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Lord Davies of Coity: When in April of last year I spoke on this issue and opposed the--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Bach: There is sufficient time for all Members of the Committee to speak. A little decorum in this serious debate will be welcomed.

Lord Alli: I do not believe that the noble Baroness is bigoted. All Members of the Committee respect the honesty and integrity with which the noble Baroness puts her case. I hope that the noble Baroness will treat my remarks in the same way. On 13th April 1999 I stood up in your Lordships' House for the second time. It was much the same as today: the Benches were fairly full, hundreds of eyes looked at me and I was a little nervous. For the first time I spoke publicly of my experience of being gay. I described what it was like to be 16 and to grow up in a country in which my very being was illegal. I also spoke about the fear which

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built up inside which meant that you hid from those whom you loved and from who you were. I told noble Lords of my beliefs about equality which were not abstract but a reality.

I am a little less nervous tonight. I want to tell the Committee why I believe that it should support the Bill and reject the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I believe that the argument for change has been won with the public, politicians of all parties in the other place, including the Leader of the Opposition, and charities and professional workers who work with young people. It is only in this House that change is resisted. The arguments against change which we hear again today are not new; they were fully rehearsed in our previous debate. There are Members of the Committee, whose honesty I respect, who are opposed to change in principle and practice.

Some Members of the Committee may recall the speakers last year. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, spoke about homosexuality as a sin. He then likened it to a sickness from which he believed people could recover. He told us the story of a boy at Eton who indulged in homosexuality and subsequently recovered from it to become a pillar of society. The noble Lord, Lord Seldson, told us that it was a simple issue between good, clean, healthy sex and bad, unclean sex. He also went on to outline his distress at the use of the word "gay" in this particular context as he believed that it should remain a good old-fashioned English girl's name. My noble friend Lord Davies of Coity made an impassioned speech on why, in his view, homosexuality was unnatural. I shall listen with interest to his contribution. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, made an interesting speech on anal sex. Those speeches were made by noble Lords who were utterly opposed to change. They were joined by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who today has tabled detailed amendments, to which I turn next.

I should welcome recognition by the noble Baroness of the principle of equality. If I understand the noble Baroness correctly, she proposes a common age of consent. Her amendments go on to categorise various sexual acts which require consent at various ages. I understand that she would permit all sexual acts, apart from buggery, at the age of 16 and make the common age of consent 18. The noble Baroness appears to take an inconsistent position. In her speech on 13th April 1999 she said:

    "If you consider, as I do, that it is wrong to lower the age for homosexual consent from 18 to 16, in effect this Bill is unamendable".--[Official Report, 13/4/99; col. 652.]

Just over a year later, the noble Baroness seeks to amend a previously unamendable Bill.

Baroness Young: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He raises a very important matter of principle. I thought long and carefully about this matter. I made clear today that I would prefer not to have the Bill at all. However, I have been in public life a very long time--longer than the noble Lord, Lord Alli--and have also been a Minister. One is aware that there are occasions when it is right to test whether there is any measure of agreement, because one particularly wants

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the amendments on trust. I do not want the noble Lord to believe that I or my colleagues have changed our minds on some kind of whim.

Lord Alli: But if change in the age of consent was completely unacceptable a year ago, why is it now acceptable? My own explanation, which the noble Baroness may not like, is that this is a wrecking amendment, plain and simple, and a further attempt by the noble Baroness to win votes and to stop reform. Principle and morality are ditched to get a few extra votes on your Lordships' Benches so that the noble Baroness may carry the day when she has lost the argument. There are men and women on all sides of the Committee who have fought a principled battle.

I was moved last year by the speeches of the right reverend Prelates, the Bishop of Bath and Wells and the Bishop of Oxford, the noble Lords, Lord Lester of Herne Hill and Lord Freyberg, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General and many others. Ours is a case of principle, equality, fairness and justice. We do not ask Members of the Committee to approve of homosexuality or homosexual acts, or even to understand why they happen, but to remove the weight and penalty of the criminal law from those young men aged 16 and 17 who consent to have sex with other men. Surely, except for those on the very extreme of this debate, no one believes that we should criminalise 16 and 17 year-olds for having consensual sex.

Do not be fooled by the arguments of abuse; they are a red herring and are designed to scare. The noble Baroness does not have a monopoly on concern for children. Does she really believe that all those in another place and in this Chamber who support the Bill and the organisations which welcome this reform are of the view that it will lead to the abuse of children? That suggestion is both offensive--

Lord Campbell of Alloway: The noble Lord casts an aspersion on my noble friend Lady Young. Does he not realise that we all speak according to our belief and honour?

Lord Alli: That must work both ways. Sexual abuse of any kind to anybody, regardless of age, sex or sexuality, is wrong and offensive, and we have laws in place to prevent it. This Bill further strengthens the law and extends protection to vulnerable young men and women. I understand the concern of the noble Baroness but her generation is different from mine. The noble Baroness's values, experience and aspirations are different. I accept all of that and understand that her motives are well intentioned. I liken them to the concerns of a kindly grandparent. In that spirit, I ask the noble Baroness to let people of my generation live their lives in their own way. This legislation will proceed with or without the consent of the noble Baroness. The time has come to remove discrimination, oppression and fear from the statute book. I ask Members of the Committee to support the Bill and oppose the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness.

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4 p.m.

Lord Selsdon: The noble Lord, Lord Alli, was kind enough to mention me, but he took some of my previous remarks out of context. As the noble Lord has only recently become a Member of the House, perhaps he will allow me to respond. One's experience based on 38 years in this Chamber is that one must gauge its mood and recognise that, whether elected or not, one has a duty to try to represent the nation as a whole without prejudice. When I spoke I did not say exactly what the noble Lord attributed to me. I said that one aspect of sex was natural and the other unnatural. What may be natural to some may be unnatural to others, but not usually the other way round.

We have long departed from the kinds of remarks that people might have used, for example that God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. The insults which were once thrown about have long since disappeared as we reach this particular stage of the Bill.

I intended to table two amendments until I read the amendments of my noble friend Lady Young. One amendment would have concentrated on the protection of the young, accepting at the moment that someone under 18 is young. It does not mean that they are not intelligent, that they are not well trained or that they cannot fight in a war. But there is a need for protection from the older generation in one form or another.

I found it extraordinarily difficult actually to use the word "buggery" for the first time in your Lordships' House. Then I thought back to my time in the navy and realised that sometimes it was a friendly phrase--"Well, I'm buggered"--whereas the use of religious words was a criminal offence.

The decriminalisation of homosexuality has taken place over a long period of time. What consenting adults may do in private is their business. In general, we are a very tolerant society. But the moment we start to threaten the parent--the lioness with her cubs--a whole new mood begins to come out. That was manifest by the enormous number of letters I received. Knowing that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, might well say that I am one of those with a faded parchment name downstairs, wrinkled all over, I thought I would consult in the period of the past six months. I formed a number of private committees, with the youngest member being 10 years old. We discussed the noble grandmother. We talked about family values. We spoke about how out of date we were regarding people's attitudes--the young and one to the other. But everyone had one thing in mind that caused them fear--disease. That was the purpose behind the amendments that I intended to table.

During my working life I have come across female circumcision and the problems of Africa. I have been to Gabon. I believe I have even eaten the private parts of a green monkey. But I am concerned about the impact of various diseases, some known and some unknown, and the spread of those diseases which in certain cases--HIV--is through anal intercourse. The

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two quickest ways, so I am advised, of getting things into the body are to sniff them up your nose or to shove them up your rear end.

In a discussion on drugs I heard someone say, "When you smoke a spliff and you can afford only one, if you shove a plastic tube up your backside it gets into your bloodstream quicker". That made me think of this: in my younger days on the Continent I was given a pill and I tried to swallow it, with considerable difficulty, only to find that it should have gone up the other end because it went into the bloodstream quicker.

What I am coming to is, in part, the spread of AIDS, but perhaps also other diseases that are not necessarily well known, and how we can protect the younger generation from such possibilities. In general, it will be the transmission of AIDS by older to younger generations that we may have to concern ourselves with.

My noble friend's amendment gets over my need to introduce an amendment simply to point out that, if two persons were together and one was under 18, and either had AIDS and failed to disclose it, effectively consent would be deemed to be withheld. If the Government are determined to force the Bill through, will they give considerable thought to the impact that this might have on the spread of this devastating and frightening disease? At least one aspect of the disease has made itself manifest; namely, it is not just a homosexual disease but a disease that spreads widely through both sexes and through blood.

This led to the second amendment that I was proposing to introduce: that it should be illegal to give blood if one has HIV. I was then told that this is not actually necessary because one's finger is pricked before one gives blood and that is thus determined. At the moment if one tries give blood one is asked to sign a form that one does not have HIV. I gather that in certain cases--this sounds an outrageous thing to say--those who suffer in this way are actively seeking to spread the disease. I am not sure whether that is true. But it is these two areas, the question of blood and the transmission of HIV through anal or even vaginal intercourse, that cause me concern. My noble friend's amendment makes those two amendments and my two fears about that no longer necessary.

Therefore, I end by returning to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, whose speeches I have always enjoyed. When he spoke at Second Reading I think he pointed out in a friendly way that he was the only gay member of your Lordships' House. I questioned that at the time.

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