LGBT Conversion Therapy Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Monday 8th March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing this important debate.

So-called LGBT conversion therapies are disgusting, exploitative, damaging and a relic of bigotry. In 2021, we recognise better than ever what illness and disease look like. Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans is not a sickness; it is a fundamental part of an individual’s very identity. So-called LGBT conversion therapies need to be banned.

I thank in particular the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) and for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) for their powerful contributions. We are lucky in this place to have such assiduous campaigners on LGBT issues on both sides of the House, and I am pleased that there appears to be cross-party consensus on this issue.

Pedlars of these supposed treatments not only perpetuate a fraud on the public but cause genuine harm, psychological distress and lasting emotional damage. The 2018 national faith and sexuality survey found that 58.8% of people who had undergone such therapies had suffered mental health issues. Significant numbers cited anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders. More than two thirds had suicidal thoughts, and more than a third had actually attempted suicide. That is why all major UK therapy professional bodies and the NHS oppose treatments that try to change a person’s sexual orientation or supress a person’s gender identity.

All our major faith groups support a ban, as was reiterated at the interfaith conference held remotely in London in December 2020. As a religious Jew and a bi woman, I have been heartened by contributions from hon. Members in the debate who hold their faith close to their heart but know that there should be no dichotomy to reconcile between religious freedom and protecting the safety, wellbeing and dignity of the LGBT community. That cannot be a justification for continued delay, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth for making that point so clearly.

A number of countries have fully banned conversion therapies, including Malta. In other federalised countries, various states and provinces have legislated for bans. I commend Instagram and Facebook for banning the promotion of conversion therapies on their sites, and hope that other social media companies will follow suit.

In 2018, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and the Conservatives announced in their LGBT action plan that they would ban conversion therapies. That was apparently still their policy at the last election. However, last year the Prime Minister said:

“What we are going to do is a study right now on, you know, where is this actually happening, how prevalent is it, and we will then bring forward plans to ban it”.

I am sure that colleagues on all sides, not to mention the LGBT+ community, will say that we have waited long enough. Last month, Labour supported the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 that rightly permitted the Attorney General to take maternity leave. That showed that the Government can take legislation through quickly when they want to—it did not require lengthy studies to consider the prevalence of Attorney Generals becoming pregnant.

There are LGBT+ people experiencing harms from these practices every day and the longer we wait for action, the longer they are denied legal redress. The most recent annual update on the implementation of the Government’s LGBT action plan was published in July 2019. Given that it is now 2021 and that February was LGBT+ History Month, when can we expect publication of the 2020 annual update? Labour has consistently urged the UK Government to live up to their promise and implement the 2018 proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), the shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, has continuously pressed the UK Government to deliver on their LGBT action plan.

Putting laws on the statute book such as protection orders for people who are vulnerable to cultural or religious pressure to suppress, deny or forcibly change their sexuality or gender identity is not merely a matter of virtue signalling; it would make concrete legal defences for people who need them and would make it simpler for statutory support services to work together to help people in need. I commend Galop, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity that I met on Friday ahead of the debate to hear not only the harrowing evidence it has collected about such abhorrent practices but how protection measures, including multi-agency risk assessment conferences, would have allowed individuals to have been safeguarded. The Labour party welcomes the action that the Government have taken in the past decade to legislate against female genital mutilation and to take further steps against honour-based violence and forced marriage where these protection order frameworks are in place. This is a further area where we must now see action.

This is an opportunity to show the world the face of global Britain, setting an example and doing what is right. Our values can be clearly put into law to be seen by other countries where these awful practices are more common. The time has come for the Government to act to ban these practices. If they do, the Opposition will support them.