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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, as the widow of a public school headmaster--as such, I well remember the Wolfenden Report and was deeply appreciative of the quotations given from that report by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon--I should like to support my noble friend Lady Young and to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. It is true that my husband was headmaster of a single-sex school, but what I am about to say applies equally to mixed-sex schools.

The head of a boarding school--or, indeed, of any school--is responsible in every way for the children under his or her care--and children are what we are talking about this evening. Sixteen is a really difficult age, bringing new ideas, new feelings and perhaps the urge to experiment. All these are normal and natural. I know that my husband took a liberal view when coping with the many difficulties faced by the adolescents under his care. Of course, he took appropriate action at the rare times when he knew that there was danger of serious corruption, but to have the age of homosexual consent lowered from 18 to 16 for both sexes would have caused my husband and, I venture to say, heads of boarding schools today, endless difficulties.

As for the pupils, whereas a single, possibly experimental incident can most certainly occur, on the whole it is not the beginning of a lasting orientation. Lowering the age of homosexual consent would, I believe, thoroughly confuse children of both sexes.

I need only touch on the thoroughly unpleasant thought of a 16 year-old who is sexually approached by a master to make my point--and that intolerable situation could have far more lasting results from every point of view. I simply cannot understand the reasoning behind what I consider to be a thoroughly retrograde step.

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Perhaps I may finish by quoting from one of the many letters that I have received on this subject:

    "If your father or teacher smacks you, that is child abuse. But on the other hand if anyone teaches you that buggery is perfectly normal, they are only helping you to develop and discover your own sexuality".

In my view, the writer gets to the very nub of the question and, as a mother and a grandmother, I agree with what he says.

Lord Jakobovits: My Lords, I face a dilemma. While I strongly object to lowering the age of consent, I cannot agree to retaining 18 as the age of consent as if after 18 such conduct is legitimate and morally acceptable. But I do agree that under the age of 18 the moral and physical dangers are far greater. Perhaps we have already conceded too much under pressure from the gay lobby. Public opinion is being manipulated by insistent use or misuse of euphemisms. One speaks about "gays". I like to think of myself as a gay fellow. I enjoy gayness. I object to others appropriating that term. Similarly, "lifestyle" is being abused these days. Even the word "partner" which once had a very innocent meaning is abused. The word is now understood in a very different sense. The word "homophobia" is an addition to our vocabulary which is intended to shape new attitudes and uproot existing moral order.

These are all terms to whitewash what is morally unacceptable to the vast majority of the citizens of this country and elsewhere. We should not aid and abet this abuse of language. Until recently the language to describe such behaviour evoked abhorrence, for instance, by associating such practices with the depravities of the biblical city of Sodom or the pagan Greek island of Lesbos. Today clothing is used to reveal and language to conceal or obfuscate. It used to be the other way around: language was meant to reveal and clothing to conceal. Legislators should not fall into the trap of deception by the misuse of words.

More fundamentally, legislation now threatens to become both inconsistent and undemocratic. To explain, if it is argued, as it has been this evening, that acts between consenting adults should not be branded as wrong or criminal, why retain bigamy or incest as actionable offences, as they still are? Homosexuals demand their civil liberties alongside all other citizens. I am the first to concede that demand so long as it does not harm others. But a tiny dissident minority of under 5 per cent.--perhaps under 1 per cent. according to the latest studies--cannot demand that the other 95 per cent. or 99 per cent. must accept and treat as equal violations of the moral code which, after all, has distinguished civilised life for millennia.

The present Government in particular claim to pursue moral policies, even in foreign affairs. Shall moral standards be demanded in Sierra Leone or other parts of Africa while our own country and in our schools it is no longer the fashion to live by a moral code? In these turbulent times of rising crime and divorce rates, overflowing prisons and the unspeakable misery in millions of broken homes, do we really want to raise youngsters who care only to have a fling, seek no

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enduring lifetime loyalties, and recognise no moral code and, in the end, no legal code? Britain already has the highest divorce rate in Europe. Add to that the toll of death from AIDS and other debilitating diseases spread mainly by loose living. Do we want to open the floodgates of suffering even further?

I have no illusions about our capacity to reverse history. For the time being, we shall not revoke the Wolfenden Report of 1956 to which reference has been made; nor shall we alter the Sexual Offences Act 1966 which legitimised homosexual and other unnatural acts among consenting adults. I say that those trends shall not be reversed for the time being but I am convinced that such violations of the laws of God and nature cannot endure in the long run. I profoundly believe that human progress in the long run is inexorable. Maybe sooner rather than later the moral progress of humanity at large will once again be resumed and what is good and decent will prevail.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I so completely agree with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, which combined compassion, common sense and humanity, that I wonder how I can say anything further to assist the House in deciding the great question now before noble Lords. The question before us is whether we should disagree with the democratically elected Chamber of Parliament on a question of basic rights and freedoms.

Speaking as one Jew to another, I say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, that it is extremely dangerous for any minority to speak in the language of majoritarianism. In particular the Jewish Members of this House should perhaps remember that Hitler and the Nazis persecuted not only the Jews and gypsies but also homosexuals. No doubt the Nazis who did so represented a strong majority in Nazi Germany. No doubt it is also true that at the moment those who propose to disagree with the Commons consider that they have a moral majority in the country at large based on opinion polls. I do not believe that basic rights and freedoms should be decided on the basis of majoritarianism or the outcome of opinion polls.

There is one matter that I should draw to your Lordships' attention. No one else has done so. We will not be debating this matter and deciding the question entirely within the confines of this Chamber. What we say and do this evening will be read and studied with interest by the European Court of Human Rights when it comes to decide the pending case of Evan Sutherland. We are as bound in international law by the European Human Rights Convention as is another place, our courts and the Government. If we decide to disagree with the Commons amendment--which seems an entirely plain, simple and workable amendment, restoring equality and nothing more--we shall disable the Government from being able to comply with our international treaty obligations. It will be virtually certain that we shall once more be condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. By a commanding majority, the European Commission of Human Rights has looked at all the arguments and has found that there

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is no objective or reasonable justification for maintaining a higher minimum age of consent to male homosexual than to heterosexual acts. There is discriminatory treatment in the enjoyment of the applicant's right to respect for his private life. The case has gone to the European Court; it is being delayed by the determination and outcome of this vote in your Lordships' House. Unless the Commons amendment is passed into law, it is a virtual certainty that the court will uphold the European Commission's opinion.

Perhaps I may tell your Lordships what that opinion was. The Commission observed that current medical opinion is to the effect that sexual orientation is fixed for both sexes by the age of 16. Men aged 16 to 21 are not in need of special protection because of the risk of their being recruited into homosexuality. The commission noted that the British Medical Association had found that the risk posed by predatory older men would appear to be as serious whether the victim is a man or a woman and did not justify the differential age of consent.

The Commission observed that even if there may be some young men who, after the age of 16, may require protection, it is not a proportionate response to the need for protection to expose to criminal sanctions not only the older men who engage in homosexual acts with a person under the age of 18, but the young man himself who is claimed to be in need of protection.

As for society's claimed entitlement to indicate disapproval of homosexual conduct and its preference for a heterosexual lifestyle, the Commission found that that did not constitute an objective and reasonable justification for inequality of treatment in the criminal law.

Those are the findings of the great majority in the Commission. I have no doubt that they will be followed in the court. Every word that your Lordships say this evening will be taken into account by both sides.

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