Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Wilkinson: As my hon. Friend admitted, that is a purely hypothetical situation in respect of her children. I will not make my argument so subjective but will specifically address my hon. Friend's proposed new clause. Subsection (1) states:

Members of the armed forces believe that homosexuality--because of its nature, the intensity of the emotions involved, and the risk of blackmail and of undue influence--is prejudicial to good order and discipline, particularly in the close confines required of service in the field, remote stations or on ships at sea.

Subsection (1)(b) of new clause 1 states that homosexuality shall not be an offence unless it

Again, that is true where there is favouritism--particularly of a sexual kind. That form of bonding can impair the necessary discipline and mutuality of respect inherent in the command relationship.

9 May 1996 : Column 490

Subsection (1)(c) provides for an offence where the conduct

The armed forces have gradations of rank that may seem strange to my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs. Currie), but they are a necessary function of the command system. Almost inevitably with differences in age, there will be differences of rank. As there are bound to be such differences, there are also bound to be problems if homosexuality in the armed forces is condoned.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): Has the hon. Gentleman never heard of a man in a senior position using his seniority to make unwanted sexual advances to a woman of junior rank, in civilian or Army life? The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that there should be no women in the armed forces either.

7.45 pm

Mr. Wilkinson: I shall not follow the hon. Lady's intervention. Suffice it to say that differences of responsibility of rank accentuate the potential mutuality of attraction or the influence that one person may have over another. A homosexual dimension is a complication that the armed services can do without.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Wilkinson: I want to draw my remarks to a conclusion.

Many speakers in the debate cited the practices of the armed services of other countries. They are welcome to run their armed forces as they run their other institutions--according to traditions, values, history and patterns of behaviour that appear to them to be right and normal. The British armed services are essentially Regular forces because, except in times of emergency or war, we do not usually go in for conscription. We are selective and have particular standards and values, which do not include condoning homosexual behaviour. It may be that the matter will eventually go to the European Court of Justice and that the equal opportunities directive may be invoked, to seek to impose on the United Kingdom's armed forces a pattern of values with which the majority of service men are not happy.

My hon. Friend the Minister may recall an Adjournment debate in which I moved against the Ministry of Defence decision to grant compensation retrospectively to ex-service women required to leave the armed forces on the ground of pregnancy and thereby retrospectively gain huge sums in compensation. The MOD's decision to cede the principle has already cost the British taxpayer more than £50 million.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): Disgraceful.

Mr. Wilkinson: Just as my hon. Friend says.

It is also wrong for the European Court of Justice to arrogate unto itself an intrusive right, because, under the treaty of union signed in Maastricht, defence remains a national responsibility--so manpower policies within the armed forces, including disciplinary provisions, should

9 May 1996 : Column 491

rest with member states. I hope that--in the unfortunate eventuality the ECJ is called on to adjudicate--the Government will resist--

Mr. Michael Brown: My hon. Friend means the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Wilkinson: I am talking about a decision based on the equal opportunities directive. I am not talking about a potential decision of European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, because we are a signatory to the convention, so I am excluding that court from my arguments. I am specifically addressing my arguments to the ECJ. If there were an adverse decision by the ECJ, I hope that the Government would refuse it because otherwise we would open a floodgate to retrospective compensation claims at great cost to the British taxpayer.

The majority of the British armed forces do not want any change in our rules on homosexuality; the Government have been entirely right to support that majority and to accept the advice of the Select Committee on the matter.

Mr. Kaufman: As the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) perhaps knows, I have considerable personal respect for him, but the speech that he made just now is the kind of speech, on subjects related to decent and sensible reform, that the House has heard for centuries. It is the kind of speech that is made when something that makes sense is being proposed by those who are trying to prevent what is inevitably going to happen. I shall refer to such matters a little more before I sit down.

Two points emerge so far from the debate, following the admirable speech by the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs. Currie). The first is the implication that, because a Select Committee of the House has made a report, the Government are bound by it. I only wish that was so in the case of the Select Committee on National Heritage, because, if so, the Government's confusions about listed sporting events and about Channel Four funding would have been eliminated at source.

The second question that arises in my mind--following the speech by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood, the report of the Select Committee and much of the comment about the issue--is what, is it about members of the United Kingdom armed forces that makes them so vulnerable to seduction by homosexuals? What is it about them? Are they so fastidious, and are they so vulnerable in a way that service men in the rest of Europe, in other countries and in the state of Israel are not? Are we recruiting weaklings into our armed forces? That is the implication of the terrible danger that appears to be hanging over them, as advanced in the speech of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood.

The hon. Gentleman said that homosexuality is not compatible with membership of Her Majesty's forces. That is very strange to me, because I have a slight suspicion that there are large numbers of homosexuals in our armed forces today. I have a further suspicion that there have been homosexuals throughout history in our own armed forces and those of other great powers, and, somehow or other, we have managed to win wars all the same.

9 May 1996 : Column 492

Is the implication that the official acceptance of homosexuality would bring discredit on our armed forces? If so, we should have proof that that has taken place. If I consider other cases in the armed forces, I see that a convicted murderer, Paratrooper Lee Clegg, has not only been retained in the armed forces after his release from prison, but has been promoted to lance-corporal and made second in command of an eight-man rifle section. It seems to be all right to promote a convicted murderer in our armed forces, but it would appear that people of a particular sexual orientation are more dangerous to the good name of our armed forces.

Three men, who have now been discharged from our armed forces, killed a woman, Louise Jensen, in Cyprus in the most brutal and appalling way. I do not gain any impression from reading press reports of that case that those were gay men who were driven to murder that woman so brutally, yet they have inflicted more discredit on our armed forces than anyone else I can remember in recent years--so much so that the Secretary of State for Defence has had to make a public apology for what took place.

Last night, I was reading "Roads to Ruin: The Shocking History of Social Reform" by E. S. Turner. He has looked at rearguard actions against sensible and decent reform over the centuries. What emerges from that great book is that the kind of untenable, illogical and prejudiced arguments that have been advanced against new clause 1, which I have signed, were advanced about all other kinds of social reform on which we would regard it as ludicrous that they should even have been debated.

Those reforms included stopping children and women going down coal mines; it was described as ridiculous to say that that was not a satisfactory or admirable state of affairs. The Plimsoll line has saved the lives of many seafarers, but it was said in the House that it was ludicrous that that elementary reform should be introduced.

A number of us have been in the House for many years and the kind of arguments that have been advanced by the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood, and will no doubt be advanced by other Conservative Members tonight, are analogous to the very arguments that have been put in the House for generations, and that led to innocent men being hanged for murder. It has even been argued that we should take that risk.

We take a good deal of sanctimonious satisfaction from the role of the House of Commons. We are all proud--as I am--to be Members of the House of Commons, but we seem to imagine that the House has been a force for forward and inevitable reform over centuries and generations. The fact has to be faced that this is a House of belated reform, and a House that often does not get around to obvious, necessary and logical reforms.

It has to be said that the House has allowed a terrible amount of human suffering to take place because it has been so slow to accept logical and sensible arguments for reform. There is a great list of examples for anybody who studies Hansard over the decades, generations and centuries. This debate will eventually take its place in the annals of those debates, in which the House has shown itself reluctant to do the right, sensible and decent thing.

It may well be that new clause 1 will be defeated tonight, but the hon. Member for South Derbyshire is far too tough a campaigner to believe that that will be the end of the story. She will win, and all those who agree with

9 May 1996 : Column 493

her will win, but before she does, and before we do, we will have to go through some more years of hypocrisy and persecution. It is about time that the House did the right thing at the right time. Tonight is the right time.

Next Section

IndexHome Page