Bill to criminalise Christians and parents will be debated in Commons this Friday

28, February 2024

The House of Commons is due to debate a Bill on ‘conversion therapy’ this Friday.

Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s Private Member’s Bill is perhaps unlikely to make it onto the statute book, but it represents an increasing boldness among those eager for legislation that could criminalise loving parents and ordinary Christians.

Keenly aware that a new law will be deeply unpopular in many quarters, Mr Russell-Moyle has been meeting with groups on all sides. He wants to reassure those with concerns that his Bill won’t do what they fear. That parents won’t be investigated by the police for refusing to go along with their child’s gender transition, and that Christians won’t face jail if they pray with a gay friend.

He told Gay Times that “what I wanted to do is say, ‘Actually, can we step back here and find something that is almost of a common cause?’” He would “be a coward” if he didn’t try to make a Bill work, he says. Well what has this bravery achieved?


He has written supposed ‘safeguards’ into his Bill. “Expressing a religious belief” is not caught, “provided that it is not directed to an individual as part of a conversion practice”. Someone “exercising parental responsibility for a child” is safe from prosecution, “provided that the child’s welfare is the person’s paramount consideration”.

But these ‘safeguards’ are pretty much worthless, according to legal advice.

The Christian Institute asked one of the UK’s top human rights experts for his independent view on the Bill. On the ‘parental’ exemption he points out that it is narrow in scope. It would not usually cover grandparents, for example, and nor may it apply throughout all the teenage years.

It is important for parents to demonstrate that their child’s welfare is their “paramount consideration”. That may sound very reasonable but it would be very difficult to prove.

The protection for religious belief is even less meaningful. Firstly, it is no use if a person goes beyond mere “expression”. The Church is not an academic institution, passively passing on information. No, we truly believe things and seek to persuade others of what we know to be true. Church leaders ‘express’ beliefs in the hope someone will agree with them.

A second problem with the protection is that it is wholly circular. Expression of religious beliefs are protected only if not “part of a conversion practice”. But anything that falls within the definition set out in the Bill is “part of a conversion practice”. So, it’s no protection at all!

Some MPs may argue that these problems can be put right. We could argue at length over this – Russell-Moyle has had plenty of warning that these safeguards are unsatisfactory. The Government has spent over five years trying to square this circle and hasn’t managed to make it work.

But even if he did tidy up the wording, Russell-Moyle has included a get-out-of-jail-free card for his own campaign. Because he’s written into the face of the Bill that the so-called safeguards can be amended at any time by a straightforward Parliamentary process, with very little scrutiny at all.

Not so popular

Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s Bill is more than a little controversial then. It tries and utterly fails to protect loving parents and ordinary Christians, while opening wide the door to their being made criminals.

But it has also upset many of those who most strongly support a new law. Increasing numbers of trans activists have been taking to social media to decry what they see as rolling over to win votes. They say the safeguards in the Bill are a threat to transgender people.

The Bill defines ‘conversion practices’ as including “a course of conduct or activity, the predetermined purpose and intent of which is to change someone’s sexual orientation or to change a person to or from being transgender”.

So transgender activists are now arguing that they could be caught if they try to change someone to being transgender. It’s a strange way to look at it, but they are correct that it’s only been worded that way because of concerns about efforts to provide dangerous gender treatments to children. (But before you get excited that this Bill might actually do some good, note that it creates far more space for encouraging transition than discouraging.)

Essentially then, Lloyd Russell-Moyle has tried to plot a middle-course that will please everyone. But what he’s really done is written a Bill that doesn’t work for anyone. It fails to truly appease Russell-Moyle’s activist friends. And it never gets close to providing even vaguely appropriate protections for parents and religious believers.

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