More delays: MPs stall on banning conversion practices

1 March, 2024

‘End religious abuse! Ban conversion therapy!’ LGBT Humanists, chanting, London Pride 2023

Despite having cross-party support, a Private Members’ Bill to ban conversion therapy has been put on hold in the House of Commons.  At the second reading of the Conversion Practices (Prohibition) Bill, MPs failed to vote in favour of moving the Bill onto the next stage of the legislative process. Instead the remainder of the second reading has been delayed until 15 March. LGBT Humanists – a volunteer-led section of Humanists UK with a long history of campaigning for a ban on conversion therapy – has expressed its disappointment.

Conversion “therapy” is a discredited and harmful practice, usually rooted in false and often pseudoscientific or religious beliefs about what causes people to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The UK Government Equalities Office defines so-called ‘conversion therapies’ as ‘techniques intended to change someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity’. Often happening in secret in closed-off religious communities, evidence shows that it leads to lasting damage for the people subjected to these ‘treatments’. It can result in lasting mental scars, self-harm, and even suicide. Victims are often young and vulnerable, and are more likely to face abuse from their families or communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2018, the UK Government first announced that it will change the law to introduce such a ban on conversion practices. This was followed by nearly five years of inaction until it was finally announced, in January 2023, that a draft Bill will be published ‘shortly’. However, after months of dithering and no draft Bill in sight, a re-commitment to ban conversion practices was conspicuously absent from the King’s Speech in November 2023. Despite this, we are finally seeing not one but two Bills to ban conversion practices making their way through both Houses of Parliament. Humanists UK patron Baroness Burt of Solihull (Liberal Democrat) introduced her Private Member’s Bill in November 2023 and that Bill passed its second reading in the House of Lords last month. A second Private Members’ Bill was introduced to the House of Commons by Alicia Kearns MP (Conservative) on behalf of All-Party Parliamentary Humanists Group member Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (Labour).

Opening the second reading of his Bill today, Lloyd Russell Moyle said:

‘In recent years, we’ve had two petitions debates, four debates in Parliament, four written statements, and sets of government research, consultations and briefings. But in six years, we have failed to do what other countries have done in six months, which is to produce a ban that stops people falsely claiming that they can convert people’s sexual orientation or transgender identity. This false hope – false advertising – is not innocuous, it causes great harm, but it is not currently captured in our laws.’

Alicia Kearns MP explained why she supports a ban on conversion practices:

‘I believe that the state should stay out of people’s lives but it should protect the most vulnerable, to defend those that others seek to harm, and recognise that that is the first and foremost duty of any government: to protect its people.

People in positions of trust are abusing those who they tell are sinful, broken, need correcting, and this causes lifelong hate.’

Nickie Aiken MP (Conservative) reflected on forced marriage as a form of conversion:

‘I was quite sceptical about the fact that conversion therapy may even exist in this country until a constituent came to see me – a lesbian who was under so much pressure to marry a man. She was being forced to go to family events, to take part in religious ceremonies because her family thought she should be able to stop being a lesbian and marry a man. And the pressure and the depression that this woman was suffering made me ashamed to ever have questioned that conversion therapy does actually exist in some communities in this country.’

Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities Anneliese Dodds MP confirmed her support for the Bill. She said:

‘Conversion practices are abuse. There’s no other word for them. They cause harm and that harm can be lifelong. We must be clear that in the 21st Century we do not accept LGBT people being subjected to these practices.

‘The Government promised to outlaw these practices almost six years ago. They failed to do so. In the absence of Government action, it has been left to a backbencher to develop his own legislative proposal for a ban. I want to commend him – as many have on both sides of the House – for working assiduously with them on both sides of the House, to bring forward this Bill today. I share his regret that despite that joint working, there’s still a lack of clarity around where the Government will land on this issue. I do hope that following those intensive and very positive discussions and interactions, we will see them supporting this Bill because I believe it’s a genuine attempt to help the Government with the promises they’ve repeatedly made that they would enact a ban on conversion practices.’

However, speaking for the Government, Maria Caulfield MP said the Government did not support the Bill but remained ‘committed to an approach that protects everyone from harmful conversion practices, including the transgender community’, reiterating again that it planned to publish its own draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny without offering a firm indication as to when that publication is to be expected. 

After the Minister’s contribution, MPs had the opportunity to vote to move the Bill onto the next stage of the legislative process – the committee stage where the details of the Bill can be scrutinised and amendments suggested. Even though 68 MPs voted for the Bill to move onto the committee stage and only 15 MPs voted against it, a minimum of 100 MP votes are needed for the majority vote to win. The second reading is expected to continue on 15 March.

Christian Wakeford MP (Labour) expressed his disappointment at the delay:

‘This is a dark day for this place. I hope the Government and the Minister can find a way for us to come forward with amendments, and that we can really work cross-party to actually address this situation because [a ban on conversion practices] really does need to be done. 

‘We can’t allow for vulnerable individuals to be subjected to this harmful practice under the guise of so-called “therapy” or “treatment”. By passing the Bill through to [the Committee stage] we could have sent a powerful message that discrimination and bigotry have no place in our society. We could have reaffirmed that commitment to equality, to dignity, and to human rights for all. However, it looks like we have chosen not to today.’

Responding to the debate, LGBT Humanists Coordinator Nick Baldwin commented:

‘We wholeheartedly thank Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP for bringing forward a Bill on banning conversion practices, as well as all the MPs who spoke and voted in support of it. It is bitterly disappointing that its progress is being held up by such a small opposition.

We hear from the Government – yet again – that a draft Bill is coming. But when? Today’s debate was a missed opportunity for them to get behind the principles of the Private Members’ Bill and shape it into robust legislation. They have failed to do that and we call on them to present us with something meaningful – a draft Bill – and not just the lip-service we’ve put up with for far too long.’ 

The UK Government’s 2018 National LGBT Survey showed that 7% of LGBT people had undergone or been offered conversion therapy. Of those who had undergone it, 51% reported that it had been conducted by a religious group or in a religious setting. Such activities can include exorcisms and forced prayer. Humanists UK is strongly committed to freedom of religion or belief, but that freedom should be limited where it causes harm, and conversion therapy is harmful. Humanists UK believes that when people are experiencing such extreme distress over their sexual orientation or gender identity, they should be met with person-centred, therapeutically well-grounded support. They should not face coercive, medically worthless practices that seek to push them in a particular direction.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Kathy Riddick at or phone 020 3675 0959.

Read more about our work on banning conversion therapy.

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Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 120,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.