Exclusive: Government ditches ban on conversion therapy, according to leaked document

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand heard from a doctor who was put through conversion therapy

The government has abandoned its pledge to ban so-called conversion therapy, according to a leaked document shared with ITV News.

The official briefing says that the prime minister has decided not to outlaw the practice, despite repeated promises by Boris Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May that it would be banned.

Conversion therapy attempts to change or suppress someone’s sexuality or gender identity and is already outlawed in several other countries.

But the Downing Street document seen by ITV News states: “The PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation to ban LGBT conversion therapy.”

  • The leaked document has been seen by ITV News and reproduced here:

Credit: ITV News

The briefing is titled “Conversion Therapy Handling Plan” and admits that there will be a “noisy backlash from LGBT groups and some parliamentarians when we announce we do not intend to proceed.”

It goes on to warn: “The LGBT sector will read this decision as a signal the government is uninterested in LGBT issues” and sets out how the fallout could be minimised.

A law banning conversion therapy was announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech, after first being promised by the government in 2018.

  • Last year, the Queen's Speech announced a ban on conversion therapy

Since then, legislation has been delayed by repeated consultations over how a ban might work.

The document advises announcing the U-turn as part of this year’s Queen’s Speech in early May, suggesting: “This will allow us to position the decision as prioritising our legislative programme, and reduces the risk of looking like we have singled out an LGBT issue.”

It sets out how the government should respond to critical questions about the decision.

  • Paul Brand explains how the government has responded to the leak

It suggests the justification that: “Given the unprecedented circumstances of major pressures on cost of living and the crisis in Ukraine, there is an urgent need to rationalise our legislative programme”. However, the document warns that those involved in designing a ban have not yet been informed about the change of policy, including the Equalities Minister, Liz Truss. “While Liz is not ideologically committed to the legislation she is likely to be concerned about owning the new position, having personally committed to delivering the Bill”, it says.

It also advises that Mike Freer, another minister in the Equalities Office, may resign, and that the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on LGBT issues, Lord Herbert, may also consider his position.

On Wednesday in Parliament, Mr Freer said that the government remained "wholly committed" to bringing forward proposals to ban conversion therapy.

Mr Freer told MPs the government would be developing legislation on the practice, to be brought forward later this spring.

However, the leaked document now puts this all in doubt.

  • Equalities Minister Mike Freer MP told MPs on Wednesday that the government remained 'wholly committed' to banning conversion therapy

There have been vocal critics of a ban in Parliament, including some Conservative MPs who worry about how it will impact on religious freedoms, with the vast majority of conversion therapy taking place in religious settings.

The document lists 30 MPs who the government could potentially call on to support its decision. Almost all of the MPs named are straight, with only one known to be openly gay.

Responding to the document, the lead campaigner for a ban on conversion therapy - Jayne Ozanne said the leaked plans were "utterly ridiculous" and the government had broken "every promise it has made" on conversion therapy.

  • Jayne Ozanne - who quit as government LGBT adviser last year - described the U-turn as 'utterly ridiculous' and 'against every single promise' the government made on banning conversion therapy

"I gave [the prime minister] the benefit of the doubt thinking he would keep his word and he would deliver for the LGBT community the one thing they promised for us", she said.

"How on earth are we meant to trust those in power when they renege on any promise that's been made and don't seem to understand the harm that so many people are facing right now in Britain today?", she added.

Ms Ozanne, who campaigns for LGBT rights within the Church of England, resigned last year from the government’s LGBT Advisory Panel, accusing ministers of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT people.

  • 'I am absolutely livid': Responding to the leaked document, Ms Ozanne told ITV News the prime minister has 'no scruples' and is putting young and LGBT people at risk

The news comes as the government prepares to host an international LGBT conference in June.

“The domestic and LGBT sector are likely to claim that we have lost the ability to speak as a global leader on LGBT rights”, the document warns.

It sets out various policies that ministers can point to in defending their approach to the LGBT community, such as introducing same-sex marriage for couples in Northern Ireland and appointing the UK’s first National LGBT Health Advisor.

Responding to the leak, Downing Street said: “Having explored this sensitive issue in great depth the government has decided to proceed by reviewing how existing law can be deployed more effectively to prevent this in the quickest way possible, and explore the use of other non-legislative measures.”

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, who has called for a ban on conversion therapy, told ITV News "people will lose lives" if the government goes ahead with the U-turn.

"[Conversion therapy] is harming people up and down this country because it is people profiteering from telling people there is something wrong with them, that they are broken", she said.

"It is wrong, as MPs we have a duty to be a voice for those other seek to silence, and save lives", she added.

  • Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said 'people will lose lives' if the government goes ahead with the U-turn

Ms Kearns is one of a number of Conservative MPs to speak out about the government's plans to scrap the ban on conversion therapy.

Dehenna Davison - who is the first female Conserative MP to publicly come out as bisexual - said called on the government to immediately reverse its decision.

"As well as breaking an explicit promise, this is a matter of basic decency", she said on Twitter.

"Being gay is not something that needs curing", she added.

In another Twitter response to the ITV News revelations, Caroline Nokes, who is chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, asked: "If conversion therapy was "abhorrent" to the Government in December why on the eve of April Fool's Day is it apparently rowing back on a commitment to end it?"

ITV News spoke to Gareth Patterson, who went through conversion therapy when he was in his twenties.

Mr Patterson - who now works as a doctor - grew up in the Christian community, and spoke of the damaging effects of conversion therapy.

  • Gareth Patterson - who was subject to conversion therapy - told ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand conversion therapy calls into question 'so many parts of your whole being'

"Culturally, I believed it was the only option for me to reform my sexuality", he told ITV News.

"What that does, it totally calls into question so many parts of your whole being", he added.

Celebrities and charities condemned news of the government's plan. Broadcaster Stephen Fry tweeted and reality TV star Rylan Clark were among those who spoke out against the proposed U-turn.

TV presenter and former X Factor contestant Rylan Clark tweeted: "this is DISGRACEFUL and every MP that agreed to the NON banning of LGBT conversion Therapy should be ASHAMED. This is against every single promise you’ve made".