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Chamber and committees

Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee

Petition PE1817: End Conversion Therapy

Letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, 17 November 2021

Dear Convener

Thank you for asking for the Scottish Government’s views in respect of the petition to End Conversion Therapy.

The Scottish Government is clear about the need to end conversion practices in Scotland. They are harmful, discriminatory, and have no place in our society.

This commitment was in the shared policy programme between the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party as well as the Programme for Government (PfG) which stated we would “protect LGBT people from harm by banning the damaging promotion and practice of conversion therapy, bringing forward legislation that is as comprehensive as possible within devolved powers by the end of 2023, if UK Government proposals do not go far enough.”

As the Committee knows, the UK Government’s six-week consultation on banning conversion therapy practices in England and Wales was published on Friday 29 October. I received a letter from the UK Minister for Equalities on that day that said “there may be some measures that are reserved to the UK Government and so apply to the UK as a whole”. There are no further details at this stage on what those measures will be, only a note that the UK Government will “take due time to fully consider the views and concerns raised through the consultation”. Therefore, the UK Government’s ban on conversion therapy practices may have some implications for Scotland in areas of reserved competence.

The UK Government has agreed to relay any consultation responses received relating to Scotland or from stakeholders based in Scotland to my officials, and they would expect to do some analysis of those to inform developments here. My officials have therefore disseminated the consultation to key LGBTI stakeholders across Scotland to encourage them and their networks to respond, and continue to meet with them on a bi-monthly basis.

I am due to meet LGBTI organisations on 18 November to discuss a range of matters, including ending conversion practices. I understand they will express their concerns about the proposed approach set out in the UK Government consultation, including the proposed age restrictions on the ban, and what is considered to be able to “properly consent” to these practices. 

It is clear that we will need to take Scotland-specific action, both in terms of legislative and non-legislative work, which would be interdependent, although not reliant, on the UK Government’s plans. This will more fully meet stakeholder expectations and this Government’s ambitions.

I have therefore started to consider the appropriate approach to ban conversion practices under devolved powers, in line with our PfG and Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party commitments. I will also explore how legislation can best protect and support those who need it, while ensuring that freedoms – including freedoms of speech, religion, and belief – are safeguarded. And I will consider what non-legislative steps we can take to end conversion practices, and importantly support survivors.

I have therefore started work to establish an Expert Advisory Group on banning conversion practices. This group’s remit will include:
  • recommending an agreed definition of conversion practices
  • drawing together existing data and evidence on conversion practices, including international practice
  • advising on potential actions to ban, end, or reduce conversion practices 
  • advising on support for victims and survivors
  • advising on aligning any ban with commitments to protect freedom of expression and freedom of religion, in line with existing legislation
  • advising on how mental health services, religious bodies and other professionals should be supported to provide appropriate services to people seeking help and advice in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity

This is in the very early stages but I anticipate that the Group will begin its work in spring 2022 and in the interim period the work to establish terms of reference, membership etc. will be undertaken. Members will include LGBTI organisations; mental health professionals and their governing or training bodies; representatives from faith and belief organisations and communities; academics; and people with personal experience of conversion therapy. Relevant Scottish Government policy areas, including Mental Health, Justice, Connected Communities, Learning and Equality, would also be represented.

In the meantime, my officials will continue to meet with UK government officials, and officials from the other devolved administrations, on a regular basis, to discuss their plans for ending conversion therapy, and to seek more information about the UK Government’s current timetable for legislation.

We have also started to consider the evidence and research on conversion practices that is available, including the written and oral evidence given to this Committee; international best practice (for example, in the Australian state of Victoria); and the research by Coventry University on the nature of conversion therapy practices in the UK and their impact on people who experience them, published alongside the UK Government’s consultation. There is a wealth of evidence for the Expert Advisory Group to draw on and consider, and I thank the Committee for its work in bringing important evidence to light.

I would like to once again reiterate that we are strongly committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is safe from conversion practices in Scotland. There is no credible evidence to suggest that conversion practices can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. And we know that there is evidence of the serious harm that these practices cause, and evidence that these practices are still taking place today.

I look forward to receiving the Committee’s report and recommendations. We will carefully consider your work and the evidence you have gathered, the research by Coventry University and other evidence, including international best practice and the UK Government’s consultation responses, to inform and develop our approach to banning conversion practices in Scotland, which we know causes real harm to our LGBT communities.

Yours sincerely

Shona Robison

Associated petition

End Conversion Therapy