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Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ann Keen: No.

I pay special tribute to all those individuals who have stood, with pride, to be themselves.

Mr. Gale: Hon. Members are not supposed to read speeches in the Chamber.

Hon. Members: Oh!.

Ann Keen: I sincerely hope that the debate will concentrate on equality and justice for families, friends and constituents. Many of us who represent diverse metropolitan communities, none more obvious than our capital city of London, are well used to welcoming and celebrating the cosmopolitan life style that that diversity brings. However, many hon. Members represent rural areas, smaller towns and communities that are less obviously diverse, and, in such areas, Members of Parliament are less likely to be contacted by gay men. That is because of the feeling of isolation experienced by those regarded as different by their neighbours. It is even more important that they, the silent minority, are represented, because the need for equality is the same.

Mr. Gale: On that point, will the hon. Lady give way?

Ann Keen: No.

We have the opportunity to move forward and to make a change. People rightly feel discriminated against. They feel a strong desire to live within the law and, confident that their case is justified, they believe that their voice will be heard. Tonight, the House can take a decision demonstrating that the voice of the communities we all serve will be listened to. By agreeing to the new clause, we shall signal once again that we have a House of Commons that will deliver equality and justice. We must take a positive step forward in creating a culture in which all law-abiding citizens are given the opportunity to live their lives openly and freely, confident that they will not be discriminated against.

Mr. Gale: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has been the custom and practice of the House over many years, first, to engage in debate and, secondly,

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not to read speeches. If we are to be able to debate this subject in a civilised manner, it really is time that hon. Members stopped reading their speeches and started to allow other hon. Members to participate in the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament for quite a long time and he knows--[Interruption.] Order. It is entirely a matter for the hon. Member who is speaking to decide whether to give way to interventions.

Ann Keen: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I have given way to hon. Members on both sides equally--that is equality.

Families--mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters--who love and respect their gay family member are pained and angered when prejudice and criminal law discriminate against their loved one. It is about time that families were all equal. Those principles represent the foundation stones of the new clause, and they are the principles which we must endorse.

The House has the opportunity to end discrimination, and we have to make a choice. We can take from the past those values of respect for others that are most enduring and translate them into the modern world, or we can simply cling to those old prejudices that have been most damaging and have forced generations of lesbians and gay men to live as second-class citizens. We have an opportunity to welcome all those men and women as equal members of our society, and, this time, we must take it.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) speaks with conviction and sincerity, and we have listened to her with respect, but I would ask her and those who share her point of view to consider for a moment that there is another point of view, and that it is important that it should be expressed in this debate.

I speak, quite unashamedly, for the traditional, orthodox Christian point of view, which holds that homosexuality and lesbian practices are not another and an equivalent normality; and which holds that they are practices that not only are different from heterosexual behaviour, but should not be ranked as equal or equivalent to it. Having said that, I have no wish and never have had any wish to persecute or prosecute any man or woman for his or her personal behaviour. However, the House has to concern itself with many matters. The hon. Lady spoke eloquently about equality and she was right to do so, but there is another duty that is laid on each and every Member of Parliament, which is the duty to protect and to succour the vulnerable.

The hon. Lady spoke of her background and of her experience as a nurse; she spoke with feeling and with great knowledge. Before I entered the House 28 years ago, I was, for 10 years, a schoolmaster, and I want to refer to that period in my life for a moment or two.

During that period, I came across some extremely unhappy young men who had been preyed upon by older men, and whose whole manner and way of life had been changed and distorted as a result. Many of those young men were 15, 16 or 17 years old. I speak as the father of two sons who are now well over that age, and I do not

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believe that a 16-year-old boy is indeed a fully mature adult. It is important that we take that into account in our deliberations this evening.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) has recognised that issue in his amendment. If, by chance, the hon. Lady's new clause is carried this evening--I hope that it will not be, but suspect that it will--I hope that there will be massive support for the hon. Gentleman's amendment, which recognises the plight and the potential plight of the vulnerable and does something about it by stating that those in authority or in a position of trust who take advantage of young men or women should be subject to the full rigours of the law.

It is not easy to talk about homosexuality. The most regrettable aspect of life today is that all forms of sex have been commercially exploited to such an extent that they represent a growing cancer in society. Many of those seeking to protect homosexuals are also, in my view, trying to go further and promote homosexuality. [Hon. Members: "No."] I stand by my remark. I dare say many Members during the past week have received an envelope bearing the warning:

The leaflet inside, put out by the Terrence Higgins Trust, certainly does cause offence. If it fell into the hands of innocent young men, it might tend to deprave and corrupt them.

The commercial exploitation of sex, and television's lack of regard for childhood innocence, have gone a long way towards destroying that innocence. I deeply regret that; but there are still young men and women who are brought up to try to follow a Christian life. If any of them came across this sort of literature, they could find it pretty shocking.

7.30 pm

If we vote against the hon. Lady's new clause, we shall damage no one; but if we vote for it, we run the risk of damaging some people. I am content to accept that some may be born with a genetic predisposition to homosexuality--I am not medically knowledgeable enough to pass comment. I am convinced, however, that many people are not born homosexual--it is for them that we must have a special regard. Would anyone seriously suggest that every sailor who followed a homosexual way of life was born homosexual? One thinks of the old description of the Navy,

[Laughter.] There is nothing funny about it: it is a perfectly reasonable point to make in support of my argument. We all know that in the last century and the early years of this one, there was a high incidence of the practice in certain walks of life--but I do not believe that every young man who followed that way of life was born to it.

It is with regret that I must oppose the hon. Lady's amendment and hope that others will consider doing likewise. Our duty is to protect the innocent. If even one young man would be adversely affected by the amendment, we should take that seriously into account.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): One of the vulnerable aspects of 16 and 17-year-olds who may

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be seduced or preyed upon by people of their own age group, or by older men, lies in the fact that it would be illegal to rape them, but not to have sex with them in the way that the amendment would allow. Any Member who has had to deal with a case of male rape will know just how difficult such cases are to bring to justice, how profound their effect on the victims are, and how painful such an experience would be for a 16 or 17-year-old.

Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. Friend makes an exceptionally valid and moving point.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): If my hon. Friend takes the point that someone who has been raped finds it difficult to go to the police, would he agree that it would be even more difficult for someone to go to the police if, by so doing, he might lay himself open to a criminal charge?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I can understand why many people adhere to that point of view. There is never a perfect solution to any problem of this nature. My own view, as I said at the outset, is that homosexuality is not equivalent to normality. Secondly, I do not believe that every homosexual is born homosexual. Thirdly, I do believe that 16-year-olds are especially vulnerable and deserve the protection of this House. That is why I oppose the new clause, and urge colleagues of all parties to think most seriously before they cast their votes.

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