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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

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sinful when carried into practice, but that does not mean to say that they are criminal. Thirdly, on the question of equality, it sounds good to put them on the same footing, but that argument can be over emphasised. One would not say that a woman should be included in the British rugby team every year to make sure that equality is satisfied. I believe that a lot of humbug is spoken about equality, but I am an old-time feminist.

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.

Lord Newby: I have not previously participated in debates on this Bill or its predecessor. I was spurred to do so by something that was said by the noble Baroness at Second Reading. She said:

    "It is the job of responsible adults in public life to support responsible parents".--[Official Report, 13/4/99; col. 653.]

She went on to say that by voting against Second Reading, we shall be supporting good and responsible parents.

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.

3.45 p.m.

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.

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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

    "were not aware that young women would be affected in the way you point out".

During the passage of the 1994 Bill, Tony Blair said that the issue was not one of age but one of equality. The Prime Minister and the Government failed then, and still fail, to take into account the fact that the bodies of males and females are different. They can never be treated as equal.

I was very interested to hear the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal eulogising over the Labour Party's publication, Voices. The noble Baroness said:

    "the magazine includes at the back detailed information...on a range of issues and lists addresses to which people may apply for practical advice".--[Official Report, 25/10/00, col. 323.]

As a result, I thought that I would do as the noble Baroness had suggested. I turned to page 64 of Voices, headed "Allyouneedtoknow". The other side of the page was entitled, "Modernising Government". There I found a website, When I saw the word "lovelife", I imagined that there would be comments on relationships, highlighting the traditional understanding of the word "love"--affection, respect, commitment. That was what I expected. However, when I eventually found my way to the website, I was surprised, and indeed a little shocked, to see what appeared on my screen as advice to 16 year-olds, who I believe deserve a more sensitive and sensible approach.

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:

    "Condoms are available in all sorts of colours, shapes, flavours, textures and sizes. The range and choice can make them fun to use. Condoms can take time and practice. It may seem a bit of a nuisance at first but once condoms have become part of your sex life, you should feel more comfortable with them. Knowing that you are playing safe can make sex more fun".

Safe? There is not such a product as a safe condom for those who indulge in anal sex. The chance of developing sexually transmitted diseases is multiplied by a factor of nearly 3,000. The publication also states:

    "Whether or not you have sex can be a difficult decision to make. But in the end it is what is right for you that is important, and only you can answer it. Remember, it is your body, your choice and your right to say 'no'. If you decide to have sex, it is best to play it safe and practise safer sex with less worry about getting pregnant or getting sexually transmitted infections".

Again, the reference to safe sex astounds me.

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

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and other infections and, in addition, carries particular risks of physical damage to the receptive partner. For young girls, the dangers are further increased.

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:

    "The differing opinions as to whether the age should be 16 or 18 expressed on our Working Paper are taken by these members to demonstrate that this is a sensitive issue, on which the law would do well not to move too far in advance of public feeling".

My research leads me to believe that it is the new Labour Government who are out of touch and have failed to carry public opinion. It would be an outrage if they chose to "Parliament Act" a Bill of conscience, and I believe that they should, and would, pay the price.

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