Transgender Conversion Therapy

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Monday 13th June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady (in the Chair)
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Before I call Elliot Colburn to move the motion, it will help if I say that as this is a heavily subscribed debate, I might have to impose a five-minute time limit. The more Members keep their contributions brief, the more likely I can avoid doing that.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 613556, relating to transgender conversion therapy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I will heed your words and try to keep my remarks as brief as possible.

The petition, entitled “Ensure Trans people are fully protected under any conversion therapy ban”, states:

“Ensure any ban fully includes trans people and all forms of conversion therapy. It’s shameful that the UK intends to deliberately exclude trans people from a ban in contrast to the approach taken by many countries, despite trans people being at a greater risk of experiencing the harmful & degrading practices. The government’s own figures show that trans people are nearly twice as likely to be at risk of experiencing the harmful & degrading practices of conversion therapy. A ban needs to ensure all forms of conversion therapy are banned.”

The petition remains open, and as of this morning when I checked as I wrote this speech, there were more than 45,000 signatures, including over 220 from my own Carshalton and Wallington constituency. I thank the petition creator and the organisations and charities that helped to brief me in advance of today’s debate, and indeed colleagues around this packed Chamber, which has got even busier since I last looked up from my notes. It is great to see the Public Gallery so full as well.

There is no doubt that trans issues have caused polarisation in the United Kingdom, with threats, intimidation and even violence from both sides of the debate. No doubt today will amount to much of the same, particularly with the horrible things being said on social media.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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I apologise for not being able to miss a meeting that I have at five o’clock. My hon. Friend has talked about the vile way some people are treated, which probably includes the way Kathleen Stock and Helen Joyce have been treated. They have given very fair descriptions of trans issues and yet have experienced a great deal of bullying and online harm from people who ought to say, “Can’t we try to work together to do sensible things?”

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which highlights the fact that we do need to have respectful debates on both sides of the argument.

It might help, for the purposes of today’s debate, to narrow down exactly what the petition asks for and what this debate is all about. To be crystal clear, it is not about reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004, nor is it about access to single-sex spaces, trans women in sport, trans women in prisons, or any of the other issues that have caused such a stir in this place, in the media, in academia, and beyond. This debate and this petition are specifically about the harmful practices of so-called conversion therapy and whether we, as a House and as a country, think it is acceptable for anyone, regardless of who they are, to be subjected to such things with no recourse to justice. I will argue that nobody should be denied access to justice if they are being subjected to the abhorrent practices encapsulated by so-called conversion therapy.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that there are enough laws already in place to cover the abhorrent practices that he talks about? We will be creating a problem with freedom of speech and people being able to talk to their children about the way they feel about themselves.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I am afraid I do not agree. There is nothing in the proposals and the consultation that the Government set out to suggest that there would be an impact on freedom of speech. Although a lot of the practices—a point that I was going to come on to in a minute—are already outlawed, there are many forms of conversion practices that are not, which is why a ban is necessary.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
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In relation to the previous point, does my hon. Friend agree with me the fact that so many respondents to the Government’s survey said that they had either been offered, or been subject to, conversion therapy shows that conversion therapy does exist for trans people?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I totally agree. The national LGBT survey in 2018 showed that trans people were twice as likely as LGB people to be offered, and to undergo, conversion therapy. Those practices can take many forms, but the evidence that has been presented shows that they all have the same aim—and all are harmful. That aim is to supress or change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is true that many of the harrowing stories we have heard about things such as corrective rape and physical assault, which many survivors have come forward to share, are already illegal.

Bernard Jenkin Portrait Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)
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I apologise for missing my hon. Friend’s opening remarks, but rape is already illegal—an offence. Can he identify an offence that will be included in the Bill that is not already an offence? What is the offence that is going to be created?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I will gladly identify that offence. As I just said, rape is already illegal. However, it is the pseudo-psychological and spiritual so-called talking and behavioural therapies—exorcisms, deliverance prayers and other such things—that are not currently illegal and are included in the proposed ban. Indeed, the ban makes those things aggravating factors when prosecuting. That is currently not in law, but it is necessary.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that there is ample evidence to show that transgender people submitted to any form of that conversion therapy potentially suffer greater psychological impacts, including harmful outcomes and lifetime suicide attempt risks?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I have had the privilege of listening to many survivors who have come forward to share their stories—I am sure many people in this place have—and those stories demonstrate just that fact.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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The practices my hon. Friend has just described are basically exorcisms and witchcraft, frankly. Does he agree with me that we are dignifying such abhorrent practices by calling them therapies?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree. That is why language is so important—that is going to be the theme of my speech. The tight wording of the ban is very important. Conversion practices is a much better description than conversion therapies. I only used conversion therapy for today’s debate because it is the go-to term.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that part of the concern about a ban—wrongly, I think—is that it would catch people who are engaged in legitimate therapy aimed at relieving emotional and psychological distress?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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That concern has been brought forward, but as I hope to say later, there is a way that we can alleviate those concerns and still pass an inclusive ban.

I thank the survivors who came forward to share their stories. It is true that conversion practices are happening in the UK right now. It is not something that happened decades ago but has now stopped; those kind of practices still happen in the UK today. Nor is it only happening here; the threat or action of sending people overseas to undergo such practices is still happening.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
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I commend the hon. Gentleman for listening directly to those who have been affected by this issue. It is often the voices of trans people that are missing from this debate. I was contacted by a constituent who said,

“as a trans woman, surely I deserve to feel safe, have some dignity and live my life in peace without being demonised?”

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the way that the exclusion has happened serves to further demonise an already demonised group?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I want to talk about some of the concerns that have been brought forward about a trans-inclusive ban, particularly those focused around unintended consequences —the potential of criminalising legitimate conversations between trans people and, for example, their parents, doctors or religious leaders. Those concerns are legitimate, and it comes down to us as legislators to ensure that we pass good legislation that does not catch those out.

I and many other hon. Members have seen the legal evidence provided to the Government Equalities Office that shows that it is perfectly possible to pass a ban without such unintended consequences. What is important is having a tightly worded Bill with clear language, as well as an extensive list in the legislation about what is and is not intended to be caught by a ban on conversion therapy. Let us be very clear: campaigners who have been fighting for this say that a ban is not intended to capture legitimate conversations, questions or even disagreements between individuals and their parents, doctors or religious leaders, for example. Legitimate explorative therapies, the teaching of scripture or even the ability to say that they do not agree with a person’s identity is not intended to be covered within the scope of a ban, and that should be explicitly stated within it.

The argument is also made that to exclude trans people is the right thing to do because sexual orientation and gender identity are different and so should not be covered by the same legislation. However, although they are different parts of a person’s individual identity, separating them would create big problems for the Government in law, as many trans people are also LGB, and vice versa. Plus, I believe that it would allow conversion therapy for LGB people to continue through the back door, because it could be claimed that it was being done because of their gender identity. We have seen that happening already. I have heard of cases of survivors who have come forward—for example, camp gay men and butch lesbians who have undergone conversion therapy because of their gender identity, not because of their sexual orientation. I believe that that is the reason why all leading medical, psychological and therapy organisations back an inclusive ban. Twenty-five organisations have signed up to the memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy in the UK, and more than 370 religious leaders from around the world are also calling for a ban on conversion therapy.

However, I do not think that I can put the need for a trans-inclusive ban much better than by referring to this perverse situation, which I would just like colleagues to consider. It is based on a real-life example of a set of twins—one gay and one trans. Both are forced to undergo hours of talking therapies to get them to change their identity. They are taken for exorcisms, with people shouting over them. They are monitored to ensure that they are not meeting anyone who might be considered “wrong”. They are unable to seek out accredited counselling and support and they have to endure treatment that is degrading and shaming.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because I genuinely have come to this debate to learn about the issues. I thought the most important word that he just uttered was “forced”. I think everyone could agree that no one should be forced into any sort of therapy. The question is whether we would be banning people from seeking this therapy if, for whatever unaccountable reason, they wished to do so. That is where a line needs to be clarified.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Indeed there is a consent clause in the Bill. That is an entirely separate debate. I know that many colleagues on both sides of the House do not agree with that—I am one of them.

Olivia Blake Portrait Olivia Blake (Sheffield, Hallam) (Lab)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think we are missing the point. Actually, the therapy in itself is the issue. It is likened to torture by many leading organisations. On the issue of sexual violence and LGBT survivors, 24% of the people that Galop spoke to had experienced sexual violence, but that figure leapt to 32% for the non-binary and to 35% for trans men. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that we should not be creating spaces that are safe for people to perpetrate sexual violence against individuals?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and I absolutely agree with her. Again, it comes back to the general theme of the debate—for me, at least—which is that this is about harmful practices and whether we think anyone, regardless of who they are, should undergo harmful practices. My answer is no.

Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this really important debate; he is making an excellent speech. The United Nations report in 2020 called for a global ban on conversion therapy. The UN said:

“Such practices constitute an egregious violation of rights to bodily autonomy, health, and free expression of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Does he agree with me that there is real clarity in that statement and that it is very useful for this debate?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and I absolutely agree with her. I am conscious of time, Sir Graham, so I will start to wrap up my remarks so that we can get on to other people’s contributions.

Going back to the example of a set of twins where one twin is gay and one is trans, as the proposals stand, the law would only protect one of those two individuals. The other twin would be left open to continually being subjected to the kind of practices that we have been discussing, with no legal protections. By deliberately excluding trans people from the ban, I believe that the message that we would send is that it is acceptable to inflict such behaviour on someone because of who they are, which just cannot be right.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
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There seems to be a bit of confusion about exactly what this so-called “therapy” entails. It is perhaps worth saying that these coercive and “abhorrent practices” do not work. By the way, “abhorrent practices” are the words of the Conservative Government, although they have done a reverse ferret on this, of course. Perhaps for those who have come to this debate to listen with an open mind, the hon. Gentleman might explain what those “abhorrent practices” involve and why they are not voluntary.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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Absolutely. This comes back to the issue of consent. Can someone actually consent to having harm done to themselves, even if they have all the facts? For me the answer is no. Again, that comes back to the core point, which is that these are “abhorrent practices”—harmful practices and that cause people to have to undergo years of psychological therapy to try to get over what has been done to them, which is why they need to be banned in law.

Sir Graham, I am coming to the end of my remarks. What this issue boils down to is that achieving a trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban without any unintended consequences is, frankly, what we should be doing anyway—in other words, we should be producing good, tightly worded legislation. That has already been achieved in multiple countries and territories with no unintended consequences whatsoever, so we already have international working examples to draw upon when it comes to the drafting of this legislation.

All sectors of UK society, from health to religion, have supported calls for a trans-inclusive ban. That, after all, is what this debate is all about. It is not about the noise around trans issues, which I mentioned at the start of my remarks; it is about protecting people from harm, no matter who they are. We have a duty as parliamentarians to protect the people who we serve from harm, so I urge colleagues to join me in exercising that duty.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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--- Later in debate ---
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell, at the end of this debate. I join my hon. Friend the Minister in thanking all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions today. I put on record my thanks to the petitioner, Sammantha, and the Petitions Committee staff, who have done such an excellent job with public engagement in the run-up to today’s debate.

I thank the Minister for his carefully considered response. We are lucky to have him, and I am not just saying that because of the kind words he had to say about me. It is true that we are shooting a little bit in the dark with today’s debate because the Bill has not been published. Indeed, I was heckled earlier by an hon. Member who is no longer in their place to say, “Well, that’s the title of the Bill.” Well, no one knows that yet, so I hope they come back and correct the record.

I welcome the fact that the Minister used the phrase “conversion practices” rather than “conversion therapy”. Indeed, the Bill that has just been passed in New Zealand is the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Act 2022, and I believe we should replicate that phrase. While there are complexities, I have never been one to believe that complexity means that we should not do what is right. At the end of the day, as we have heard and as set out by all the evidence, conversion therapy is harmful and degrading, and does not work. No one should go through it, and we have the opportunity to make sure no one does.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 613556, relating to transgender conversion therapy.