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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I invited that, I know, and I received the reaction that I wanted. But if it is bigoted and reactionary to want to protect children between the ages of 16 and 18 from sexual exploitation, then I believe that I am in good company up and down the country, especially among parents. Therefore, I shall support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in the Lobbies tonight to defeat the Bill.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is a delight to follow the courageous speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. I wish to start by paying a fulsome tribute to my noble friend Lady Young. She has been extraordinarily courageous and steadfast in her concern for the well-being of young people and I fervently hope that her
Reducing the age of consent to allow 16 year-olds to engage in homosexual activity, with all the risks that that entails, is irresponsible. Those risks have been referred to by many speakers today. Particularly worrying to me is the risk of developing AIDS, the effects of the gay subculture, the level of promiscuity among homosexuals and the high proportion of homosexual men who are reported as having been raped or coerced into sexual activity. What can be the justification for extending those risks knowingly to even younger people?
Some of us are also disturbed that the right to engage in buggery should be extended not only to boys but also to girls of only 16 years of age. The new Clause 2, which was introduced to decriminalise homosexual activity for the younger party where one party is under 16 and the other is over 16, also gives serious cause for concern. A serious side effect of Clause 2 is the opportunity it presents to any young person with malicious intent to get the better of, say, a teacher or social worker, a situation not unknown, by engaging in a sexual act in the knowledge that he would be immune from prosecution and then reporting the incident to the police a form of blackmail on the teacher or person in authority. That point was well made by Dr. Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat in another place. Where in the Bill is protection for the older person in that situation?
The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, slightly chided those opponents of the Bill who see the issue as a moral and/or spiritual one that they should not impose such views on others. I plead guilty to believing that it is a moral and a spiritual issue. But I also believe--this is the point that I want to emphasise--that it is above all a child protection issue and therefore should concern us all.
I found it particularly distressing today to read the advertisement in The Times. I telephoned the NSPCC. A senior policy director told me that the organisation gave no permission for its name to be used; it was not approached and therefore its name was used without its consent. I have not phoned all the other organisations. A point that I put to the policy director was: how many of the people who contribute money to the NSPCC did the organisation sound out before making a policy statement? I was told that none had been supportive. My family has supported the NSPCC over many years. We have now withdrawn our support on the grounds that if it is in the child protection business it should be on our side in this debate in opposing the lowering of the age of consent. Only senior management and the trustees made that decision on behalf of millions of people in this country who have in great number supported my noble friend Lady Young in her stand against the Bill.
The noble Lords, Lord Davies of Coity and Lord Stoddart, both made powerful points about the irony of the Bill, in that it extends to young people the right to engage in homosexual activity and then has to include clauses to protect them from that very activity.
Abuse of trust has been referred to many times. The Government pray that in aid of the strength of the Bill. But there are many loopholes in this part of the Bill. As has been said, part-time pupils studying for, let us say, four days out of five are not protected. That is illogical. If a teacher is capable of abusing the trust of a full-time pupil, he is also capable of abusing the trust of a part-time pupil. Many categories of potential abusers are not covered, including step-parents, youth workers and religious leaders.
The absurd pre-existing relationship defence in Clause 3(3) means that if a sexual relationship existed between the adult and young person before the new offence came into force, any sexual activity that takes place after the offence comes into force is exempt. That defence, which is easy to raise and very difficult to refute, will be routinely used in the first few years of the operation of this legislation. The requirement that only those who regularly care for young people can be convicted will create another line of defence--an ad hoc carers' defence.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, hinted that the Bill could be strengthened. But let us look at the record of the Government in another place. During the Committee and Report stages of the Bill, unsuccessful attempts were made to extend the abuse of trust provisions to cover existing relationships, part-time pupils, step-families, religious organisations, youth workers and temporary teachers and carers. What chance is there of making any changes here? There is also the absurdity of the situation whereby a schoolteacher having a sexual relationship with a 16 year-old will be caught by the Bill, but the brother or friend of that schoolteacher having a sexual relationship with the same pupil will not be caught by the Bill. How absurd!
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, set out the reasoning of the commission in the Sutherland case to second-guess the attitude and conclusion of the court judges who will eventually hear the case. There is something almost pompous about deploying such a personal judgment as a substitute for what must be a matter for independent judges when they come to consider the case before them and, we hope, honour the margin of appreciation which is accepted for individual countries.
This is the time to stand fast, to support the protection of young people, to support the overwhelming view of people in the country, to support parents and to support the institution of marriage as the cornerstone of the community. Anyone who really has the well-being of young people at heart will have no truck with this Bill and will support my noble friend Lady Young.
Lord Alli : My Lords, many of your Lordships will know that I am openly gay. I am 34. I was gay when I was 24, when I was 21, when I was 20, when I was 19, when I was 18, when I was 17 and even when I was 16. I have never been confused about my sexuality. I have been confused about the way I am treated as a result of it. The only confusion lies in the prejudice shown, some of it tonight, and much of it enshrined in the law.
Many noble Lords probably cannot understand what it is like to be gay and young. It means that one can be called anything: "sick"; "abnormal"; "unnatural"; "ruined". Those words were used by colleagues tonight. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lords, Lord Selsdon and Lord Davies of Coity, used them all, and that is supposed to be acceptable.
I do not understand why I should be treated differently before the law. Last year I wanted to speak in the debate on the equalisation of the age of consent but I had only just joined your Lordships' House and my noble friend the Government Chief Whip advised me that a maiden speech on such a controversial topic would not go down well. I am glad I took his advice. Like so many of his judgments, it was sound and his guidance was right.
Over the past year I have learned a lot about your Lordships' House. Most importantly, and above all, this House believes that all people deserve fair and equal treatment. I have seen noble Lords on both sides of the House work night after night going through legislation line by line to ensure that that legislation is fair for all. But equality before the law is a high and exacting standard. It means that we have to support things that we do not personally believe in; it means that we have to let people do things that we would not do ourselves; and it means that we have to allow people to say things that we personally do not agree with. It is impossible to be almost equal before the law. Equality is an absolute. It is indivisible and it must be applicable to all.
Last year I sat through the Third Reading debate. It was my first day here. I listened to the speeches of many noble Lords. Some were unpleasant and prejudiced; others were just ill-informed and ignorant; many were supportive. What was clear then, as now, is that there is an overwhelming case for change. The case has been made time and time again tonight. The medical case has been made by the BMA, the RCN and the Royal College of Physicians. The social case for change has been made by Barnardo's, the National Children's Bureau, the NSPCC and Save the Children. What do we have opposing us? Anecdotal evidence. Those bodies have all made clear that there is no medical or psychological reason to continue to discriminate against young people. The intellectual and moral argument has, in my view, been won. For the second time, legislation on this matter has come back to this House when Members of another place have passed it with an overwhelming majority, and I suppose that in the end--to use a phrase I have heard here time and time again--they will get their way.
The question is not whether one view of morality is right and another is wrong but whether the law can tell me who I am and prevent me from being who I am and whether it is right to criminalise me for who I am. For me this debate tonight is not an academic, intellectual or even theological one. Between the ages of 16 to 21 I suffered under this law. I was made to keep my relationships secret from my employers, friends and even my family. To create that level of fear in anyone so young is unforgivable and I do not believe that we should put any more young people through it.
I know that this is a difficult issue for some noble Lords, but respect for others and their right to equal treatment must be the overriding consideration tonight. Some noble colleagues have said that their religious and moral considerations do not allow them to vote for the Bill but that the arguments for equality are so strong that they will not vote against it either, and for that I am very grateful.
In the debate last year I was particularly struck by the position adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, for he above all should understand persecution and ethnic, social and religious cleansing. None of these should be tolerated and this House should make no further concessions however small. When he spoke I was reminded of a poem that I looked up this morning. I am sure that many noble Lords are familiar with it but I quote it nonetheless:
Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me". In tonight's vote I should like your Lordships to speak out for me and millions like me, not because you agree or disagree or because you approve or disapprove, but because if you do not protect me in this House you protect no one.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alli, because he speaks from the heart and knows his subject. He is extremely brave to have said what he said in your Lordships' House, and I congratulate him on having done so.
As far as I am concerned sex is a private issue. It is a sad day that we are debating this matter at all. The issue that we are debating is equality, not homosexuality. Whether the age of consent should be 16, or 17 as in Ireland, does not really matter but it should be equal for both males and females. Many of us in this House and outside it find the whole subject of homosexuality unpleasant. I admit that as a happily married man I find it difficult to appreciate, but I do not care what people do in their private lives. That is up to them. I do not want to know an individual's religion or sexuality. People are made differently, both mentally and physically. As long as what they do is consensual let them get on with it provided they do not upset anyone else while they do it.
The youth of today will experiment. Everyone experiments at some stage in their lives. When we were young we played doctors and nurses. Many played different versions of it. Some played vicars and tarts and cross-dressing regularly took place.
Some cannot handle the opposite sex's different problems and find the same sex easier to cope with. Who am I to say that they should not do so? Who are we in this House to say that they should not do so? I do not like the open, camping, overt sexuality of Peter Tatchell and his ilk. I do not approve of men or women kissing in public another person of the same sex. Nor do I like to see heterosexual sex in public places. But it happens everywhere. I am not a prude. I was a hippy in the 1960s in San Francisco in Haight Ashbury. At that stage I had rather longer hair and had some interesting times. But everything that I did there was private--or private among the group present. The European Court of Human Rights has said that our laws go against human rights. We must take that into account. It cannot be right to differentiate between boys and girls. To differentiate causes problems; and it causes many problems for young men who have been thrown out of their home. They go to the citizens advice bureau for help. They have to admit that they have broken the law. If they want a home to live in because their parents no longer want them at home, they have to admit that they have committed a crime in order to gain that home.
The fact is that 22 well-known charities all dealing with young people on a daily basis--which is more than can be said for the majority of noble Lords in this House--support the Bill. Are they all wrong? Is my noble friend Lady Young correct? I do not think so. And I do not think so for the following reasons. First, the opinion polls tell us that 60 per cent. of the population want the change. I do not believe in opinion polls, but that is a fact. Secondly, rape and crisis groups support the Bill, going so far as to point out that the vast majority of cases against boys and girls are committed by heterosexual men regardless of whether the victim was male or female. That puts to bed the argument about the paedophile being a male homosexual. Thirdly, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry surely highlighted that we should not be criminalising any one group of people, whether or not gay. Fourthly, any psychiatrist will tell you that children brought up in a homosexual household are no more likely to be homosexual than if they were
Seventhly, and I think the most important reason, this issue will not go away. Young people will continue to have sex. It is actually quite enjoyable! The law will not change their desire to experiment or their preferences for it. If a 17 year-old youth has sex with a 16 year-old girl he is an adult acting perfectly legally. If he has sex with an 18 year-old man, he is an abused youth and therefore gets protected. But if he has sex with a 17 year-old man they are both criminals. It is madness. It is complete insanity. It is nonsense. It makes a complete farce of everything that is sensible in law.
The law must be equal to everyone and it must be seen to be fair; and so often the law is an ass. We all know that. We must make efforts to ensure that that does not occur. The Bill provides for the safety of male youths from the attentions of predatory males in positions of trust and authority. It must be allowed to continue its way through Parliament. It is supported by all the leaders of all the political parties. It has been supported by a large majority of the elected House, so who are we to stop it? If noble Lords disapprove of the Bill, and I know many of my noble friends do, then change it in Committee and at Report. But do not vote against it tonight. That would be counterproductive and would make more problems for the very people my noble friend thinks she is trying to help. I urge your Lordships not to vote tonight if you support her views. If, like me, you feel the issue needs to be discussed further, support the Second Reading tonight.
We in this House have a duty to scrutinise legislation brought forward by any Government. In a different Bill going through this House at this very minute, that is an argument I have heard time and again. We must allow this Bill its Second Reading so that we can carry out that duty. Please support this Bill tonight, and if any of your Lordships disapprove of it, do not vote with the noble Baroness, Lady Young; sit on your hands.
Lord Monson: My Lords, it is worth standing back a little from this evening's fray to recognise that over the past few decades your Lordships' House seems to have struck just the right balance where legislation on homosexual activity is concerned. Back in the spring and early summer of 1966, when the House of Commons was too petrified to contemplate such a move for fear of an electoral backlash, this House voted by 70 votes to 29--we were fewer in number in those days--in favour of the Second Reading and by 83 votes to 39 in favour of the Third Reading of the late Lord Arran's Bill to decriminalise private male homosexual activity between consenting adults--with the accent heavily on the word "adults". The noble Lord, Lord Annan, if he is still here, will remember that as both he and I were one of the radical majority--radical by the standards of the day--whose votes gave the other place the courage to follow suit a year or so later.
It may be pertinent to mention at this stage that Henry Labouchere, the bete noire of the homosexual lobby by virtue of his indirect role in the conviction and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, happened to be a passionate 19th century enthusiast for abolishing the hereditary House of Lords.
I spoke at the outset of achieving the right balance. Just as 33 years ago we voted against excessive repression in this sphere, more recently we have become alarmed at the pendulum swinging too far the other way in favour of excessive licence. Partly for that reason, but above all because this House has always been concerned with the protection of vulnerable young people, nine months ago we voted against a measure similar to that proposed today.
To those who are tempted to cry "double standards"--and I suspect that my noble friend Lord Bledisloe may be among their number--I submit that there is no incompatibility at all between, on the one hand, permitting adults to behave in a way that is often degrading and usually dangerous, should that be their unhappy choice, and, on the other hand, doing everything possible to dissuade confused adolescents--those below the age of adulthood--from following suit. That point was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, if I interpreted him correctly.
After all, in 1989 the United Nations decreed that children must be protected from sexual exploitation or abuse and that for that purpose anyone under the age of 18 is deemed to be a child. To his great credit, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has not dissented from that.
Propagandists often claim that homosexuals are born and not made. Some of them obviously are, as we heard in a most moving speech from the noble Lord, Lord Alli, but others most definitely are not. A few months ago, Channel 4--surprise, surprise--showed a film on the alleged martyrdom of a group it termed "The Bolton Seven". They were seven men who had been prosecuted for indulging in a homosexual orgy which, somewhat illogically, still happens to be illegal. Significantly, it transpired that although the two older men involved were indeed out-and-out homosexuals, most of the five teenagers involved had subsequently settled into heterosexual relationships with their girlfriends, with whom they had produced children, and some of them had married. Therefore, the message conveyed by the film was not what Channel 4 intended, although I am not sure whether it recognised that.
The confusion and uncertainty felt by so many teenagers about their sexual inclinations is the reason responsible adult homosexuals such as Dan Farson, the well-known author and commentator, is totally opposed to measures such as this. A retired assistant divisional director of Barnardo's who opposes the Bill points out that deprived children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. So it is not true that all professionals are united in favour of the Bill. That is simply not so.
Penalties are generally light, as they should be; the law is basically there as a marker. I am afraid that I must respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton. There is often something to be said for the law simply setting standards, even if prosecutions are not vigorously pursued, or even not pursued at all.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that there are many precedents for outlawing certain behaviour purely on grounds of age. It is illegal for a 16 year-old to drive a car on the public highway, however impressive his motoring skills, or for him to buy and consume a bottle of vodka, however well he can hold his drink.
It has been argued that many, possibly most, young people are contemptuous of the present law and flout it as a matter of course. They may indeed. But the same could be said with even greater force about smoking cannabis, which happens to be a lot less dangerous than anal intercourse. So do most supporters of this Bill support decriminalising cannabis? I suspect not, although logically they ought to.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, that the fact that the electorate as a whole oppose the Bill is not an adequate reason for rejecting it. But what is a valid reason is that the overwhelming majority of parents, and--dare one say it?--grandparents, oppose the Bill, because they have an entirely legitimate interest.
It would be terrible if parents discovered that their daughter had become a prostitute, but how much more terrible would it be if they found that their son had become a rent boy, with a much shorter life expectancy than their daughter in consequence, apart from other considerations?
With the aforesaid danger of reduced life expectancy in mind, if we make no other improvements to the Bill, let us at the very least adopt the excellent suggestion made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon in the Parliamentary Monitor of November 1998, and continue to make anal sex illegal for the under-18s, even if other genital activity is reluctantly to be permitted. I refer to the under-18s of both sexes, of course, because, as numerous noble Lords have pointed out, under the Bill as it stands not only boys but also girls are at risk from this practice should they fall under the sway of unscrupulous and persuasive older men.
If the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, could indicate that the Government might give serious consideration to accepting, even if reluctantly, a compromise amendment based broadly on the right reverend Prelate's suggestion, it might be better to give the Bill a Second Reading to allow such an amendment to be inserted, rather than to reject the Bill now only to have it pass into law in under 12 months' time under the Parliament Act, totally unamended.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, after so long and distinguished a debate, you may wonder if there is anything left to say. But one thing I must do, and that is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alli, on a memorable speech.
Notwithstanding that, I must confess to having some reservations about the Bill. One of the most striking aspects of the debate today, and indeed of the subject as a whole, is the lack of agreement as to the key facts affecting the issue covered by the debate. At what age is the sexual orientation of a young man more or less fixed? What is the relevant strength of influence on ultimate sexual orientation as between genetic and experiential factors? What proportion of young adolescent men, therefore, can be influenced by older homosexuals in terms of their ultimate orientation? Perhaps most difficult, is it possible to warrant, individually and societally, actively seeking to maximise heterosexual as against homosexual potential involving, as that does, general judgments about such contested, painful and inconclusive issues as sexual and emotional normality, maturity, stability and functionality?
Although on those vexed issues I incline to a cautious view, nevertheless, I come down firmly on the side of equalising the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals. Even the Christianity which has most shaped our culture and mores no longer, rightly I believe, presents a monolithic view of what is right and wrong in that context. I found it particularly moving to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells exemplified.
It is clear to me that such an acute difference in legal treatment between men of different sexual orientation can be justified only by fundamental reasons backed by clear evidence. As this debate has made manifest, neither the reasons nor the evidence are sufficient. I believe that the onus in those matters rests firmly on those who would oppose the Bill.
There are no doubt some areas in which the present law does its protective work. But by and large, the proposed reform will do more good and avert more suffering, especially with the "position of trust" amendment now in the Bill.
Above all, this Bill will remove a legal stigma of the most insidious and damaging kind of which many noble Lords have given evidence. That stigma underpins much continuing prejudice on the one hand and resentment, fear and isolation on the other. For those brief reasons, I shall vote with some enthusiasm for this measure this evening.
The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I too was moved by the arguments put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and raised also by the noble
I am a father of three children in their 20s and I have a certain amount of familiarity with the attitudes of the younger generation. In my various commercial interests, I am in touch with a large cross-section of our local population in Scotland and those to whom I have spoken in the area seem to have a great fear and concern about the measure we are considering.
I have also received a large number of letters, as have so many other noble Lords, but mainly from across Scotland, asking that I should vote to resist the Bill. Many of those are from people involved with the care of young adults. I suppose that it is arguable that in central Scotland at the moment we are rather sensitive on that subject because of an issue which the Bill attempts to address. It is to do with something which is illegal. It is the situation which has evolved around Thomas Hamilton and Dunblane.
The five letters which I received asking me to support the Bill all quote the same list of official or semi-official bodies, some of which have been mentioned in the debate this evening. At the head of the list I received was the British Medical Association. I asked the BMA for details and received its parliamentary brief on the subject, which I was interested to read. Its first concern seemed to be that health professionals may be reluctant to deal with under-age homosexuals. As an ordinary citizen, that seems strange to me when, as professionals, they are bound to confidentiality and are expected to deal with the health of individuals in whatever state they find them. Presumably, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Annaly, young homosexuals, like under-age girls, can understand that and get the advice and treatment they might need.
I have come across some statistics but, like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I should like more verified facts on which to rely. One set I came across were from the British Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles Survey carried out by Wellings in 1994. I am sure that if the Minister has more up-to-date figures, noble Lords would like to know them. That survey stated that at some point in their lives, 3.5 per cent. of men have had a same sex partner, but that 50 per cent. of these have never repeated the experience, and that only 0.3 per cent. of men are exclusively homosexual. To turn that round and look at it the other way, I would like to ask: who can say, at the formative age of 16, how many men are exclusively heterosexual? That is a point raised by a number of noble Lords. This is a group who are developing their sexual inclinations. They do not do so in a vacuum but they are the focus of fascination for a sizeable number of older homosexuals.
Coming from Scotland, I have made inquiries into the approach taken by the Church of Scotland. This is, of course, our other established Church. In particular, I asked the members of the Committee on Social Responsibility and I received one clear impression; that is, that they are against homophobia in all its forms but they do not favour the practice of
As your Lordships are probably aware, Edinburgh is known for having more than its fair share of modern lifestyles and social problems. There, the Church of Scotland runs Simpson House as a place offering help and counsel to any who wish it. They find that they are in touch with 95 per cent. of those confirmed with HIV/AIDS. Among those must be a proportion of the homosexual community. I would argue that that shows that given the right attitudes in society towards the many urges in the human condition, homosexuals are as likely as anyone to take advantage of any help they require and they will not be deprived of counselling or medical help if they do so.
We can all see, by looking around us, how changing law does not, of itself, get rid of discrimination. I would submit that this proposed change to the Bill will not be to the ultimate advantage of those it is intended to help. The subject is one in which I feel sure the forthcoming Parliament of Scotland will take a great interest. However, the fact that under Clause 7(2) this is to be what is termed a "pre-commencement enactment" under the Scotland Act 1998 is another reason why I believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness that this should be reconsidered in six months' time is even more one which we should support.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I shall not repeat the arguments already put forward. I simply want to say a brief word about the contributions from these Benches. We have heard three very different contributions to the debate from these Benches. We shall, without doubt, vote in different ways on the amendment. Had the entire Bench of Bishops been able to attend and vote this evening, there is little doubt that we should have divided in the same proportions as we did in July last year, that is two to one in favour of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
Having said that, your Lordships should also know that this does not reflect a deep division among us. The House of Bishops, through its statement, Issues in Human Sexuality, made clear that the teaching of the Church, based on the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, is that the norm for human sexual relationships is that they should take place within the context of lifelong monogamous marriage. That is the moral principle upon which we stand firm.
However, to stand firm on such a moral principle does not imply homophobia; nor does it imply the exclusion of those whose lifestyle does not conform to those moral principles. There are moral principles and there is pastoral compassion. Moral principles are clear, particular and simple. Pastoral compassion is indiscriminate and entirely non-judgmental in its scope. There is a muddle when the two become confused or opposed to each other; for example, when those who hold strong moral principles are said to lack compassion or when compassion for all is elevated to a moral principle.
On these Benches we share moral principles and pastoral compassion. But those principles and that compassion can lead us to different conclusions about what is expedient or timely as is the case tonight. I said I would not repeat the arguments put forward, and I shall not. I identify myself with the comments of my right reverend brother the Bishop of Winchester. I knew the bishop when he was a schoolboy and he used to call me "Sir". Now that he has become my intellectual and ecclesiastical superior, I never cease to remind him of that fact. I shall gladly follow his lead.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, at this time of night, and following this extremely educative and interesting debate, I have already scrapped three or four speeches and am only left with the bare bones of what I might have said had I been given more time. Incidentally, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alli on his brave and courageous speech. I am sure that he enlightened many of us about the real world in which he lives, but sadly not the real world in which I live.
My main point tonight concerns the safeguarding of the wellbeing and health of all young people; preventing them from being further exposed to the evils that we read about, see on television and hear on the radio. Explicit sex scenes are shown in more places than we could ever have dreamt possible. I could never have dreamt this would be. I am a practising Christian. Christians are not homophobic--along with most genuine religions--but we are against homosexual practices. That is our genuine belief.
I am much concerned about the stories of children being sexually abused, even murdered, and teenage pregnancies. As I said, almost every programme contains explicit scenes of sex. Children in care have been mentioned. Provision for their protection is contained in the Bill and we are delighted about that. But we did not need a Bill of this size covering all these other aspects to take care of that. Surely we could have dealt with the abuse of children in care who need protection without the rest of the Bill. There would be no problem in supporting such a Bill.
It is intended to reduce to 16 the age of consensual homosexual sex for boys. Many of us have been in this argument since the age of consent was 21. After the operation of the penumbrae effect, as it is called, the effective age is 14, because there will be no prosecutions of people aged 16 or 14 for any kind of sexual act. This effect was elicited a long time ago by a number of people who argued the point, and they are quite right. There will be fewer prosecutions of those under the age limit in the Bill. It is like the speed limit. If it is 40 miles an hour we are not prosecuted for doing 45. If we change the law to 45 miles an hour, people will drive at 50. So the penumbrae effect means that there will be no prosecutions of 14 year-old children.
Much of the debate centred around equality. But there is no such thing as equality. There is ample medical evidence of the increased risks attached to anal intercourse. It carries much more danger to health than
We are also informed, or maybe threatened, that this Bill is the beginning of a longer agenda of demands. We have heard that there are to be demands for the lowering of consent to 14, for the right to homosexual marriage, for the right to adopt and foster children, for the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act and for an end to the storage of police information and data on paedophiles. That is a fairly hefty agenda and if this is at the beginning of it I hope that we do not have to go through the whole lot.
I should like to have gone on to say a great deal more about all these issues. I agreed with a great deal of what the noble Lords, Lord Quirk and Lord Davies of Coity, said on various points. It made great sense to me. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked: what happens after the Government invokes the Parliament Act? That is a very interesting question. There is a public poll of 73 per cent. against this Bill and against all the practices that are outlined in it, so maybe there will be a demand for a referendum or even an election, given the hostile press and the number of people who are genuinely opposed to this kind of treatment. It is an interesting question, and I should like to see the end of it.
Like most of your Lordships, I have had scores of letters putting both sides of the argument. This morning I saw a copy of a report in the Daily Mail that will upset a lot of people. It is promoting tourist bosses who are launching a campaign to attract gays and lesbians to Britain and cash in on "pink pound" travel. It advertises London as the gay capital of Europe and picks out 11 other British towns and cities as being "thriving gay scenes". It concentrates on all the gay facilities, pubs and clubs and God knows what that are available if people come to our wonderful country, which is free of any restrictions whatever. This is being promoted by the Government and I am absolutely amazed. It says that Britain is a tolerant nation. Well, of course we are: we are sensible as well. It goes on to say that we are tolerant of race, religion, dress codes and types of sexual persuasion. It says, "So come along and spend your money in Britain where all these things are free!" You can go on as long as you like.
I have also received mail from medical people who say that homosexuality need not be a permanent situation and that there can be treatment for people who really want to come out of homosexuality. Those who do not want to come out of course will stay in, but certainly I gather that treatments are available which can help. I say that, given all the facts and including all the things I have not been able to go into, I am supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, from the speakers' list it will be seen that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is due to speak now but he has kindly passed me a note to say that he will not be speaking and that he hopes the House will recognise his sacrifice!
I rise to speak against the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, because, when all is said and done, when this Bill is pared back it is about two things: equality and justice. If that were only my view it would be deeply uninteresting and extremely unimportant. However, it is not only my view; nor only the collective view of all the other noble Lords who have already given eloquent advocacy in favour of the Bill. None was more eloquent than my noble friend Lord Alli in his extremely moving personal testament. Indeed, it is the firm belief of a chorus of agencies and organisations ranging from the British Medical Association and Barnardo's to the NSPCC and Save the Children, as we were enthusiastically reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, of "San Francisco".
At the core of the work of those organisations is the protection, the health and the safety of young people; exactly the issues that the opponents of this Bill raise in support of their objections. Why are those organisations, whose mission statement is the care of young people, backing the Bill? They are doing so because their experience and their expertise, built up over decades in some cases, tells them that the Bill is necessary and delay can no longer be contemplated. It is necessary because the status quo prevents teachers and youth workers imparting information to young gay men on health promotion and the prevention of HIV infection.
If we take this debate out of its national context for a moment and remember that many young people will increasingly in the next century spend at least part of their educational, working and personal lives in other European countries, we see that the majority of European Union countries have a common age of consent. Contrary to the doom mongers, it has not spelt the end of European civilisation as we know it! In fact, the state of young people's sexual health in its broadest sense in many European Union countries is something this country would do well to emulate. Noble Lords will remember a recent Question Time in this Chamber when we learnt that teenage pregnancies in Britain were six times higher than in the Netherlands. We do not have all the right answers in this country in this minefield of young people's sexual health.
The new offence of abuse of trust that is now in the Bill is proof of the Government's willingness to listen and respond to reasoned criticism. It is extremely disappointing to say the least that some noble Lords opposite, while having called for such amendments, now seem unwilling to work with the grain of those amendments in the interests of young people.
Finally, it would not harm any of us to remember that this generation of 16 year-olds has to live in the shadow called AIDS that did not fall across our teenage years. I think it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to assist young people as they navigate the difficult route to adulthood. Supporting this Bill is a small part of doing all that we can. Supporting this Bill would mean that this House reflects the values of the 21st rather than the 19th century.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, to come immediately to the last part of my speech, we have an alternative before us: vote Young or vote Williams. If we vote Young, we kill the Bill now; we save ourselves a great deal of time and effort; we make a clear statement of principle, but what then? The "what then" is that the Government will use the Parliament Act; we will get back this Bill exactly as it is now and we will have achieved nothing.
The alternative is to let this Bill go forward into Committee. We still have a perfect right to kill it at Third Reading if we do not like it then, or we can play endless ping-pong with the Commons to negotiate the best possible deal on the amendments we want. There are a number of ways in which this Bill needs to be improved. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, mentioned one; namely, Clause 1. That can easily be amended to make it clear that what is permitted at 18 is anal intercourse, and that other forms of homosexual activity are permitted at 16. That would seem to me to be totally undiscrimintory and a very useful way in which we might seek to amend the Bill to meet some of the concerns which have been expressed, particularly by my noble friends.
As my noble friend on the Front Bench said, Clause 2 needs looking at, but it is the part of the Bill for which I have the greatest support. It is ridiculous to criminalise young people of 16 and 17 for engaging in homosexual activities among themselves. If that law had been in force when I was at school, Eton would have been decimated.
As to the other parts of the Bill, many noble Lords have suggested ways in which clauses might be improved. I very much agree with them. It seems much better to phrase the whole idea of a breach of trust in a common law way, allow it to be judged and interpreted and allow for a whole range of possible circumstances. "Being in a position of trust" is a well understood principle; to try and decorate it and define it in this detailed way seems to me to be destined for failure, as many other noble Lords have pointed out. I am sure that we could have a simple amendment to replace all this verbiage.
I am also sure that we could introduce something to deal with the problem of predatory males on both young men and young women, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords. We could have a thoroughly constructive Committee stage. I shall listen with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, may say about how the Government would respond to such suggestions. Other than a bit of time and effort--which is what we are here for--we would lose nothing.
I hope that we shall give the Bill a Second Reading today, reserve our options and listen in detail to the arguments about how we might achieve a practically better Bill, rather than have a convenient vote today and a clean conscience for those of us who oppose it.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, it is late and it behoves those of us who are summing up to be as brief as possible. This has been a very thorough debate in which many people have spoken from the heart, very deeply and from fundamental principles. The balance of the debate has been very different from last July; we have had different views from every part of the House. We, on this Bench, have been keeping a rough tally of the balance of the speeches. We calculate that there have been 25 speeches for the Bill and against the amendment; 17 speeches for the amendment and three undeclared. As it is fashionable these days to break down the numbers of hereditary Peers, we calculate that there were six speeches for the Bill from hereditary Peers and eight speeches for the amendment from hereditary Peers. We did not carry out an age break-down but I am fairly confident that, had we done so, it would also have followed the fairly clear balance between the elderly and what we in this House laughably call the younger.
It has been a very reasoned debate of carefully considered arguments. I shall remind noble Lords of what was said in some of the earlier speeches: it is the job of this House to offer a second opinion and to disagree with the elected Chamber when we are convinced that it is wrong or that it is misrepresenting the opinion of the majority of people in this country. It is not our job to impose a different view upon the people as a whole. We will come to a free vote which, I hope, will reflect the balance of the arguments which have been presented. I do not intend therefore to attempt to sum up but to comment briefly on three of the perspectives which have emerged during the debate.
First, many of us have spoken as parents, many of us have spoken as Christians, and many of us have spoken in terms of our own fundamental political principles. As a parent, I, like many others, have naturally discussed this with my children, aged 21 and 17, who attended a large, very rough, mixed comprehensive. I am struck by their strong sense of equity, their commitment to openness and the extent to which they see this as an issue alongside, and of the same quality as, equal treatment between white and black and women and men. Inclusion rather than exclusion is the attitude that they and their fellows seem to take.
The question was raised in several speeches about parental responsibility and the family and the way in which families should respond to children growing up and discovering that their sexual identity is different from that of most of their friends. In the past four or five years, a friend of mine and a relative of mine have been through this experience--one with a young man and the other with a young woman--and I know something of the slow and personally painful discovery of people in their teens that they are different from the majority of their fellows. In neither case was there any
I compare this generation with previous generations. I think of those in my age group who grew up under the same painful process of self-discovery. I have very good friends, two men, who have lived together for the past 30 years. Both have been very good to my children and I would trust them with my children under any circumstances. I am conscious that in my parents' generation there were many whom one used quietly to talk about in those wonderful circumlocutions: "He's a confirmed bachelor", "He's not the marrying kind", or, as they say in Yorkshire, "He's t'other way inclined." I see no evidence that the number of homosexuals in our population has increased over the past 50 years. What I do see--and I welcome it--is that we have become less embarrassed about it and more open about it.
Secondly, perhaps I may say as a Christian that I grew up in the 1950s as a member of a choir school, hearing two sermons every Sunday and thinking, when I was nine or ten, that sin and sex were the same thing and indeed that there was not anything in sin that was not sex. I have lived in the Church of England through the realisation that the Church of England's attitude to women was deeply founded in prejudice. The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, used the term "unclean" about homosexuals. I remember discussing with a vicar, of whose congregation I was a member at the time, why he could not allow women into the chancel during services and realising that he considered women to be unclean--the curse of Eve--and that this was all part of that old medieval and 19th century attitude. I am very happy that the Church of England has overcome that prejudice and has understood that faith does not require that part of it. I am happy that the Church of England is now coming to terms with the other large area in which one has to disentangle faith from prejudice.
Lastly, we all have to re-examine our political principles. I am a liberal, and I use that word not in a party sense but in terms of the British political tradition which is, by and large, a liberal tradition. It dates, as does the Church of England, from the Elizabethan settlement, from Queen Elizabeth's great statement that, "We do not seek to open windows into men's souls." We have slowly, in the centuries since then, extended the practice of tolerance; first, to nonconformists, then to Catholics, eventually to women, finally to blacks, and now, we hope, to those of a different sexual orientation.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made an excellent speech on the libertarian dimension of this and I was rather puzzled that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who I understand is chairman of the Society for Individual Freedom, did not follow the same libertarian logic. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, remarked that an open, civil society depends on tolerance, freedom, justice and equality. Some noble Lords were unhappy with the use of the word "equality" in terms of people
I am for an open society. Britain has gained immensely from greater toleration and openness in its society over the past 30 or 40 years. To me, and I hope to most of us, that has extended the best of Britain's democratic and political traditions. I hope, therefore, that this House, reflecting the balance of this debate, will reject the amendment and support the Bill.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am personally hopelessly addicted to unnatural practices, as your Lordships well know. Before Easter I got up and came to work at seven o'clock, listened to 180 speeches, summed up and went home after midnight. I am a complete recidivist: this morning I came to work at seven o'clock, listened to 50-odd speeches and shall go home after midnight. I really think there ought to be a law against it--or I need a better trade union.
There are a number of things with which this debate is not concerned. It has nothing at all to do with political correctness. I repeat what I said earlier, because I meant it deeply. When Mr. Hague supported this principle and voted for it on the previous occasion in the House of Commons, it was an act of personal political moral courage. It has nothing to do with political correctness, as the speeches made from every corner of this House have demonstrated. Nor has it anything to do with ageism.
I very much enjoyed, as always, the speech made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He put forward his non-controversial views, pointing out that there was a very thin veneer on civilisation, pointing to the dangers that might follow if this Bill were passed, pointing so far as I could understand it to swirling waters of sexual miasma and the necessity to keep ourselves in perpetual over-drive because, otherwise, murder, rape and cannibalism might inevitably follow.
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