Humanist-backed Bills fall due to general election

29 May, 2024

Bills on decriminalising abortion, humanists at risk, and ending conversion therapy are among those that have fallen

The announcement of a general election means that a number of draft Bills in the UK Parliament have fallen and will not become law. This includes a large number of Bills where Humanists UK was seeking amendments or pursuing changes to the law in line with its policy platform.

This article gives an overview of the four areas where progress has stalled until after the general election. While these are frustrating setbacks in the short term, Humanists UK will be demanding action from the next Parliament, whoever wins. Its expert policy and public affairs team will be working hard to make sure that politicians make progress on these issues in the coming months.

Decriminalisation of abortion

One of the most significant bills that failed to gain approval in these final days was the Criminal Justice Bill. This bill faced numerous substantial amendments, including highly debated proposals by MPs Diana Johnson and Stella Creasy to decriminalise abortion, replacing a law dating back to the Victorian era. This move would have created a fundamental shift in the state’s attitude to women having abortions, meaning many would no longer have to feel like criminals. 

Humanists UK briefed MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) and others in favour of the amendments. It has been campaigning for many years to move existing abortion regulations from the criminal code to the civil law, as with other medical procedures, to guard against the possibility that a woman in vulnerable circumstances – such as those facing domestic violence – could fall foul of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act for abortion, as has happened several times recently. As there was a good chance this amendment could have passed it is extremely disappointing to see it fall through especially given the rise of a well-funded anti-choice movement in Parliament which saw three anti-choice bills proposed in the Lords.

In the face of millions of dollars of American ‘dark money’ pouring into Britain, Humanists UK is urging the next Government to prioritise the long-term security of women’s reproduction rights by putting abortion rights on firmer footing in statute.

Ban on conversion therapy

Additional amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill bill sought to ban conversion therapy. These too will now not proceed. Nor will two private member’s bills on the same issue, both proposed by APPHG members and backed by Humanists UK. This is despite the fact it has been six years since Prime Minister Theresa May originally committed the UK Government to banning it. LGBT Humanists has fought for a conversion therapy ban for decades, and Humanists UK has been at the forefront of high-profile calls for a ban, highlighting the practice’s detrimental effects on individuals’ mental health and well-being. It is asking all the parties to commit to swift action on this overdue matter after the election is won.

Illegal schools and missing children

Another significant bill that fell victim to the election was the Children Not in School Bill. This legislation aimed to establish a register of children not attending school. This was a private member’s bill that was supported by the Government. Currently, approximately 6,000 children are enrolled in illegal schools across England, many of which are religious institutions. These unregistered schools often provide a narrowly focused, scriptural education that is conservative, intolerant, and extreme. In fact earlier this year, Humanists UK raised this issue at the UN Human Rights Council

In 2022, and as a result of Humanists UK’s campaign, the Government introduced legislation to close the legal loopholes that enable illegal schools to operate, and grant Ofsted greater powers to investigate and close them down. However, following the change in Government in the autumn of 2022, the Schools Bill was dropped, and so these legislative plans were once again up in the air. Therefore seeing the failure of another bill which would have helped to deal with this important issue is bitterly disappointing. Humanists UK hopes to work with the incoming Government to guarantee that all children receive a safe, balanced and broad education as is their right.

Support for humanists at risk

The Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) Bill was also lost. This was also a private member’s bill that was supported by the Government. It sought to make the position of the Special Envoy on FoRB a statutory role, dedicated to promoting freedom of religion or belief worldwide and raising awareness of persecution based on, for example, blasphemy laws. Humanists UK supports efforts to uphold freedom of belief and protect individuals from religious persecution. It hopes the next government will recognise the importance of this role and take steps to establish it on a permanent basis.

Passed: Media Bill 2024

One bill that did however pass was the Media Bill. This has repealed requirements for public service broadcasters to include religious programming. However it is yet to be seen if this has any impact on the output of the BBC. Humanists UK will closely monitor this area to ensure that humanism obtains a fair level of coverage.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We have been steadfast in our efforts to promote legislative changes that protect and enhance individual freedoms in this Parliament – from advocating for the decriminalisation of abortion to fighting for a ban on conversion therapy. As we move into the next Parliament it is vital that these issues remain high on the policy agenda. We are always willing to work with the Government and all parties in Parliament to see that progress is made on these issues.’

In the run-up to the general election, Humanists UK will be writing to candidates, providing analysis of where the parties stand on humanist issues, pressing them for commitments and manifesto promises, and offering support to party-political humanist groups to organise within the major parties. 

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson this week wrote to members of Humanists UK to say that the election offered humanists the ‘opportunity to make the case for policies that will advance freedom of choice, human rights, and equality’.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 0203 675 0959.

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