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Tories Say They Will Keep Fighting For Conversion Therapy Ban

LGBT+ Conservatives is the party-affiliated group representing LGBT people (Alamy)

10 min read

Prominent Conservative politicians and organisations have said they will refuse to give up in the fight to implement a ban on conversion therapy, after legislation anticipated for the promised ban was not included in the King's Speech.

Andrew Boff, the chair of the London Assembly, was filmed being removed from the Manchester Centre conference hall during Home Secretary Suella Braverman's speech at Conservative Party Conference in October. He had muttered that the speech was "trash" and a "homophobic rant".

Speaking to PoliticsHome after the King Speech, Boff said he was "extremely disappointed" the conversion therapy ban had not been included in the list of new legislation. 

“Enough work has been done on this, it's not as though it hasn't been considered," he said.

"It just seems like an enormous backwards step to turn it down at this late stage. We've been consulting on it for years, they should have come up with a conclusion on it by now. There's plenty of time, it’s a lack of spine, not time."

Boff, an openly gay politician, accused the government of "ignoring" the LGBT+ Conservatives group, of which he is a patron.

"When the Prime Minister and the ministers start talking to LGBT+ Conservatives, before making announcements, or at least involving them in the decisions, then things will start looking up," he said.

"I can't see that happening at the moment. LGBT+ Conservatives isn't just a fringe organisation, it's a constituted part of the Conservative Party and they need to include them in decisions made around these issues.

"Now if they were to talk to us, and ignore us and say, ‘well, no, actually we're going to take a different course’, well, that's politics, but to just ignore them is, is just fundamentally divisive."

Boff said he had had a conversation with Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands after the incident at party conference, as well as a number of other ministers who expressed their support for him.

“I was delighted that [Hands] was very willing to listen to my concerns and the concerns of other Conservatives about the tone of rhetoric in some speeches by ministers," he said.

“I just want them to stop being timorous, discover their backbones and make decisions in the best interests of all British people. That's what they're there for.

"We're not going to go away and if they're hoping we're going away they're going to be sadly mistaken.”

The London Assembly chair said he had welcomed other measures in the King's speech as "a good group of policies", but warned that Tories making what he termed as "stupid, divisive statements" were undoing this work by damaging the party's reputation. 

"They think we are anti-conservatives; we're more pro-conservative than many of those people making stupid divisive statements," he continued.

"And in fact, that’s why it’s so very frustrating because it's damaging the reputation of the party I love.”

Boff insisted that it was vital that a conversion therapy ban is introduced for gay people, but also for trans people. 

Conservative MP for Rutland, Alicia Kearns, echoed Boff's comments and said she was "by no means done fighting" for the ban to be implemented.

“The decision to leave LGBT people at the mercy of bigots and quacks is deeply disappointing," she said.

"This decision flies in the face of promises made from the despatch box and by written statement in January to bring forward and complete Pre-Legislative Scrutiny before the King’s Speech. Everyone understands that a Conversion Therapy ban would be complex, but surely we have confidence that the British parliament is capable of rising to that challenge? 

“I'm by no means done fighting, and will continue to work with the majority of MPs who want to see this practice ended for good. But once again I call on the Government to do the right thing by banning Conversion Therapy and sending the message once and for all that love is not a pathology.”

She added that a ban was needed to "protect LGBT people from charlatans and bigots who believe that LGBT individuals have a pathology that needs to be cured" and said she had set out "non-legislative options" to the government that could put in some protections for LGBT people.

Liv Lever, Director of the right-wing think tank Blue Beyond, urged the government to deliver on its manifesto pledge going forward.

"Many Young Conservatives are saddened to see that the proposed Conversion Therapy Ban omitted from the King’s Speech and want to see the government deliver on its past promises of a full ban," she said.

LGBT+ rights organisations have also spoken out in criticism, with Stonewall Chair Cat Dixon saying the speech had been a "final opportunity" for the government to "protect LGBTQ+ people from the abuse and torture that has afflicted generations of LGBTQ+ people in the UK and which continues to this day".

"Protections were first promised by prime minister Theresa May, and by every subsequent prime minister including Rishi Sunak," she said.

"We saw legislation pledged in both the 2021 and 2022 Queen’s Speech, so the abandonment of promised laws now is an abject failure to protect for the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

"The LGBTQ+ community is left questioning whether promises and commitments from recent Prime Ministers mean anything; whether the institutions that are supposed to protect vulnerable people from harm deserve our trust.

"As political parties look towards a General Election in 2024, they should be thinking about how they can ensure the UK is once again world-leading by championing the rights of the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ people and ensuring that our whole community is treated with respect, dignity and equality. We need a serious plan to get the UK back on track, and political commitments to take us there.”

Andy Bell, Chief Executive of research organisation the Centre for Mental Health, told PoliticsHome that the failure to implement a ban could worsen inequalities for LGBT people in mental health care.

"We're very concerned that the government has again gone back on its promise to to end the use of abusive conversion practices," he said.

"It's deeply frustrating, because we know that these are abusive practices: it's not therapy and it's a misuse of supposed mental health treatment as a form of abuse for LGBT+ people.

"So a ban that covers all LGBT groups, including trans people, is incredibly important."

Labour's Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Anneliese Dodds MP said the fact there will be no ban introduced in this Parliament was a "betrayal of all LGBT+ people at risk of this abhorrent treatment".

"It's clear as day that conversion practices are abuse and should be outlawed, but the Conservatives have failed to do so for half a decade. Labour would bring in a full, no-loopholes ban on these practices," she said.
 
"Countless Conservative MPs and ministers have promised to bring in this ban, including Kemi Badenoch and Michelle Donelan. These ministers should apologise for yet another dismal failure."

A No.10 spokesperson said that while there was no conversion therapy ban announced now, it remained a "complex area which the minister for women and equalities is considering" and the government will provide an update on the issue “in due course”.

They added that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak still believes the practice is “abhorrent”.

“It is important, as highlighted by others, that we don’t do anything that has unintended consequences in our approach," they said.

"That’s why we are taking time and care to work out what is right in setting out the next steps.”

There has also been widespread criticism of the omission of reforms to the Mental Health Act in the King's Speech. 

Conservatives, including MP Robert Buckland, had called for mental health reforms to be included in order to update the outdated Mental Health Act – introduced in 1983 – and end the “injustice” of people with learning disabilities and neurodiverse diagnoses such as autism from being detained in mental health hospitals.

Buckland told PoliticsHome it was "deeply disappointing" it had been left out, and speaking to Parliament after the speech, he reiterated his demand and said it was "legislation that was needed now, not next year", with former prime minister Theresa May agreeing that he was "absolutely right" and that she "sincerely hoped" the reforms would be part of other measures that could be brought forward by the government. 

Responding to the omission of the Mental Health Act, Bell told PoliticsHome that the Centre for Mental Health was "bitterly disappointed".

"This was promised a number of years ago now, it was a manifesto commitment to update the Mental Health Act and we know the current legislation is not fit for purpose anymore," he said.

"It's now very unlikely that promise will be fulfilled and what that means is that people are subject to legislation which is out of date, which doesn't treat people with sufficient respect and dignity, which leaves particularly black people have far greater risk of the use of coercion and which means people are left for example, in prison for months at a time waiting for a transfer.

"It's hard to feel positive about the government's approach to mental health as a whole. There has been more funding for services and that is positive and indeed essential, but I think overall, on the government's commitment to mental health as a whole we don't have a lot to feel positive about right now."

Responding to the King’s Speech, Health and Social Care Committee Chair Steve Brine MP said: “It is disappointing that the government has failed to bring forward legislation to overhaul the Mental Health Act.

"The draft Bill, among its planned reforms, would outlaw the inappropriate detention of people with learning disabilities and autism. Without change, too many people will continue to be held in secure units, often for years at a time. These reforms are long overdue.”

Gemma Byrne, Policy and Campaign Manager at Mind, said that so much work had already gone into the bill, having been a manifesto commitment since 2017. 

"So much work has gone into this, there's a lot of cross party support," she told PoliticsHome.

"There's a lot of coming together to try and perform this legislation, so I think that's another kind of reason why it's particularly disappointing that now it's at this stage, it's being dropped. Particularly against the backdrop of what we've been seeing happening in the mental health hospitals in the news in the last year, it's just unbelievable, really, that the government would choose now to de-prioritise that legislation."

She added that she would like to see more MPs and peers "engage with people's lived experience, and try to place themselves or their family members in there".

Max Anderson, associate fellow at Bright Blue, a liberal conservative think tank, told PoliticsHome that the government should implement a mental health strategy in order to tackle multifold issues in society and the economy.

 "This needs to be something the government addresses or they risk exacerbating economic and social problems," he said. 

"It was therefore disappointing not to see it at least mentioned in the King’s Speech. In recent days, we have seen the government prioritise rough sleeping. However, there cannot be a meaningful government initiative without a mental health strategy. Otherwise, an ill-fitted response will be used to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. 

"Furthermore, too many people are having to drop out of the workforce due to poor mental health. Although there are various reasons for inflation, a shallow employment pool has played a part. By providing generous and accessible mental health support, we will help people return to work in a dignified way and help create a more diverse and resilient workforce."

A No.10 spokesperson said on the lack of a Mental Health Bill in the speech: “We are reviewing the outcome of the joint committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny report and we will respond in due course.”

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