Latest Conversion Therapy bills are seeking to fix a problem that simply doesn’t exist, writes Lord Jackson

There are now two private member’s bills in Parliament, seeking to “end the practice of conversion therapy”. When the idea of a ban was first raised, we were all led to believe it was about preventing disreputable pseudo-medical practices which some therapists thought could “cure” homosexuality.

We’ve all been concerned by claims that gay men and women experienced electro-shock treatment from quacks who thought they could make a person heterosexual. Even worse, we were told about the horrific practice of “corrective rape”.

Claims about these practices have been made by a number of MPs, indeed my Conservative colleague Alicia Kearns wrote about these violent and illegal acts being used in 2021.

Another Conservative MP, Elliot Colburn, raised corrective rape in a speech to Parliament last year during a debate on banning conversion therapy. But he also admitted that rape is already illegal.

And this is where I have an issue with the two Private Members’ bills that are being pushed in the Commons and Lords. No-one has yet explained exactly what abusive actions are currently legal, that those promoting the bill want to make illegal. There is no point wasting parliamentary time criminalising something that is already criminal. We should just ensure existing laws are properly applied. Rape, ‘gay cure’ electro-shock therapy and other violent, abusive or psychologically harmful attacks are already banned.

It’s why in a recent report for the Government of Sweden, a nation with a very similar legislative framework to our own, concluded: “In Sweden, the most serious means of influence already constitute crimes. It may be that LGBTQ people are subjected to actions that constitute unlawful coercion, assault, unlawful deprivation of liberty, unlawful threats, forced marriage or molestation. An attempted conversion may also include acts that constitute slander, inappropriateness or incitement against a group of people. The provisions on unlawful persecution, serious breach of peace and serious breach of women’s peace and oppression of honour may also be relevant. Overall, the current laws give the regulation good opportunities to intervene criminally against conversion attempts.”

It went on: “Attempts to influence that fall outside the punishable area are not considered serious enough to justify criminalization. The investigation has nevertheless considered a special penalty provision would provide more effective protection against conversion attempts through verbal influence or rituals and similar acts. However, the assessment is that such a provision would probably not contribute in any effective way to a strengthened protection against conversion attempts.”

If my parliamentary colleagues accept that all these practices are already unlawful here in the UK, what is it that they are trying to ban?

The answer I’m afraid is rather chilling. It seems that they want to stop the expression of certain opinions. If a parent wants to dissuade their adult child from having horrific and irreversible ‘sex change’ surgery, these are the kind of conversations that many activists regard as ‘conversion therapy’. Gender critical feminists who believe in biological sex and want to encourage confused young women to embrace biological reality are in the firing line. As are church leaders who uphold traditional beliefs about sex and sexuality in their conversations and prayers with gay and trans congregants.

That’s right, all the above examples could fall within the scope of the proposed legislation, either because the bills have been so terribly drafted, or, more worryingly, by design.

And we should not be surprised at this, as this exactly what some campaigners have called for. One, a controversial former Government adviser, told the Guardian that gentle non-coercive prayer should be included and has consistently praised the Australian State of Victoria for its law as the “Gold Standard”.

Guidance issued in that State on its conversion therapy ban outlines state-approved language for religious prayers and pastoral care.

Religious leaders are carrying out an illegal act if they tell people “that their gender identity is not real”, if they say prayers that “ask for a person to not act on their attractions” or “talk about a person’s brokenness or need to repent”.

So, when the Lord’s Prayer asks God to “forgive us our sins”, it defies the guidance that you cannot pray about someone’s need to repent. “Lead us not into temptation” defies the guidance that you cannot pray for a person to not act on their attractions.

Chillingly, evidence from Victoria, also shows how parents who express concern that their child wants to change their sex and embark on a life changing course of hormone treatments would also be breaking the law. Just think about that for a minute, a parent, who believes their child might be struggling with mental health problems, or fears they are being pressured to say they are in the wrong body, would be committing an offence if they don’t affirm that child’s wishes!!!

And what about the therapists who are working with people experiencing gender dysphoria?

As Dr Stephen Westgarth wrote in the Spring edition of the Royal College Of Psychiatrist’s Magazine Insight: “We frequently see patients with a disconnect between their perception and reality. Anorexic patients may consider themselves obese. Phobic patients consider the phobic object to be threatening. Patients with body dysmorphic disorder think their healthy body is in need of surgical change. We never affirm that a person with anorexia is fat, first, because the claim is not true; second, to do so would likely cause harm; adolescents with [gender dysphoria] present many similar challenges and we should apply similar principles in treatment.”

Forcing therapists to affirm a particular gender identity is fundamentally wrong, as wrong in fact as those people who thought they could cure homosexuality.

Yes, there have been abuses but these are already illegal and, thankfully, consigned to the history books. There is no justification for passing legislation that seeks to fix a problem that simply doesn’t exist, especially not when it savages freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Lord Jackson of Peterborough

Lord Jackson of Peterborough is a Conservative Member of the House of Lords. Between 2005 - 2017 he served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Peterborough. He was ennobled in 2022.