A majority of Tory MPs have “serious worries” about the Government’s plan to ban transgender conversion therapy, a former minister has said.
Tim Loughton said concerns about the ban were “not a Left or Right-wing thing”, claiming the parliamentary Conservative Party was united in feeling “cautious” about it.
Last week, the Government revealed that as well as proceeding with a long-promised ban on conversion therapies that try to change the sexuality of a gay person, the bar would also apply to those seeking to stop people from changing their gender identity.
However, the decision has prompted fears that the move could inadvertently criminalise parents, teachers and doctors who question whether children really want to change their gender.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Loughton said the Government was yet to engage with MPs to address their worries, adding: “We haven’t been told anything. We are all fairly in the dark.”
The policy poses an unusual risk to the Government because MPs on both the Right and Left of the Tory party have voiced concerns.
Damian Green, the chairman of the One Nation Group, has warned that “dozens” of Tory MPs could rebel against the ban. On the party’s opposite wing, Craig Mackinlay said MPs in “Right of centre groups” such as Conservative Way Forward and the European Research Group were sceptical.
He told The Telegraph: “I can imagine the thread running through those groups would be one of concern – ‘why are we doing this?’ I would probably be tempted to vote against this myself.”
Mr Loughton said that, within the parliamentary party, a “majority certainly have got some serious worries about this”.
“It is not a political divide, it’s people who have women’s rights at heart and people who have children’s welfare at heart,” he added. “You can be Right-wing, you can be Left-wing, it doesn’t matter.”
He said it was “too early to say” exactly how many MPs might rebel “because we don’t know what we’re voting on, we don’t know what the safeguards are going to be”.
Mr Loughton added that while Labour could potentially lend Rishi Sunak the votes to get a Bill through the Commons, the Prime Minister still faced the “risk of upsetting quite a lot of colleagues” if he did not get the legislation right.
He said MPs were “agreed” that gay and trans people needed to be “protected” against “loonies who want you to die in the fires of hell because you don’t confirm to their sexual conventions” but that “concerned parents and proper professional clinicians just doing their job should not be caught up in such a ban”.
A spokesman for the Equalities Office said: “The Government has held a full and open consultation on plans to ban conversion therapy, in which it set out a number of proposals to protect people from this abhorrent practice.
“We will publish a Bill which will go through pre legislative scrutiny in this parliamentary session. We hope to send it to a joint committee for scrutiny and will work with the liaison committee accordingly.
“There are clearly issues that are not fully resolved. We are determined that legislation will not cause harm to children and young adults experiencing gender related distress by inadvertently impacting on legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children.
“Pre-legislative scrutiny exists to prevent this, and other unintended consequences, by utilising stakeholder expertise and input from parliamentarians.”
The announcement on conversion therapy came in the same week that the UK Government announced it would block a new law introduced by Nicola Sturgeon to make it easier for people in Scotland to legally change their gender, including lowering the minimum age to 16.
The UK Government justified the veto by saying that the Scottish government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill would have “chilling effects” on women-only spaces across the UK.
Cabinet ministers including Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, have been influential in pushing for a tough stance on the Scottish changes. She helped develop the UK Government’s legal strategy on the Bill when she was Attorney General last year.
An ally of Ms Braverman told The Telegraph: “Suella believes there are obvious and serious risks to the safety of women and girls if the Scottish proposals were to come into force, and therefore she has always thought this should not become law.”