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The Earl of Longford: I have so much respect for the noble Baroness, who is a Christian champion, that I am inclined to follow her blindly in these matters. I am sorry that she has produced a compromise because I should have liked a straightforward rejection of the idea of reducing the age of consent for homosexualism from 18 to 16. However, one must accept her view that this is the best that can be obtained.
My views on these matters have not changed and I shall put them briefly. I stated them more than 40 years ago when I was the first person to back the Wolfenden report in this House by introducing a debate. Last Saturday, two days ago, I visited a gentleman in prison who is serving many years for homosexual offences. He had become a Catholic and I was honoured to be his sponsor when he was received into the Church. But my views have not changed and they can be stated briefly in three propositions. First, I regard homosexualism, certainly lifelong homosexualism, as a sad disorder and handicap. It makes it very unlikely that a proper, healthy family life can be attained. Secondly, homosexual leanings are not to be condemned, any more than schizophrenia or a tendency to alcoholism. However, when they are put into practice they are sinful by Christian standards, and I believe by the standards of other Churches, from whom we shall no doubt hear later. I regard them as
Why do I say that age should represent a difference for young men and young women? In passing, I do not believe that the age of 16 is good for women anyway, but, assuming an age of 16 for women, there is a great difference between a young girl of 16 and a young boy of 16. If a young girl of 16 is seduced, it may do her a great deal of harm. If a young man of 16 is seduced, he may be turned into a rent boy, possibly ruining him for life. That is why I draw the distinction. I shall vote for the noble Baroness, Lady Young, though I would much rather see something stronger.
The clear implication of her remarks is that only an irresponsible adult and an irresponsible parent could possibly support this Bill. I disagree with this sentiment and find it deeply offensive. I am in the fortunate position of having two teenage sons, the elder being within 16 months of his 16th birthday. I try my best to be a responsible parent.
I strongly support the Bill. I do so primarily for reasons of equality, but also because of the signals that the Bill sends out. There remains in our society a considerable ongoing degree of ignorance, confusion and prejudice about homosexuality, not least among young people. In my view, responsible adults in public life should be doing all they can to reduce inequality and prejudice, wherever they occur. That is what this Bill seeks to achieve. The amendments tabled for discussion today may appear nominally to be based on the principle of equality. However, the noble Baroness made it clear at Second Reading that she opposes this Bill in essence because she does not believe that there is a moral equality in heterosexual and homosexual relationships. I reject that view. I therefore urge the Committee to reject all the amendments today.
Baroness Seccombe: I added my name to this amendment because I have had a long-term concern about this subject in general and about one aspect in particular; namely, the consensual buggery of girls. I wish to support my noble friend Lady Young who has proposed this amendment with great clarity and in her characteristic measured manner.
I believe that this is a very important matter that could have disastrous effects on the lives of young girls aged between 16 and 18. It is not understood by the vast majority of people in this country that girls are involved in any way. In a letter dated 28th June 1999, Barnardos told me that when they signed up to the Government's policy they
I am hesitant to reveal what I saw, and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if it is offensive, but I feel that I should share with your Lordships the type of advice recommended by this New Labour publication for young people of 16. It states:
Nowhere does the website entry differentiate between vaginal and anal intercourse, except to suggest the use of a stronger condom with plenty of water-based lubricant for anal intercourse. I cannot accept that they are in any way comparable. One is as nature intended, the other is unnatural and dangerous. The latter involves an increasing vulnerability to HIV
It greatly saddens me that young people should be encouraged to treat sex in such a casual manner and without thought for the other person involved. It seems to me an extraordinarily selfish attitude; one could almost imagine it to be a one-person activity. Adults can give as much credence to such advice as they wish, but I believe that 16 year-olds should be encouraged to think carefully about natural sexual activity, never mind an unnatural and hazardous one, and not just dash for a condom. As my noble friend Lady Young has said, we should never forget that anyone who has indulged in such a practice is not permitted to give blood. That must surely make us all think carefully before encouraging young people into such a way of life. I know that there are those on other Benches who may think that I am bigoted and out of touch with the vast majority of people, but my only motivation is the protection of the young. I find the inclusion of this website in the Labour publication offensive.
This is a bad Bill in every way. However, it would be improved by this amendment. Without it, girls could be in jeopardy of being physically and mentally traumatised, unable to make lasting and loving relationships in the future. I remind your Lordships of what the Criminal Law Revision Committee said in 1984:
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