“Most dangerous” conversion therapy Bill falls at the first hurdle in Westminster

1, March 2024

Today, MPs took to the floor for the first – and the last, thankfully – debate of Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s conversion therapy Bill.

This Private Member’s Bill was a serious attempt to progress Parliamentary plans for a new law that many fear would criminalise innocent parents and outlaw the ordinary work of churches.

That is precisely what legal advice said ahead of the Bill. You can read more about that here.

In the House of Commons, Bills of this type can run out of time, if MPs are not finished debating when the next business is due to begin. That is exactly what happened on this occasion. That means the Labour MP’s Bill is at the bottom of a pile of legislation to be debated, with no chance of it seeing the light of day again.

Those supporting the Bill did attempt to prevent it running out of time, by bringing what is known as a ‘Closure Motion’. This needs 100 members to vote in favour: despite a very large campaign by groups like Stonewall to get MPs along, still only 68 backed it. Considering there are 650 of them in total, it clearly hasn’t got as much support as some claim.

Introducing the Bill, Mr Russell-Moyle explained how he had met with groups that support the plans, including Stonewall and the Ban Conversion Therapy coalition; and he had met with groups that did not, including The Christian Institute. But what Russell-Moyle didn’t talk about was the fact that those groups were not persuaded, and still opposed his Bill, and that the legal advice was clear his attempts at creating exceptions for innocent parents and religious leaders wouldn’t work.

Watching from the public gallery was a strange experience. The debate began in an uncharacteristically conciliatory and measured mood. Many of the participants noted how calm Russell-Moyle had been, despite his previous angry outbursts against female MPs.

But the peace was shattered when openly gay MP Neale Hanvey (Alba) calmly asked Alicia Kearns MP (Con) whether her comments about people not imposing their own views on LGBT colleagues, applied to members who disagreed with transgenderism. “Does the hon. Lady agree that that rule must apply to all sides of any debate, not just to the side that she favours?” he asked.

She responded with an angry tirade, claiming he was trying to ‘eradicate’ some people. It was an apt demonstration of how legislation like this could work in practice. Posed as an attempt to promote ‘freedom’ for all, in reality it invalidates and criminalises some people’s views in favour of those of angry activists.

Of the contributions to the debate, undoubtedly the most notable was Neale Hanvey’s own speech. For more than an hour he carefully and clearly deconstructed the Bill and the various dangers it posed.

“It is not hyperbole to say that this type of legislation is the thin end of the wedge and it has the potential to be the most dangerous, regressive, illiberal and authoritarian policy proposal that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.” (Neale Hanvey MP)

Many members pushed for more clarity in the debate. Conservative MP Caroline Ansell asked for more information from the Labour Equalities Minister Anneliese Dodds, who said her party was supporting the Bill.

“The hon. Lady makes an important point about the need for clarity. She has now said the word ‘practices’ five times, and she has said: ‘Conversion practices are abuse.’ So that I can better follow her, will she describe the scale, scope and nature of the practices that she references?”

Ms Dodds didn’t have much to say in reply. “We have already had a thorough discussion of that in this debate. All the examples are detailed in the Bill” she claimed. Except they hadn’t had a thorough discussion of it, and the Bill doesn’t give a single example.

The Conservative Government opposed the Bill, but said it would bring its own (draft) Bill once the Cass Review into NHS gender treatment of children had published its Report. Speaking for the Government, Maria Caulfield MP described how the Bill “risks unintended consequences”. She admitted that the Government has ‘encountered challenges’:

“[N]otably ensuring that legislation is clear, balanced and respects freedom of speech, belief and religion, and does not cause unintended consequences for parents, clinicians, teachers or religious groups.”

After the Government’s contribution, Russell-Moyle made his attempt at a ‘Closure Motion’, and when it failed those supporting the Bill abandoned the chamber, with only a small handful left to respond to those who opposed it. This was a shame, as they sat out on some of the most important discussion of why the Bill couldn’t work.

“My particular concerns are for parents who sadly absolutely could be criminalised under this Bill”, remarked Miriam Cates MP (Con). It would “very likely to lead to parents being prosecuted, or at least to feeling that they cannot speak freely to their children, as they would wish to keep them safe and prevent them from making irreversible decisions.”

Cates continued by reading out heart-breaking testimonies from parents whose children had been pushed down the one-way path of gender transition, with those parents castigated for any opposition they raised. The Bill could only make the situation worse.

Ultimately, Cates explained, “at the heart of the Bill is an irreconcilable difference between those of us who support the Bill and those of us who do not”. The Bill was an impossibility, she said, because it assumes it is possible to “be born in the wrong body”. There are many who simply don’t believe this to be true.

“If, like me, people believe that gender ideology is not based on factual evidence, that we should therefore be telling children that they cannot change sex and that we should be helping them to live happily in their own sex, however they want to dress and whatever hobbies they want to pursue, how can we legislate for it if we do not think it is real? That is the problem at the heart of this Bill, and it is why we cannot safely legislate in this space. It is why we absolutely must not put these contested and unevidenced ideas into law.” (Miriam Cates MP)

The last hour of the debate was full of significant contributions. Other MPs wanted to oppose the Bill but were left without time to say their bit. Summing up the mood were contributions from well-known politicians Sir Liam Fox MP (Con) and Suella Braverman MP (Con).

“[G]ood law needs to be necessary, clear, effective and enforceable and to avoid unintended consequences. Like many in the House, I am not clear exactly what the necessity is for the Bill, because I did not hear described in any clarity the sort of offences that are not covered by legislation already and that would require yet another piece of legislation.” (Sir Liam Fox MP)

“There is a complete absence of verifiable, quantitative evidence demonstrating that harmful conversion practices are widespread or occurring frequently in this country.” (Suella Braverman MP)

“The existing law already protects gay and trans people from verbal and physical abuse, much as he set out. The offensive and abhorrent practices that we are talking about but cannot yet evidence include corrective rape, electroshock therapy, forced marriage, screaming in the face, holding down while praying, threats of physical violence, harassment, coercive or controlling behaviour, and other physical and verbal abuse. However, all such activity is already criminal under myriad laws, ranging from the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. There is a long list, which I do not have time to go through.” (Suella Braverman MP)

See also: The ‘jellyfish’ let loose in the House of Lords

Sign up to the Let Us Pray campaign for regular updates - join the campaign.

Latest news