UK Politics

Fresh call to ban 'gay conversion therapy'

Ben Bradshaw
Image caption Ben Bradshaw says a ban is long overdue

The government is facing a fresh push to ban "conversion therapy" aimed at changing gay people's sexuality.

The Church of England has been calling for the highly controversial practice to be outlawed, after its ruling body voted for a ban last year.

Ministers condemned the "therapy" but have refused to meet Church campaigners to discuss the issue.

Now, Tory MP and church commissioner Caroline Spelman has vowed to set up a meeting with the minister in charge.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw raised the issue in the House of Commons, telling MPs: "This so-called therapy does dreadful, dreadful damage to young people's emotional and psychological health and it is long overdue to be banned."

'Stamp out homophobia'

Ms Spelman, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, who provides a link between the Church of England and the Commons, said: "I am not responsible for the decisions of the government.

"But the general synod did vote clearly to ban gay conversion therapy absolutely unequivocally."

Church urged to update sexuality stance

She said the government had last year made it clear to campaigners in a letter that it was "strongly against" the practice but did not want to legislate against it because "existing voluntary registers provide safeguards for the public".

But she told MPs she would write to the government minister responsible, Jackie Doyle-Price, to ask her to meet campaigners.

Image caption Caroline Spelman promised to take up the campaigners' case

She also insisted the Church of England was working to "stamp out homophobia", after Labour MP Helen Goodman claimed "in some parishes anti-gay prejudice masquerades as theology".

Ministers say the UK's medical bodies will already strike-off any psychologists or therapists who practise "gay cure" therapy - and they last year rejected a petition signed by 33,000 people calling for it to be directly banned.

'Potentially harmful'

At the time, Ms Doyle Price said: "This government does not recognise so-called 'gay conversion therapy' as a legitimate treatment. A person's sexual orientation is not an illness to be cured."

But she said the government was not aware that use of the "therapy" was widespread in the UK and it was seeking to find out more about it through a survey.

In the 1950s and 1960s, behavioural therapy was routinely used to try to "cure" gay men, paid for by the NHS.

Men convicted of homosexual acts were given electric shock treatment, hallucinogenic drugs and subjected to brainwashing techniques.

In 1992 the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, but a 2009 survey found one in six psychological therapists in the UK had worked with clients on attempting to change their sexual orientation.

"The practice of conversion therapy, whether in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, is unethical and potentially harmful," said an October 2017 agreement signed by NHS chiefs, the Royal College of GPs and the British Psychological Society among others.