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Lord Waddington: My Lords, does the noble Baroness know any better than I do who speaks for those organisations? I do some work for the NSPCC and I asked people who work for that organisation who they thought spoke on its behalf and said that it was in favour of the Bill. The answer was that they had not got the faintest idea.
To remove, as this Bill does, with totally inadequate safeguards the only legislation under which it is often possible for the police to obtain a conviction of many of the paedophiles who destroy children's lives is a wicked thing to do. Safeguards will be necessary. But they are necessary now, before the Bill receives Royal Assent, not later, when many more children have had their lives ruined. I shall be supporting amendments at Committee stage to introduce such safeguards.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, mentioned a free vote and almost in the same breath he referred to using the Parliament Act to railroad the Bill through. I am a little mystified, therefore, as to exactly what the Government are planning to do. But to railroad the Bill through under the Parliament Act, as they threatened, will be a total and utter disgrace.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I suppose all governments are remembered for a specific reason. There is absolutely no doubt that this new Labour Government will always be associated with their obsession with sex. The Government have brought Bills on sex before your Lordships' House and, not content with that, as my noble friend Lady Blatch said, they have sought ingenious devices to keep the dialogue going by adding amendments at late stages of Bills, such as the Local Government Bill and the Learning and Skills Bill. So here we are again with a Bill before us which the Government are determined to get on the statute book, even if they have to resort to the Parliament Act. I find it offensive that a Bill which is a matter of conscience, and hence a free vote, is to be treated in this way.
In a previous speech on this subject in this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who is just leaving the Chamber, mentioned her age of 51. I hope that in so doing she was not implying that, because she is 20 years younger than my noble friend Lady Young, she takes the view she does. I cannot accept that premise. I can assure her that I have had discussions with people of all ages, including the very young. It is certainly not our age which determines our views; it is our beliefs.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will give way. Perhaps I can just draw her attention to a recent opinion poll which demonstrated that there is a considerable gradient between older and younger registers of opinion in supporting this Bill. It showed that 78 per cent of those aged between 15 and 24 support the Bill, which compares very differently with those who were 55 and over. So there is a much greater acceptance of the principles of this Bill among younger people.
Since this Bill was last in your Lordships' House there has been an important event; that is, the publication of the Waterhouse report. It made for disturbing and horrifying reading. In fact, I felt quite sickened when I read how young people were subjected to acts of such depravity and brutality when "in care". How bizarre those two words appear in this context. We supposed that they were in a safe and caring situation when, in fact, the carers were abusers of the worst kind.
I cannot believe that such wickedness has taken place in this day and age. One had hoped that evil people would no longer be able to act in that way. I feel that all those young people who suffered were completely let down, particularly by those in authority, but also by all of us. So we must accept responsibility and do everything in our power to ensure that such ghastly events never occur again. That is why I find it inconceivable that this new Labour Government are going ahead with this Bill, and at this particularly sensitive time.
As I have said before, one aspect of the Bill gives me great concern; that is, the effect on girls. It was only as recently as 1994 that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act lowered the age of consent from 21 to 18 for homosexual acts. Also, for the first time, it decriminalised consensual buggery in private of a woman by a man where both parties were over 18. Not many people realise that the Bill before us will in any way affect girls. In fact, I have still not found anyone who understands that that is the case; and I have to report to your Lordships that their reaction is one of horror when told that the Bill will legalise the buggery of girls as young as 16.
During the passage of the 1994 Bill, Tony Blair--now the Prime Minister--referred to the debate as one not about age, but about equality. I cannot accept that. As the bodies of boys and girls are very different, they can never be treated as equal. But I accepted the majority view of the House when the age of consent was lowered from 21 to 18. It is at 18 that young people become adult and are able to make up their minds and make their own decisions. If that means following a homosexual way of life, then that is their prerogative.
I am reluctant to go into detail, but I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do so just a little. There has been extensive research on the effect of consensual buggery which makes for distressing reading. Anal intercourse carries particular risk for the transmission of disease and increased vulnerability to HIV. It also carries the risk of actual physical damage for the receptive partner as the soft tissues can become traumatised and impaired permanently. The use of condoms cannot offer adequate protection. Also, there is great significance in the fact that those who have ever had anal intercourse are not permitted to donate blood in the UK through the National Blood Service.
It is therefore my belief that we have a duty to protect young girls. This Bill would send a message to them that this type of activity was safe, and the message to predatory older men that it was all right for them to lure the young into a way of life that they may later regret.
I know that some noble Lords feel that, because I hold the views that I do, I must be bigoted and out of tune with society. They take an opposite view. But I respect them, even though I am in total disagreement. I feel just as passionately as they, and certainly speak from the heart. I am no expert, but I am the mother of two sons, and the grandmother of a boy and two girls. I am also a magistrate and in that capacity I have listened to lurid details of young people being subjected to appalling acts. Having seen the impact of this behaviour in the raw, one never forgets these things. I see this Bill not as an added freedom for the young but as a licence for evil men to abuse young people.
I only hope that new Labour, as opposed to old Labour, understand that it is they who are out of tune with society, as the vast majority of people in this country do not want this Bill. This Government live not by the sword but by spin, and I do not know which
The Earl of Longford : My Lords, we have just listened to a very moving speech. I cannot go along with everything that the noble Baroness said because she was so harsh about the Government. However, she spoke from her special knowledge.
There has always been a free vote on this matter and therefore I am happy to think that I am able to vote against the policy advocated, so ably as always, by the Minister. I am aware that there are deeply-held views on this subject and therefore I shall speak very briefly.
I suppose that I must present my pro-homosexual credentials by saying that I was the first person who dared touch the subject 40 years ago, when I introduced a Motion in relation to the Wolfenden Report. I said then, as I say now, that we must treat people with homosexual leanings with proper respect; but in those days that was not at all a popular thing to say.
Turning to the present time, I am not bigoted against homosexuals and I hope that nobody thinks I am. I visit in prison two who have been homosexuals, sentenced for grave offences: one to 10 years and the other to 15 years. In the second case the prisoner has now abandoned those ways, and I shall have my hand on his shoulder as his sponsor when he joins the Catholic Church next week--so no one must call me "an enemy of the homos".
Do we or do we not wish our children to be homosexual? Do we just laugh it off, as some people do? The strange fact is that, in the 50 years that I have been in this House, there has been only one man, and no women, who has got up and said that he is homosexual--Lord Alli. I salute him; I give him all credit, and we want men like him. If it is a normal fact of life that people are homosexual, why has no one here said that they are homosexual? We cannot see it in the same way as backing Manchester United rather than the Arsenal, or something like that. It is really very serious and it is very rare.
We have to ask ourselves why we--why Christians, if you like--consider that it is wrong. Christians consider that sex outside marriage is wrong--heterosexual sex or homosexual sex. In that sense, therefore, they are on a par. That, logically, is one way
Homosexuality is not normal; though that does not prove that it is necessarily wrong, it is very abnormal. People have to bear that in mind. People cannot be blamed for the leanings, of course; it is the performance, the act, which is wrong.
Why is it that so few of us would want our children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren to be homosexual? One obvious answer is that they cannot have families, and most people look upon families as a vital part of human life. That is the very sad fact about being homosexual. We therefore do not want to encourage it. Does anyone want to encourage homosexuality? I cannot believe that anyone does, except possibly my noble friend Lord Alli. I do not think that anyone would get up and say, "I am in favour of homosexuality. There is a lot to be said for it". You may perhaps find people saying it in some artistic club but, in my experience, you will not find it being said here.
We have this problem. Do we want to encourage homosexuality? This proposal will encourage it. We have to face the fact that it will encourage homosexuality in the young, and we do not know where that will lead. Maybe they will recover. The boy who assaulted my son in the bath at Eton, and was later expelled for doing the same to another boy, became a much-respected member of county society and captain of the cricket team. You can recover from it. Nevertheless, I think you are doing permanent damage to young people if you encourage them to be homosexual. I am therefore against this present proposal.
As a society, we send out peculiarly mixed messages as to when we can do what. At 16 we can leave school; we can join the Army; we can buy a lottery ticket; marry; smoke tobacco; and drive a nippy little motorbike. At 17 we can drive a car. At 18 we can take out a mortgage; we can buy alcohol for ourselves, and we can vote. At 20, if we are fast learners, we can pilot a passenger-carrying aircraft. At 21 we can drive a lorry or bus; we can drive a train; we can stand for Parliament. All of these without sex discrimination: men and women have the same rights. Indeed, it is only as we approach a rather higher level of maturity that gender raises its head. At 60 a woman can travel free on London Transport; a man has to wait a further five years.
All of these age points no doubt have their own rationale. From time to time the ages are adjusted, usually downwards; but sometimes, as with the school-leaving age, upward. But the rationale is multi-factored: a balance between such considerations as
It may seem odd to have to wait till you are 18 before voting and then be restricted to voting for someone at least three years older. It may seem odd that you can pilot a passenger airliner at 20, but must be 21 before you can drive a passenger bus. It may seem odd that you cannot drive a Mini till you are 17 but you can scoot around on a rather more lethal moped at 16. It may seem odd to refuse a girl of 16 a glass of wine while letting her buy a packet of cigarettes. The White Paper published yesterday mitigates this (at page 36) only to allowing the girl her glass of wine if she is,
In the Bill before us, we are responding to what again seems odd to many people; namely, that boys and girls may have vaginal sex at 16, but have to wait till they are 18 if they wish to have anal sex. There is indeed pressure--from men at any rate; I, for one, have had no letters from women's organisations urging me to support this Bill--for what is loosely and misleadingly referred to as the "equalisation" of the age of consent, meaning an equalisation not of male and female consent rights (they are equal already) but an equalisation of vaginal and anal intercourse.
Many people, of course, regard such an equalisation as a nonsense, even as an affront--or, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has just said, as wrong--but, as in past debates going back nearly three years, I shall address only the health issues involved. Let the young be properly informed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, urged.
Bodies such as the Health Education Authority have done young people a serious disservice not only in breezily offering vaginal and anal sex as valid alternatives but in neglecting to inform the readers of the risks of damage and disease that are specific to anal sex--issues to which the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, for example, alluded. The sole exception so far as the HEA is concerned has been information, welcome enough, on AIDS. But although condom wearing may protect the inserting partner (especially if he adopts the recommended thicker condom), no word is said of the risks of physical damage to the recipient partner, girl or boy, though this is actually increased for pretty obvious reasons if her or his partner is using a thicker, less sensitive condom. And no word is said of the manifold risks to the girl whose partner is bisexual. No word, for example, from the various authorities listed by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy.
These are matters that I have raised before, but on this occasion I hope the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, will assure the House that full and frank information on the health implications of anal sex will now be made widely available, irrespective of whether the consensual age for boys and girls is lowered. The relevant research results are in the public domain: for example, there is T.E. Schmidt's 1995 book, Straight and Narrow, or, closer to home, the more technical
I am dismayed to see teenagers smoking but I take some uneasy comfort in the knowledge that (unlike me when I started smoking) they have been clearly and repeatedly warned--on every packet. I am alarmed to have teenagers flash past me on 50 cc machines, but I recognise that the health risks to themselves--if not to me--are mitigated by an obligatory helmet. Sex, as we surely know in this House by now--having had so many debates on it--is a commoner pursuit than motor cycling or even smoking. Let the information thereon, so far as social responsibility and personal well-being are concerned, start to be at least as cogent and clear.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, as usual, I rise to speak when there is little left to say; indeed, everything has been said and most of it--at least that with which I agree--I have been pleased to hear. I respect the views of my noble friend Lord Alli, who always puts an honest and straightforward view when he speaks about prejudice, and so on. However, I have to remind him that some of us, perhaps from a different generation, have Christian beliefs and have tried to stand by them. We have also suffered a great deal of discrimination and abuse. We still do. So discrimination, inequality, and so on, do not apply simply to homosexuals or to people like my noble friend Lord Alli. We are talking about a much wider field than that. That is not to say that it is right; but it is there. We have all experienced some of it.
I shall try to shorten what I intended to say. My basic belief comes from my Christian upbringing. I still believe in the Bible and the Ten Commandments. I was delighted to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester emphasise the need to promote marriage as the base of a good relationship.
This discussion both here and in the other place tends to try to equalise homosexuality and homosexual relationships with heterosexual relationships. There is no similarity. One is firmly based on religious and moral teachings. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, spoke about homosexuality as being a case of having no choice; in other words, it is something that is inbred in people. But not so long ago I read a letter in reply to correspondence that had been carried on for some time in newspapers regarding chromosome X and chromosome Y. It was held for a long time that different chromosomes determined whether a person would be heterosexual or homosexual. This argument was dismissed and ridiculed by a leader of the homosexual community. He said quite clearly that that business was rubbish and that the whole thing about homosexuality was a matter of choice. It is not something that you are born with; it is something that
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