The equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, has admitted that a long-promised bill to ban conversion therapy faces further delays for “pre-legislative scrutiny”, claiming legislation on the issue is “contentious”.
A ban on attempts to “cure” LGBT+ people, which medical experts warn are baseless and can cause significant and lasting harm, was first announced under Theresa May in 2018, and Boris Johnson promised LGBT+ campaigners during the 2019 election that legislation on the issue would go ahead.
There has been little progress on the issue under successive prime ministers, with Mr Johnson briefly attempting to shelve the issue entirely last year, inciting a backlash from his party and a U-turn on the matter.
Appearing before Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee on Wednesday, Ms Badenoch said legislation would be introduced “in due course”.
“We’ve stated multiple times we do want to bring in a legislative ban on conversion practices,” she said. Asked for a timescale, however, she admitted the Bill would not be fast-tracked to Parliament.
“In due course, I think is the easiest way to describe it. We have decided that we’re going down the pre-legislative scrutiny route… that was a matter of debate, on whether having that would prolong the process, but looking at how contentious the issue has been in terms of how it’s discussed, and also looking at the strength of feeling across both Houses of Parliament, and on both sides of the argument, we felt that having the process would make the bill a lot more rigorous,” she said.
Despite an update in January suggesting a draft bill would be published “shortly”, Ms Badneoch told MPs on Wednesday that the bill was still being drafted and had not been published yet because “difficult issues” remained “around the safeguarding of young children and the definitions” – citing a separate ongoing review of care for transgender children.
Ms Badenoch added: “It’s currently being drafted, and I’m happy with the progress, but I don’t want to give a date that will only disappoint. It has to be as good as it possibly can be before we publish. We’re doing this properly… this isn’t virtue-signalling legislation that will create problems.”
Asked if the bill would come before the next General Election, she said: “That’s something we’ve committed to and it’s certainly something that I want to see.”
ITV News reported in October that Ms Badenoch had paused work on the bill for a “review” when she was handed the equalities brief by Rishi Sunak.
Badenoch defends blocking Scottish gender bill
Speaking before MPs on Wednesday, Ms Badenoch also faced scrutiny over whether the UK Government had appropriately raised concerns with the Scottish Government over Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill before invoking Section 35 to block the legislation.
Ms Badenoch said the Government “had conversations with Scottish ministers” but did not engage on potential legal changes because “we believe in devolution” and “the template of interaction when bills are going through is that we in Westminster don’t interfere”.
Asked if there had been any engagement with the Scottish Government since vetoing the law on possible changes to address the UK Government’s concerns, she appeared to confirm this had not been the case.
She said: “Given they’ve threatened legal action, any possible thing I do could end up being relevant to the legal case. It’s up to them to reach out, and we haven’t had any representations on looking at the bill.”
On what changes would be required to be acceptable to the UK Government, she said: “I think the debate on the issue has been extensive enough that they will know what needs to be done, making sure that the safeguarding elements, especially the impact on the Equality Act, that those issues are addressed.”
Ms Badenoch also claimed it was “pretty obvious” that public opinion was “on the side of the UK Government and not the Scottish Government.”
Ms Badenoch made a highly unusual intervention on the issue in January when she wrote a letter to MPs warning that the long-stalled bill, which was announced in Parliament by a different minister, “should not, through a lack of clarity, harm the growing number of children and young adults experiencing gender-related distress”.
She said in the letter that the bill should ensure “faith leaders, parents, teachers or counsellors continue to be able to have exploratory conversations with people about their sexual orientation, sex or gender identity”.
Ms Badenoch insisted on Wednesday that “I’m the one who owns the process” relating to the bill, despite reports that responsibility for it had been delegated to other ministers.
The campaign group Ban Conversion Therapy said on Wednesday: “‘In due course’. Victims of conversion practices have heard this phrase for five years by the Government, and it leaves them with no support or protection from abuse. It is not ‘contentious’. Medical, psychological and human rights leaders agree.”
Ms Badenoch’s views on LGBT+ issues have previously led to controversy.
When she was first handed the equalities role, Vice News leaked a recording of her from 2018, in which she claimed: “It’s no longer about minority rights in terms of race any more… it’s not just about being free to marry who you want, you now want to have men using women’s bathrooms?”
Earlier this month, she said she “admires” the SNP’s Kate Forbes for being “honest” about her opposition to same-sex marriage – and suggested those who would want an equalities minister to disavow such views “don’t understand equality”.