Several charities have written to the Prime Minister urging him to publish draft legislation by the end of next month banning so-called 'conversion therapy'.
Campaigners say they are “perplexed” by the delays in bringing forward the bill as it was first promised by then Prime Minister Theresa May almost five years ago.
Following that pledge, the government has held a public consultation, produced research and amended the proposed ban by first excluding, then later including transgender people.
Conversion therapy is alleged to be any attempt to change a person’s claimed gender identity or sexual orientation, including through prayer.
Addressed to Rishi Sunak, the letter accuses the government of being "reluctant to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society from this abuse".
It reads: “We have been given repeated reassurances that your Government is working ‘at pace’ to bring forward this legislation, but we still have not seen a draft Bill. It has been an exceptionally long road, with unexplained delays in both the publication of the Government’s research as well as the results from your public consultation.”
“Time is running perilously short for this legislation to be passed before the end of the fourth session, particularly given your desire for pre-legislative scrutiny. Whilst we agree this important regulation requires careful scrutiny, we would suggest that the sooner this Bill comes before Parliament, the longer both Houses will have to carefully consider and debate it.”
The charities want to see a draft bill published by the end of April so the pre-legislative scrutiny can be done by September and be included in the King’s Speech in November. Since first promised by a Conservative government, the ban has sparked criticism from Christian leaders across the country as they fear the bill might criminalise prayer and pastoral support. They argue the freedoms of those who choose to hold a traditional Orthodox belief on sex and gender identity must be protected in the ban.
Dr Ian Paul, a Church of England minister, is one of 1,400 church leaders who signed a letter earlier this year urging the Prime Minister to rethink the ban.
“The whole direction of this law is pushing in a direction where people are not allowed to invite prayer, to help them to live holy disciplined lives, without coercion entirely voluntarily and understanding fully what they're doing. The idea is that this should be not allowed if it doesn't fit in with contemporary gender ideology.”
Earlier this year, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch told MPs that religious freedom should be protected under the new law.
She said “faith leaders, parents, teachers or counsellors continue to be able to have exploratory conversations with people about their sexual orientation, sex or gender identity”.
“The freedom to express the teachings of any religion, as well as everyday religious practice, will not be affected by the ban.”