic consequences that are every bit as devastating for trans people as they are for LGB people.
By retreating from making this a trans-inclusive ban, the Government are not only sending a message to trans people that they are not prepared to protect them and leaving trans people exposed to the appalling damage that conversion therapy causes; they are also sending a very transphobic message to wider society. That is a serious matter, indeed. At a time when trans people face appalling abuse, bullying and discrimination, and when we should all be taking a strong stance against transphobia in all its forms, the Government should be setting a strong example and making it clear that trans people are valued every bit as much as other members of society.
The UK has, in the past, been a leader and champion of human rights on the international stage, but now we are in danger of sullying that reputation and falling badly behind. Other countries, as has been mentioned, such as New Zealand, Canada and France, have recently introduced trans-inclusive legislation and, of course, it is perfectly possible to draft appropriate wording. It is high time the UK Government acted immediately to introduce a fully trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban.
I am afraid that some of the issues with the sound have re-emerged, but I propose that we continue the debate. Hansard is taping and transcribing every word that is being said, so whatever contributions that have or will be made will be fully recorded.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I too congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on opening the debate. I want to approach this debate by speaking as somebody from the Christian faith. Over the past five years, I have tended to avoid talking too much about faith in the Chamber, partly because I do not want to be pigeonholed as some sort of mad Ned Flanders. One of the first times I spoke in the House, I quoted from Micah 6:8, in which we Christians are commanded
“To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly”.
The pledge that I made five years ago was that, when considering issues in this place, I would try and approach everything I do by applying those principles. I confess that I hummed and hawed about whether to take part in this debate, because what people have seen as the trans debate has become incredibly toxic. Some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people on the face of the planet have sadly been used as a political football, and we have seen elements of that today.
I want to bring a focus on faith in how I approach this subject. As many Members have already outlined, the vast majority of conversion therapy takes place in religious settlements. For that, I am deeply sorry and incredibly embarrassed. I think it is absolutely appalling and would condemn it in every form. The form of Christianity that I believe in subscribes to a view of compassion; it does not subscribe to the idea of using a very vulnerable group of people as some sort of wedge issue or political football, as is so often the case. I think that the Government, in choosing to remove trans people from the ban on conversion therapy, are doing exactly that. This is being used as a wedge issue, and most of us in this Chamber know that.
When anybody tries to approach this debate, it suddenly gets boiled down to who can use toilets and what kind of genitalia they have. That does a massive disservice to the issue, and it gets away from the fact that trans people are subject to some of the worst mental health issues—some are contemplating suicide. The idea that this issue can be boiled down to some pathetic radio phone-in, asking who can have a penis, is deeply distasteful.
Going back to the Christian theme, when the Bible talks about the good Samaritan, the good Samaritan did not stop and ask someone what their pronouns were; whether they were male, female or non-binary. The good Samaritan stood there and tried to help people. So I would ask Christians to approach this debate with compassion, because far too often, in my view, the Church has become absolutely obsessed with people’s sexual orientation and gender, and it has done so at the expense of social justice and equality.
We are commanded in the Bible to talk about faith, hope and love, but it says that the greatest of those is love. As a Christian, I do not believe that we can talk about practising love to other people while pursuing a ban on conversion therapy that excludes trans people. I very much support the ban on conversion therapy, but it must go further and include trans people. We must try to have a much more grown-up debate that focuses on compassion, and not the nonsense that we see far too often.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Mundell, and to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), who made a powerful speech. I congratulate and thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing the debate, and also the creators of the petition, along with the 145,000 people who signed it, for ensuring that it was debated here today.
LGBTQ people do not need to be fixed or cured. There is nothing wrong with who we are; what is wrong is how society treats us. Mind, the mental health charity, has said that
“all forms of conversion practices can result in poor mental health”.
People have reported suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and feelings of guilt, shame and self-hatred. The United Nations has said that conversion practices can amount to torture. The Government’s 2018 national LGBT survey found that 5% of LGBTQ people had been offered, or threatened with, conversion therapy, and one in 50 had been put through it. Trans people are twice as likely to have been offered conversion practices than those who are cisgender and gay or bi.
The Government have now been promising for four years that conversion practices for LGBTQ people will be banned. Now that a ban has finally made its way to the Queen’s Speech, in which conversion therapy was described as “abhorrent”, the proposals it puts forward are discriminatory and unacceptable. If the Government truly believe that conversion therapy is abhorrent, why do they intend to ban practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation but not those aimed at changing their gender identity? Mind has described that differentiation as “deeply disappointing”.
I am extremely concerned that trans people’s exclusion is yet another cynical attempt by this Government to create a culture war between these different groups—that they are scapegoating trans people, who already face a tirade of violence and discrimination, with the aim of stirring up so-called anti-woke sentiment. We have seen it all before. The Government do the same to migrants, refugees and people of colour. We saw Thatcher’s Government whip up the same moral panic against gay people in the 1980s. I believe that, just as society looks back with disgust at how gay people were treated in decades gone by, we will hang our heads in shame at trans people’s treatment in decades to come.
It is also deeply worrying that, even for sexual orientation, the ban covers only under-18s. That means that adults can consent to non-physical forms of conversion practices. People cannot consent to their own abuse—and that is what conversion therapy is. It should be banned without caveats. I urge the Minister to listen to LGBTQ organisations, mental health experts, MPs here and our constituents, and ban conversion practices for everyone, in all circumstances.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Mundell. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for the way he introduced today’s debate. The way he pinned down the specifics of what we are meant to be discussing was really helpful. I also thank the 145,000-plus people who signed the petition, including all those from East Renfrewshire who signed and the many who have been in touch to let me know of their deep concern at the gap in the Government’s proposals. I also thank the many organisations that have kindly been in touch with briefings on this issue.
I think the tone of today’s debate has been interesting. I always wonder what these debates will actually be like. I have to say, it has been really interesting to hear the groundswell of feeling from MPs across this Chamber saying that we are not okay with the gap and we think that conversion therapy should be banned in all circumstances. That is really important, because we need to be clear that nobody’s identity should be up for debate. Nobody’s identity should be a political football; nobody’s rights should be diminished or compromised. It is always important that we bear these things in mind when we consider the language we use in this discussion, because what we say here has a significant impact on those outside the Chamber.
So what are we talking about here? Conversion practices—I take the point that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) made about the use of the word “therapy”; I think that is right, and I believe the Scottish Parliament uses the term “conversion practices”—are practices or conducts that are targeted at an individual with the intention of changing or supressing that person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) described very vividly the terrible reality of what that can mean. The UK Government themselves have stated:
“There is no justification for these coercive and abhorrent practices”.
That being the case, I wonder why we are here, particularly when, again, the UK Government’s own research found that trans people are twice as likely to be subjected to or offered conversion practices as non-trans lesbian, gay or bi people.
I think it was the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) who outlined the fact that banning conversion practices does not criminalise outcome-neutral explorative conversations or therapy. It is only practices that have a targeted focus on directing someone towards a more “acceptable”—as the convertor would have it—outcome that would be criminalised. That is because the bottom line here, which we need to be clear about, is that conversion practices are abusive and deeply harmful, for which there is no excuse, and nobody should be left at risk of these practices.
How did we get to this point? We had a commitment from the UK Government that they would ban conversion therapy, but in April they performed a series of quite extraordinary U-turns. First, they said that they planned to drop the ban on conversion therapy. Then, predictably and correctly, they U-turned on that after a significant outcry, including from a number of Members on the Conservative Benches. However, that U-turn was only partial. I find it inexplicable that we would suggest that it is okay to ban conversion therapy yet somehow miss out this very vulnerable group.
I thought that the speeches today by the hon. Members for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and for Darlington (Peter Gibson) were particularly important in that regard, and we need to remember that a significant number of voices are having nothing to do with the UK Government’s position, because it is completely unjustifiable. Indeed, this is a disgraceful way for the UK Government to conduct themselves, with no thought, as far as I can see, for the people directly affected. That is really disappointing, because of the damage it will cause to people’s lives.
It has been reported that the UK Government think that this is the correct course of action because there could be unintended consequences. We really need to be clear here—I think that there will be very predictable consequences if this gap remains, and the consequences will be that people’s lives will continue to be harmed and people will continue to be put into the most difficult situations, which will cause their lives to be significantly damaged.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that one of the consequences is the fact that the international conference Safe To Be Me, which the UK Government trumpeted so keenly, has been cancelled? I know that she and I are both deeply concerned about the UK’s reputation, and this cancellation highlights just how far the UK has slipped on this issue, such that people no longer want to come to our shores.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. If we look at the UK’s standing, in terms of the league table of places with a positive environment for people to be safe in their identity as members of the LGBT community, we see that it is slipping, and slipping fast.
Members have made points today that we should reflect upon. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington talked about the fact that the UK Government’s own survey pointed out the harms that are being caused, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire has just done. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West said that there is ample evidence of the harms that are caused to trans people by conversion therapy. The hon. Member for Darlington basically pointed out—I am paraphrasing here— that it is simply not okay to treat trans people as if they are ill and need to be cured.
However, it is not just we here today who are saying these things. We have heard that Mind, Relate, the Association of Christian Counsellors, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and many other organisations have also spoken out. The British Medical Association has spoken out, and it does not mince its words. It says of conversion therapy:
“It must be banned in its entirety.”
The BMA says that it is extremely concerned that the ban on conversion therapy has not been extended to transgender and non-binary people. It points to the UK Government’s own analysis of the impacts on the mental health of trans people, who, it notes, are
“already most vulnerable to being subjected to so-called conversion therapy, with one in seven trans people reporting that they had been offered or had ‘conversion therapy’”.
It is not just the BMA saying this kind of thing. The Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress voted overwhelmingly to support a total ban on conversion therapy; the British Psychological Society has made its views clear, too; and the Church of Scotland passed a motion at its general assembly calling for a ban on conversion therapy. I have increasingly heard from constituents with a strong religious faith who are also deeply concerned about the potential harm caused by not implementing a full ban.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) said that he “hummed and hawed” when considering whether to speak in this debate. I have to say that I am very glad that he did. I already knew that he is a thoughtful and compassionate man, but he demonstrated that again today in what I thought was a very important contribution. That is because there is a groundswell among those with a strong religious faith. We have heard about the large numbers of religious leaders who have spoken out on this subject already. There is no justification for a gap in the ban, and religion is not a justification either.
That recognition, from all angles, of the immense harm, is borne out by the people who are directly affected. Their voices are perhaps a bit missing today, but they are who we should be listening to. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) speak, because I thought she pointed that out very well. The experience of trans people who have already been harmed by conversion therapy is what we must consider when we think of the fact that that is somehow being left out of the proposed provisions.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith), I am very glad that the SNP Government in Scotland are clear about their commitment to ensure that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is safe from conversion practices. It is notable that they have taken steps to include in their process voices of people who are directly affected. They have an expert advisory group on ending conversion practice, which will look at support for victims and survivors—something that we must not let slip as we move forward because, while I and many others in this room are pushing for a ban on conversion therapy that includes trans people, there are many people whose lives have already been irreparably damaged.
Scotland is only one of a number of countries taking that approach; we have heard about Northern Ireland, and I understand that Wales is looking at this too. In the last year, Canada, New Zealand and France have all gone down this road, and nothing terrible has happened—of course it wouldn’t. However, the way that the UK Government are approaching this issue is making life particularly difficult for trans people; this conversation in itself is making life harder for people who are already vulnerable.
In this case, Wales is actually “Wales and England”, but many of us would welcome the opportunity for Wales to legislate on this matter. That might be a point that the Minister will respond to when he gets up.
I am sure that the Minister is taking note and has heard the voices in Wales, as I have, who are talking about this.
The reason that this matters is that leaving trans people out of a ban on conversion therapy waters down the impact of the ban for everyone else. It allows conversion therapy to come in by the back door—or the trap door, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said—and, of course, many trans people are LGB. It just makes everyone’s identities that little bit less secure, and everyone loses as a result. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with being trans; that is what this all must come back to. Nobody needs to be cured, or converted away from being themselves; legislation here must reflect that fact.
I make no apology for having criticised the UK Government for U-turning repeatedly on this issue, but there is an opportunity for them to U-turn again and do the correct thing—I would certainly welcome that—to ensure that this is an all-encompassing ban on conversion therapy. I know that the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) is a very thoughtful Minister on this matter. The only question I have for him is: what steps is he taking and what conversations is he having with his colleagues to ensure that this ban is a ban for all?
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Mundell. I am grateful to the petitioners, and I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening this debate in what has been universally acknowledged as a sensitive and careful manner.
I think we are all aware that this discussion is taking place during the Pride Month—the 50th year since the first Pride march took place in London. This should be a month of celebration for LGBT+ people and their allies, after their history of struggle that was ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne). It should be a time to celebrate the wonderful diversity of our country and for all of us in this House to recommit to doing what we can to ensure that every person in the UK is treated with dignity and respect, including LGBT people, and that they will always have the ability to love and live as they need to. The calls from my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) were extremely strong in that regard.
The Government had ambitious plans to mark the 50 years of Pride through, as was mentioned, their flagship Safe To Be Me: A Global Equality Conference. However, the resignation of Iain Anderson, and the withdrawal of more than 100 LGBT+ organisations and charities from Safe To Be Me in April, was a consequence of the Government’s decision to reverse their plans to ban trans conversion therapy, which is of course the subject of today’s debate.
The policy process has been chaotic. On 30 March, the Minister told the House that the Government were taking forward plans to ban conversion therapy in all its forms “on an urgent basis”. Just one day later, the news broke that the Prime Minister intended to ditch plans to ban all forms of conversion therapy, and one day after that the Government had to U-turn on that intention, only then to exclude trans conversion therapy from their plans. It appeared that no one covering equalities issues on the Government Benches, from the Foreign Secretary and Women and Equalities Minister down, was informed of No. 10’s intentions, as they changed from hour to hour.
At no point before April had the Government suggested that they were treating trans conversion therapy practices differently from those targeting sexual orientation. Their consultation was in fact explicit that an attempt to change a person from being attracted to the same sex to being attracted to the opposite sex, or from not being transgender to being transgender, would be treated in the same way as the reverse scenario.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) made clear, a ban on conversion therapy in all its forms is long overdue, so I have to ask, as so many have during this debate, why have the Government changed their mind on this subject when so many expert organisations hold a different point of view? The BMA has called conversion therapy
“an unethical and damaging practice that preys on victims of homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, and bullying.”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists says,
“Conversion therapy causes severe physical and psychological suffering”.
Many others have been mentioned in this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) mentioned the comments of Mind, the mental health charity. The NHS Confederation and the British Psychological Society were mentioned. I could go on and on. The issue is at not just a national level, but a local one, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) rightly said when she mentioned the organisation that she has been in contact with.
Many of the organisations that I have just listed have acknowledged, as has the Labour party, the need for clarity when introducing legislation. Labour is clear that a trans-inclusive ban must not cover psychological support and treatment, non-directive counselling, or the pastoral relationship between teachers and pupils or religious leaders and worshippers. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) made that particularly clear.
My hon. Friend is giving a customarily excellent speech. When I went to see one of my oldest and best friends Imran last year, his child was coming out as trans—as Hope. I want to share Imran’s and Hope’s words. Hope told me,
“I’m Hope and I’m 16. I’ve decided to live my life as female. My home has been very supportive and my parents have done everything they can for me. At school it has been supportive, especially my friends and teachers who have been respectful. Some students have been unkind. The attitude that most people have shown me should be the norm. Trans People are treated differently and we need to educate people.”
Imran said to me,
“It doesn’t matter what your child does or says but it’s your job to unconditionally love and support them.”
I hope we can carry their positivity, do our best for trans people and bring forward the ban.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and sharing that experience. Let me say clearly in response to the comments of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher): of course, a ban must not cover discussions within families, which are based in the need for love and support, as has rightly been mentioned.
It is imperative that a trans-inclusive ban must not have an impact on the provision of services for children and young people. Indeed, the interim Cass review has highlighted the extent to which there is a disturbing lack of support and healthcare for children and young people with gender dysphoria, especially when it is accompanied by an additional diagnosis that requires care. Much more support and counselling is needed, not less. I agree the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington that any ban must be carefully, tightly and clearly worded, and appropriately implemented and assessed. The Government’s own consultation on their initial proposals made that very clear. As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli said, this is not beyond the wit of man or woman in this place; it is surely what we do every day as legislators, and what we would do in respect of this ban too.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that we have to be inclusive when we are talking about issues of coercion and control, and of safeguarding, and that there is therefore no rationale behind the exclusion of one particular group in our society over another?
I thank my hon. Friend for that important comment. Indeed, there is no rationale for exclusion. Ministers have had almost four years to work up a ban on all forms of conversion therapy that does not inadvertently restrict access to legitimate, non-coercive forms of treatment. As so many Members have said, the Government could have looked to the examples of other countries that have managed to produce bans without any evidence of such unintended consequences. The majority of countries that have introduced some form of national restrictions against conversion therapy have done so including trans people, and more propose to follow suit.
I have some direct questions for the Minister. Will he please explain whether he and his Government have gathered: any evidence on the impact of such a ban on the provision of legitimate talking therapies; any evidence or statements from medical bodies suggesting any concerns about chilling effects after conversion therapy bans; and any evidence to suggest that a trans-inclusive ban would put such treatments at risk? I have been unable to find any such evidence. I believe that is because it does not exist.
I anticipate the Minister will argue that the complexity of issues I have mentioned will require his Government to consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy further. If, according to his Government, further information on how a trans-inclusive ban will work must be sought, I hope that he will use his remarks to set out in explicit detail a timetable for such a period of consideration and how that process is to be undertaken. When do the Government intend to make a final decision on the issue? Are we going to back here in another year, asking exactly the same questions? If so, I genuinely fear for the impact in the interim on trans people, who surely only want to live their lives in dignity and free from abuse, just like everybody else.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I thank the petitioner for securing the debate and the 145,000 people who signed the petition. On a personal note, I would like to recognise the 50th anniversary of Pride, and to thank those who went before me to secure the rights that I have today. We can get caught up in the heat of the debate around the issues we have to address, but it is sometimes important to look back and remember that we have made progress. Let us not lose sight of the progress we have made, while agreeing that we still have further work to do. I have to say that I welcome this debate, because I have spent considerable time and energy on the legislation, not least trying to myth-bust much of the nonsense going around regarding what is and is not conversion practice.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) not only for securing the debate, but for what I thought was a powerful and thoughtful speech. It was a speech that he could have made from the Minister’s position—perhaps one day he will.
I have to say that the debate saddens me; I am genuinely sad that we are having this debate yet again. It saddens me that we have yet to achieve a consensus on many of the more thorny or heated topics that people disagree on or choose to misunderstand. It is a real regret that, having spent so much time trying to explain what is and is not a conversion practice, we continue to have this debate. From that point of view, since taking up the position of looking after LGBT issues in the equalities brief, I have genuinely tried to seek consensus, to pursue the debate with a degree of honesty and respect, and to remove the toxicity from the debate.
Many of us do not have direct experience of trans issues, although some of us do. I get deeply frustrated when colleagues make comments—from what I believe to be a position of ignorance—about the trans community, which also hurt colleagues in this House. The trans community is not some invisible, amorphous blob that people cannot recognise. Trans people are our friends and our colleagues. Members of this House have trans siblings and trans children. We have our first trans Member of Parliament. It deeply saddens me that hurtful comments are still being made, even if they are not designed to hurt.
I have taken time to speak to many of the survivors who have been through conversion practices, some of them decades ago. From speaking to them, it is clear that they still live with that trauma today. I have also spoken to people who have survived conversion therapy more recently. When people say that conversion therapy no longer exists, that is absolute, utter nonsense. They just need to go out and talk to people who have survived it, whose partners have committed suicide, or who have seen children taken abroad to conversion camps or to be married off.
It deeply saddens me that people continue to deny the existence of conversion practices. Yes, many of the more abhorrent physical acts are illegal. However, the pernicious, insidious, coercive so-called therapies are what we are trying to address, and they are still present today.
Colleagues have talked about rape being used as a tool to correct people’s behaviour. Part of the Bill that is being drafted will ensure that, while rape is obviously already an illegal act, using rape in the way Members have described would be an aggravating factor. That is the difference. People ask what the Bill will change in law that is not already illegal—that is one example. The use of corrective rape will be an aggravating factor. That is not currently the case.
I recognise people’s strength of feeling for ensuring that the Bill includes trans people. I want to make it abundantly clear that the Bill will protect everyone from coercive attempts to change their sexual orientation. We do not agree with attempts to change someone’s gender, but we wish to ensure that any action that we bring forward on transgender conversion practices does not have wider implications, such as affecting access to legitimate therapies.
At the start of my speech, I referenced the sadness I felt that we have not been able to reach a consensus. I am disappointed that we have not brought forward a fully inclusive Bill, as is fairly obvious from my previous statements, but in terms of where we go from here, I want to use the piece of work that is currently being scoped out, hopefully at pace, so that we can have an informed process as the Bill proceeds in its passage through Parliament. We must try to address the issue of how to ensure with cast-iron clarity, if one can have cast-iron clarity, that clinicians are protected in questioning someone’s gender discomfort—I will be corrected if I get this wrong, but dysphoria is the clinical end of the process. When someone is suffering from gender distress, a clinician needs to have absolute clarity that they are protected, and that their ability to explore why their client is feeling that way is not a conversion practice.
I think a lot of people will be very reassured by the tone of the Minister’s comments, because there is genuine fear that legitimate practices would be outlawed. However, one of the issues we have is that campaigners are looking at other laws elsewhere, which has perhaps led them to conclude that things will be included in the Bill that might not be. Could the Minister say what the timescale for a draft Bill will be? No one can predict what will be in the legislation, because we have not seen it yet.
I thank my hon. Friend for asking for clarification. It is certainly my intention that the draft Bill, which is expected to be narrow in scope, clearly setting out what is and is not a conversion practice so that we have that clarity, will be brought forward in—I hope—September or October of this year.
I have a lot of time for the Minister, and I think his heart is in the right place, but he has just mentioned a narrow scope. Is it the Government’s intention that the scope of the Bill will be so narrow that an amendment to include trans and non-binary conversion therapies and practices within a ban would be excluded, so that the will of the House could not be tested and MPs would not have the chance to vote for such an amendment?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I know he spends a lot of time on this issue, and we are probably of a similar mindset about where we want to get to.
I am straying into parliamentary draftsmanship, but I think it is possible to draft a Bill that ensures that attempts to reopen the Equality Act 2010 or the Gender Recognition Act would be out of scope. That is one of the dangers: if we write a Bill that is open to being repeatedly amended, there is a risk of the debate widening beyond conversion therapy, which is why I am trying to ensure that the Bill is narrow. However, the way I see it—I cannot give that cast-iron guarantee, because I am not the parliamentary draftsperson—is that a Bill about conversion practices would be amendable. Of course, that is a debate for another time, but our purpose is that the Bill remains narrow, so that it is limited to conversion practices and does not get hijacked and caught up in debates about other issues. I hope that we can keep it very, very narrow.
The extra work of scoping out, which I hope will be done at pace, is about ensuring that legitimate clinicians and therapists are protected in being able to explore all the reasons why somebody might be suffering from gender distress. It is also to make it abundantly clear that parents can have robust conversations with their children. There is nothing wrong with a parent disagreeing with their child’s trans status or sexual orientation—that is not a conversion practice.
We are having a good debate, but can the Minister confirm that conversion practices are those that are aimed at a certain outcome? What he is describing—an open conversation to explore a person’s gender identity—is of course not something that a ban should include, but all practices with a closed outcome should be banned, and that ban should include trans people.
A conversion practice is clearly defined as where a person has the predetermined objective of taking someone away from being trans and pushing them towards not being trans. Being straight and being gay would be symmetrical. Key to the additional work that I am seeking to get undertaken at pace is the clarity that we need to ensure that clinicians, parents and teachers are protected, to ensure that the chilling effects, which some clinicians and therapists have expressed concern about, are equally mitigated.
The Cass report mentions how affirmative therapy could be abused. We will always find a rogue practitioner with any practice, but it is legitimate to consider how affirmative therapy should be performed. Again, it is about achieving clarity so that people are not caught and made to feel that they have practised conversion therapy by simply being a good therapist or clinician. That is why the work that we have scoped and done at pace will, I hope, allow us to achieve a consensus and put to bed many of the fears and concerns that people have legitimately expressed. Although I am clearly disappointed that we are having this debate again and that we are where we are, I feel that it is not unreasonable to take some extra time to try to build a consensus, so that when a Bill comes forward, we can make it as inclusive as possible. I cannot guarantee that we will get there, but that is my aim and objective, and I do not think it is wrong to spend some extra time trying to ensure that we can build as much consensus as possible.
Let me turn to a couple of points that have been raised. We have talked about trans healthcare. I have spoken to Dr Cass a couple of times, and she has clearly put a lot of thought into how we need to reform the healthcare system for trans people—not just for under-18s, but in general. The idea that people wake up on a Monday, decide that they want to change their gender, and have been banged through surgery by Friday is clearly nonsense. Anybody who has spent any time looking at the whole trans journey knows that it is cumbersome, it is not patient-centred, and it does not work. It forces too many people to opt out and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) said, to buy things on the internet—the wild west—where we do not know what they are doing and what they are being exposed to. That is an important piece of work, alongside the work we are doing on conversion practices.
I want to reiterate that the call for the ban on conversion practices to wait until Dr Cass has reported in full, and the Government have responded, is missing the point. Dr Cass has said that our work is complementary—we are not sequential—and that her work is not a reason not to bring forward the legislation. She has made that abundantly clear. In fact, she has gone as far as publishing a Q&A on her website, which clearly says:
“The Cass Review was commissioned as an independent review of NHS gender identity services for children and young people. Its terms of reference do not include consideration of the proposed legislation to ban conversion therapy.
No LGBTQ+ group should be subjected to conversion therapy. However, through its work with clinical professionals, the Review recognises that the drafting of any legislation will be of paramount importance in building the confidence of clinicians working in this area.”
That is what Dr Cass said, and she is absolutely spot-on.
I want to put a couple of other things on the record. Hon. Members raised the victim support service, which is already operating and is run by Galop. The service is fully inclusive and available to anybody who believes they have been subject to conversion practices or believes they have been at risk of those practices, regardless of their sexuality, gender or non-binary identity. Galop is the leading LGBT+ anti-violence charity and has significant expertise in that area of work.
To conclude, I remain wholly committed to delivering our commitment to ban conversion practices and to protect victims and survivors. I know many colleagues in this Chamber, from across the House, are equally committed to realising that goal. We have to work together to ensure that the legislation is right and that we are seen to be supportive of people’s right to be who they are. It is not our job to interfere in how people see themselves; it is a matter of autonomy and dignity. I thank all colleagues for their contributions and I look forward to working together to make the Bill a success.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell, at the end of this debate. I join my hon. Friend the Minister in thanking all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions today. I put on record my thanks to the petitioner, Sammantha, and the Petitions Committee staff, who have done such an excellent job with public engagement in the run-up to today’s debate.
I thank the Minister for his carefully considered response. We are lucky to have him, and I am not just saying that because of the kind words he had to say about me. It is true that we are shooting a little bit in the dark with today’s debate because the Bill has not been published. Indeed, I was heckled earlier by an hon. Member who is no longer in their place to say, “Well, that’s the title of the Bill.” Well, no one knows that yet, so I hope they come back and correct the record.
I welcome the fact that the Minister used the phrase “conversion practices” rather than “conversion therapy”. Indeed, the Bill that has just been passed in New Zealand is the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Act 2022, and I believe we should replicate that phrase. While there are complexities, I have never been one to believe that complexity means that we should not do what is right. At the end of the day, as we have heard and as set out by all the evidence, conversion therapy is harmful and degrading, and does not work. No one should go through it, and we have the opportunity to make sure no one does.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 613556, relating to transgender conversion therapy.