HC Deb 19 December 1966 vol 738 cc1068-129

Order for Second Reading read.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call upon the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) to open the debate, I should announce that I have selected the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) and other hon. Members. This selection does not narrow the debate in any way. The Amendment is: That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to afford the exemption and protection to the Merchant Navy, now provided in the Bill to Her Majesty's Royal Navy, Army, and Royal Air Force, and fails also to take into account that this omission will create circumstances which can lead to corruption of young seamen, and to conditions which will be prejudicial to the best interests of the Merchant Navy, and to the discipline and good order at sea which are vital to the best interests of our nation's Merchant Service.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It would be as well, perhaps, to remind the House of other occasions on which legislation which impinges upon human relationships has come before the House. There was a Bill, the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act, which finally became law in 1907, which it may be recalled, ended the prohibition on a man marrying the sister of his dead wife. Before that Bill became law it came to the House on scores of occasions. Indeed, on Second Reading it was passed by the House on at least 19 occasions and it was rejected in the House of Lords on at least 13 occasions.

No one reading the debates of that period can but wonder at the Jeremiahs and the moralists of those days of yesteryear in both Commons and Lords. That arose only because a slight change in the marriage laws was desired. If we read those debates, the passions that were aroused seem almost droll, and the threats to family stability and the institution of marriage which were then uttered now seem historical curiosities.

Yet I believe that there are lessons to be learned. We are prone in this country to extend our national debates on legislation touching on human relations to the point at which they sometimes verge almost on farce, and sometimes they are taken to the point of morbidity. We should remind ourselves that it is now well over twelve years since the Wolfenden Committee was appointed and it is almost a decade since it reported. From the time that the present Minister of Health first brought the issues before the House shortly after the Wolfenden Committee had reported, down to the occasion on which the House gave a Bill similar to this a Second Reading when it was introduced by Mr. Humphrey Berkeley, the House has repeatedly and exhaustively tested the Wolfenden recommendations. This, alas, I almost apologise to the House, is certainly by no means the first occasion on which I have brought such a Bill to the House.

It is not surprising, therefore, in my view, that when Lord Attlee supported a Bill similar to this Bill in another place, one of the reasons that he gave for supporting the Bill and for trying to bring this debate to an end was that he feared that more was being said about homosexuality than need be said, a point of view with which I am certainly in full accord.

I am not suggesting that this Bill is as marginal as the Bill which I mentioned, the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Bill, but it is well neither to exaggerate the effect which the law made here can have upon human conduct outside—a tendency almost to megalomania, a tendency to which we as legislators are prone—nor, when we are dealing with the problem, to exaggerate the size of the problem which we have to face.

It is true that no one knows the number of homosexuals that exist in this country. It was suggested in some evidence submitted to the Wolfenden Committee that there were some 750,000 in the land. The Home Office spokesman in another place indicated a figure of perhaps 500,000. These figures are sometimes blown up. They are blown up, on the one hand, by self-acclaimed moralists who always seem to be searching for immorality and, on the other hand, by homosexuals themselves, who in the case certainly of some of them are so oppressed with guilt, a guilt reinforced, I believe by our laws, that when they wish to spread and to share their guilt, and to rid themselves of it, they sometimes have a tendency to exaggerate the numbers who are prone to this failure.

But whatever the precise numbers may be, all of us could agree that such is the unreality of our present laws that we can say as a descriptive fact that, apart from motorists, we are dealing with the largest number of those to be declared criminals in the land. To these men, what does the law say? It does not give them the choice of saying that they may live out their lives in discretion. It does not give them the choice that they may live out their lives away from public view provided that they do not flaunt their conduct. The law as it stands does not give them the choice to live out their lives provided that they never corrupt a young person.

In fact, the law gives them a brutal choice. It offers them either celibacy or criminality, and nothing in between. And since homosexual behaviour, it is to be assumed, is no less compulsive, though lamentably different in direction, than heterosexuality, we are demanding a code of behaviour from them which the heterosexualists among us know that we could not possibly sustain. I ask those of us who are blessed with the emotional security of a heterosexual life, those who are blessed with a good wife and with a family, those who have the blessing of children, have we the right to demand this code of behaviour from those whose terrible fate it is to be a homosexual? I do not think that we have, and in any event it is an unreal demand, and it is impossible for it to be met.

May I give the number of convictions of adults who commit homosexual acts in private? According to the survey of the Wolfenden Committee at that time, it was about 100 convictions a year, and, judging by the number of custodial offences revealed in the statistics, it is probably less now. Even to state these figures is to show how derisory is the conviction rate and how utterly unenforceable is the law. As Wolfenden said, there is an almost astronomical disparity between the number of illicit sexual acts which occur and those which are detected by the guardians of the law. If we assume that we have as many homosexuals as the Kinsey Report revealed were in existence in the United States—if we are in this unfortunate position—it means that in the 21 to 30 age group alone, judging by the rate of convictions that are taking place, there would be a 30,000-to-one chance of an illicit act leading to conviction in this country.

Therefore, we have an unenforceable Act, and it would require a massive recruitment of police and an invasion of privacy which all of us would find quite intolerable before the law could begin to be enforced. It is bad law because it is unenforceable law, and it is bad law because it is utterly random in its application. It is totally lacking in certainty and perforce inequitable. The prurient curiosity of one chief constable may activate a whole spate of prosecutions in one county. On the other hand, the squeamishness, the diffidence, the robustness, the common sense, perhaps, of a chief constable in another county may mean that there are never any convictions at all in that county. Law of this nature applied in this way must be inequitable.

It is bad law, too, because the penalties that attach to it are utterly senseless. It is true that society knows no other way of dealing with the man who is a compulsive pederast, interfering with little boys, than to remove him from the community. Our knowledge is inadequate. But when we are talking of all these men whose relationships, in private, are with adults who give their consent, we know that to talk of sending these men to prison is, as has been said again and again, as therapeutically useless as incarcerating a sex maniac in a harem. This is the position, and we all know it. There is no rehabilitative element at all in the punishment that is meted out. It must be repugnant to us. It must be repugnant to the least bold penologist to realise that we have these penalties in which we can take no pride, that the penalties for adults committing homosexual offences in private are the most severe.

Although there are no rehabilitative effects flowing from the existing law, we know that there are other effects. One effect, so far as it is positive at all, is clearly to stigmatise thousands of our citizens as being outlaws and pariahs. We have to face the fact that we are dealing with large numbers of people—many of them, apart from this particular aberation, who are totally law-abiding. In many cases, it means that the homosexual feels that he is almost a selected minority specially chosen and persecuted, and he sees within the wider community, for good or evil, more permissive attitudes. He knows that fornication and adultery, although disapproved of, are not crimes. He sees that in almost the remainder of the Western world discreet homosexuals have been granted legal immunity, whereas in this country the homosexual lives in a land that persists in this eccentric doctrine that such behaviour should attract a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

I do not regard it, therefore, as surprising that in such a climate of opinion there are not a few homosexuals who almost lapse into near paranoia. It is not surprising, when the law puts them outside the community, that they behave as many do, that they should react as some of them do in an anti-social manner, with all their original feelings of guilt reinforced by repressive laws. I do not think it is suprising that sometimes they protect their self-esteem by absurdly proclaiming their superiority intellectually and artistically to those of us who are mere heterosexuals. This is the reaction which we as a community almost provoke. Is it suprising that when we place them in this position they resort to one of the few means open to them by which they can still regard themselves as having an identity as human beings within society? Then when they make such statements we accuse them of being proselytisers.

I think it is because of the clinical experience that arises from the pastoral care that the churches are so aware of the problems of which I am speaking, that they are aware of the alienation and of the estrangement of the homosexual from the wider community. Thus it is that the Church Assembly, the Church of England Moral Welfare Council, the Roman Catholic Welfare Committee, the Methodist Conference and the Unitarians have all at one time or another called for the implementation of the Wolfenden Report.

Then there is another effect, a dastardly effect, of the present law which cannot be under-estimated. It is the fact that blackmail is the ambience which wraps itself around the existing law. On the last occasion when we had a debate, it was said that a former Attorney-General, Sir William Jowitt, had estimated that 90 per cent of the cases of blackmail which came to his attention contained an element of homosexual conduct. We know, too, that in the more recent review which the Wolfenden Committee conducted when it took a fixed period of time, it asserted that within that time there were 71 cases reported to the police of which 32 were connected with homosexual offences. We know that this can only be the tip of the iceberg, for any man who reports that he is being blackmailed as a consequence of a homosexual act knows that he is placing himself in jeopardy with the possibility of a prosecution. There are too many documented cases in recent years of hoodlums who, taking advantage of the existing position, have come to believe that they can rob a homosexual with immunity.

It is because of these sorts of reasons, rather than those which I was citing earlier, that the law is in disrepute with the general public. But whatever may have been the position 10 years ago, it cannot be gainsaid, in the light of the national opinion polls, the Gallup Poll and so on—however much we may discount them—that when we see the overwhelming majority of the public who, according to those polls, are in favour of changing the law in accordance with the Wolfenden recommendations, one cannot doubt that there is a severe public reaction to the law as it stands.

I now turn to the Bill itself. Clause 1 lays down the major principle that homosexual offences between consenting adults in private should no longer be an offence. However, I wish to dwell in particular on Clause 1(5), which qualifies subsection (1) of that Clause. The Wolfenden Report recognises that for the preservation of discipline and the protection of those of subordinate rank, the Services may wish to retain Section 6 of the Army Act which provides for punishment of those guilty of disgraceful conduct of an indecent or an unnatural kind. Subsection (5) of the Bill goes much further.

I should perhaps indicate that the Bill has had the benefit of going through another place, where it was introduced by the noble Lord, the indefatigable Earl of Arran, and therefore it has had the benefit of a prolonged review in the other place. Subsection (5) goes much further than was suggested in the Wolfenden Report in so far as the Navy, the Army and the Air Force may act under numerous Sections. It could be that in addition to Section 66 of the Army Act it would be possible in the Army for proceedings to be taken under Section 64 which refers to officers who behave in a scandalous manner; or, indeed, under Section 69 of the Air Force Act it would be possible, should the Service so wish it, to proceed under a provision which deals with conduct to the prejudice of Air Force discipline.

I have dwelt on that because some very understandable apprehension about the position of the Merchant Navy has been expressed in the reasoned Amendment and elsewhere. It may help if I seek to explain to the House the present position. There is vested in the Master of a ship the common law power to arrest and confine in a reasonable manner for a reasonable time any seamen on a ship if the master has reasonable cause for believing, and in fact believes, that the arrest and confinement are necessary for the preservation of discipline. Nothing in the Bill removes any discretion on the part of the master should he wish to invoke his common law powers to deal with a seaman under his command who commits a homosexual act on his ship. That was explained at some length in the other place, and it no doubt explains why the Bill is in its present form.

But it has been represented to me—and I understand the reasons—that that power of arrest and confinement may be insufficient. It has been suggested to me, for example, that it could be of grave inconvenience for a master to deal with a problem of this kind in this manner, that it could mean that if he put a foot wrong, despite his wide discretion, he might become liable for a civil action for false imprisonment. I do not dismiss those apprehensions; I realise that they are shared by some people and one cannot dismiss them.

It has also been represented to me that ships should be totally excluded from the Bill, that the position should be left as it is, so that a seaman committing a homosexual act aboard ship can be dealt with just as at present, and that there should be a blanket and complete exemption from the provisions of the Bill of any ship at sea. I do not think that that is possible. It introduces, and must introduce, a large number of unacceptable anomalies. I do not refer only to the obvious anomaly that it could mean that two discreet adults could commit an offence on land with impunity but if they went on a ship and were cruising they could receive a heavy sentence.

I and other hon. Members will be less concerned with that problem. I am concerned that if I or the other sponsors of the Bill yielded on this matter the result could be that a seaman committing an offence on board ship could be brought before the courts by a suing master and be liable to a sentence of life imprisonment, if the sentences remain as they are now, whereas a naval rating who committed the offence would be liable only to a disciplinary charge. That could no doubt lead to his discharge, if the authorities so wished, and possibly to a maximum sentence of two years' confinement.

Once one begins to examine anomalies of that kind, that does not seem a tenable proposition that could commend itself to the House. There is, therefore, a third view which has been put by the hon. Members who sponsor the Amendment. I understand their apprehensions. I have had the benefit of two long meetings with the National Maritime Board, on which the shipowners and all the seafaring organisations are represented, including the seamen. I understand the concern expressed in the Amendment and I want to make it unequivocally clear that if the House is generous enough to send the Bill to Committee I would in no way resist an Amendment founded upon the principle that a merchant seaman should be in no worse or no better a position than a naval rating. I have said that in as clear terms as I can and I hope that it will be received with understanding by those who have sponsored the Amendment. I hope that with that assurance they may find it possible not to pursue it.

Some of the hon. Members who sponsored the Amendment have a history of long contact with the seaman's organisa- tions, and I therefore know that they will not misunderstand what I now say. I hope that if the Bill goes to Committee I will have their aid and co-operation between now and the Committee stage, for it may be needed. Trade unionists will understand what I am talking about. I do not want to do anything which in any way affects the position of the seaman, who are at present renegotiating the whole position of the Merchant Shipping Act and who are rightly concerned about the disciplinary offences embedded in that Act.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

My hon. Friend has seen the National Maritime Board, and I believe that he has seen the unions and shipowners. Were they receptive to the proposal he has just made?

Mr. Abse

Since my hon. Friend presses me—I hope that he will not over-press me—may I say that it is entirely in accord with what the shipowners wish. But when an Amendment comes before the Committee I hope that if it cannot have the active support of the National Union of Seamen the union will at least not feel compelled to resist it. I am sure that my hon. Friend, having understood what I am speaking about, will not press the matter. I hope to have the co-operation of him and other hon. Members in trying to reach a solution which will mean that we can have an Amendment which will not be regarded as a reflection upon the seamen, and at the same time can be regarded as dealing with a necessary disciplinary situation aboard a ship.

Having said that, I move on to some other Clauses, Clause 2 provides for punishments in accordance with the Wolfenden recommendations. Buggery committed by a man over 21 with a consenting youth over 16 will attract a penalty of five years' imprisonment. The maximum penalty for acts of gross indecency committed by a man over 21 with a partner below 21 will be increased from two to five years. More, it reaffirms that an act of buggery against a boy can attract life imprisonment, and increases the penalty for a man over 21 attempting to procure or procuring a man under 21 to commit an act of gross indecency. That, too, will now attract five years' imprisonment and not two years.

I believe that those provisions make it abundantly clear that the penalties that will be visited upon those who attempt to corrupt youth will be stern and relentless. No one, except those who are wilfully blind to the nature of our proceedings, can possibly spell out of the Bill any condonation whatever of homosexual conduct which can affect young people in their formative years.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

As I understand it, it is no offence where buggery is committed by males over 21. But it is still an offence liable to 10 years' imprisonment if one of the parties be a female. Surely, that should be corrected? I have in mind a particular case of rather grave blackmail which arose out of those circumstances.

Mr. Abse

I am aware that, in spite of the esoteric nature of the argument which my hon. and learned Friend has raised, the point seems to have escaped attention in the other place, but I have no doubt that it will not escape attention now if the Bill goes to Committee. In my view, there is a grave anomaly as between the two cases.

Clause 4 introduces a new principle, namely, that the law relating to the earnings of prostitution be applied to the earnings of male as well as female prostitutes. Clause 5 makes it unequivocally clear that the term "brothel" includes premises for homosexual practices. Clause 6 ends the pursuit of stale offences It makes very sad reading in the Wolfenden Report to find how cases have been pursued after five, six or even more years.

Clause 7 reserves to the Director of Public Prosecutions the right to decide whether a prosecution should be brought against two minors who have committed an act which is an offence and which would be bound to lead to a prosecution if it were committed by someone over 21 against a minor. It will be recalled that the view taken in the Wolfenden Report was that, where behaviour of this kind had been accompanied by vicious behaviour, criminal behaviour, where, for instance, there had been bullying in an institution, there should, perhaps, be a prosecution even though the young people were under the age of 21. Perhaps, on the other hand, there should not be a prosecution when behaviour of this kind is the physical expression of what is, fortunately, a transient phase. It is accordingly suggested that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have a discretion to deal with cases of this kind in order to ensure uniformity of practice. I hope that this will commend itself to the House.

So much for the Bill, If there are any Second Reading points with which I have not dealt, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), who hopes to catch the eye of the Chair to wind up the debate, will take the opportunity to deal with other points which are raised.

The paramount reason for the introduction of this Bill is that it may at last move our community away from being riveted to the question of punishment of homosexuals which has hitherto prompted us to avoid the real challenge of preventing little boys from growing up to be adult homosexuals. Surely, what we should be preoccupied with is the question of how we can, if it is possible, reduce the number of faulty males in the community. How can we diminish the number of those who grow up to have men's bodies but feminine souls?

It is clear from the number of homosexuals who are about that, unfortunately, little boys do not automatically grow up to be men. Manhood and fatherhood have to be taught. Manhood has to be learnt. The only way for it to be taught is by example. It is true that there are dangers to a boy—a sophisticated House knows it—if an over-possessive mother ties her son to her with a silver cord so that the boy is enveloped in a feminine aura out of which he is never able to break and assert his masculine indepenpendence. We know that this happens. But, equally, it is certain from all the research that has been done that there is particular vulnerability for those who have had jealous or loveless fathers, for those with inadequate fathers, and for those—these are in the greatest danger of all—who are fatherless either by death or desertion. These have no father substitute with whom they can learn to identify.

We hear often about mothercraft. We do not hear a great deal about fathercraft. The children of part-time parents, the children of the ambitious executive returning home after the boy is abed, perhaps, too, the children of over-busy Members of Parliament who work very hard from early in the morning till late at night and who sometimes say their children grow up without their knowing them—all these young people who, in effect, become de facto fatherless children, are hostages to fortune. In order to become men they need fathers with whom they can identify, not shadowy fathers, not hostile fathers, but fathers with whom they can learn, play and discuss things, fathers from whom they can have proper attention. Boys need more than pocket-money fathers who send them out to the cinema. They need real fathers.

If we pass this Bill, we can be more profitably engaged in discussing how to mobilise our social resources better so that, for example, we could have more male child care officers and far more male teachers. We could consider how we could have a legitimacy law such as the Church has been calling for recently to enable the putative father to give legal recognition to his son and so save the boy from the syndrome, of which we are learning so much, of the dangerously genealogically bewildered child. We could be considering how to do more to help widows with children and unmarried mothers. We could consider how to find ways and means of leading those fatherless children who, with no man about the house to lead them on their way through boyhood, become bewildered and, in the confusions of adolescence, lose their way to manhood.

I believe that continuance of the existing law fosters the illusion that solely by punishment we can prevent homosexuality. In my view, the passage of this Bill would free society from much of its morbid preoccupation with punishment. It could release its energies to the more constructive task of fostering stable family relations, family relations in which children can grow up certain of their identity and confident of their own rôle.

7.37 p.m.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

I hope that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will not think me discourteous if I do not follow all his points. With most of them I disagreed, but I shall deal only with one, to which He did not, I thought, go into sufficient detail.

As on the previous occasion, the hon. Gentleman's speech today was filled with compassion for these unfortunate people. I believe that he is filled with a sincere and passionate desire to help not only these people but others in unfortunate circumstances. I have heard him on several occasions speak thus.

Many matters divide this side of the House from that, and there are many, indeed, which divide hon. Members on the same side, but some things we have in common. Compassion is one of them. I suppose that most hon. Members, if not all, have been through the fires of life. When we have done that and we see a person in trouble or difficulty, we do not condemn him but rather say "There but for the grace of God go I". But this is not enough. There is a deeper, richer, more enduring compassion, the compassion which steels a man to do his duty.

Any man or woman who has been in authority over his fellow men, particularly if that authority has extended to control of their welfare as well as their work, knows that it is often necessary to act in a way which appears hard, harsh and perhaps even swinish at times. It is only later, perhaps years later, that those who have been under that control will say "Thank God that someone had the courage, the moral fibre, to say 'No' when it would have been so easy to say 'Yes'."

I do not want to deal with the Bill with any degree of emotion. We are here to pass legislation. So I turn now to what seems to me to be a grotesque Bill. As the hon. Member said, Clause 1(5) does not apply to the fighting Services. We heard some of his arguments about the difficulties of the Merchant Navy. As far as the fighting Services are concerned, 500,000–600,000 men will be outside the provisions of the Bill and will remain under the old Acts. It is customary in the Navy—I speak about the Navy because I know it best, but it is probably the case in the other Services as well—that when the sailors go ashore, particularly the younger men, they are addressed by the officer of the watch and warned of the troubles and the difficulties that they may get into when they go ashore. Now we shall have to add to that. The officer of the watch will have to say to them, "When you go ashore you may indulge in homosexual practices as much as you like, but if you do so when you come back on board and are found out you will be put in prison."

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

On what possible grounds does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that any commanding officer in the Navy would say anything like that to the men?

Captain Elliot

I can only tell the right hon. Gentleman that if the officer does not say it, he ought to say it.

I will mention one side effect that may come from this. It is possible for an officer to go ashore and indulge in these practices and when he returns on board he may be called on to serve on a court martial and send a man to prison for indulging in them. I believe that there are the seeds of new corruption in the procedure. In peacetime there are 500,000–600,000 men concerned. In wartime there may be 5 million or 6 million. Is the hon. Member for Pontypool going to propose that in wartime this Bill should be suspended and men not prosecuted and sent to prison, or does he propose to leave the Bill as it is?

Mr. Paget

Did not one frequently in the Navy have people up for gambling in the wrong place? But the fact that one gambled oneself did not prevent one from dealing with that disciplinary offence.

Captain Elliot

The two cases are quite different. I believe that it would be most reprehensible if an officer indulging in these practices ashore was called upon to judge a man doing the same thing on board.

Why should not this Bill be applied to the Services? The Wolfenden Committee said "not" in what seems to me to be rather woolly language. It said: We recognise that within services and establishments whose members are subject to a disciplinary regime it may be necessary, for the sake of good management "— whatever he means by that— and the preservation of discipline and for the protection of those of subordinate rank"— and so on. That was a very mild statement.

I prefer the statement by Mr. Adair. It was not exactly a minority report; it was in his reservations, and there is a great deal in his reservations, which are well worth reading: … as I assess the consequences, increase in the trend towards homosexual practices would be marked and intense, while the effect on the morale of members of the Services would be adverse and corrupting. That would be the case—I agree with him—in the Services.

So, in spite of what seem to me to be grotesque anomalies, I certainly would not have this Bill applying to the Services. But why should there be this increase in the Services? We have been told by many people that homosexuals are born. Surely the removal of the deterrent in the form of punishment, such as imprisonment, cannot cause more of them to be born. The reason is, in my view, that the majority of homosexuals are made and not born.

But in the Services there is a very tight control of the men. Their training is designed to stiffen their moral fibre and train their bodies and minds. Yet if we remove the deterrent we shall get, in the words of Mr. Adair, a "marked and intense" increase. But in civilian life ashore one has not that tight control, nor the discipline, and so I believe that one will get just as much marked and intense an increase, or even more, if the Bill is passed.

In the words of Mr. Adair: What this may mean by way of increase in the behaviour can only be matter for speculation, but one thing seems to stand out—homosexual, like most practices, propagate themselves. I believe that to be true.

I think it is worth considering the side effects of the Bill. We should, I presume, get a succession of plays on television and on the stage on the subject. We should get more books on it. We should get more clubs. I believe that the vice would be looked upon as a normal and natural part of our daily life, and all checks would be gone.

I sincerely believe that if the Bill is passed it will increase homosexual practices and not reduce them. It will not cleanse the national bloodstream; it will corrupt and poison it. It will not bring more happiness; it will bring greater misery. For these reasons, I hope that the House will reject it.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to afford the exemption and protection to the Merchant Navy, now provided in the Bill to Her Majesty's Royal Navy, Army, and Royal Air Force, and fails also to take into account that this omission will create circumstances which can lead to corruption of young seamen, and to conditions which will be prejudicial to the best interests of the Merchant Navy, and to the discipline and good order at sea which are vital to the best interests of our nation's Merchant Service. I find myself in some difficulty over the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot). I do not regard myself in any way as an expert on this subject, but I have been, as he has been, a member of the Services, I have also been in industry for a very long time, and I know the maritime world pretty well. He was categorical about the way a homosexual was born or made. I am afraid that I cannot agree with him. From my observations I should say that some are made and some are born.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) for the very generous, lucid and eloquent way in which he moved the Second Reading and for his attitude towards our Amendment. He will appreciate that the Amendment has been signed by eight hon. Members with strong Liverpool and Merseyside connections and therefore with strong connections with the Merchant Navy. All of us who have signed the Amendment, including my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), and some hon. Members opposite, feel that it is a reasoned Amendment and not as described last week by Tribune.

I was rather surprised that, because we oppose the Bill and have put down an Amendment, Tribune should have called us reactionary. Indeed, I have no doubt that, if I read the article to the House, it would cause some amusement to hear described as "reactionaries" Liverpool Labour Members who have spent their lifetime working among slum conditions and trying to get rid of the environment in which we were born and who have worked near the seafront all our lives. We have spent our adult lives in the Labour movement, as did our fathers and grandfathers before us. Yet Tribune says: Surprisingly, the latest development has not come from that indefatigable bastion of reaction, Sir Cyril Osborne, but from a group of Labour M.P.s. … We are all mentioned and I want to say to the person here who wrote that article that, if he had gone through with the Merchant Navy what I went through—I would have welcomed support at the time—when I led the whole of the Merchant Navy back to an honourable settlement under very great difficulties in the 1960 strike, as well as playing a not unimportant part in settling the last strike, he would appreciate that I am not a reactionary in any way. I am speaking as a Merseyside man. I put down this reasoned Amendment and I am sure that it will commend itself to the House by virtue of its very reasonableness.

The Amendment states: That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to afford the exemption and protection to the Merchant Navy, now provided in the Bill to Her Majesty's Royal Navy, Army, and Royal Air Force, and fails also to take into account'— and I regard this as the important part— that this omission will create circumstances which can lead to corruption of young seamen, and to conditions which will be prejudicial to the best interests of the Merchant Navy, and to the discipline and good order at sea which are vital to the best interests of our nation's Merchant Service. I think that that is a very reasonable Amendment and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool for the manner in which he has dealt with it, but he was unable, in answer to a question I put to him, to tell me that the conciliatory attitude which he promised for the Committee stage has been accepted by the National Union of Seamen.

Mr. Abse

I have explained to the union that this appears to me to require an Amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act to implement what I want to implement and what my hon. Friend wants to implement. The union is therefore discussing the matter. This creates problems of which my hon. Friend will be fully aware.

Mr. Mahon

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's explanation, which helps to some degree. But it does not quite satisfy me. I do not want to be difficult about the Amendment. I do not want to make it false or a vehicle for just voting against the Bill. I want it treated on its merits. The N.U.S. has been most explicit in requesting the aid of hon. Members who have signed the Amendment and I ask my hon. Friend to consider what I have said.

The General Secretary of the N.U.S., Mr. Hogarth, has written me a letter. It might have been more profitable had an Amendment to the penal clauses of the Merchant Shipping Act been dealt with before this Bill, for this might have clarified the situation. But the letter from Mr. Hogarth states categorically that the representatives of the industry—both ship owners and seafarers' organisations—have already taken this matter up with the Board of Trade and the Home Office. He states, however: … owing to the fact that it is a Private Members' Bill, whilst they are sympathetic, they are unable to do anything regarding amending this Bill at the present time, and we as an organisation would like to think that something could be done to amend it. In fact, what we would really like to see is entire exemption of the Merchant Service from the Bill. Thus, the British seamen are asking for entire exemption from the Bill and that is what we are asking. If we could have that assurance we should know where we stood.

Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth, Central)

In view of what my hon. Friend has said, would he not agree that it is implicit that the letter calls not for the defeat of this Bill on Second Reading but for the inclusion of a Clause exempting the merchant seamen?

Mr. Mahon

I would be very willing to give such an undertaking. There is no suggestion in Mr. Hogarth's letter that, because of this aspect, the whole Bill should be defeated. It is logical that, if this Amendment could not be included, the Bill would stand a chance of being defeated by those who believe that the Amendment is necessary. The letter from Mr. Hogarth goes on I don't think there is much need at this juncture for me to stress the fact that seamen spend most of their lives in a very confined space, and nothing could happen aboard ship which could be considered private to the rest of a ship's company. It asks for the help of M.P.s in getting the Amendment accepted. I should like to know why the Bill refers to the Army, the Navy and the Air Force but forgets the Merchant Navy. I have one explanation but, with my background of the sea and the Merchant Service, I cannot understand why it was not included in the first place. A memorandum I have from seafaring organisations says that the Bill is dealing with … homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. In the special circumstances of shipboard life there is little real privacy … In any kind of ship, whether it be cargo or passenger, there is very little privacy indeed. Many of us have seen great improvements in seagoing conditions and hope to see more. There was a time, when my father was at sea, when there were 100 or 150 men in the fo'c'sle. Indeed, I can assure the House that my family has had such strong connections with the sea that ships involved in disasters like the "Lusitania", the "Titanic" and the "Gargarian" and others all had Mahons and relations of Mahons on board. I remember when I started work in 1929 or 1930, how horrible the conditions still were. There has been a tremendous improvement since then and I pay tribute to the Board of Trade and others responsible. But there is still great overcrowding and there is no possibility at sea of privacy. If an offence is committed at sea, it is not private. One knows at sea what happens in very quick time. It is rather like the House of Commons in one or two respects.

Captain W. Elliot

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a lot of privacy in the Merchant Navy, which would explain why the Mechant Navy has not been included? For example, on a passenger ship there are many cabins which are private, and, presumably, the passengers would be exempt from the punishment whereas merchant seamen might be sent to prison.

Mr. Mahon

I take the point, but I do not agree that there is a great deal of privacy even on a great passenger liner. How news travels about, even news about what the passengers are doing, is amazing. Anyone who has lived close to the docks as I have, would know that news flows fast and free. I agree that there could be difficulties with a distinction between passengers and crew, but at this stage I want only to deal with the Merchant Navy.

It may not be generally known that the average age in the merchant service is only 27, a very young average. It is certainly much lower than it was in the years which I mentioned earlier. It shows what a large proportion of young men the service has. The normal distractions of shore life do not exist on board ship. Men live and work together every hour of the day for long periods and in such circumstances overt forms of homosexuality could be a very corrupting influence.

In merchant ports, such as that which I represent, the fathers and mothers who now encourage their sons—and their daughters—to go to sea would not be so keen to advise their children to take up the sea as a career if the Bill were to be passed without the Amendment. In this country, economically as in every other way, we need a Merchant Navy which has been and will be of the highest possible order in the world. If we do not get the right men, if, for one reason or another, the good men leave the sea or are not attracted to it, the effect on the service will be extremely deleterious.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that many of these sons are under 21?

Mr. Mahon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have with me in the building the discharge book of a sailor who spent 53 years at sea, one of the members of my own family, starting at the age of 12. There are now boys in Liverpool who are most anxious to go to sea at the earliest possible opportunity and who, at the age of 15, are being trained in the catering and deck departments, waiting their time to go to sea, as boys of their age always have, with the great love of the sea and of the maritime service which we all share.

Mr. Abse

As my hon. Friend says that his opposition is not fractious, will he allow me to interrupt to the extent of reading a letter which I sent on 7th November to the National Maritime Board—I do not know when my hon. Friend's letter was received.

I said: It will be recalled that I sought to explain to the deputation that my Bill as it stands has protected the position of the Armed Forces by making it unequivocally clear that any man, in the event of my Bill becoming law, could still be charged under the Army Act (or under the Navy or Air Force Acts) with disgraceful conduct of an indecent or unnatural kind. In view of the concern which you expressed to me, I offered to attempt to amend my Bill so that a Clause could be added amending the Merchant Shipping Acts so that the Merchant Navy could be given the same protection as the Bill accords to the Navy, Army and Air Force; and this would be done by making disgraceful and unnatural conduct a disciplinary offence under the Merchant Shipping Acts. I made it abundantly clear, however, at our meeting that I was not prepared to attempt to do this without the full agreement of the Seamen's Union. The Representative of the Shipowners present appeared to agree in principle that such an amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act should come about but the Seamen's Union representatives naturally wished to take instructions from their colleagues. I have today heard from the Seamen's Union, that they will not agree to any such Clause amending the Merchant Shipping Acts. In the circumstances, I thought it right to inform you that I am not pursuing this aspect of the matter; but if as a result of any further talks between the shipowners representatives and the seamen's representatives agreement of the Union is secured to my attempting to introduce such an amendment, then my offer of course remains open. Since this letter, I have seen the Maritime Board, including the union representatives, and I am waiting for them to come back to me. What more can I do to meet my hon. Friend's point?

Mr. Mahon

I am in the same position as my hon. Friend is. I am sticking to my brief and he is sticking to his. This is not the first time that the shipping unions have disagreed with the shipowners. I have found myself in that position many times. I can understand some of the shipowners, but the seamen's union is not satisfied with the position as it is. In any event, my hon. Friend is asking for an Amendment to an Act of which he does not have control. If I could get a categorical undertaking tonight from the Government Front Bench, we could see precisely where we were. I am not being fractious, but we do not have that undertaking from the Board of Trade. I have been pressing for the whole of my life for an Amendment of the penal Clauses of the 1889 Act—doing so has become a family tradition. I have made more speeches on the Liverpool Dock Road about the penal Clauses of the Merchant Shipping Acts than I care to remember. If such an Amendment were made, we might be in a better position now and able to get along more easily and in a more conciliatory fashion. But until vie get that, we cannot and will not accept the very charitable and conciliatory offer which my hon. Friend has made.

Unless we get what we are asking, unless the Merchant Navy is given special conditions and special considerations, then I have it on the highest possible authority that the service could become an attractive venue for homosexuals. Like hon. Members who have spoken earlier, I have a great deal of compassion—I have had it all my life—for people who have their particular difficulties in this respect. I must say that I cannot fully understand their difficulties. However, I do not want corruption to spread among seamen or in the industry itself. The presence of homosexuals could give rise to serious conflicts at sea and jealousies could even lead to violence.

I put this seriously to the House. One often reads or hears about someone having disappeared at sea, but that is not always the case. We all know of cases when, deplorably enough, something like this has happened. It can happen at sea. There are no back doors at sea. It is an entirely different world. Once a ship leaves port, conditions are totally different. That is why we are asking for these guarantees. Being at sea is not like being in the Imperial Hotel, or any other hotel, or any other private place. I speak with great authority on this. Being at sea is an entirely different world. I understand the sea and I understand the seamen if I understand nothing else.

There are tremendous difficulties about trying to discipline a crew. There is nothing wrong with discipline, and one has to have it at sea or in any other aspect of society, reasonable and good discipline. I did not find the Army irksome when I was in it. I was not half as well disclined in the Services as I was by industry and poverty. Poverty is the greatest disciplinary force in the world, and we were very well disciplined. I found the Army a piece of cake compared with industry. It is difficult for the master of a ship to maintain discipline, and this Bill will make it worse. The same applies to chief engineers or chief stewards.

These unfortunate people are attracted to catering departments as a rule. Maybe there is something in this for those people who want to study such things. They are not so often found in the engine room or the deck service, but usually in the catering service, with great respect to that service. These are the difficulties with which the seamen's union have to contend. These are facts, and I know that they are true. If these people were attracted by the kind of protection they would have at sea, matters would become very difficult indeed. Determined efforts have been made in the past to avoid any growth of this difficulty for these unfortunate people. The Maritime Board, the owners and the unions have been watchful and reasonably successful. If the application of the Bill to shipping caused the work of which I am talking to be undone, there would undoubtedly he a tendency for the good men to leave the sea.

Unless we can get this undertaking, then we will press this Amendment. This is where my great interest in the maritime service comes out. I want the best possible recruitment to this service, and I believe that every hon. Member of this House does too. It is important that we do the best that we can for young men and that we stop them from being corrupted if we can. It is important for the benefit of the country, for the economy of the country and for the high standards and traditions of this service, in peace and war, maintained through tremendous difficulties. If we cannot get this protection for the young boys and girls who will be recruited into this service, then we will press our Amendment and will vote against the Bill.

8.14 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)

I am sure that we all admire the Merchant Navy and the work which the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) has done in this connection, But it seems to be that he has erected what is essentially a Committee point into a Second Reading point. I did not follow all of his arguments exactly. I was quite unable to see why, if one legalises homosexuality on land, that should drive homosexuals to sea. It does not seem to be at all likely to happen, particularly as the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) who moved this Bill so admirably has pointed out, this is liable to be made illegal at sea. Whether or not that is so this is essentially a Committee point. Whatever our admiration may be of the National Union of Seamen we ought to keep a sense of proportion. It may or may not be right that the N.U.S. should be able to bring our economy more or less to a standstill but it should not have a veto on our social legislation as well.

Mr. Simon Mahon

The National Union of Seamen has had one strike in 60 years—one strike in the whole of its history.

Mr. Gilmour

I was not criticising, I was merely pointing out that this had happened. I think that we ought to preserve a suitable sense of proportion about the union's activities in connection with this Bill, because in spite of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) and the hon. Member for Bootle have said, this Bill relates primarily to the land, where most people are situated, and not to the sea. I was quite unable to understand the directions which the officer of the watch would have to give according to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton.

Surely it is the case that there are a number of other countries where homosexuality is legal? Do their navies find that this is an enormous difficulty? Surely it is the case that there are any number of things that are perfectly permissible on land and by those in the Armed Forces when on leave but which are totally impermissible when they are serving in the Forces, whether on sea or land. For one thing members of the Forces are encouraged to wear uniform, members of political parties are not. All sorts of matters of public decency are illegal in the Forces but are perfectly legal in civilian life.

Captain W. Elliot

I do not know why my hon. Friend is making quite so much of this. It is quite a simple thing about warning the sailor or perhaps the soldier as well. Many of them are pretty young and inexperienced and one warns them about a lot of elementary things when they go ashore. Surely this anomaly of the practice being legal ashore but illegal on board is likely to lead them into trouble unless it is drummed into them.

Mr. Gilmour

I do not follow that because if they are young it will not be legal on land and secondly the standards of behaviour on ship or in the Army or Air Force are quite different from those required in civilian life. This happens in other countries and I do not see that it is a great difficulty.

I support this Bill because the present law seems to have almost everything possible wrong with it. It is unjust, unenforceable, hypocritical, illogical and an invitation to further crime. It is unjust because it singles out, quite arbitrarily a particular set of people for their particular habits. It is unenforceable because there are too many of these people to enable the law to be enforced. We do not know how many there are but, if there are half a million and we were able to catch them, we would not have any idea of what to do with them. But we are not able to catch them. There is this fantastic disparity, pointed out in the Wolfenden Report, between something like 100 prosecutions and 500,000 people at least engaged in this activity.

The present law amounts to an annual ritual sacrifice with the victims selected purely by chance, at the rate of about one to 5,000 or one to 10,000.

It is hypocritical because everyone knows homosexuals and everyone knows that there are homosexuals in all walks of life. People do not think much the worse of them, they certainly do not consider them criminals. But the law treats them as such and when one of them is caught he is sent to prison for doing what everyone knows he has been doing for a great many years and for doing what something like half a million or a million people are doing regularly. That seems to me to be taking the law beyond its normal level of acceptable hypocrisy.

The law is illogical because it treats one form of sexual activity differently. There is no logical basis which I know for saying that male homosexuality is more damaging to the social fabric or the nation's bloodstream, as it has been called, than female homosexuality or adultery. Yet the law treats it as though it is uniquely anti-social. The blackmail point which has been shrugged off is important because the law is an invitation to crime. There are people who say that there will still be blackmail even if the Bill is passed, which, incidentally, is an admission that one of the arguments against the Bill is bad because it implicitly concedes that there would still be social condemnation even after it were passed.

But the blackmail point is important because if somebody goes to the police he does not know that he will not end up in prison instead of the blackmailer. It is odd that this should happen, but police forces still act in this way, or if they do not they did until quite recently. If the Bill were passed, that situation could no longer occur. A man could go to the police and he would never have to pay up again. Blackmail would become for homosexuality, as it is for other things, and as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) used to say when I was his pupil at the Bar, purely a voluntary tax. For homosexuality, blackmail is not a voluntary, but an involuntary tax. By passing this law, we should make it voluntary again and at least would be abolishing one tax.

Coming to the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton, it was thought by Albert the Great that homosexuality was as contagious as disease and by Justinian that homosexuality created earthquakes. I do not suppose that anybody believes that today, but the present incidence of homosexuality is irrelevant to the law.

My hon. and gallant Friend talked about the incidence of homosexuality going up because of homosexuals propagating themselves, but he must consider the situation in other countries. Germany is the only other country in Western Europe which has such a law. Does he, and do the opponents of the Bill, think that English people are significantly more prone to this vice than people in other countries and that they are kept in check only by the law? Or does he think that there is very much less homosexuality in this country because of the law?

Captain W. Elliot

I was quoting the words of Mr. Adair, one of the members of the Wolfenden Committee. But from my experience of controlling these practices in a large company of men, I am convinced that the deterrent of the present law—the action one takes to control it, to stamp it out—is very effective.

Mr. Gilmour

I do not know what my hon. and gallant Friend's experience was, but if he had to stamp it out that is a fair indication that it was there, although it was forbidden. I do not quite follow the logic of his remark.

There is a hidden assumption among some of the opponents of the Bill that homosexuality is inherently very attractive and more enjoyable than normal sexual relations. They seem to think that once the present law is abolished a lot of previously law-abiding heterosexuals will shout "hurrah" and become homosexuals. If they do not assume this, why are they worried by this Bill?

I support the Bill because it brings the law on homosexuality into line with the law on the rest of sexual matters, because it brings it into line with that of most other countries in Europe, and, above all, because it brings it into line with common sense.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) put the case in favour of the Bill so admirably that I hesitated in rising to speak. However, having got up to speak, I shall address the House very briefly as the hon. Gentleman has put my points so well.

I am well aware of the knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) about seamen and life on board ship, and we paid great attention to what he said. But I think he was a bit illogical. He has not moved an Amendment suggesting a change in the Bill; he has moved an Amendment rejecting the Bill, which is quite different. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) said on behalf of the sponsors that the principle embodied in the Amendment would be acceptable—in other words, to put the Merchant Navy in the same position as the Royal Navy. If the Bill receives a Second Reading, that principle will be embodied in the Bill on condition that the National Union of Seamen agrees with the Amendment. I do not know how much further we can go.

Mr. Simon Mahon

And subject to the amending of another Bill over which my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has no control.

Mr. Strauss

One can put forward whatever new Clause one likes in the Bill. There is no reason I know of why, with the agreement of the Government, a Bill of this sort cannot amend another Bill. But my hon. Friend is advocating the rejection of the whole Bill. I understand his point of view, because he voted against a similar Bill previously. But we should be clear that the principle for which he is asking is accepted by the sponsors of the Bill who will do their utmost to incorporate it in the Bill.

Captain W. Elliot

Would the right hon. Gentleman explain how we would get over the question of civilians and passengers at sea in merchant vessels vis-à-vis the crews?

Mr. Strauss

My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle put forward a suggestion concerning merchant seamen. It had nothing to do with passengers or civilians on board ship.

Captain Elliot

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has understood the point. What is the position concerning merchant seamen and passengers indulging in these practices? If the Bill covers the Merchant Navy, seamen can be sent to prison. Presumably for the civilian the act would be perfectly legal.

Mr. Strauss

I do not think that we can go further than say that the man in the Merchant Marine would be in the same position as the naval rating in the Royal Navy. That is what we are providing.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) was convinced that if the Bill were passed the most terrible things would happen and that the moral fibre of the nation would be weakened, or something of that sort. I wish that people who speak like that would remember that until the 1866 Act was passed and, by an accident, an Amendment was included which made prosecution against homosexuality permissible, there was no law against homosexuals. During the great, vigorous Victorian age, with its great virile people, building up the Empire, increasing its industrial production and all the rest, there were no prosecutions for homosexuality.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

1885, not 1866.

Mr. Strauss

Yes, 1885. There were no prosecutions.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

On a point of accuracy. Although I am in agreement on the general premise, there was a Henrician Statute penalising buggery, although there was not an offence of gross indecency. That offence, however, was on the Statute Book.

Mr. Strauss

I think I am right in saying that there was no Act which made it a criminal offence for consulting male adults to have intercourse together in private. There were certainly no prosecutions during that period. I know that in the Middle Ages there were certain ecclesiastical offences, but as regards the limited point which the hon. Member and others have made, no such Act was in operation in this country. There were no prosecutions, and the country flourished.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

On a point of accuracy and information. It is not fundamental to the argument, but am I not right in thinking that buggery was a common law felony?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May I answer—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

We cannot have interventions on interventions.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

If I might attempt to help, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that the position was that it was a statutory felony under a Statute of Henry VIII.

Mr. Strauss

Some of us want to go forward and not back.

The Bill wants to do something quite simple: to remove from the criminal code an offence which is not enforced but which, nevertheless, brands about half a million of our citizens as criminals. It is a blackmailers' charter. Those were the words used about it by the Recorder of London when the former Bill was passed. The existing law has proved to be a blackmailers' charter and, so far from helping those who suffer the abnormality of homosexuality, it impedes the possibility of cure. That is the view not only of church workers who are familiar with the problem, but of the psychiatrists and psychologists who have had great experience of this problem.

That this law is unenforceable is obvious. Everybody must agree with that, however much people may dislike its repeal. I suggest, however, that the present situation, because the law is unenforceable, is not tolerable for Parliament. Parliament would never pass a new law which it knew to be unenforceable or enforceable only at the whim of a chief constable who may or may not desire to operate it. If we are not prepared to bring in a new law of that sort, I suggest that for the same reason, if we find an existing law unenforceable, thereby bringing the legislature and criminal justice into disrepute, we must surely want to repeal it.

It would have been done long ago, shortly after the Wolfenden Report was published, about ten years ago, but for the fact that, alas, it is much easier to pass a criminal Act than to repeal one. We know too that on a subject such as this, when the behaviour concerned arouses such powerful emotions in those who condemn it as to override rational argument, it is very difficult to make a change. We hope, however, that in view of public opinion and the fact that the Bill has been passed in another place and has already been passed by this House, the time has come when we will he able to take the final step in repealing this indefensible and unenforceable law.

It has been said that the existing law gives rise to a great deal of blackmail. But we know only of those cases that come into court. We have been told that most blackmail cases are concerned in one way or another with homosexual behaviour. We do not know how many cases do not come into court, but many of us are aware from personal knowledge and experience how widespread this blackmail practice is. The existence of the present law gives blackmailers marvellous opportunities, on which they flourish.

It is true that if we pass the Bill today, blackmail will not be entirely eliminated as homosexuality is condemned by the majority of people, but it will mitigate it. The fear of imprisonment, if a case is reported to the police, will disappear. Victims will be able to go to the police and expose those who are attempting to blackmail them without the risk of prosecution themselves.

There is a further and very important aspect of this matter which has not yet been mentioned. It is the difficulty of helping homosexuals as long as the present law remains as it is. A previous Archbishop, when talking about homosexuals and the condition in which they live described it as, … a nightmare world into which there can be no entrance of the forces of righteousness until the offences are made not criminal". It is largely for that reason that the leaders of all the churches have said that the law should be changed and that, whatever the morality aspect of the matter may be, it is wrong to make a matter of conscience such as this subject to the criminal code. The churches, too, are animated by a deep sense of compassion for homosexuals. It is a compassion which I should have thought every hon. Member must share. They are already suffering under a dire handicap through no fault of their own. They are handicapped through their inability to lead normal happy lives and have families, which the majority of the community are able to do. They are also frequently the subject of derision. The Bill obviously will not free them from these disadvantages, but at least it will relieve them from being criminals under the law and from the fear of blackmail which haunts them all their lives.

It is unfortunately a characteristic of societies to persecute minorities who do not conform in colour, race, religion or habits with the majority members. The more civilised the society, the less the persecution, and the degree of tolerance of minorities is a measure of the civilised quality of a society. One section of society in Great Britain is still persecuted, but to a much less degree than it was previously owing to a remarkable change in public opinion, which has become more understanding and sympathetic, and because of the publicly expressed views of leaders of the churches, the moral guardians of the nation, and of the experts in these matters.

The greater study of this abnormality made by most of the leaders of the professions in the departments of sociology, psychology and psychiatry of our universities and hospitals, has caused them to declare themselves strongly in favour of the repeal of the present law along the lines proposed by the Bill before us. I cannot doubt that this House will come to the same conclusion tonight.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

Although I take a different view from that of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), I thought that he addressed himself to the heart of the argument, and I hope that I shall be able to refer to some of the points that he has made.

I want first to associate myself with those hon. Members who have praised the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) for the way in which he has moved the Second Reading of his Bill. I think that the House feels that he strikes the perfect balance between stolid normality and flamboyant eccentricity which has enabled him to do it so well. He assisted the House greatly by the way in which he put it forward, and I was particularly glad that in his speech we did not hear what we have had before from champions of this Measure—a lot of talk about how everyone recognises that homosexuality is, of course, a sin. I have always felt that that sort of humbug spoiled the case of those who were advocating this Measure. I was glad that it was absent today.

I support the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) and his hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman has left the Chamber, but if he divides the House against giving the Bill a Second Reading, I shall vote for his Amendment, although I am primarily against the Bill lock, stock, and barrel, and root and branch. I am against it out of respect for the opinion, as I understand it, of what I believe to be the vast majority of the people whom I was elected to this House to represent, people who may not be long-haired intellectuals, but who are the men and women who make the world go round. Their case may be deficient in logic, but I believe that it ought to be supported, for the reasons, which I shall give.

I should first like to criticise the Government, if the right hon. Lady will not think it too harsh of me, for giving time to this Bill in the first place, because I think that it represents a questionable order of priorities. I may be right, or I may be wrong about that, but it under- mines such little confidence as I have in the Government.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile the two statements he has just made, first congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on introducing the Measure, and then criticising the Government for enabling him. to do so?

Mr. Iremonger

I am a great admirer of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) in certain respects, but he is not doing justice to himself. He either did not listen, or he did not understand. I congratulated the hon. Member for Pontypool on the manner in which he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I thought that it was a first-class piece of advocacy for a case which I oppose. I oppose the Bill, but I think that the Second Reading was moved as well as it could be. Does the hon. Gentleman accept the distinction?

Mr. Sydney Silverman

I still do not know what the hon. Gentleman is grumbling about.

Mr. Iremonger

I am congratulating the hon. Member for Pontypool on the way in which he introduced a bad Measure. I am criticising the Government for giving time for a bad Measure. I think that it demonstrates a lamentable order of priorities.

I think that the Government are susceptible to criticism on another ground, namely, that if they support the Measure, if they think it is important, they ought themselves to have taken the odium of introducing it by putting it into the Criminal Justice Bill, or of introducing it themselves in its present form. They should not do as they did with the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Nielson and Colne. They should not give time for something which they know the country opposes, and enable it to go through, but allow themselves a loophole electorally by not taking responsibility for it. I criticise and condemn them for that. I think that the Bill is bad, but it is worse of the Government to give time for it without taking full responsibility.

Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)

What evidence is there for the hon. Gentleman' contention that the country is opposed to the Bill?

Mr. Iremonger

The hon. Gentleman and I are in the same position. We neither of us know. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the country is in favour of the Bill, he ought to say to his right hon. Friend that it is a pity the Government did not adopt a popular and—as they thought—right Measure.

Dr. Gray

I am congratulating the Government on allowing a free vote on the Bill, and I take it that that was their reason for giving time for the Bill and allowing us to discuss it.

Mr. Iremonger

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should use this rather disreputable phrase "a free vote", because it has implications which I and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) would not care to accept. If the hon. Gentleman is congratulating the Government for allowing a "free vote", he is on another point. I am not criticising the Government for not putting the Whips on. I am criticising them for giving time to the Bill.

Dr. Gray

I am congratulating them on both counts.

Mr. Iremonger

We differ on that. I like to give way to hon. Members, but to give way does impede the progress of the hon. Member who has the Floor of the House. I hope that the House will not think that I am ungenerous if I say that I will proceed without taking further time over interruptions.

I want to deal with the important point about blackmail. I notice that the proponents of the Bill want to have it both ways. They say that this will not entirely rule out blackmail and yet the argument that it will rule out blackmail is put forward as a prime one in favour of the Bill. My view is that the first point is correct. I am not convinced that blackmailers will be greatly discouraged by the passing of the Bill. A blackmailer blackmails his victim now in respect of homosexuality not because he is able to threaten him with the possibility of a conviction in court but because he knows that the practice is socially unacceptable and will disgrace the person in respect of whom he may give information.

I do not believe that, if this Bill is passed, many men who are subject to blackmail by reason of their homosexuality will say that it does not matter now. Not many will say, "You can tell my boss. You can tell my family. You can tell my friends. I don't care. What's more, I'll run you in." In my opinion only a small minority of homosexuals threatened by blackmailers will he prepared to say that they do not mind. That being so, it seems to me that one of the strongest arguments put forward in favour of the Bill does not stand examination.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

If the Bill is passed, the man who is blackmailed has a counterattack by being able to threaten the man who is blackmailing him that he will go to the police.

Mr. Iremonger

The blackmailer still holds the trump card, which is to give information to the people who are in a position to ruin the life of the victim.

Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

It will have to be proved.

Mr. Iremonger

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller) says that it will have to be proved. If blackmailers had to prove everything, nobody would be frightened of them. Therefore, the blackmailer argument is not as conclusive as it is supposed to be.

I am less impressed than many who support the Bill by the argument that the present state of the law leaves a substantial minority with a burning grievance against society. This is an over-simplification of a social problem. The homosexual who feels that he is rejected by society does so not because of any laws but because, rightly or wrongly, he is rejected. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to compassion. That is something which is more prevalent in the House, perhaps, than in society at large outside. The grievance of the homosexual minority is that they are kept away from the mainstream of human relationships and are regarded by their fellow human beings—who understand their condition—as being somehow different and unacceptable. Whether that is right or wrong is another question, but to suggest that altering the law will remove from those people the blight on their lives and their grievance against society is to underrate the depth of their problem. That argument, therefore, does not commend itself to me, either.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that the present state of the law is the result of a purely fortuitous Amendment slipped in during a debate by Mr. Labouchere late at night, without debate or a consideration of the serious difficulties to which it would give rise. I concede this point to the proponents of the Bill. If we could have life and history all over again and could go back to that moment in the 1880s when the House was considering that Measure and Labouchere popped in that Amendment, there would be hon. Members here today who—if they could have been there—would have said, "Let us not do this. It won't work out. This Measure will give rise to greater evils than it will cure".

I will concede that. But the trouble is that the law is the law and is accepted by the community, rightly or wrongly, as representing the moral standards and the strength of the social fabric. This House cannot right a wrong just by changing the law. It has to consider the psychological implications on society of this House coming forward, as the public will see it—[Interruption.]—With respect, many men and women whom I know will see this House coming forward as "Authority", as Parliament, as the legislature, and saying, "We are giving our blessing to sexual licence and to practice which you regard as abominable."—

Mr. Sydney Silverman

The hon. Gentleman must try to recognise the difference between saying that we approve of something, and, on the other hand, saying that we do not believe that it is criminal. The two things are quite different. To say that it is not criminal is not to have approval of it.

Mr. Iremonger

The hon. Gentleman is too clever. He sees the distinction, but many of his constituents will not—

Mr. Sydney Silverman

The hon. Gentleman should try.

Mr. Iremonger

I accept the hon. Gentleman's reproof. I should try, and, in my humble way, I do try. I am prepared to go on trying, but this is a long and uphill battle. To do this—to pass the Bill—now would do more harm psychologically than it would do good legalistically.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

That is not what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)

Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that a very large proportion of people who are homosexuals at present marry in order to erect a facade of normality, that this gives rise to terrible tragedies for the children of the marriages and for the wives and that this Measure could end that situation?

Mr. Iremonger

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. We all know of this: we have seen it happening. Where I differ from the hon. Lady is in her confidence that this Measure will cure that. I cannot be convinced in my own mind. Of course, one cannot have certainty about this, but must make up one's own mind, or there would be no necessity for debate. I am not convinced that the good that it would do in that respect and in the blackmail respect and the grievance respect and so on is as great as the evil I see it doing—this is purely my opinion—to the confidence of society in this House and in its institutions in upholding the fabric of society.

That is my argument. I may be wrong, but I am not prepared to move from it in my present state of ignorance and opinion. I will therefore vote against the Bill and I wish that the House would also vote against it. I wish that the Labouchere Amendment had never been passed, but as it has been passed, I am afraid that all the evil it has done cannot be removed by simply repealing it.

I do not accept, either, the reproof of the proponents of the Bill who say, "Oh, but how illogical! What about lesbians?" It may be illogical and if the Labouchere Amendment had included lesbians, I would present just the same argument about repealing it with respect to them. I am glad that it did not include lesbians, but my central objection to the Bill is not met by the recognition that lesbians are not at present victims of the law in the way that male homosexuals are.

There is, in any case, a certain sociological logic in taking a different view of lesbianism. I would be prepared to accept the argument that the personality and nature of women are distinguishable from the personality and nature of men—because of the strength of their sexual initiatives and drives—and that the effect in society of lesbian women is not so potent as that of homosexual men. Nobody knows or hears of women being corrupted on a large scale by lesbian women, whereas I do not think that even the most doughty champion of the Bill would deny that many male homosexuals are of the proselytising type. Even they have very great misgivings—they talk about homosexuality as a tragedy, and they recognise the danger of the corruption of the young, for example—about the propensity of male homosexuals to try to spread their practice among others. I do not think that that can be denied. To make such a denial, the hon. Member for Pontypool would have to go back on the principle on which the Clauses increasing penalties for corruption of young people are based.

I have always felt in arguments about the Bill that the intellectual case and the case in logic was overpoweringly strong. I have always felt that the case against the Bill was emotional and intellectually weak. To oppose the Bill, I feel, is considered intellectually a rather disreputable exercise. But as hon. Members often find when they are dealing with legislation. human nature is so complex that unfortunately these matters cannot be dealt with in the same way as that in which a mechanic can deal with the running of a motor car.

I am afraid that it comes to this: we have a choice of evils and the House must decide whether it will remedy bad law by bad psychology. There must be a choice made between two evils and I opt, personally, for what I consider to be the lesser evil. I do not deny that this is far from an ideal solution. I do not think that the present practice of the law is satisfactory. I should like to see us get rid of it. But I would rather see it wither away through a general disinclination on the part of chief constables to prosecute—far from ideal but slightly less dangerous to society than the Bill. If I may be excused a rather disagreeable medical metaphor, I would rather leave the scab on the wound to wither and fall off than wrench it off prematurely and cause a haemorrhage at this stage. This seems to be the alternative with which the House is presented.

Nor am I moved by a further argument used by the hon. Member for Pontypool about sending homosexuals to prison being such a bad thing. Of course it is a bad thing, but the Bill does not affect that situation. Under the new Criminal Justice Bill it is extremely unlikely that any homosexuals convicted as such will come in the category of persons who will go to prison anyway. So it is not as though without this Bill we shall have prisons teeming with homosexuals. Many people who go to prison may be homosexuals anyway; it is not only people who are convicted of homosexuality who cause homosexual problems in prisons. In any case, the Bill makes provision for pederasts to go to prison, and they will be in prison with young men of 20 to 21 who will be as much liable to their predatory inclinations as to those of other homosexuals who might theoretically be in prison if the Bill did not go through.

A further argument against the Bill—which makes me pause more than does the argument about the merchant navy, even—is that about the universities. An anomalous and distressing situation will arise in universities where there are young men under 21 and young men over 21. There is bound to be a dividing line amongst the homosexuals at the university and a coming of age—"Now it's all right." I do not at all relish the thought of there being illegal homosexuals under 21 and legal ones over 21 and a crossing of the line ceremony being performed with pederastic celebrations in university colleges.

I am afraid that we shall be saddled with the problem with which this Bill seeks to deal, whether or not the Bill is passed. The Bill will make the situation in the life of the homosexual neither better nor worse. The real help which the homosexual needs is not within the scope of this Bill or of any legislation. It is not within the scope of administrative action which Governments can take, answerable to this House. I do not think the present homosexual population are people for whom one can do a lot. People have talked about their going for help and so on. People to whom I have talked, who have most to do with homosexuals, are sceptical about the actual desire which homosexuals have for being helped. In any case, I am not sure that the lot of existing homosexuals is not a lost cause—water over the dam.

What I am concerned with is the health and strength of society and the structure of life, the relationships between human beings that make society sane, healthy and beautiful. That is something which can only be ensured in respect of future generations. I do not think it can be ensured in respect of people who are already mature.

What worries me is the point that the hon. Member for Pontypool made towards the end of his speech—the total lack of any social initiative to grapple with the root and mainspring of homosexual disabilities which I am sure—I think this is universally recognised—resides in the power and influence of the individual fathers and mothers in respect of their children.

Although one hears a lot talked about sex education in schools, what I would like to see in schools, instead of sex education, is a little more education in the realities and the responsibilities of parenthood, for fathers and for mothers. Future fathers should be warned of the dangers of an all-too-prevalent attitude—in our society, at any rate—that there is something unmanly in men concerning themselves with their wives' and children's problems and taking their place in the home as the father who is seen there as the leader of the family. I should like girls at school to be warned specifically against the terrible danger of becoming too devoted to their sons. If one looks at the pattern of life of homosexuals known in history and known to oneself, it is an infallible concommitant of the condition that there has been an undue and unhealthy attachment to the mother and an absence of identification with the father. These are commonplaces of social psychology which everybody knows. The House would do better to concern itself with the initiatives which might be taken, through the Home Office or through the Department of Education and Science, with this kind of social education for future generations than in trying to remedy bad law by bad psychology.

9.3 p.m.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)

This debate has been remarkable in that no one who either opposes or supports the Bill has claimed a monopoly of com- passion or sincerity. I think all of us realize—I support the Bill and I realise fully—that those who oppose the Bill do so from deeply-felt feelings, having thought about the matter a great deal.

I wish to take up a number of points that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has mentioned. I understand that the main burden of his speech was that the time is not ripe and that he does not like the situation. He wished that it had never been brought about. He is worried that it would be psychologically damaging to the country at the present time to introduce such legislation. This is a fair argument and one which people who support the Bill have got to meet effectively.

It has always been the argument that the time is not ripe on practically all forms of social legislation, whether it be abortion law reform or homosexual law reform. When the Wolfenden Report first came out this was put about, I think reasonably, at that time. There was a lot of evidence that the general public, and even enlightened general public, had not analysed the problems of homosexuality to the extent that they should have done.

The hon. Member for Ilford, North made a lot in his speech of public opinion. He said that the country does not want the Bill and that he is convinced that the majority of his constituents do not want it. There is that view, but I ask him to take note of what little scientific evidence we have on this matter. We may not like opinion polls, but an opinion poll in 1965 showed that two-thirds of the country wanted reform of the law as set out in the Bill. The climate of opinion has changed dramatically since the Wolfenden Report and I think that the time is ripe for the Bill.

Let us deal with the suggestion that it would be psychologically damaging to the country to show that the House condones homosexuality. If that feeling comes out from the debate it will be the direct result of misreporting, because no hon. Member, whatever viewpoint he or she put forward, has condoned homosexual behaviour. The Bill lays down very clearly that under certain circumstances the House is increasing the penalties, that it is trying to stamp out corruption of youth and minors, which is possibly the most important element in the Bill. I hope that due emphasis is given in reports of the debate to Clause 2, because what we are legislating in Clause 1 is only one aspect of the problem. To a certain extent, that answers the hon. Gentleman's claim about psychological damage.

A number of other points have been raised in the debate, and I wish to say a little about the merchant seaman. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) is well known for what he has done for the merchant seamen. and the respect in which he is held extends far further than Merseyside and goes all the way down to Plymouth. He put his case very reasonably, and anyone who comes from a port knows full well many of the problems that he mentioned.

The question of the merchant seaman is a problem, but the remarkable point was that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has gone out of his way to meet the feeling that exists in the House that the merchant seaman is a special case. He has said, as far as he can at this stage, that he will meet this point in Committee. He will attempt, as far as possible, either to adapt the Merchant Shipping Act or the Bill. I suggest that in Committee we might well look at the Clause about privacy, because that could well enshrine some of the problems we face, where there is total lack of privacy at sea.

We also heard a great deal from the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) about the problems of the Royal Navy. I strongly disagree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman said, and certainly with what he said about what the officer of the watch will tell his men. I think that that would be a very minority viewpoint.

I was a member of the Select Committee which considered the Armed Forces Bill, and we examined the question of homosexuality as it applies to the Forces. The Committee's unanimous recommendation was that it should remain subject to the Naval Discipline Act and the Acts affecting the other Services. It was put to us forcibly that if this Bill became applicable to the Services it would undermine discipline. That is what we are arguing about, the effect on discipline in the Services and among Merchant Seamen at sea. I am certain that the problem could be met in Committee.

But there is a far greater problem about the Bill to which I do not think enough attention has been given. It was said in the Wolfenden Report, which most of us feel to be one of the best Reports ever to come out on this subject, that, the decisive argument which made the Wolfenden Committee take the stand it did was: … the importance which society and the law ought to give to individual freedom of choice and action in matters of private morality. The quotation goes on: Unless a deliberate attempt is to be made by society, acting through the agency of the law to equate the sphere of crime with that of sin, there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law's business. To say this is not to condone or to encourage private immorality". This, to me, is the nub of the problem, which this Bill tackles, and tackles most courageously. These people, suffering from what I would prefer to call a symptom of homosexuality, already suffer very deeply from social ostracism. They are to a great extent alone in the world. But, because of the present law, a law which the hon. Member for Ilford, North himself dislikes, they live in perpetual fear. Much has been made of the possibility of blackmail, and this is very important, but it is not the only fear. The real fear these people have is fear of prosecution. They know that they can be prosecuted. These are people who often, for other reasons, are mentally unstable in that they are anxious and nervous, and the threat of prosecution is very real.

I do not wish to talk as a doctor because I know that my own profession is divided, though I should say that the vast majority support the Bill—certainly, the vast majority of psychiatrists support it—but I cannot but put before the House some of the feelings which I have had in working in a professional capacity, particularly when I have been called to a big London casualty department to see an attempted suicide case. One sees a man coming round after an attempted suicide. To face life again is very difficult in any circumstances. A person has made the decision to take his life, he finds it has been unsuccessful, and then follows the whole process of bitter and harsh readjustment. But so often the man is a homosexual, and he faces a doubly difficult readjustment. He faces the readjustment just to life and he faces the problem of readjusting again to the trouble which has so often driven him to thoughts of suicide.

This debate has been remarkably unlike some of the debates we have had on the subject in that we have not today talked about what is irrelevant to the Bill. All of us condemn the homosexual who goes about importuning and soliciting, particularly the young, and we all condemn the fact that many homosexuals contract venereal diseases. But we are today concentrating on the real issue. We are thinking of the men who live a haunted existence, who are asking through this Bill only for the right to live within the privacy of their own houses as they wish to live. They are asking of this House only that they be allowed not to affect the morals of society, not to live flagrantly or openly, but to live in their private life as this sexual drive dictates to them to do.

Those of us who have seen these people know how tortured they are. They come from all walks of life. We are not talking of the stage picture of the "queer", the "nancy boy". Often, these people go through life with those in closest contact with them not having the slightest knowledge that they live this tortured existence. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Anne Kerr) told us of the difficulties for them when they are forced by society's pressures to marry. These can be very severe, too. But so often they live in loneliness and fear. We cannot stop their loneliness. Society, I submit, will always condemn homosexual practice, and it would not be my wish that the House should be seen to condone it. But I ask the House to vote to remove the fear from those men who so order their lives that they do not inflict themselves and their ailment on society, and to allow them in the privacy of their own homes to pursue their lives as they are driven to do.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I hope that tonight we can get rid of this issue once and for all and that 19th December will mark the stage when the Bill got a Second Reading. I think that in the 10 years that I have been in the House I have voted four or five times on this issue, going back to the occasion when the right hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), the Minister of Health, brought forward a Motion at the time of the Wolfenden Report, which was nearly passed on that occasion. I noted last time the House had a vote on this issue that the figures were almost exactly the same as those that were produced by the Gallup Poll of the public at the same time. So the House seemed to be in tune with the public.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on having the courage to bring the Bill forward on this occasion. I have only two or three things to say. When I was a young man I learnt something about the law. One of the things I learnt was that there were two circles, the circle of law and the circle of morality. They intersected to a certain extent but not by any means the whole extent. There was a large field which was covered only by morality and not by law.

To give an example, in the Ten Commandments we are told "Honour thy father and thy mother", but there is no legal sanction behind that. There is the Seventh Commandment, which is not written into the criminal law. In the New Testament one has such phrases such as, "Love thy enemies". Again, that is not written into the law of the land. So there is a large circle in which there is no force of the criminal law.

Therefore, I think that if we were legislating afresh on this matter today without anything that happened through Labouchére, we would surely, the feeling of the country being as it is, say that homosexuality between adults in private was a private matter and not one for the criminal law. Secondly, obviously one was taught—and it is obviously true, and has been hammered today—that a law must be enforceable. One knows from the hundreds of thousands of cases in the country at the present time that, frankly, this law is not enforceable.

Thirdly, one must show that the basis of the criminal law must be that it effects a public mischief and effects public order and decency. The way in which the Bill has been framed is such that it keeps the public part of it a criminal offence without bringing the private part into that part of the criminal law. It seems to me that there are plenty of safeguards in the Bill for everyone who has fears about it—safeguards regarding young people, safeguards regarding public places, safeguards with regard to living on immoral earnings and so on. There are plenty of safeguards for public decency and public order.

I thought that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) made a point that should be properly answered. He said that the social castigation of homosexuality is so great that even if we were to take away the criminal part of it blackmail would still go on. I do not believe that to be true. I think that blackmail is essentially tied up with the fact that, at the moment, this is a criminal offence and that a man can be told by his partner that if he does not look out the blackmailer will go straight to the police and get him brought before the courts. I should have thought that this was at least three quarters of the basis of the blackmailing cases at the present time, the fear not so much of the social consequences, which of course are there, but of the consequences that might affect a man by his being taken to court. I should have thought that that was very genuine.

So, in short, I would hope that tonight we should be able to make a decision which would clear out of our way a problem that has been plaguing the House for 10 years. It is over time that it was solved.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) made a very reasonable contribution, and did it in a very short time. I shall try to follow his example. I hope he will excuse me if at 9.20 p.m. I do not go into details even about the parts of his speech with which I did not agree.

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) suggested that there was some reason why the Government had given Government time for the Bill. It may be that there are very good reasons why the Government have given time for it. It has been suggested that there is police pressure behind the move so that the law will be determined once and for all. It might be useful to have an indication of the Government's attitude in making this time available to the House.

We have to decide whether the Bill will do more harm or more good than the law as it stands. I think that it will be a better law than the present law. On that basis, I gave my approval, limited as it was, to the introduction of the Bill and I now intend to support the Second Reading.

There are, however, one or two points I wish to put and I hope some answer can be given by the Government. Clause l says that a homosexual offence in private … shall not be an offence provided that the parties consent thereto … I am somewhat doubtful about the word "consent" being on its own. There may be some need for clarification so that it does not become a matter of consent under duress but remains consent freely given. However, this is a point to be considered in Committee.

Clause 1(5) deals with the exclusion of the Armed Forces from the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) referred to the Navy. He should be reminded that the history of the Navy suggests that, for hundreds of years, from Raleigh to Nelson, seamen have been homosexual at sea and heterosexual on shore. I do not know the appropriate word for that. Perhaps it is "opportunist". But no one suggests that, because they had this adaptability in the past, our seamen were any the less men, or a less effective fighting force or that they undermined discipline. I do not say that the Navy of today is the same as it was in other days but this aspect should be kept under consideration.

Captain W. Elliot

Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the House, in that case, why the Bill will not cover the Navy or the other fighting forces?

Mr. Ogden

This is the only part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech with which I would agree. for I feel that there is still room for argument as to whether the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy would be better or worse off by inclusion or exclusion from the Bill. I have not heard a great deal of argument on this apart from the N.U.S. If the Bill is to provide safeguards for young men who may be influenced in the wrong direction, we might be doing a disservice by excluding the Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy. However, this can be argued to a greater degree in Committee.

The Amendment was put forward reasonably by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), but at the same time that he received the letter he quoted from the N.U.S., on 16th November, other hon. Members, on both sides of the House and from all parts of the country, also received a letter from Mr. Hogarth suggesting that he and his members had some interest and concern. He asked for our support. I replied saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was a Labour M.P., was reasonably approachable and spoke to one as one went past. I suggested that there was no reason why he should not be asked what he thought of this.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must speak up a little. It is difficult to hear.

Mr. Ogden

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I was pointing out that, in my reply to Mr. Hogarth, I suggested that it might be practically useful to have a word with the sponsors of the Bill before anything was done. Mr. Hogarth wrote back to me that he was arranging a meeting with the sponsors to discuss the matter and that afterwards he would come back to individual Members if he thought their support was necessary. These meetings have taken place and there has been some discussion, but so far I have not been asked by the N.U.S. to support any Amendment.

While awaiting this proposal from the N.U.S., my colleagues from Liverpool and Merseyside put down an Amendment in substantially the same terms as those suggested in the original N.U.S. letter. No one would deny that hon. Members from that part of the world have great experience and knowledge of ships and shipping, but I, too, am a Merseyside Member of Parliament. Merseyside Members on both sides of the House often work closely together, but on this occasion I was not asked to sponsor the Amendment, neither as a Merseyside Member of Parliament, nor as one of the only two ex-Merchant Navy Members. I would have thought that time was not particularly pressing and that it did not very much matter whether the Amendment was put down on the Friday, the Monday or the Tuesday, but it might have been useful to have had a sponsor who not only came from a seaport, but who had had some service in the Merchant Navy, admittedly limited war-time, emergency-only service, but at least some.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Was there anything to stop my hon. Friend from signing the Amendment? Several hon. Members from Scotland signed it.

Mr. Ogden

I am discussing the way in which it was put down. If one seeks support for a proposition of this kind, surely it is useful to have one's own colleagues supporting it, especially if they have had some service in the Merchant Navy.

As the debate has gone on, I have been tempted to the conclusion that this is a wrecking Amendment.

Mr. Simon Mahon


Mr. Ogden

I am drawing my own conclusions. My hon. Friends are entitled to disagree. If the seamen's union wants us to take this action, let us take it in conjunction with the union. Let the union tell us what it wants and let us work together. That has not happened.

In view of the assurances of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool that he will go as far as he possibly can to meet the objections of the seamen's union, I find his proposal acceptable and on that understanding I will give my support to the Second Reading. However, if the Bill is not amended to the satisfaction of the union and every seaman involved, when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House, I will oppose it, but I do not see why we should reject the good in the Bill for the sake of this issue.

I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friends who have great knowledge of the Merchant Navy, but I have some knowledge of it, too. I have tried to support the proposal of the N.U.S. and I have had conversations with my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Pontypool and I am convinced that he intends that the Merchant Navy shall have the support for which Mr. Hogarth has asked. What more can I ask? On the perfectly clear understanding that the Committee will amend the Bill so that it has the safeguards which my hon. Friends and ex-colleagues in the Merchant Navy want, the Bill will have my support. If not, it will have my opposition.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I should like first to congratulate the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) on the manner in which he has introduced the Bill. He made a speech which was not only full of humanity and compassion, of which there is no shortage on either side of the House, but which was full of that much rarer quality—common sense.

I recall the speech of the distinguished previous sponsor of the Bill, Mr. Humphry Berkeley, whose integrity and pungency were such an asset to the House. Few people are missed in this House, but the former Member for Lancaster is missed. As it is at least arguable that his defeat a t the General Election was caused in part by his courageous sponsorship of the Bill, I hope that tonight his pioneer work will be not only remembered, but vindicated in the Lobbies.

I want to reply to a number of points which have been raised during the debate. First of all I should like to refer to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon). One always listens to everything that he says with the greatest respect and I would disagree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) who said that this was a wrecking Amendment. If the hon. Member for Bootle wished to wreck this Bill, he would do it by a frontal assault, because he is not the sort of man to revert to subterfuges of any kind. I would ask him to withdraw the Amendment because his point has been accepted in substance by the sponsor of the Bill.

I hope that he will be reassured on this very genuine point which he has raised. In passing I would also be rash enough to venture into this private vendetta between himself and the Tribune, which apparently called him a reactionary. He would have had much greater cause for complaint if he had been called a progressive by that newspaper.

I now wish to turn to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), because there was some confusion as a result of his speech about the legal position before 1885. In 1885 gross indecency of any kind between men, either in private or in public was made a criminal offence. Before that the Statute law of England had a punishment for a limited form of homosexuality, namely, buggery or sodomy, which had been introduced by Statute of Henry VIII in 1533. That Statute was repealed by Queen Mary, reenacted again by Queen Elizabeth and carried the death penalty for this offence. It was not until 1861 that this was commuted to a term of imprisonment.

This historical point has some relevance and validity today, because one of the points of this Bill is that it is going back to a tradition before the Henrician Statute of 1533, when this sort of offence was dealt with not by the criminal law but by the ecclesiastical courts. They dealt with it not as a crime but as a sin and so there is an older tradition of English jurisdiction which is vindicated by this Bill. I want to turn briefly to an important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford. North (Mr. Iremonger) who spoke about the effect of public opinion and the thoughts of the public in general upon this Bill. He said that the country was against it.

Clearly, he is strongly against it, and if he will forgive me for saying so, I think that he has confused the strength of his own feelings with the strength of feeling outside the House. He said that he was against this Bill lock, stock and barrel; he added that he was against it root and branch. I suppose that in view of the nautical nature of the Amendment before the House he might have said that he was against it hook, line and sinker. But to say that the country shares those feelings is unintentionally misleading.

We do not know for certain the opinion of the country. Such evidence as there is is that there has been quite a profound change of opinion over the last few years about this Bill and the measures it proposes. The last piece of evidence was the poll carried out by National Opinion Poll in December, 1965, when it showed that 63 per cent. of the people consulted in the poll were opposed to homosexual acts between consenting adults being criminal offences. I do not say for a moment that the result of opinion polls decides an issue, least of all in this House, but the poll is a piece of evidence of some value, and we can say that there has been a change in public opinion on this issue.

The second source of evidence is our own post bags. My own experience is that the only correspondence that I have had on this Bill is from people asking me to support it. I now wish to deal with the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) who said that the Bill would create a condition in which those who sit in judgment on others might have committed the same offence themselves. That is a situation which happens in every branch of our public life. If one had to be impeccable before one was elected to this House then there would be no Members. The idea that sinfulness disqualifies one from sitting in judgment on others or from public office is an argument not put forward since the Hussite rebellion in Bohemia 500 years ago.

I wish to address myself to the moral issue which lies at the heart of this debate. There are those who fear that the Bill will weaken morality. I understand that fear, although I do not share it. It is the present law which is weakening respect for morality, for a number of reasons. First, it constitutes a quite unwarrantable invasion of privacy. It is a fundamental principle of our law that sexual behaviour which does not violate the rights of other people and does not outrage public order and decency should not be subject to the criminal law. That is, presumably, why we do not punish fornication or adultery, although we do not approve of them. There is no valid distinction in this context between different forms of sexual behaviour. It is true that we may feel an emotional repugnance to homosexuality which is not felt in relation to other sexual activities, but that is not a firm basis on which to found the law. If emotions are strongly aroused by any subject, we should be on our guard to control them as much as possible by reasoned and rational argument.

The second reason for reform is that the present law is fundamentally inequitable. First, it punishes those whom we know are not fully responsible for their actions and not at all responsible for their condition; and secondly, it operates capriciously and by chance. It can be made effectively and universally enforceable only at the price of a police state, of a degree of supervision of private life which this country, even in its most puritanical periods, has never been prepared to accept. Thirdly, the law does nothing for morality because it imposes an impossibly high standard. Of course, celibacy is a high ideal, but few are capable of achieving it, except perhaps the totally religiously dedicated.

It is quite unreasonable to expect those who, through no fault of their own, are attracted exclusively to members of their own sex to live a life of celibate abstention. It simply cannot be done. One must accept that fact. Furthermore, the present law drives the whole issue completely underground. By its blanket condemnation of all forms of homosexuality, and by making no distinction between one action and another, it creates a homosexual underworld in which it is extremely difficult to maintain any acceptable standards.

There are strong arguments in favour of the Bill on the ground that in fact it would promote public morality. By limiting itself to practical objectives, the law would provide homosexuals with standards of behaviour which there was some prospect of their keeping. By condemning and punishing effectively, as the Bill does, the corruption of minors, the exploitation of the weak, and those who abuse their positions of trust, far from weakening public morality, the Bill would strengthen it.

There are those who oppose this change in the law because they fear that it would give approval to homosexuality. We have heard that argument from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North. But, of course, it does nothing of the kind. One has to repeat yet again that what the Bill says is that criminal sanctions are inappropriate for this branch of human activity. It says no more and no less than that. If the Bill were passed, homosexuality would remain unlawful, although not criminal. The Bill would create no recognised status of homosexuality. It would remain contrary to public policy. Homosexual relations would give rise neither to rights nor to duties.

I want now to deal specifically with the position of Christian morality on this issue. We are a Christian country and, therefore, it is right to pay attention to the almost unanimous view of the leaders of the churches on the Bill. The Church of England, which has been referred to, the Advisory Committee of the Roman Catholic Church and the Representative Committee of the Free Churches have all come out in favour of the Bill. I am not saying that the churches should have a final view on this issue—certainly not. It is the consciences of individual Members which will decide this issue and, thank heaven, we are tonight being allowed a free vote. I do not regret that the Government have not made this a matter of policy. The evidence of the leaders of Christian opinion in this country should, however, be persuasive, particularly to those who have moral doubts about this matter.

There are three further points which I would like to bring to the attention of the House in favour of a change in the law. First, there is the danger that homosexuality is becoming a public obsession. The constant discussion of the subject in this House and outside it is, I believe, morbid and harmful. One of the most powerful arguments for the Bill is that it would finally remove the whole issue from the sphere of the public domain to that of private minority interests, where it belongs. The temperature of this debate has fortunately been low, but that is partly because this subject, I regret to say, has become a bore, and the arguments for and against this Measure are by now extremely threadbare.

My second point is that we are faced at this time with a crime wave of unparalleled gravity and it is essential that we should have a united public opinion in support of the criminal law. We cannot have that while offences such as this remain on the Statute Book. Today, the police should not be concerned with these peripheral moral issues but with the apprehension of the professional criminal.

There is one point connected with the Bill although not directly raised by it which I would like to put before the Home Secretary. I hope that he can assure the House that the detestable practice of policemen acting as agents provocateurs in public lavatories and other places has been discontinued in those areas where the Home Secretary has responsibility for the administration of the police.

My third argument for altering the law is that until we repeal this law, we cannot start tackling the problem at the level at which it should be tackled, which is on the psychological plane, the sociological plane and the spiritual plane. Until we get away from a legal solution which merely drives homosexuals into a ghetto and leaves them there, we cannot begin to approach this problem intelligently and constructively.

I have tried to show that there is no inconsistency between concern with public morality, which I certainly have, and support for the Bill, but there is a wider consideration, which has certainly influenced me, that the effect of the existing law is undoubtedly to increase human suffering. There is, I suppose, hardly a Member of this House who has not a friend or acquaintance, or even, perhaps, a member of his or her family, who has had useful lives destroyed by the capricious incidence of this unjust law. It is because the Bill, in a minor fashion admittedly, but in a real one, reduces the incidence of avoidable human suffering that I shall vote for it tonight.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

In the opinion of the Members of Parliament who have signed the Amendment, there has been a lamentable lack of imagination in excluding the Merchant Navy from the safeguard given to the Army and the Royal Air Force.

An old saying and a true one, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) has given voice earlier this evening, is that there are no back doors in the Navy. It is a well-known truism that seamen invariably are quiet men, but in the face of unnatural conduct and bad example they are tough indeed. Whether or not we care to admit it, the presence of known homosexuals gives cause for anxiety, particularly at sea. The Merchant Navy and the seamen' union in particular are viewing the passing of this legislation with the deepest possible anxiety. The seamen's union will not accept responsibility for the outcome of the Bill as it now stands; and who better to comprehend its pitfalls? As we know, strikes are detrimental to the wellbeing of the country. It would be salutary if future strikes were caused not because of bad social or industrial conditions but because of the moral turpitude of individual seagoers.

In my opinion, the seamen's union is being statesmanlike in its forebodings. Seamen cannot always be relied upon to furnish academic reasons for walking off a ship. Understandably, the seamen's union is anxious, and it would be dangerous in the extreme to ignore its forebodings in this regard. The effect on recruitment could be quite catastrophic. Whether we like it or not, good parents invariably will take an interest in their children's careers and have a voice in their future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) knows a great deal about this subject; that is unmistakable. He asks plaintively what can be done to avoid faulty males. With my limited knowledge, I am afraid that I cannot be relied upon to give an answer to that question, but certainly it is not by taking the least line of resistance. One would imagine that the Ten Commandments did not exist, and I was surprised at his splendid eloquence in this mistaken cause.

In this context, the plea for compassion can also be exageerated. It is because of the dangers of blackmail and violence which my hon. Friend enumerated that the seamen's union holds up its hands in horror at the prospect of the legislation as outlined. With the greatest possible concern, Members of Parliament must ask themselves how far the floodgates should be opened and for how long we can continue to condone wrong doing because of the frailty of human nature. The same compassion can be urged for the kleptomaniac or any other wrongdoer in any capacity. I reiterate, how far should the floodgates be opened?

The call is for compassion, but not by any means for the sponsors of the Amendment. We are reactionaries.

My hon. Friend laid great stress on human relations. Not with the widest stretch of imagination can it be said that Parliament has debated the issue today with any degree of morbidity, nor has there been a desire to whittle down the size of the problem. I believe that the House will be inclined to differ from my hon. Friend profoundly when he depicts the situation as being one of celibacy or criminality, with nothing in between. There is a great deal in between. There is chastity, prudence and manliness in the real sense of the word. His comparison between different chief constables was to my way of thinking rather odious and uncharitable. God knows that their responsibilities are heavy indeed.

The Amendment has been tabled because this is a bad Bill, bad because of what it contains, worse because of what it omits. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) expressed the pious hope that it would not be felt that Members of this House favoured homosexuality. However charitably inclined some Members are to accept this point of view, I am afraid that there will be a great deal of dubiety about it among people outside.

The Bill as it stands will be prejudicial to the high standards in the Merchant Navy. If this were not so the seamen's union would not be so up in arms against it.

One hon. Gentleman opposite was not impressed with the intellectual content of the case for the Amendment. One can only say that what is intellectually splendid is very seldom morally right, and because of its morality the supporters of the Amendment are determined to divide the House.

9.52 p.m.

Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)

May I express my apologies to the House, and particularly to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), for not having been here when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I wish that I had been, and I hope that the House and the hon. Member will accept my apologies.

When moving a similar Bill in the last Parliament, Mr. Humphry Berkeley said how much he would like to be able to say that he was the father of six children. I can say that, and, as the father of six children, I can also say that I am a sponsor of the Bill.

I spoke during the first debate on the Wolfenden proposals. That was eight or more years ago. I spoke then just having had some experience in the courts of appearing for a distinguished person who had been charged with these offences. I thought at the time what a terrible waste of a human being it was to have the processes of the law inflicted on him, and yet at the time of the Wolfenden proposals and the Wolfenden debate I thought that this offence was a matter of an abuse of a natural function, and that therefore the criminal law could and should pronounce that this was wrong.

That was my view then, but even then I felt that it was wholly wrong that people should be sent to prison for this reason. When I was a Law Officer, and when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir. G. Hobson) was the senior law officer, some changes were made in the practice. I am glad that they came about, because what offended me and many people of ordinary compassion was bringing forward, as l am sure the hon. Member for Pontypool and others have said, of stale offences. That seemed to be a wholly outrageous and barbarous form of proceedings, apart from the blackmail which could and did arise, and sometimes the wrong persons were proceeded against when there had been a threat of blackmail.

But over the years, I have come to believe that the law does not work. Unlike the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon), I like reactionaries. I think that they are much more enchanting, and sometimes much more intelligent, than so-called progressives, but in this matter it is my view that the law does not work. I do not resile from or abandon my distaste for this conduct. I do not abandon that belief. One of the things that I dislike is the possible proselytising which may follow a change in the law. Nevertheless, over the years I have decided that the law should be changed.

I have seen so much of the effects of this in the courts. The hon. Member for Preston, South mentioned manliness. I must point out to him that it is often the outwardly manly person who suffers most from this disease. The law creates inequities. There are tragedies. I do not believe that the criminal law should go on pursuing these people. That is why I have sponsored the Bill. Very rarely does the hon. Member for Pontypool see eye to eye with me. Often we have faced each other across the Table in debate. I do not believe that the Bill will change the world, or that it will change the people with whom we are concerned, but it is right, and it is about time that we changed the law.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)

The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) pointed out that no intellectual case was being put. It is late in the debate to put forward sufficient material which may convince hon. Members that there is such a case that they may wish to consider.

From this debate and the previous one it is clear that there is a lack of information on the subject. Theories have been put forward as to whether homosexuality is a disease, a weakness or a vice. There is no consistent view. Similarly, we are not even sure of the exact figures for this country. We do not know how many men are afflicted in this way. In the debate in another place Lord Arran put the figure between 500,000 and one million, and other figures have been given tonight. There is great uncertainty on the subject, running throughout our whole discussion, and that uncertainty makes it difficult to attempt any real understanding of a possible cure, or of a prevention of the problem.

We are not even sure whether homosexuals are born or made. Lord Arran argued that they are born, but a distinguished doctor, Dr. West, said that this condition was the result of environment. It is vital to remove the criminal stigma if we are to obtain co-operation in research. It is legitimate to expect something worth while in terms of a possible cure or a prevention of the problem if we can channel the information—information which we do not have at the moment—but until we remove the criminal stigma it will not be possible to engage in worthwhile research.

The second reason why I support the Bill is the pace of social change which has taken place in the last 25 years and which has caused a widening gap between the generations. The views put forward by the hon. Member for Ilford, North are those of a generation which has not taken account of this enormous social change. Those who argue that change is undesirable and will bring even greater problems are not attempting to face the underlying problems of the moment.

The other feature of the subject which was well brought out in a first-class speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was that there is an important rôle to be played by the family. Here again we are up against an enormous difficulty—

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Speaker

I am not prepared to accept that Motion at the moment.

Mr. Moonman

The important point that came out of my hon. Friend's speech

was that the family has an important rôle to play. My hon. Friend stressed the value of the father who was approachable—the father who understood the difficulties and who was able to engage in a really creative understanding with his children. Another hon. Member felt that there was not enough sensible sex education in schools and that this was a way of dealing with the problem. The difficulties of social change are reflected in the example of a London social worker, who was asked to inquire about—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

  1. BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 1,090 words, 1 division