Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: My Lords--

Lord Elton: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am always reluctant to interrupt your Lordships when your Lordships are in full cry. We have spent one hour and 40 minutes on this debate. It is a very important matter and it is right that the House should have a full discussion on it. I suggest with some timidity that we take two more speakers and then move to the Front Bench. I do not know whether the House as a whole might feel that that is a proper way of proceeding.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am happy to say that it is not for me to choose who the two should be.

Lord Elton: My Lords, as I have my name to amendments in the same group, your Lordships will wish to know that I do not wish to vitiate or prolong the debate by speaking to them. I have given notice that I have removed them from the group, as the Standing Orders provide. I do so because I wish to give every possible opportunity for the amendment of my noble friend Lady Young to succeed and not to cloud the argument on it.

Your Lordships have heard the moral arguments on both sides. The conflict which they have aroused seems to me to point to a simple fact which may help your Lordships to conclude matters quickly. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said earlier, we are not faced with an entirely plain, simple and workable proposal from the elected House of Commons properly proposed. It is not entirely plain, simple and workable because your Lordships have fallen into confusion over it. The Government have stated that it is not and have backed that up by undertaking to appoint a committee to remedy the dangers which this flawed proposal will

22 Jul 1998 : Column 958

throw up. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will demolish my argument in his winding-up speech which, it is hoped, will be quite soon, so your Lordships will not be left in suspense as to why I am wrong. I shall be interested to hear because I believe that I am right.

The decision of another place was made after a debate introduced at Third Reading without any of the normal preceding discussion in that place. It was introduced, denying a voice to the proposal to protect the victims of sexual assault while leaving the perpetrators of sexual assault of a certain age protected. That would have made this a much better amendment by the House of Commons, but it was not discussed.

I believe that what we have here has accurately been described by my noble friend as a defective amendment which your Lordships were prevented from discussing in Committee and returning to points again and again, over perhaps a day or a day-and-a-half, as we would expect on an issue of this kind--

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords--

Lord Elton: My Lords, I thought that we were trying to hurry up, but if the noble Lord is brief I shall give way.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful. Since I have been named by the noble Lord, will he be good enough to explain in what respect the amendment is defective if it seeks to secure equal treatment? What is wrong with the amendment?

Lord Elton: My Lords, what is wrong with the amendment is that it will expose, for instance, girls of 16 to buggery without the act of so treating them being illegal. It will expose boys of 16 to exploitation by older men without those men being the subject of the criminal law. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, says so forcefully on that and I also hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells so movingly says. I, too, am on the rack; I see the difficulty. Together with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, I believe that the balance goes in favour of the law as it is, unless we can achieve something better. We cannot achieve something better by the process in which we are now engaged. It is clear that we must have either something which many of us believe to be dangerous and defective or we must stick with the present law. The only way out of the difficulty is another measure in another Session, properly introduced in one House, going through all its stages in that House, then brought to the next House and going through all its stages there. That is what Parliament is designed for; that is what it should do; and that is what my noble friend is giving it an opportunity to do. I ask your Lordships to support her.

Earl Russell: My Lords--

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords--

Lord Annan: My Lords--

Lord Richard: My Lords, perhaps I should not have spoken earlier. I understand that the noble Baroness

22 Jul 1998 : Column 959

wishes to ask my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn a question. I do not believe that that will take long. The two protagonists--the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Annan--

Noble Lords: There are three!

Lord Richard: My Lords, I understand. I was going to suggest that we heard only two, but I think that we should now hear only one.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for his letter in relation to protecting 16 and 17 year-olds from abuse of trust. I am pleased that the Government are taking seriously the issue of vulnerability and the need to ensure that the young are adequately protected.

The Minister's answer may show some of your Lordships how to vote. We know that young boys and girls can be very vulnerable in care homes, boarding schools and even prisons. Can the Minister say when the group's recommendations will be enshrined in legislation? There is a worrying situation with the increase in prostitution among young boys and girls; indeed, the age range is getting younger and younger. HIV and AIDS still constitute a great danger in the younger age group of homosexuals. I feel that teachers should be able to give advice to children on these difficult and sensitive issues. Would it not be wise to try to get the safeguards in place first so that a safer message goes out from this House?

Earl Russell: My Lords--

Lord Annan: My Lords--

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order!

8.30 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, with the greatest respect, the situation has become impossible. I think that we should hear the noble Lord, Lord Annan, followed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and then we should proceed as I suggested.

Lord Annan: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Indeed, it is very good of him to allow me to take part in the debate. There is one reason why we should not overturn the Commons amendment, which I do not believe has been mentioned. We all tend to be much older than those in the other place. Moreover, the other place also has another advantage; namely, it now has a large number of women in it. Over the years, I have noticed that women are much more understanding and less shockable about sexual affairs than men very often are.

On the question of whether 16 year-olds are mature, I think that, in some ways, they are not so self-sufficient as my generation was; they have too many labour-saving devices. But, at the same time, can we really doubt that

22 Jul 1998 : Column 960

boys and girls are much more mature physiologically and mentally than they were at the time, for example, of the Wolfenden Report--safe sex, seduction and homosexuality are openly discussed in schools and in public life. Indeed, television programmes, newspaper reports, magazine articles and the Internet pullulate with descriptions of courtship and foreplay, and sexual activity is analysed interminably. That simply means that people are better informed.

That brings me to my second point. Of course, I am delighted with the Government's response to Mr. Joe Ashton's proposed amendment. However, it is important for us to remember that, while we have all been appalled by the recent revelations of abuse of children and by the distressing plight of those who leave home, live on the streets and have to rely on their wits, none of that will be altered or made better by agreeing to the Motion standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young: the same evils will continue to flourish however we vote tonight. Therefore, let us not confuse paedophilia with the age of consent. The monsters who abuse their trust as wardens of children's homes would have done so, whatever the age of consent may have been.

I am puzzled by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. I recognise that the issue of anal intercourse arouses extremely strong feelings of revulsion; indeed, people are horrified to appear to condone such acts. However, I am bound to say that sociologists of sexual behaviour declare in their researches that such acts are practised between married couples as well as between homosexual partners. He seemed to suggest that anal intercourse should again be made illegal for everyone of whatever age.

When discussing a Bill in 1994, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, reminded us that such acts between men and women are often threatened to be brought out in court in order to secure a higher settlement in a divorce case; in other words, if you accuse your partner of such an act, he will shun the publicity and agree to pay more. However, I hope that the House will bear with me if I conclude my remarks by describing what happened in 1967 about this particular problem. At one stage of the Bill's proceedings the late Lord Dilhorne taunted the then Archbishop of Canterbury by asking him whether he favoured legalising the act of buggery. On Third Reading he still persisted and moved that the act of sodomy should be removed from the Bill. He brought upon himself this retort from the late Lady Wootton:

    "I ask myself what are the opponents of this Bill afraid of? They cannot be afraid that these disgusting practices will be thrown upon their attention because these acts are legalised only if they are performed in private ... I can only suppose that the opponents of the Bill will be tormented by visions of what would be going on elsewhere. Surely, if that is so, that is their own private misfortune, and no reason for imposing their personal standard of taste and morality on the minority of their fellow citizens".

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on the powerful speech with which she introduced the debate. I also admire her as a former Leader of the House as regards the skilful way in which she has marshalled a great body of support behind her.

22 Jul 1998 : Column 961

However, I ask myself whether in fact in the end--not, of course, today--the late Lady Wootton's view of such matters will not prevail.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page