Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, intends to set out concerns over proposed legislation announced in Commons on Tuesday
The equalities minister is to write to all Tory MPs to insist that a ban on trans conversion therapy must not criminalise parents, as a backlash against the plans grew.
In a highly unusual move, it is understood that Kemi Badenoch intends to set out her concerns over the proposed legislation, announced in the Commons on Tuesday.
She will warn that legitimate conversations between parents and trans children must not be outlawed and that freedom of religion must be protected.
The letter reflects concern in Downing Street that Tory MPs will rebel over the introduction of the conversion therapy ban, and comes as the Government was embroiled in a row over Nicola Sturgeon’s plans to make it easier to change gender.
Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, confirmed in the Commons on Tuesday that he will block an SNP Bill that would allow children to change gender at the age of 16 – the first time Scottish legislation has been vetoed since devolution.
Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said the veto meant that the gender reforms would “inevitably” end up in court.
For months, the UK Government has oscillated over whether to ban trans as well as gay conversion therapy, but Michelle Donelan, the Culture Secretary, confirmed on Tuesday that the ban would go ahead.
Although the move was announced by Ms Donelan, Mrs Badenoch is the minister responsible for the ban. She is understood to be concerned that it will be “hard” to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and that “there is much still to work on”.
The Telegraph understands that she intends to stress in her letter that great care needs to be taken when writing the Bill, with input from doctors and parents as well as the LGBT+ community.
She is set to acknowledge that the draft version of the legislation will be imperfect, with issues around what constitutes conversion therapy, and how to protect faith leaders, counsellors and parents, not fully resolved.
A source close to Mrs Badenoch said: “The area of gender identity is much more complex than sexual orientation. We have said we will not inadvertently criminalise parents who are trying to support children.”
No10 was locked in talks on Tuesday night over when the two-page letter, to all Tory MPs and peers, should be sent.
Campaigners and Conservative MPs are concerned that the ban could inadvertently criminalise parents, teachers and doctors who simply question whether children really want to change their gender.
A source close to Mrs Badenoch told The Telegraph that the issues involved were “complex” and that framing the law would be “difficult”, adding: “Many people do not understand how complex this area is, so we’ve committed to pre-legislative scrutiny.
“It has taken us a long time to make this announcement because we have consulted a large range of stakeholders, including the medical community.
“We want to show we are committed to doing this, but we need to build proper time for scrutiny. It will be difficult but we will do it. We will be letting MPs know more details about what is happening.”
Another source said avoiding unintended consequences would be “hard” and that “there is much still to work on”, adding: “We do not want to do harm with this Bill to a very vulnerable group through cavalier legislation.”
On Tuesday night, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former Cabinet minister, raised concerns about the Government’s plans, saying: “It is difficult to phrase this Bill without unintended consequences in a highly complex area.”
Christian Concern, a pressure group, said the ban could criminalise prayer, adding that it was considering legal action against any proposed legislation.
Andrea Williams, its chief executive, said: “Legislating in this area is plagued with problems, and the Government’s own research suggests that it is not necessary.
“It will end up criminalising consensual conversations with those who genuinely want help and support. Human rights will be breached, and any legislation will be the subject of extensive legal challenge.”
The Government has long pledged to ban conversion therapy that attempts to change the sexuality of a gay person, but Boris Johnson rejected moves to extend the ban to those who seek to stop people from changing their gender identity.
But in a written ministerial statement on Tuesday, Ms Donelan said a draft Bill introducing such a ban would be published “shortly” to allow it to be given stringent scrutiny before the full legislation is brought forward.
She said this was to ensure any new legislation would not have a “chilling effect” on legitimate conversations parents might want to have with their children if they say they want to change their gender, explaining that the ban would protect “those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender”.
“This is a complex area, and pre-legislative scrutiny exists to help ensure that any Bill introduced to parliament does not cause unintended consequences,” she said.
“The legislation must not, through a lack of clarity, harm the growing number of children and young adults experiencing gender-related distress, through inadvertently criminalising or chilling legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children.”
‘Detailed analysis is vital’
On Tuesday, Damian Green, a former deputy prime minister and a critic of plans to extend the conversion therapy ban to trans people, said he would wait until the draft Bill is published to see whether it allayed his concerns.
Mark Jenkinson, the Tory MP for Workington, said: “From all the published evidence, it is clear that current laws are sufficient to cover the vanishingly rare number of cases of conversion therapy.
“We need to ensure that any new legislation does not have unintended consequences: from enshrining in law the nebulous concept of ‘gender identity’, to the risk of criminalising conversations between parents, teachers, medical practitioners, and the young people going through a period of natural confusion who should be able to access the help and support they need.”
Kate Harris, the co-founder of LGB Alliance, welcomed Ms Donelan’s “measured” announcement and its emphasis on pre-legislative scrutiny.
“Such detailed analysis is vital to ensure that key terms such as “gender identity” and “trans” are clearly understood, and unforeseen consequences avoided,” she said.
“The most extreme example of such legislation has been introduced in Victoria, Australia, where clinicians or teachers are liable to up to seven years in prison for any neutral talking therapy for children and young people who wish to change gender.”