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Tory MP Says Government Has ‘Broken Its Promises’ On Banning Conversion Therapy

The government first pledged to end conversion therapy in 2018 but a bill has still not been brought forward to Parliament (Alamy)

4 min read

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns has accused the government of breaking promises on conversion therapy after proposed legislation to outlaw it appears to have dropped off ministers’ agendas.

Kearns, who has been a vocal campaigner on the issue, said she was told work would be done to ban the discredited practice last year but it has not yet taken place.

Former prime minister Theresa May pledged to end conversion therapy – which aims to alter someone’s sexuality or gender identity – in all its forms in 2018, but the policy has been shelved then revived by successive administrations.

It was not included in last year’s King’s Speech, the government’s legislative agenda for the following year, leading campaigners to fear it will not be brought forward before the next general election. 

Kearns said “the risk of the election timing us out is of course a possibility”. As a result she is sponsoring a backbench bill from the Labour MP LLoyd Russell-Moyle, due to have second reading in the House of Commons on 1 March.

She told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown that she feels “let down” by her own party.

The Tory MP, who is also chair of the powerful foreign affairs select committee, said she withdrew an amendment to the Online Harms Bill on conversion therapy last year “because I was promised on the floor of the House by word, and I was also promised it in writing into the House of Commons” that a committee would be set up by government to do pre-legislative scrutiny of a bill to outlaw the practice.

“I didn't trust that it would happen in time, so I actually put a deadline that they had to complete it by the next King’s Speech, and they didn't do it” Kearns added.

Alicia Kearns MP
The Tory MP Alicia Kearns has long campaigned on this issue (Alamy)

Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Women and Equalities, told MPs in December she could not set out a timetable for when any legislation would be brought forward, saying that she was waiting for the results of a long-running review of gender identity services for children and young people by Dr Hilary Cass.

But MPs could get a vote on whether they support a ban on conversion therapy when Russell-Moyle’s bill returns to the Commons next month. Kearns fears some of her Conservative colleagues may seek to prevent that from happening by doing what is known as talking the bill out, a process of filibustering legislation until there is no time left to call a division, which often happens to bills brought forward not by the government.

“I think that we all know who the regular suspects are, so I would say to their constituents, please raise your voices," she said. 

"I think it is a disgrace that those people talk out other people's bills, but don't talk out their own. But if this doesn't go ahead, despite having drafted such a good bill, I have laid an amendment to the criminal justice bill to recognise conversion therapy as self-harm. 

“And I will push that to a vote, so there will be further ways that we will continue to push this fight.”

Kearns also had sharp words for her fellow MPs who oppose banning conversion therapy on religious grounds, who she called “bigots”.

“There are MPs who have told me that their pastors have told them that conversion therapy works, and that gay people should be given the support to be converted back to being happy, straight people,” she said. 

“Because the corollary is you can't be happy if you are a sinful, defective, evil-infected person, and there is something wrong with who you are in the way you feel. 

“And yet these are the MPs who run around saying that they're standing up for religious freedoms. No, you are not, I'm afraid you're a bigot, and you are wrapping up your own personal religious beliefs and imposing on other people.”

She said she was “really angry at the way that some politicians and people outside politics have weaponised” the potential conversion therapy bill “for their own political gain”. 

“How can we not recognise that our children deserve better?," she continued.

“And that the current level of dialogue in parliament is not what trans people or gay people deserve?”

A spokesperson for the Government Equalities Office said: “No one in this country should be harmed or harassed for who they are and attempts at so-called ‘conversion therapy’ are abhorrent. That is why we are carefully considering this very complex issue." 

"We intend to put our draft Bill forward for pre-legislative scrutiny as a further safeguard against unintended consequences”

 

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