— The House of Lords debate on conversion therapy

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21st February 2024

The House of Lords debate on conversion therapy

On Friday 9th February 2024 Baroness Burt’s Private Member’s Bill proposing a ban on “conversion therapy” was debated in the House of Lords. Twenty-nine peers spoke against it and fifteen in favour. Some important arguments were heard in Parliament for the first time.

Catch up on the speeches here. You can also read the official transcript with the full text of everything that was said, or watch the video of the whole debate.

Baroness Burt (Lib Dem) introduced the Bill

Conversion Therapy Prohibition (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity)

I want to make it clear: my Bill will not criminalise … open conversations in any way, nor will it tell people what to think or what to say. Freedom of speech and religious freedom are important cornerstones of any liberal society.

Read Baroness Burt’s speech

Lord Forsyth (Conservative) called it a “dangerous, crude piece of legislation”

In this House, we normally introduce legislation to fix a problem, not to create new ones. This Bill undermines the family and attacks free speech, freedom of thought and even religious belief. It is a dangerous, crude piece of legislation in a hugely complex and controversial area that is not suited to private legislation. It has all the characteristics of something written on the back of a beer mat after an unruly discussion in a pub. I very much oppose it. I know we have a convention in this House not to vote against Second Readings, but were we to divide on it, I would certainly kill it now, for it is a dangerous thing that brings great discredit to this House and Parliament as a whole.

Read Lord Forsyth’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Forsyth: “This Bill undermines the family and attacks free speech, freedom of thought and even religious belief.” https://youtu.be/uLHIxM91Muw Click To Tweet

Lord Winston (Labour) talked as a medical doctor about how little is understood about transgenderism

When you start looking at the data on transgender, the problem we very much have is that far more is not known than is known, and the definitions are extraordinarily difficult… The basic problem is this: we are at risk of legislating for a piece of biology that we really do not understand. We do not understand the underlying mechanisms.

Read Lord Winston’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Winston: “The basic problem is this: we are at risk of legislating for a piece of biology that we really do not understand.” https://youtu.be/DZsIQFNX2Q8 Click To Tweet

Baroness Featherstone (Lib Dem) argued that giving children puberty blockers would improve the cosmetic results of transition

Because the changes that may be made during gender transition are so serious, it is right for us to ensure that care is taken, particularly when a child presents as gender dysphoric. There is no legal surgery in this country before the age of 18, but it may be the case that puberty blockers are beneficial for a boy who is definitely trans and who will later become female, so that he does not have to later face the issues of having gone through puberty and having developed the masculine features which later will be so challenging for him in his new identity.

Read Baroness Featherstone’s speech

Baroness Noakes (Conservative) analysed the evidence and found none showing a problem needing legislation

I do not believe that there is a sound evidence base for the existence of a conversion therapy problem, let alone the harms that might be associated with it. The fact that LGBT lobbyists assert that there is a problem does not constitute evidence on which responsible legislators can rely.

Read Baroness Noakes’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness Noakes: “I do not believe that there is a sound evidence base for the existence of a conversion therapy problem.” https://youtu.be/RBk9V7KtoKU Click To Tweet

Baroness Butler-Sloss (Crossbench) spoke in favour of the bill but raised concerns

It is crucial to distinguish between well-meaning efforts to discuss an issue and the line being crossed by coercion. There are occasions, especially with teenagers, when a person is unsure about his or her sexuality… Discussions should be able to take place with parents and other responsible adults too. If a person has real difficulty in coming to terms with his or her sexual orientation, there is absolutely no reason for them not to seek and/or receive healthcare, including therapy from qualified providers. That is not conversion therapy, of course.

Read Baroness Butler-Sloss’s speech

Lord Robathan (Conservative) highlighted a recent report in The Times presenting consensual talking as “conversion”

I read a Times article on 1st February – last week… The headline reads: ‘Conversion therapy? It must be banned. I should know’. The journalist, Emily Sargent, who is gay, “went undercover to try it and was shocked by the damage it did”. In brief, she was paid to write this article and, in pursuit of remuneration, she lied and said to a therapist that she was unhappy about being attracted to women. [She said] “The process … quickly became destabilising. I dreaded the sessions, which were making me feel wrung out and depressed.” She could have stopped.

Emily Sargent concludes: “There is no doubt that a ban on these practices is wildly overdue”, but she does so without any evidence in her article that I can see. Personally, I am against banning things just because someone does not like them – as, indeed, I am against pointless legislation.

Read Lord Robathan’s speech

Lord Paddick (Non-affiliated) talked about his own experience as a gay Christian who tried to suppress his sexual orientation 

I believed that, with God’s help, I could be happy in a heterosexual marriage. I married Mary with genuine intentions to live together until death parted us… Eventually, I had to accept the way that God had made me, and my wife, who has been a great support to me ever since, accepted that as well.

This Bill as drafted may not be the answer, but something needs to be done to prevent lasting harm, damage that begins in childhood.

Read Lord Paddick’s speech

Lord Sandhurst (Conservative) raised the Cass report and the potential for parents to be criminalised

[The interim report of Dr Hilary Cass] is absolutely essential reading. It shows the dangerous waters in which this Bill swims. First, as she reminds us, sex is biological, determined by anatomy, while gender is a social construction.

Discussing sex hormones, Cass reports that:
“The long-term risks and side effects are well understood. These include increased cardiovascular risk, osteoporosis, and hormone-dependent cancers … given the irreversible nature of many of the changes, the greatest difficulty centres on the decision to proceed to physical transition… Decisions need to be informed by long-term data on the range of outcomes… The NICE evidence review demonstrates the poor quality of these data, both nationally and internationally.”

Finally: “Regardless of the nature of the assessment process, some children and young people will remain fluid in their gender identity up to early to mid-20s, so there is a limit as to how much certainty one can achieve in late teens. This is a risk that needs to be understood during the decision making process with the young person.”

Read Lord Sandhurst’s speech

Lord Cashman (Labour) linked electric shocks and brain surgeries to attitudes displayed in the debate

As I said, such practices sadly have a long history and have taken many different forms and contexts, including barbaric interventions using chemicals, electric shocks and brain surgeries. We tend to think that those dark, brutal days are long behind us. Many of the torturous practices deployed in pursuit of converting LGBT+ people are indeed historical relics, but what is not long behind us and still very much part of our society – as sadly witnessed in the Chamber this morning – is the belief fervently held by many that some sexual orientations and gender identities are less valuable and less desired than others. It is that enduring belief that underpins today’s manifestations of conversion practices.

In the words of Brianna Ghey’s father: “The dehumanisation must stop.” If one person suffers conversion therapy, that is one person too many. Conversion therapy must end.

Read Lord Cashman’s speech

Lord Lucas (Conservative) called for clear definitions and protections for freedom of speech

We should also take the opportunity to define sex, making it clear, along with recent court decisions, that this is a matter of biology – male and female, men and women. We should define gender, so that it clearly has a different use – the social and cultural attributes generally associated with a person of a particular sex: masculine or feminine. We need to rid ourselves, particularly in the context of this Bill, of the confusion that has arisen between the use of those two terms. In particular, in this Bill we need a definition of gender identity. My noble friend has already drawn attention to the Scottish draft. We are legislating about gender identity; if we are doing so, we need a really clear definition of what it means. In ordinary usage, it appears to be a very wide concept, and I hope that proponents of the Bill will feel able to contribute to a close definition of this.

We also need protections. We have all received, I think, an email from the BMA. I think it is being hopelessly optimistic. Other jurisdictions have specific protection for therapy; it is clearly needed in the context of the Bill as it is worded at the moment. We also need protections for parents; many others have suggested that parents, in their ordinary discussions with children, should not be criminalised by this Bill. The whole process of childhood is one of maturation, ceaseless change and experimentation; children can take on really strong identities that do not persist. Most parents of teenagers are actually delighted that they do not. It is not right to not be allowed to argue, to discuss and to be broad in one’s conversations and directions to children. The Bill should not criminalise that, as I believe it does at the moment.

Read Lord Lucas’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Lucas: “It is not right to not be allowed to argue, to discuss…” https://youtu.be/qgZwCp7zmeI Click To Tweet

Baroness Ludford (Lib Dem) said that premature gender affirmation is a new form of gay conversion therapy

My Lords, this is a very short Bill, undoubtedly presented with the best of intentions, but it raises some big and difficult questions. The first is why there are no definitions in the Bill, very importantly of “gender identity” but also of “practice”, “suppress”, “aimed” and “demonstrates an assumption”. This means that interpretations are likely to be highly subjective, as well as being left to the courts to sort out. How can something be banned when it cannot be defined?

My second question is whether the Bill represents a serious overreach into behaviour that should not be criminalised, in effect creating a thought or speech crime. What examples of action or speech can my noble friend Lady Burt or other supporters of the Bill give of a real gap in the law where, for example, police, prosecutors or courts have told complainants that they could not act or convict? Practices that amount to physical or mental abuse, torture or inhuman treatment are, of course, very rightly already illegal. The Bill requires no evidence of harm or injury for the offence to be committed, and what room it allows for sincere and voluntary conversations, safeguarding or protection of health and well-being, is thoroughly unclear.

… The Bill conflates sexuality or sexual orientation with gender dysphoria, when they are very different things. The evidence suggests, as Minister Kemi Badenoch noted in her recent letter to the Women and Equalities Committee, that a high proportion of young people who present as struggling with their sex actually turn out to be gay… So immediate affirmation of a change in gender identity rather than watchful waiting could be “gay conversion therapy” – what are the safeguards against that?

Read Baroness Ludford’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness Ludford: “How can something be banned when it cannot be defined?” https://youtu.be/DApG9zrpQYk Click To Tweet

Lord Morrow (DUP) highlighted how the Bill would criminalise parents 

If a mum refuses to let her trans-identifying son go to school in a dress and make-up, then surely she is suppressing his gender identity. We have heard the example from Australia where the state of Victoria says that not consenting to your child going on puberty blockers is suppressing their gender identity.

Read Lord Morrow’s speech

Baroness Hunt of Bethnal Green (Crossbench) said that a way could be found so that the Bill only outlaws abhorrent acts

What would become an offence, in my view, is active attempts by those in a position of power to suppress and change a person’s identity by force. It is not a curious response but an abusive response. It does not work, it has not worked, and, in my view, it should be banned.

I believe it is possible for us to find a way to agree on what constitutes conversion practices, be clear that we should ban those abhorrent acts, and collectively play our part in creating a world where curious trumps furious.

Read Baroness Hunt’s speech

Lord Blencathra (Conservative) said that the rush to transition children was conversion therapy

We have had the most despicable conversion therapy foisted on our children and sanctioned by the NHS. I am referring to the gross abuses inflicted on children by the Tavistock clinic and GIDS. Perhaps it was scrapping the words in the Hippocratic oath, “First do no harm”, that led to doctors neutering thousands of children, or perhaps they were captured by the ideologues of the transgender cult, led by the discredited organisation Mermaids, which advocates the cruel breast-binding of girls – it is currently under investigation by the Charity Commission, following safeguarding allegations. I exempt the courageous whistleblowers at the Tavistock who exposed this scandal and were vilified for it.

Only cult capture by the trans zealots can explain why 138 children were referred in 2010 for genuine gender dysphoria but that this had rocketed to 3,585 in 2021, as the fad for converting children from one sex to another took hold. Of course, these poor kids have not been converted from one sex to another. Boys have been chemically castrated, but they will never be women. Girls have been put on the drug Lupron, and some have had double mastectomies, but they will never be men. These children will never have children of their own; they are stuck in a sex limbo, neutered by doctors who should have given them proper counselling and advice, but instead put them on a fast-track to destroying their sex.

Read Lord Blencathra’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Blencathra: “Boys have been chemically castrated, but they will never be women. Girls have been put on the drug Lupron, and some have had double mastectomies, but they will never be men.”… Click To Tweet

The Lord Bishop of Bristol spoke in favour of a ban but said that the Bill did not clearly define the offence 

I have been aware for many years in pastoral ministry of some horrific practices, from physical punishment, counselling and prayer techniques akin to interrogation to, at worst, supposedly curative rape. Such practices are used against those in faith communities who are regarded as deviating from the communities’ norms for sexuality and gender identity. These more or less hidden practices must be prevented by statutory provision if they are not already. We should note too that those who are victims should be much better supported. I am also aware of the much more subtle impact on LGBTIQ people of faith – the pressure on them to conform to the norms set by the hierarchy of their faith community. The cultures which pervade many faith communities render those exploring their identity very vulnerable indeed to abuse, as the IICSA report reminded us.

I am relieved that the Church of England is at last owning its homophobia and making some moves to change its culture and practice. Personally, I wish that it would change much faster and further, but I am also aware that, in my diocese, there are very different perspectives in this ongoing debate. I am profoundly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for setting out some of the issues as they affected his own life. In my diocese, the organisation Living Out supports LGBTIQ adults who, exercising agency and autonomy and inspired by their interpretation of Christian faith, seek counselling to support celibate lives or marry someone of the opposite sex. I know too how hard it is to write into guidance or regulation definitions that help rather than harm… I am therefore not yet convinced that the text of this Bill and its lack of agreed definition would give Living Out, for example, the safe space that its members need.

Read the Lord Bishop of Bristol’s speech

Baroness Buscombe (Conservative) talked about how she had supported the GRA but did not support this Bill

My Lords, 20 years ago, on 18th December 2003, I spoke for Her Majesty’s Opposition at the Second Reading of the Gender Recognition Bill… We believed, and I believe now, that we were totally right then to support legislation that recognised an extremely small cohort of people, estimated then to be a maximum of 5,000 people, who suffer greatly through gender dysphoria. The key point that we sense-checked then was: what harm could it do? Surely it could not hurt others. Indeed, I had in mind the wonderful Jan Morris, formerly James, a brilliant historian and writer who was brave enough to write openly about his experience.

… Twenty years on, I stress that I never imagined what is happening now. Twenty years on, we are in a terrible mess. Twenty years on, we are presented with a Bill that risks criminalising parents who try to dissuade their confused adolescent children who are bombarded with unbelievable, appalling and, frankly, evil social media and peer pressure from having irreversible medical treatment that can cause lasting harm, including lifelong sterility. Twenty years on, I have parents begging me to stop the nightmare of teachers and others asking young children, aged as young as seven, to question their sexuality. Twenty years on, we are witnessing the hijacking of a rare and unbelievably tough condition for a trend that is out of control and undermines the real sufferers. This is abhorrent, both for those with genuine gender dysphoria, who deserve our wholehearted support and protection, and for a whole generation of very young children who have been robbed of their innocence and their childhood.

The legislation that we must try to create must find a way forward but must also clarify, with all professional and regulatory bodies that touch on this issue, that existing laws already protect victims from all forms of verbal and physical abuse. We should not legislate merely to send messages. As a mother, a grandmother and a Peer, I urge noble Lords to reject this Bill.

Read Baroness Buscombe’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness Buscombe: “A whole generation of very young children have been robbed of their innocence and their childhood.” Click To Tweet

Baroness Hayter (Labour) highlighted the risk of encouraging early transition 

We are talking not about a way of life or sexual preferences but about serious, potentially life-altering medical or surgical intervention.

Puberty blockers, which are given off licence because they have not been licensed for transitioning children – they are the same drug that we use for chemical castration – are wholly more significant than just tube tying, yet the Bill risks criminalising any psychiatrist, therapist, teacher, doctor, or perhaps parent or church minister who seeks to engage with that youngster and test their request to transition. Is it not a duty on any surgeon or prescribing medic to be absolutely sure that a young person really understands all the consequences of such a life-changing and irreversible medical intervention before they simply affirm and assent to the patient’s request?

Read Baroness Hayter’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness Hayter: “The Bill risks criminalising any psychiatrist, therapist, teacher, doctor, or perhaps parent or church minister…” https://youtu.be/TrEMMhLGkrY Click To Tweet

Earl Russell (Lib Dem) spoke in favour of this Bill, referencing the studies that Baroness Noakes had already critiqued

Theresa May’s Government undertook a national survey in 2017 to gather information about the experiences of LGBT+ people. Of the 108,000 participants, the survey found that 2.4% of respondents had undergone conversion therapy and 5% had been offered it. … The harms these practices can cause individuals are severe. One 2020 study found that people who had undergone conversion therapy were twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts, and 75% more likely to plan a suicide attempt. Similarly, a UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity has said that conversion therapy “may amount to torture” and has called for a global ban. 

Time and again, the Government have broken their promise to deliver this ban. Five years on, we cannot afford to waste more time. I call on the Minister to listen to the strength of feeling in the House and for the Government themselves to take forward measures, in consultation with others across this House, so that we can find a way forward.

Read Earl Russell’s speech

Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee (Non-affiliated) highlighted illiberal conversion therapy laws in other countries

There is a danger that this Bill will create a new orthodoxy and a whole category of opinions that must not be uttered, at the risk of criminal conviction. Supporters of a new law in this area have urged the UK to imitate the legislation in Victoria, Australia: the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act – the same terms that are found in the Bill before us.

One of the enforcement agencies – yes, enforcement agencies – in Victoria is the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. Its list of what is considered illegal under the Act includes: “a parent … refusing to support their child’s request for” puberty blockers. It also says that “not affirming someone’s gender identity” is an illegal practice. Press reports say that parents of gender-confused children are holding clandestine meetings, living in fear of prosecution for trying to get help for their children. The Victoria commission has even issued guidance on how to pray. It says that prayers that talk about a person’s “need to repent” are likely to be illegal.

Apparently, that is what supporters of the Bill want here too. The co-founder of the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign, Jayne Ozanne, says a ban must cover gentle, non-coercive prayer. Another founder, Matthew Hyndman, says it must tackle the “pernicious power of prayer”.

Read Baroness Foster’s speech

Lord Altrincham (Conservative) pointed out the negative effects the Bill would have on mental-health services

My Lords, this Bill comes at a time of very wide distress among young people. The NHS reports that 25% of 17- to 19-year-olds are experiencing significant mental health problems. Even if we adjust that and imagine that it is quite a bit of ordinary human unhappiness, there is great distress at the moment. We should be careful to protect services that help those young people. They are presenting with a wide range of mental health concerns. That is across the whole spectrum, but it is particularly true at the end of the spectrum that this Bill is focused on. In the Cass review, it was noted that 70% of young people presenting had more than five different forms of mental health problems, such as trauma and depression. The sheer complexity of these mental health concerns only adds to the importance of talking therapy and protecting psychiatric services in the country.

We might be careful about limiting talking therapies in any way, particularly for the very small group that is the subject of this Bill. If there is harm in this Bill, the first harm is that they themselves might find a limitation in access to talking therapies; they might find that the therapists available to them have moved sideways or elsewhere. The Bill obviously criminalises discussion and activities to an extraordinary extent. Only in England would a conversation with pronouns at one end and puberty blockers at the other have a policeman somewhere in the middle, trying to give expression to Clause 1. It is an extraordinary intervention into public health.

Read Lord Altrincham’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Altrincham: “The Bill obviously criminalises discussion and activities to an extraordinary extent.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYKsXK2bGSY Click To Tweet

On 31st January, in her article in The Times, to which the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, referred earlier, Emily Sargent described what is, frankly, this quackery. It is an article that I recommend noble Lords read. The noble Lord and I read the article very differently, and so I urge noble Lords to read it for themselves. What I read was the testimony of a very brave undercover journalist, who put herself in harm’s way to expose quite dangerous quackery that left her feeling very vulnerable.

… So, in the particular area exposed by Emily Sargent in her piece, we see that there are conversion therapies that are not currently banned by the extant criminal law because, for example, they are not sexual or violent offences. It is the abuse of power when somebody effectively gets into your head and makes you feel worse about yourself. In some of the examples given by Emily Sargent, people were turned against their own parents. There are all sorts of problems there that we have to attack.

Read Baroness Chakrabarti’s speech

Baroness Eaton (Conservative) told the stories of several detransitioners

My Lords, I recently had the privilege of hearing Keira Bell speak about her experiences of so-called gender transition. It was profoundly moving. Her experience led her to challenge the Tavistock gender identity clinic in court. As a girl, she had been deeply unsettled by the changes to her body during puberty. She suffered anxiety and depression, as well as parental abandonment. She was led to interpret her distress to mean that she would be happier as a boy. She was put on puberty blockers at 16 and testosterone at 17, and she had a double mastectomy at 20. The medical assessments she underwent before each of these profound and irreversible interventions were, at best, cursory.

Writing about her experiences, Keira said that “the further my transition went, the more I realized that I wasn’t a man, and never would be”. Even though Kiera lives as a woman again, there are many consequences that she will live with for the rest of her life. She lists: “possible infertility, loss of my breasts and inability to breastfeed, atrophied genitals, a permanently changed voice, facial hair”. Keira acknowledges: “I was adamant that I needed to transition”. But now she is angry at what was done to her, and she believes she ought to have been challenged.

Read Baroness Eaton’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness Eaton: “Keira acknowledges: ‘I was adamant that I needed to transition’. But now … she believes she ought to have been challenged.” https://youtu.be/HuVz0pc0u24 Click To Tweet

Baroness Meacher (Crossbench), an ex-social worker, highlighted the risk of criminalising social workers and mental-health professionals 

The Bill could make it an offence to have a conversation with a young person who is questioning their sexual orientation. Numerous professionals in the field of child mental health have expressed their serious reservations about a Bill such as this. Parents, too, are very worried that, if CAMHS finds out that a child is experiencing gender identity problems, CAMHS staff will not see the child, even if the child is suffering with a mental health problem, which it seems is often the case. Instead, such families may be advised to get a referral to the gender identity service, which of course means that their mental health problems simply will not be dealt with.

… We need to be aware that, in anticipation of Bills such as this, experienced and compassionate professionals are already leaving their profession, rather than risk professional and public censure for failing immediately to affirm a troubled child’s expressed wish to change their sex in the event that they believe that it is in the child’s best interests to consider most carefully before taking such a life-changing step.

Read Baroness Meacher’s speech

Baroness Bennett (Green) said that her Party strongly supports the intention to outlaw conversion therapy

I feel that one of the most useful contributions I can bring to this debate is to reflect on what is happening in Scotland… [In] 2022, the Scottish Government created the Expert Advisory Group on Ending Conversion Practices, which included legal scholars, human rights experts, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, faith leaders, medical professionals and survivors of conversion therapy. The final report of that expert advisory group unanimously recommended a comprehensive ban and a suite of measures regarding communication, engagement, prevention and support for survivors – which is something that we have not really talked about today and that is urgently needed.

 … It is clear that many of the actions that we are talking about might well be covered by other legislation, but, as a specific pattern of behaviour and action, some elements would not be, and that is clearly what this legislation that we are talking about seeks to address, as does the planned Scottish legislation. It is worth looking at this from the international context – that conversion therapy is widely considered to be a form of torture, in certain forms. This was the view taken by the UN Committee against Torture and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. Failure to protect people from conversion therapy leaves LGBTQ+ people at risk of having their convention rights breached.

Read Baroness Bennett’s speech

Many noble Lords will have seen the analysis of Jason Coppel KC, who considered the Bill in detail. His words are telling. He notes that the Bill “would apply across the whole range of life; including in religious settings, social settings, and in the home”. He says: “No attempt has been made to craft exemptions or exceptions so as to ensure that any particular conduct, including conduct in domestic settings, or the practice of religion, is not prohibited.”

The Bill would, he says, “restrict the ability of gender-critical persons to express their beliefs; the ability of religious organisations to express their beliefs … and the ability of parents to counsel and bring up children in the way they believe to be right”. He continues by saying that “the Bill criminalises expressions of personal conviction even if they are made without expressions of hatred or intolerance, or improper purpose or coercion, or abuse of power”. He concludes that the Bill would interfere with rights protected by Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We must take these warnings seriously. 

Read Lord Farmer’s speech

Read Jason Coppel KC’s legal opinion

Baroness Donaghy (Labour) spoke in favour of the Bill

It is because we have a poor mental health service and because our National Health Service is on its knees that we fail our children and young people in ensuring adequate counselling and facilities and that there is not a two-year waiting list, meaning that what might be a small niggle becomes an absolute mountain. I agree with him that anything that risks that should not be proceeded with…

What is key in all this is that all children and young people feel supported, do not feel judged and are therefore able to trust. It is vital that we ensure trusted adults can still support young people and that licensed medical practitioners are able to help young people.

Read Baroness Donaghy’s speech

Baroness Brinton (Lib Dem) highlighted what she said was an example of conversion therapy

I want to use my time to highlight one medical conversion therapy case, which I hope gives some clearer lines for those who say that the Bill is wrong. I have talked to Mr B, an adult transgender man in Wales who came out 10 years ago. At that time in Wales, in order to get a GRC, transgender people had to be seen by a psychiatrist. For eight years he was constantly delayed and ignored by the hospital. Worse, the psychiatrist he did see during that period announced at the start of the process that he did not believe he was transgender and that he would only recommend antidepressants and would not initially permit any discussion of transgender matters at all.

Mr B says that this treatment over a number of years made his mental health considerably worse. Then, the psychiatrist told him he should have ECT for his severe depression. This psychiatrist and another he saw were absolutely against making a referral to the gender identity committee, and he could not progress without its approval… At this point, Mr B was suicidal; years of constant challenge and denial had taken its toll. The hospital doctor even said it was not their job to stop him killing himself. But this case was even worse. The psychiatrist wrote to Mr B’s GP with an inaccurate account of the sessions, as well as keeping inaccurate medical records at the hospital. Finally, after eight years, he saw a doctor at the same hospital who was a gender specialist: someone who, in the description of the noble Baroness, Lady Hunt, was affirmative and curious.

Read the Ombudsman’s report (page 15)

Read Baroness Brinton’s speech

Lord Moore (Conservative) compared the move to outlaw “conversion therapy” with Section 28

Too often, laws are made merely because some people feel very strongly on a subject and wish to give their opinions the force of law. I will remind your Lordships, however, of a well-known example from fairly recent history which should be a cautionary tale.

In the mid-1980s, there was widespread indignation, chiefly among Conservatives, about how left-wing councils were, as they saw it, wasting money and abusing local government duties to preach all sorts of “propaganda on the rates”… The pressure mounted for laws to ban such material in schools. Several Conservatives objected to the idea; some argued it would be an infringement of free speech, while others pointed out there was no need for legislation because existing new laws – which gave greater powers to parents and governors – would deal with the problem.

… Your Lordships will have quickly spotted where my argument is heading. Attempts at banning so-called conversion therapy risk becoming the mirror image of Section 28. The Bill contains many of the same problematic elements. These include: the lack of proper evidence of a wide and deep problem; an attack on free-speech rights, which many noble Lords have noted, including the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford; the failure to use existing laws to find a remedy, if remedy is needed; inattention to how the Act would work in practice; the tendency to use legislation to make an empty moral gesture rather than a useful difference; and the tendency to exploit, in a political or electoral context, a sensitive issue which many regard as a matter of conscience.

Read Lord Moore’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Moore: “Attempts at banning so-called conversion therapy risk becoming the mirror image of Section 28.” https://youtu.be/koJmLFhiZSc Click To Tweet

Lord Strathcarron (Conservative) focused on what the Bill means to parents and children, and to freedom of speech and religion

As the Bill is drafted, and before the army of amendments surely coming its way, it would become a criminal offence for parents to discuss gender issues with their children. Given that parents will have only their child’s best interests at heart, there is clearly no harmful intent, yet, as drafted, the Bill assumes there is only harmful intent. Surely it cannot be right, as a matter of principle, that free speech becomes criminalised when there is no harm intended, let alone caused.

How are these private family conversations discovered anyway? It is possibly because a child tells a classmate or teacher. What then of the teacher? Is he or she committing a crime by not reporting the parents to the police? If she or he does report the parents to the police and the police arrest the parents – who now have a criminal record – what does that do to future family relationships?

But it gets worse. The Bill proposes to ban not only spoken free speech but silent free speech in the form of prayers. Thus, we have a new crime: prayer crime.

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Strathcarron: “It would become a criminal offence for parents to discuss gender issues with their children.” https://youtu.be/fRQgwrvMPPQ Click To Tweet

Read Lord Strathcarron’s speech

Baroness O’Loan (Crossbench) flagged the conflict with draft Government guidance for schools as well as EHRC advice

It is not easy to identify the constituent elements of the offence to be created under the Bill. Matters of sexual orientation and gender identity lie at the heart of it, yet they are not defined. Ultimately, people are free to live with the sexual orientation or, to a significant degree, the gender identity they assert. In most cases, gender identity and sexual orientation are irrelevant to a person’s capacity to live their lives to the full as they wish, subject to the law. Some aspects of life make separate provision, as noble Lords have referred to. For example, sports such as women’s rugby only permit players in the female category if the sex originally recorded at birth is female. There are reasons why those decisions are made; they are well-rehearsed.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, in response to the government consultation on conversion therapy, cautioned that the legislation:
“must be carefully drafted … not to catch legitimate and appropriate counselling, therapy or support which enables a person to explore their sexual orientation or gender dysphoria, and to avoid criminalising mainstream religious practice such as preaching, teaching and praying about sexual ethics”.

It said: “Encouraging people to comply with religious doctrine that requires refraining from certain types of sexual activity should not fall within the definition of conversion therapy”, and that the offence“should not capture communication such as casual conversations, exchanges of views or private prayer, with the distinction defined clearly in the legislation”.

The Bill does not differentiate between children and adults at risk and other adults. In pondering this, I looked at the latest draft guidance to schools about gender-questioning children, which was issued in December, drawn up by the Department of Education and the Government’s Equality Hub. It provides a very clearly drafted set of principles and proposed practices in the context of the difficulties which have been identified in how to respond to gender-questioning children in schools. The guidance defines gender identity as a contested belief. It is a sense a person may have of their own gender, whether male, female or another category such as non-binary. This may or may not be the same as their biological sex. Many people do not consider that they or others have a gender identity at all.

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness O’Loan: “Matters of sexual orientation and gender identity lie at the heart of [the bill], yet they are not defined.” https://youtu.be/7c4YziXTekY Click To Tweet

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Baroness Meyer (Conservative) said the Bill will have dangerous and unintended consequences for children

In Australia, where such a law has been passed, parents now live in fear of being charged simply for trying to get mental health support for their vulnerable children. In the UK, we hear of therapists being unwilling to see children presenting with gender distress for fear of malicious complaints and professional investigations. If the Bill were to become law, a mother who urges her daughter to think again before taking puberty blockers could be convicted with unlimited fines… 

In short, the Bill will force people to simply nod along with whatever a child with gender dysphoria says. This would let down vulnerable children who need to talk through their mental state and emotions properly, rather than being mindlessly put on a path that may not be the right thing for them. We know that, during puberty, many children feel that they do not conform to sex stereotypes, but that does not mean that the feeling will last. Many studies confirm that gender dysphoria does not persist in most children past puberty. Some children feel at odds with their body as a result of sexual abuse, autism, bullying or any multitude of social and psychological problems. These children need help rather than embarking on life-changing and irreversible surgery, with enormous health risks.

Read Baroness Meyer’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness Meyer: “In Australia … parents now live in fear of being charged simply for trying to get mental health support for their vulnerable children.” https://youtu.be/ylWh0hnsoGU Click To Tweet

Lord Young (Labour) called gender ideology a cult, invading public institutions

If you assert that there is a biological identity of people – male and female – you are liable to be accused of transphobia. Actually, it has not happened to me; the people who get accused are mainly women.

… I will tell you something else about this that noble Lords may not be aware of. This is a cult – it really is – and it has invaded government departments and the BBC. It is there. It will be interesting to see, in 10 years’ time, whether people will hold the extreme views that are held today.

I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, is in her place. One of the most important things [this government] did was to appoint her as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. She had the courage to assert this question of male and female sex. What happened to her? There was a concerted attempt to remove her as chair, which was eventually happily defeated.

Read Lord Young’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Young on gender ideology: “This is a cult – it really is – and it has invaded government departments and the BBC.” https://youtu.be/BPhi6PG1xNM Click To Tweet

Baroness Fox (Non-affiliated) raised the issue of gender identity not being defined and the offence being based on motivation not harm

You might say that such conversions are legitimate because they are harmless, but the Bill’s broad drafting does not even attempt to require that any harm is intended or caused. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, reassures us that good faith, harmless advice and so on are not in target. I am grateful for that, but she also says that it is all about motivation. How will the police and prosecutors assess this motivation? They would have to read minds. More likely, they would read social media, or even public speeches such as these made here today, scouring through everything for evidence of motivation. In that way, the Bill will be used to police views and does threaten free speech across a range of social settings.

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Baroness Fox: ”The Bill will be used to police views and does threaten free speech across a range of social settings.” https://youtu.be/EKUVAod_rxE Click To Tweet

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Lord Hannan (Conservative) asked whether there was anything to legislate against

My Lords, to what problem is this specific Bill a remedy? We already have strong and effective laws against quackery and mis-selling, against coercion and control, and, of course, against harassment and physical abuse. Some are ancient common-law guarantees, some legislative. The Public Order Act 1986 defines harassment in a way that I think would cover the concerns raised by most of the supporters of the legislation in this debate. The Serious Crimes Act 2015 deals with coercion and control within families. So I am bound to ask: is this Bill a proportionate remedy to an identified problem or a way of sending a signal? Is it a form of declaratory legislation? If it is the latter, it opens the door to all manner of unintended consequences.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, introduced this Bill by saying that we do not want to trample on free speech but we do want to prevent these abuses. That, it seems to me, is exactly where the law stands now. So, before rushing to legislate further, we need to ask: have we exhausted every existing remedy? We heard some lurid stories from the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, about electric shock therapy and so on. I have never heard any suggestion that that is happening in this country. Are we legislating against something that does not happen in order to send a signal? If we are, that is almost a definition of laws that have unintended consequences.

Read Lord Hannan’s speech

Lord Curry (Crossbench) said that the Bill threatens to criminalise harmless behaviour

We need to remember that, as the Minister for Women and Equalities said in the other place, “We can tackle these issues with existing law”. [Official Report, Commons, 30/11/22; col. 886.] Advocates for a Bill against conversion therapy cite forced marriage, physical abuse, coercion, threats of physical violence and verbal abuse as some of the practices that need to be prevented. Thankfully, however, there are already laws on our statute book dealing with these things. As has been stated numerous times in the House today, the UK has an array of laws already in force that rightly prohibit genuinely reprehensible behaviour of the kind sometimes identified by advocates of new legislation. We do not need this Bill to deal with those things; we simply need to enforce the existing law.

The Church of England paper which we referred to earlier states that there is no clear or fully agreed definition. The Ban Conversion Therapy campaign includes controversial groups such as Mermaids and Stonewall. In one of its briefings, it calls for private prayer and casual conversations to be brought within the scope of the Bill. Could private prayer and casual conversations fall within the present Bill? I fear that they could. We could see innocent people criminalised for everyday conversations – not for brutalising people, not for some violent programme of brainwashing but simply for talking with other people. We must not allow this to become a new speech crime, where those who are deemed to hold wrong opinions are prosecuted for mere words. It would be a disaster for free speech and religious freedom.

Read Lord Curry’s speech

The Lord Bishop of Guildford raised alarm over the Bill and how it would criminalise parents, teachers, therapists and ministers

I share with many others across this Chamber a sense of deep alarm at the almost unlimited reach of the Bill as drafted, in which no attention is given to questions of consent, harm, vulnerability or the use and abuse of power. Instead, it appears to introduce blanket bans on certain ways of behaving, even certain ways of thinking, within the workplace, school, church, mosque and even the family. At the very least, it creates a culture of fear across the board – a kind of chill factor, especially for those who may not be fully signed up to the current societal orthodoxies.

I think, for example, of a teenager in my diocese who has gender dysphoria and is on the autistic spectrum. Aware of the repercussions of life-changing decisions through medication and surgery, this courageous young person has agreed to the parental suggestion of psychotherapeutic support in a process known as “watchful waiting”. How would that situation be treated under the precise wording of this Bill, rather than its intention? How would that teenager’s loving parents respond, say, were it to be claimed by a teacher at school that their behaviour fell within its ambit? Whatever the intentions, the fear would still be there – and a justifiable fear. After all, watchful waiting might well be interpreted as a delaying tactic, suppressing their child’s expression of gender identify out of some form of bias or prejudice, with a fear of an unlimited fine as the only real alternative to unquestioning affirmation.

Read the Lord Bishop of Guildford’s speech

Lord Herbert (Conservative) argued for the Bill, saying it would not have negative impacts

To try to change, cure or suppress someone’s innate sexual orientation is harmful and cruel. While in a medical setting conversion therapies are now declared unethical, they continue in the private sphere. If they reach the current legal threshold of physical or sexual violence, they may already be criminal, but some systematic attempts to convert gay people fall below that threshold, so damaging practices cannot be prevented. We know this through survey evidence as well as the powerful personal testimonies of victims.

The Government themselves have said that there are gaps in the law and have promised to close them. In doing so, a new law needs to set the bar in the right place. The mere expression of disapproval, the exploration of someone’s identity or genuine help for people with no predetermined outcome in mind should not be criminalised, and nor should private prayer. We should never legislate lightly in the religious sphere, but Parliament has done so before in order to prevent harm. For example, we do not allow any faith group a licence to promote hate.

Read Lord Herbert’s speech

Baroness Barker (Lib Dem) said there was an international campaign to roll back women’s rights and LGBT equality

I would like to suggest that we should consider the context in which this debate is happening. It is against the backdrop of an international campaign to roll back women’s rights and LGBT equality. The ultimate purpose of this campaign is to eradicate human rights. It is a campaign that we see every day in our media as trans people are daily depicted as being somehow unacceptable.

Today we are debating a specific measure about outlawing a particular practice: conversion therapy. There is a need for this measure. It is needed, first, because, despite many noble Lords saying that existing legislation covers different practices, we know from individuals that these abuses go on. Not only do these abuses go on, but they continue in two places of specific importance – within religious settings and within psychotherapeutic and counselling settings. These are two places in which people are particularly vulnerable.

Read Baroness Barker’s speech

Lord Jackson (Conservative) said that the proposal was a move by Stonewall to silence dissent

My Lords, I begin by addressing one of the claims made in support of a new law on conversion therapy. I hear regularly that Conservatives must support a Bill like this in order to keep our manifesto promise, but in fact a conversion therapy law was not part of any party’s manifesto at the last election… The public have never voted for a law like this and we are not bound by any manifestos to support this or any other Bill.

We know that horrendous things happened to gay people in the past, but we can be thankful for good legislation that protects gay and trans people from abuse and coercion. But the impression given by those pressing for this law is that gay and trans people are being abused in their thousands by churches and therapists and that there is nothing the law can do about it. If a gay or trans person goes to a therapist or a church and they feel that they have been abused, they should report it to the police. If what they heard breaches the existing law, the CPS can prosecute. Of course, if it does not breach the existing law, that means that whatever was said to them was not abusive. They might have had an unpleasant experience, but you cannot criminalise unpleasantness. People have choice and agency. Groups such as Stonewall have calculated that a new conversion therapy law is their best shot at silencing dissent. They have realised that a law that prohibits people from suppressing trans identities is effectively self-ID by stealth, because anyone who disputes someone’s trans identity could find themselves having to answer to the police and the criminal courts.

Read Lord Jackson’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Jackson: “A law that prohibits people from suppressing trans identities is effectively self-ID by stealth.” https://youtu.be/LwXO4Z0ki9k?feature=shared Click To Tweet

Baroness Kennedy (Labour) mentioned Jayne Ozanne’s experience and said the Bill would only criminalise harm

The Ozanne Foundation is led by a woman called Jayne Ozanne, who is an evangelical Anglican and Christian of deep faith who campaigns for LGBTI inclusion and does a lot of incredible work with faith organisations across the piece. She herself has written and speaks very powerfully about her experiences of being treated to the most terrible form of conversion therapy within her own evangelical community. She was to be cured of her perversion, which had terrible consequences for her mental health – and as a young woman, she had a breakdown.

Read Baroness Kennedy’s speech

Lord Trevethin and Oaksey (Crossbench) highlighted the risk of “the chilling effect” 

One speaker referred to the prospect of teachers reporting parents to the police. One can imagine, in an unhappy situation of divorcing parents, one parent reporting the other to the police for taking the wrong position on the child’s intentions. There are also issues with the actions of priests. It is the risk that the criminal process may be weaponised that we should have very much in mind.

What is the Bill supposed to do where there is genuine confusion and uncertainty on the part of the child or adolescent as to the question of gender, as there often will be? Can one be criminalised for attempting to change gender identity where there is real doubt as to the true position on gender identity? The Bill is silent on that. Where does it all get to?

Posit a situation in which, one day, an adolescent girl goes to her mother. She is troubled for whatever reason – she is approaching or going through puberty, for example, or is facing all the difficulties that arise at that time in one’s life – and says to her mother, “Mum, I am now identifying as a boy”. A few days or months later, the girl might say, “I have ceased to identify as a boy. I have decided that I am gay”. What does that situation require? It requires compassion, empathy, love and curiosity. What it does not require is a situation in which that child would arguably be delivering the caution to her mother – “Whatever you say may be taken down and used in court against you” – and in which the mother would be well advised to say, “No comment”. That is what happens when one criminalises, or is in danger of criminalising, communications of that nature.

Read Lord Trevethin and Oaksey’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – Lord Trevethin and Oaksey: "What is the Bill supposed to do where there is genuine confusion and uncertainty on the part of the child?” https://youtu.be/cpDuIQBPiPs Click To Tweet

The Earl of Leicester said that sterilising gay young people was the new conversion therapy

My Lords, I will describe what can, and in many cases does, happen if conversion therapy – a pejorative description; I would prefer to call it “psychological inquiry” – is not employed to gently tease out of an individual the reasons that they believe they are born in the wrong body or need to die to be reborn. What other issues might be at play here – unhappiness at home, internalised homophobia, mental health issues, autism, bullying, a child in care or exposure to extreme and violent pornography? Will a new trans identity solve all those problems? It may solve a few, but not a majority. In all cases, psychological investigation should take place before affirmation of the gender identity, prescription of puberty blockers and more take place.

The argument that puberty blockers are reversible is a complete lie. They set children on a pathway to further steps that have indisputably irreversible consequences. The Cass review highlighted that data from both the Netherlands and the study conducted by our own GIDS demonstrated that almost all children, 96.5%, and young people, 98%, who are put on puberty blockers go on to sex hormone treatment.

By contrast, prepubertal gender confusion resolves in up to 90% of cases if the child is allowed to go through puberty naturally. Gently discussing these issues allows time for that natural process.

Read the Earl of Leicester’s speech

Conversion therapy debate catch-up – The Earl of Leicester: “The argument that puberty blockers are reversible is a complete lie.” https://youtu.be/r5YTqUTZ7bE Click To Tweet

Lord Frost (Conservative) talked about the impact on freedom of expression of having state-endorsed ideas

The Bill is another step towards creating in practice a state ideology of approved and unapproved ideas. After all, without such an ideology, how do you know which opinions can be safely expressed and which cannot? In fact, we have already gone some way down that road. It is not possible to hold certain jobs in the public sector without signing up to – or at least not publicly dissenting from – a set of controversial beliefs about diversity and inclusion.

These are not propositions shaped by traditional values, beliefs or an established philosophical code, but propositions defined by opposition to those things, in which there is no room for such beliefs. That is what the Bill represents, and it is why it is another step towards pushing religious beliefs out of mainstream debate. If it is not slowed, before long we will find that religious beliefs may be held in private, may occasionally be referred to in public – like a dark and shameful secret – but may never be actively brought into the public or professional square. When we reach that point, which is perhaps not far off, if you believe God created men and women in male and female bodies, you had better keep it to yourself, because the state may think differently.

Read Lord Frost’s speech

Lord Scriven (Lib Dem) spoke in favour of the Bill, saying it would target only harmful acts

The argument against my noble friend’s Bill comes down to four reasons. The first one is that there is no need; new laws are not required. In 2021, the Government pointed out very clearly that: “Our existing criminal law framework means that conversion therapy amounting to offences of physical or sexual violence is already illegal in this country. However, we have identified gaps that allow other types of conversion therapy to continue”, and they identified that we need to close them. They went on to talk about “Targeting talking conversion therapy”: the Government identified that as a potential gap in terms of consent and in terms of some practices.

The Government also talked about “targeting physical acts conducted in the name of conversion therapy” by pseudo-psychological therapy. Those are not my words, but the Government’s. They also talked about it potentially being a mitigating factor that judges would have to look at in sentencing, and raised other gaps – potentially looking at conversion therapy protection orders, support for victims, restricting promotion and removing profit streams. So there is a gap in what is required, and the Government have outlined that.

Another reason given why the Bill should not go ahead is that it will stop medical practice and limit what happens. Let me be clear: the Bill will not stop any legitimate registered medical practitioner carrying out regulated activity. What it will stop is somebody deciding, before they have even started exploring the issue with that young person, that their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong and needs to be changed.

The final issue is freedom of speech. Certain noble Lords are shaking their heads; that will have to be explored in Committee, if that is the case, with amendments and probing. That is absolutely fine. I believe one thing about the Bill and other noble Lords believe something different, so we will have to tease that out in Committee.

Read Lord Scriven’s speech

Lord Collins (Labour) spoke in favour of the Bill and said that the BMA and the Royal College of Psychiatrists support it

I think that we have been too slow on this: 18 months ago, my honourable friend Anneliese Dodds, the shadow Minister for Equalities, asked whether the Government had gathered any evidence about the impact of a well-drafted ban on conversion practices on the provision of legitimate talking therapies. She asked for any evidence or statements from medical bodies suggesting any concerns that a conversion therapy ban would have a chilling effect, or that a trans-inclusive ban would put such treatments at risk. These are legitimate questions, which have been asked in this debate and which the Government have a responsibility to answer.

We on the Labour benches acknowledge that there are complexities, and we have a different approach. It is our job to protect the public from harm: like the BMA, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and countless other organisations, we believe that conversion practices constitute abuse. We are clear that a Bill to ban these practices must, of course, be carefully and sensitively drafted, so that it does not cover psychological support and treatment, non-directive counselling or the pastoral relationship between teachers and pupils or between religious leaders and worshippers. These are matters that legislators can work through sensibly, and I am confident that we can.

Read Lord Collins’s speech

Speaking for the Government, Equalities minister Baroness Barran said it intends to publish a draft Bill on this issue for pre-legislative scrutiny

There remains a gap, albeit narrow, in the existing legislative framework, including surrounding non-physical and speech-based acts, such as one-off instances of significant verbal degradation or abuse, which are not covered by existing legislation. For other examples, I would point to the Cass interim report, which notes: “The complex interaction between sexuality and gender identity, and societal responses to both; for example, we have heard from young lesbians who felt pressured to identify as transgender male, and conversely transgender males who felt pressured to come out as lesbian rather than transgender.”

… This is why the Government plan to bring forward our own draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny by a committee of both Houses on this issue, which has been thoughtfully considered over some time and, crucially, informed by public consultation. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for engaging on this important issue. Her Bill has allowed for further consideration and discussion on how to tackle these abhorrent practices. However, on the basis of the specific issues that I outlined, I express reservations on behalf of the Government on the noble Baroness’s Bill.

Read Baroness Barran’s speech

Baroness Burt admitted her Bill was not well drafted

I accept that this Bill is not well drafted. It was intentionally general, but it now needs a committee stage to put it right. The Minister has promised to publish the Government’s Bill, but we really need to know when. We need to get the different views together to solve this wicked problem.

Read Baroness Burt’s final speech