Parents and doctors risk being criminalised if they question children who want to change gender, critics have warned.
They fear a new law – aimed at sparing gay people from being subjected to cruel 'conversion therapy' – could be used to end legitimate discussions with young people who want hormone treatment.
MPs and peers believe the Conversion Therapy (Prohibition) Bill is being rushed through Parliament, preventing them from giving it the detailed attention it requires.
The Government is allowing only a six-week consultation on its proposals – half the usual length – and ministers have refused to confirm that lawyers will be able to pore over the draft, in a process known as pre- legislative scrutiny.
If the Bill is tabled in the spring as planned, it will not include recommendations from an ongoing review of gender identity services by paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, commissioned amid concern over a surge in teenagers being prescribed puberty blockers.
The Bill is also set to enshrine the controversial theory of 'gender identity' in law for the first time, despite disagreement over what it means.
Dr David Bell (pictured) stressed that therapists should be able to discuss the ideas patients have about themselves – but they could now be accused of illegally trying to convert a young person if they do not simply agree with and 'affirm' whatever gender they identify with.
'There's no doubt in my mind that part of the motivation behind this Bill is to interfere with neutrality of clinicians,' said Dr David Bell, the author of a damning report on the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock NHS trust where he served as staff governor.
The retired consultant psychiatrist stressed that therapists should be able to discuss the ideas patients have about themselves – but they could now be accused of illegally trying to convert a young person if they do not simply agree with and 'affirm' whatever gender they identify with.
'It's going to result in the good psychotherapists, those who are open-minded, [no longer] taking on these patients for fear of being taken to criminal courts,' he said.
Pointing out that therapists are already banned from conversion practices by professional regulations, Dr Bell said: 'We don't need the invasion of criminality into this.
'It's a very blunt and dangerous instrument that will interfere with the capacity of therapists to do their work, and it means that children and adolescents will suffer.'
He also warned it was wrong for the Bill to use the terms 'gender identity' and 'conversion therapy' without them being clearly defined.
'Given the complexity of this, given the highly charged, toxic environment in which it occurs in, I think Parliament requires not less time but more time to consider this. I'm shocked that it's been given such a short process,' he said.
Addressing the issue in the Commons, Mark Jenkinson, Tory MP for Workington in Cumbria, said: 'This is a complex and sensitive area, and proposals risk criminalising clinicians and parents who encourage children to take time before embarking on a potential lifetime of medical treatment.
'It also cuts right across the Cass review reporting early next year.'
Dr Bell, is a consultant psychiatrist who worked at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, which runs the UK's only gender identity development service for children
Asked directly by Mr Jenkinson to confirm whether ministers would 'ensure significant pre-legislative scrutiny', Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Government would continue 'to consult with all interested parties and those who have been involved with conversion therapy, in addition to the public consultation, which is designed to hear the views of the wider public'.
The Government insists the ban on conversion therapy will not override the ability of clinicians to offer support.
A spokesman for the Government's Equality Hub said it was 'committed to banning the practice of all coercive conversion therapy in this country'.
They added: 'We are currently consulting on a ban and our proposals strike the right balance between ensuring legitimate clinicians can continue to practise freely whilst ensuring those at risk are protected from this abhorrent practice.'
Equalities minister Mike Freer will be quizzed on the issue by the Equalities Select Committee next week.
He will be asked about the Government's definition of 'conversion therapy' as well as 'informed consent' and 'gender identity'.