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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I apologise for having missed the first part of my noble friend's remarks. He is quite right. I think I did once make an observation of that nature--but not when I was on the Government Front Bench.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I would never accuse my noble friend of inconsistency. I am sure that he has probably thought it on many occasions. But my underlying point is a serious one. He spoke with great effectiveness. He made remarks which, I think, spring from an antipathy which many people feel towards homosexual acts. We must accept that that is a widely held view on all sides of your Lordships' House. But it is worth asking whether it is an argument. That was the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells in his speech today, which, if, I may say so, I found very effective. It was a point
I should like to quote briefly from a letter written to The Times a week or so ago by a number of religious leaders, led by the Chair of Christians for Human Rights. There were two bishops among the signatories and, if I am not mistaken, a rabbi. The letter stated:
Is it so that the electorate takes such a view? I do not want to get into disputation about opinion polls but I understand that the poll quoted today was taken among young adults. So it does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the electorate as a whole. However, at the same time, we should be taking seriously--perhaps more seriously than we sometimes do--the views of young adults in this matter. The point has been made that the average age in your Lordships' House does not automatically put us in contact with young adults, though we have heard from various organisations which may represent them.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I always listen with respect to the noble Lord but I rather wished that he had been with me when I recently took part in a debate at Cambridge University. The motion was, "This House would like the age of consent for men and women, boys and girls, lowered to 14". That motion was heavily defeated. I do not know whether the noble Lord would have been one of the few who backed the reduction to 14. Once you get into this question it is difficult to know where people will stop. At any rate, that is what happened at Cambridge.
I rise once again to express strong support for the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I do so as a committed Christian but I am aware that there are good Christians who disagree with me. Not long ago, on Good Friday, I attended the 3 o'clock mass in Westminster Cathedral. The place was packed and I was in the back row. When it came to communion the crowd surged forward towards the altar and it seemed to me that it would be a long, long time before I received communion. However,
I speak as a Christian who sees the moral starting point as plain as the day. In the Christian view, sex outside marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is sinful. Therefore, prima facie, the state should not set out to encourage action of that kind. That is the starting point. On the other hand, let us consider adultery, which is mentioned in the Ten Commandments and in some versions of the New Testament--Luke and Mark--as the first of the sins. Adultery is a very serious sin in Christian eyes, but no one is suggesting that it should be made a criminal offence.
So the problem arises: where do we draw the line? Why must a line be drawn? What is the real issue? The issue is that morality depends on freedom of moral choice. There is a limit to what the state can do in inducing people to be moral. That is the problem. I did not ask the gentleman I mentioned about his own tendencies, but he was certainly not a practising homosexual. He had just received communion.
Practising homosexuals are in sin. Nevertheless, Saint Augustine has told us that we must hate the sin and love the sinner; so we must try to love them. If any of my eight children or 26 grandchildren had been homosexual, no doubt my wife and I would have loved them. However, I cannot believe that there are many parents who prefer their son to be homosexual rather than inclined to favour women. It is contrary to the male nature. Women do not mind so much. A lot of women like homosexuals; they say they are not frightened of them. (I do not know whether they are frightened of elderly gentlemen either--I do not think they are.) They find homosexuals rather harmless, almost pathetic people and seem to like them. So the best speeches in these debates in favour of the homosexual side seem to be made by women for the reason I have given.
I do not know how many Members of the House have met rent boys. I met one who could not speak a word of English. He had just been imported to this country. If we are to think of young rent boys being seduced by middle-aged gentlemen, are we going to protect them, or are we not? Of course I have seen people recover from homosexualism. A boy at Eton assaulted my elder brother in the bath there and was later expelled for repeating the offence on another boy. Later he became a pillar of county society and captained the county cricket team. So one can undoubtedly recover from homosexualism. But if I were the parent of a boy who
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, previous speakers in this House have observed what an invidious task it is to speak after the noble Earl, Lord Longford. However much one disagrees with the substance of his remarks, one cannot fail to be impressed and to admire the charm and sincerity with which he makes them. It therefore makes it very difficult to refute or deal with the points he makes. I do not seek to challenge anything the noble Earl has said about the moral teaching of the Christian, or Catholic, faith. However, I venture to suggest that it does not have very much to do with the question of what the provisions of the criminal law shall be.
Perhaps I may venture one other observation on the noble Earl's speech. He seemed to postulate the rather remarkable suggestion that a heterosexual youth has only to encounter a homosexual on one occasion and have casual sex with that man to be converted for life to homosexuality. The noble Earl may by now have forgotten what happened during his school days at Eton, but I suggest that there would be rather fewer Members of this House who were old Etonians or who had heirs if the one occasional homosexual encounter prevented one ever conducting a heterosexual life thereafter.
My principal argument for supporting the Bill should appeal above all to those of your Lordships who favour fox hunting or who vigorously oppose any attempt to ban fox hunting. I recognise that, with the noted and admirable exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, those who hunt foxes are not traditionally noted for their sympathy in regard to homosexuality, yet I hope that they will for a short while listen to me and perhaps be persuaded by the argument.
We are concerned in this debate with a very important general principle; namely, where should the criminal law go and where should it stop? Therefore, I urge any noble Lords who might be tempted to vote against the Bill to consider that, by so doing, they will be encouraging the state to interfere with matters that ought to be left to moral persuasion and individual choice.
It is vitally important for us all to remember that we are considering what is and what should and should not be designated as a criminal offence--indeed, a very serious criminal offence--and how far the criminal law ought to interfere in an individual's private life.
The question before your Lordships is not what is socially desirable or morally right, as one might have thought when one listened to the speeches in support of the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and other noble Lords. With respect, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, was way off the issue when he discussed whether homosexual pairs should have equal rights to state monetary benefits. Of course the state can decide how to use its funds to give positive encouragement to ways of life that it considers positively desirable, but that has nothing to do with whether the state should impose penalties on other forms of conduct of which it is less approving.
The reasons for seeking to ensure that the law does not criminalise conduct which a considerable minority does not regard as wrong are not purely matters of theoretical principle. There are few things worse for the rule of law than to have on the statute book a criminal offence which is disregarded by a considerable number of our citizens because they regard it as unjust and misconceived. Once people start picking and choosing between various provisions of the criminal law, the status of the whole criminal law as a minimum code of behaviour is seriously weakened.
I suggest to your Lordships that the present law on the homosexual age of consent fails that test completely. It does not work. No one has suggested that it is successful in stopping 16 and 17 year-olds having homosexual relationships. It is not obeyed and those who disregard it do not feel that they are doing what is morally wrong, merely that they are at risk of punishment because of a moral code imposed upon them by an uncomprehending and alien world.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her followers are fully entitled to urge upon individuals, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has done, all the moral, theological, medical and social arguments which they can find to persuade those individuals that they should refrain from homosexual activity. What they are not entitled to do, if they fail in their persuasion, is to use the mechanism of the state to impose their personal convictions upon people who have not been convinced by their arguments.
There are lots of things which are morally and theologically accepted as wrong but which are not criminal. The noble Earl mentioned the obvious one, adultery, which is far more roundly and clearly condemned in the Bible, as I understand it, than is homosexuality. But I see no rush, even from the noble Earl, to introduce 14-year sentences of imprisonment for adultery. Having said that, it worries me that that might appeal to the Government as an alternative way of reducing the number of hereditary Peers in your Lordships' House!
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