The Government is proposing to create a new criminal offence for so-called talking conversion therapies as part of a raft of measures to ban the coercive practice within months.
Proposals will protect LGBT people in England and Wales, including children, and ensure individuals found guilty of conversion therapy offences cannot profit from the practice, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) said.
But critics said the plans should have gone further and outlawed all conversion therapy.
Ministers will legislate to ensure that, when existing violent offences are motivated by conversion therapy, this is considered as a potential aggravating factor when the perpetrator is sentenced.
They also propose to create a new offence for talking therapies that seek to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, to be punishable by imprisonment of up to five years.
This would apply to under-18s under any circumstance and to adults who have not freely consented and been fully informed about the potential impacts.
The GEO said consent requirements would be “robust and stringent”.
It acknowledged some believe that an adult cannot consent even when fully aware of the potential for being harmed, but said it is the Government’s view that “the freedom for an adult to enter such an arrangement should be protected”.
The Government has launched a six-week public consultation which will close on December 10, after which it will prepare and introduce legislation by spring 2022.
It said any future laws would place a particularly strong emphasis on protecting children, given their inherent vulnerability.
They will also ensure regulated clinicians are able to continue their work to support those who may be questioning if they are LGBT.
Individuals would be free to seek professional help and guidance under the proposals, which will target practices which people have not willingly agreed to.
The proposals will cover attempts to change a person from being attracted to the same-sex to being attracted to the opposite-sex, or from not being transgender to being transgender, and vice-versa.
The consultation document reads: “The Government is determined to ensure that no person is put on a clinical pathway that is not right for them, and that young people are supported in exploring their identity without being encouraged towards one particular path.”
This is particularly the case for young people where this may result in an “irreversible decision”, it adds.
The GEO said simply expressing the teachings of a religion will not constitute conversion therapy, and it cannot be “reasonably understood” to include casual conversations or private prayer.
It said it will continue to work with faith communities to develop an approach that protects people while respecting the right to freedom of religion and belief.
Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, said: “There should be no place for the abhorrent practice of coercive conversion therapy in our society.
“Today, we are publishing detailed proposals that will stop appalling conversion therapies and make sure LGBT people can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse.
“As we build back better from the pandemic, I want everyone to be able to love who they want and be themselves.
“Today’s announcement sets out how we will ban an archaic practice that has no place in modern life.”
Under the proposals, those found guilty of conversion therapy offences would have any profit obtained removed.
The Government also plans to introduce civil measures such as Conversion Therapy Protection Orders, which could include removing the passports of potential victims at risk of being taken overseas.
And it will explore ways to prevent the promotion of conversion therapies, including online.
It will fund a support service for victims and those at risk of conversion therapy, and is launching a tender process in November.
Nancy Kelley, Stonewall chief executive, welcomed the proposals, but warned there were still concerning loopholes, including on prayer.
“We also can’t support the proposals allow for people to ‘consent’ to conversion therapy – a practice that is abusive cannot be consented to. If we are to truly put this shameful practice behind us, the ban must not allow for any excuses or any exemptions,” she said.
Shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said: “It’s been over three years since the Conservatives promised to ban conversion therapies, so the launch of this consultation is long overdue.”
She added: “It’s astonishing that these proposals leave the door ajar for people to “consent” to these insidious practices on religious grounds. In contrast, Labour would implement a genuine ban on conversion therapy immediately and outright – to keep LGBT+ people safe.”