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Equalities minister apologises for delay in Bill banning conversion therapy

Mr Andrew said no-one would make an announcement about what would be in the King’s Speech ahead of time (Martin Rickett/PA)
Mr Andrew said no-one would make an announcement about what would be in the King’s Speech ahead of time (Martin Rickett/PA)

An equalities minister has apologised for the delay in bringing forward legislation to ban conversion therapy, but did not commit to its inclusion in the King’s Speech when challenged.

The Government has previously committed to ban the practice – which seeks to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity – but there has since been years of delays and U-turns on aspects of the plan.

There have been conflicting reports in recent weeks over whether a draft Bill on the issue would be included in the King’s Speech.

Stuart Andrew acknowledged and apologised for delays when speaking at a session of questions to Government Equalities Office ministers in the Commons on Wednesday, but said “nobody” would make an announcement about what will be included in the King’s Speech ahead of time.

Labour former cabinet minister Sir Ben Bradshaw said: “A Bill banning the psychological abuse some people call conversion therapy has been promised repeatedly in this session from that despatch box. Where is it?”

Mr Andrew said: “I accept that … and I do apologise that it has taken this long.

“But it is a very complex issue. I have been personally campaigning for this for many years, but even I recognise that there are deep complexities here.

“It is right that we take the time to carefully consider each of those issues so that actually what we have in place is consistent, is robust, and is up-to-date and tackles these appalling practices.”

Shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said: “Almost 2,000 days have passed since the Government first promised to ban conversion therapy.”

The Labour front bencher added: “The delays are not this minister’s responsibility, according to the press they’re because of differing views on the Government front bench.

“But because of that there’s still no Bill, so can the minister just tell the House, will the next King’s Speech commit to a full loophole-free ban on LGBT conversion therapy: yes or no?”

Responding, Mr Andrew said: “Nobody ever makes announcements about what is in the King’s Speech ahead of His Majesty delivering that speech.

“Also, I would say to her respectfully that she shouldn’t believe everything she reads in the press.”

Earlier in the session, Elliot Colburn, Conservative MP for Carshalton and Wallington, told the Commons: “Hate crime against LGBT+ people is on the up. Conversion therapy still has not been banned and the UK has slipped down the international rankings for LGBT+ equality.

“I know that this minister takes these issues incredibly seriously, but how can he assure me that the Government takes these issues seriously and they are going to tackle these issues as a matter of urgency?”

Mr Andrew replied: “He is right to highlight the issue around all forms of anti-LGBT hate crimes. They are utterly unacceptable and we have a robust, leading legislative framework to respond to that.

“I actually met with the Met Police just last week and with other stakeholders to ensure that everything is being done to crack down on that.”

He reiterated that measures related to conversion therapy are a “complex area of work”, but added: “I can give him my personal commitment that anything to do with LGBT rights and … improving the lives of LGBT people will be high on my agenda.”

Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrote to women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, insisting legislation to ban conversion therapy “is needed”.

Theresa May’s government first vowed to ban conversion practices in July 2018.

Tory MP Philip Hollobone (Kettering) said: “In its 2021 census the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated that there are 260,000 transgender people in the UK.

“Does the minister agree with the separate Office for Statistics Regulation that due to skewed methodology this number is likely to have been a huge overestimate?”

Ms Badenoch said: “I do share the concerns that the Office for Statistics Regulation has raised. And actually, in February I asked my officials to explore with the ONS whether the census got the number right, because of a lack of understanding of the question.

“We need to be very careful about language. People don’t often understand what we mean when we use terms like transgender, gender identity, we’ve got to make sure that they understand that.”