Transgender Conversion Therapy

Alyn Smith Excerpts
Monday 13th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith (Stirling) (SNP)
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It is pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Graham; thank you for calling me so early. I commend the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on an excellent speech. I also warmly commend the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) on a passionate and genuine speech, and I am very pleased to follow her.

I was struck by the fact that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington had to start by defining what this debate is not about. That is probably testament to just how poor the wider general discussion has become. This is not about infringing on anybody else’s rights. It is not about infringing on the rights of women in general, or their right to safe spaces; it is not infringing on the right to free speech; and, crucially, it is not about limiting the right to seek advice and help, or the right to have an honest conversation. It is about conversion therapy and the harm that it does, about the need for action against it, and about the need, from my perspective and my party’s perspective, to include trans people within that protection.

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) says that existing laws already cover this. No, they do not. That is why we are here, and why the petition exists—because of the harm being done right now to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens—the most vulnerable people in society, who need action and our support. If the existing legislative framework covered this, we would not need to be here.

There is huge consensus on the need for action. The Scottish Human Rights Commission has said:

“It is well documented that the injury caused by practices of ‘conversion therapy’ are grounded on the premise that LGBT+ people are sick, diseased, and abnormal and must therefore be treated.4Some practices can potentially amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards specific LGBT+ people, while the very existence of ‘conversion therapy’ practices in our society promotes a culture in which LGBT+ people are seen as needing to be fixed, thereby undermining the dignity of all LGBT+ people.”

There is also consensus among religious organisations that the matter needs to be tackled. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, is in favour of a ban, along with the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Church of England, the Methodists, the Quakers, the Hindu Council UK and many others. Any reputable psychotherapy organisation is in favour of a ban, because they know what the harm perpetrated by these quacks—I was struck by the mention of witchcraft by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price)—does to their own reputation.

According to the UK Government’s own figures, the scale of the problem is considerable. The UK Government’s 2018 survey of 108,000 LGBT+ people showed that 2% have undergone therapy and 5% have been offered it. For the trans community, the figures are even higher: 9% of trans men have been offered this therapy, which is odious. The question for us legislators surely boils down to: where do we draw the line? How do we draw up legislation? In Scotland, we are doing that. In Scotland, this is a devolved competence, and the Scottish Government are committed to bringing forward a trans inclusionary ban. I trust MSPs to draw the line in the right place, in a way that looks after everybody’s rights, because these rights are not mutually exclusive.

I make a plea to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish parliamentarians present to work with us. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom on this subject. We should listen to people’s experiences and to what they say about the harm done, which is very real and genuine. Hundreds of thousands of our citizens right now are suffering as a result of this practice, and many hundreds of thousands more are living with the consequences of having undergone it. There is a clear need for legislation on it.

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
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It is great to hear such a good debate on this issue. Many people have written to me saying that if a young person who thinks they are trans came to them, they would be scared of saying, “Well, why don’t you just watch and wait? Let’s give it six months,” or “Let’s see how you feel in a year, or two years.” People will be scared to say that, because they do not want to be called transphobic, or to be prosecuted under legislation that may come later. That is where I am coming from—from the point of view of parents, teachers, men of the cloth and others who want to be able to say, “Just watch and wait,” or to ask why.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith
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I will take the intervention at face value as a genuine expression of concern. This is not an easy subject—I would be the first to acknowledge that—but that is why we need to make sure that the legislation is right. That is why we need to ensure that the line is drawn at the right place. I said in my opening remarks—I have them here—that this is not about infringing the right of anyone to seek advice and have an honest conversation, but there is a world of difference between that and the quackery and harm perpetrated by people who set themselves up in business doing this stuff.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young
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I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), who talked about forcing someone to change their gender identity or their sexual orientation. Is this not all about the intention behind the conversation? There is no problem with a parent having a conversation with their child, but if someone enters a conversation wanting to force someone to do something that is contrary to what they are, that is crossing the line.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I am a solicitor, if we go back far enough. The law is well used to dealing with shades of grey. In many other situations—aggravated hate crime; discrimination; words that mean one thing in one context and a different thing in another—it is perfectly possible to come up with a proper legislative framework to protect people and the honest conversations that he is rightly concerned to see protected. I share that concern and would work with him on it.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but on the point about waiting to see, there is currently a wait of at least two years to have those conversations with a professional, so there is no rushing into this. I may be wrong, but someone cannot have surgery if they are under 18, and they cannot get access to puberty blockers for at least a couple of years. I may be misunderstanding the timeline; if so, he will advise me.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith
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The hon. Lady makes a powerful and apposite point. On saying, “Just wait,” well, people are waiting, including all the legislators in this Chamber—we have waited far too long to act, and too many people are suffering. The concerns that are raised need to be dealt with and respectfully discussed, but to my mind there is a clear need to act. Too many people are suffering. We have a duty as legislators to keep our citizens safe from harm. Let us act together. Let us work together to keep safe the people whom we need to protect.