Health Minister Norman Lamb has told MPs that gay-to-straight conversion therapy is “utterly abhorrent” but that the government remains opposed to the statutory regulation of psychotherapists on the grounds of cost.

On Wednesday afternoon a number MPs from all parties took part in a 30 minute debate on how to tackle the practice at Westminster Hall in the House of Commons.

Labour MP Sandra Osborne, who had requested the debate, mentioned a 2009 survey of 1,328 accredited mental health professionals who had operated in the sector before 2001. The surveyed showed 17% of practitioners readily admitted to having assisted at least one client to reduce their same-sex attraction. Some 35% of patients therapists described were referred to them for treatment by general practitioners, and 40% were reported as actually being treated inside an NHS practice.

Mrs Osborne said: “Conversion therapy is a very real and present danger in Britain. More than just a problem amongst religious fundamentalists, it’s an issue for the NHS and professional sector; and that this isn’t a simplistic debate about freedom to choose: if LGBT patients are coaxed into undertaking therapy by peer pressure or referred on to conversion therapists after approaching professionals, then this is hardly a ‘free choice’ at all.”

Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert said: ”In the 21st century no lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individual should be accessing this kind of voodoo psychology.

“Instead we should be providing services which help give them confidence and support them with their sexuality.”

In response, Lib Dem Health Minister Norman Lamb said that gay-to-straight conversion therapy was “utterly abhorrent” and had “no place in a modern society” but that the government would not be changing the law, although it remained “concerned” by the issue.

He said: “We believe statutory regulation would not be appropriate and the costs to registrants or the taxpayer could not be justified.”

He added that “while statutory regulation is sometimes necessary it is not always the most proportionate or effective means of ensuring the safe and effective care of patients.”

Mr Lamb said the Department of Health was “not aware that the NHS commissions this type of therapy,” but added they were exploring ways to ensure that it did not take place in the future.

He said the government would instead press ahead with a new “voluntary register” for psychotherapists.

However, he admitted it would not prevent the practice from going ahead.

“The Department of Health have been very weak on this,” Conservative MP Mike Freer told the Westminster Hall debate.

“Rather than simply not condoning this, they should outright ban this voodoo medicine and so-called conversion therapy.”

Last month, Labour MP Geraint Davies proposed a bill aimed at banning gay-to-straight conversion therapy, describing it as an “awful practice”.

The move has cross-party backing with MPs from Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru all co-sponsoring the bill.

In June, Mr Davies wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt urging for him to consider a complete ban.

Earlier this year, 51 MPs signed an Early Day Motion against gay conversion therapy to ensure that “NHS medical professionals cannot inflict this cruel treatment on their patients”.