HC Deb 19 December 1966 vol 738 cc1129-48

Question again proposed.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Moonman

I suppose that elsewhere that Division would be regarded as a natural break in my speech. I should like to keep my remarks extremely brief, because I recognise, Mr. Speaker, that the voting suggests that you may wish to consider the Closure of this debate.

I was stating the difficulty of explaining in a creative sense in education these social problems—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House has just voted that the debate should continue.

Mr. Moonman

The example I want to give concerns a London social worker who was asked to inquire about the bruises on a 13 year old boy's back who was told by the mother, "I asked his father to take the belt buckle to him. I cannot have him being dirty." The boy had merely repeated a word from an eminent text book that he had read in a biology lesson at school. We have this enormous gap in the generations arising from the pace of social change. Those who would question the correctness of our educational system ought to consider this point.

I support the Bill because it seems to me that law reform on homosexuality is needed, which is not the same thing as saying that we approve of homosexual practices. Those who have opposed the Bill have often given this as their reason. It has been suggested that its adoption would mean an undisciplined sex life. In fact, the movers of the Bill, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, have only suggested that there can be discipline by reason instead of by fear. Suggestions that "intellectual longhairs" are supporters of the Bill are not borne out by the number of people with whom I have worked in a university settlement some years ago and who have looked after men who were afflicted in this way. Indeed, many of these people were extremely devoted to their work and they covered a great cross-section of the social services.

There has been a fair amount of special pleading on behalf of the Merchant Navy, and I think it is appropriate that I should participate in this debate as a Merseysider. The argument that has been put on these grounds could well be the basic argument against the Bill as a whole. I feel that those who have put this case—I respect their experience of the sea and of shipping—have not sufficiently distinguished between their Amendment and the Bill as a whole. Arguments that this sort of legislation will affect the parents of boys going to sea, that it will affect recruitment, that it will cause greater problems on the catering side and will affect youth as a whole are arguments which would destroy the whole of the Bill. While I am all in favour of special pleading for Merseyside, I am not in favour of special pleading on behalf of the Merchant Navy. I am a life member of the Old Kings Comrades Association. I have noticed that there has not been special pleading for the other Services.

If the treatment and ultimate prevention of homosexuality is to be found in better social adjustment, we should not delay the passage of this Bill. Mr. Speaker, I ask you, in your deliberations, to consider the vote that was taken a few moments ago.

10.14 p.m.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

If I understand the position correctly, we have recently voted to continue our debate upon the Bill for a further two hours. If I further understand the situation correctly, we are now discussing whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading, and it is upon that point that I want to address the House.

We have recently had a number of Bills which have been urged upon the House as being worthy of Second Reading and which have come forward as Private Members' Bills. But somehow or other the present Government seem to find particular satisfaction in providing extraordinary facilities for Bills which are supposed to be Private Members' Bills. I remember a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) which was alleged to be a Private Member's Bill—

Mr. Sydney Silverman

It was a Private Member's Bill.

Sir S. McAdden

—as a result of which Parliamentary procedure was so altered that for the first time in my 17 years' experience in the House we met on Wednesday mornings to consider the Report stage. If that is to be the proper treatment of a Private Member's Bill it arouses grave worries and doubts in my mind, as also in the case of this Bill.

This Bill, which is alleged to be a Private Member's Bill, nevertheless has the support of Her Majesty's Government to such an extent that they are able to provide extraordinary privileges for it which they do not normally extend to a Private Member's Bill. Why on earth do the Government not have the guts to say that they favour the abolition of capital punishment, as in the case of the Bill of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and, in the case of this Bill presented by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), that they favour the principles he has expounded?

Why on earth do they want the camouflage of pretending that it is a Private Member's Bill when they know perfectly well that it has the Government's wholehearted support? The Division records will show that the members of the party opposite, with one or two exceptions—brave souls they may be expelled from the Labour Party next week—but with the exception of one or two—[An Hort. MEMBER: "Shame."]—the hon. Gentleman says that it may be a shame that they should be expelled from the Labour Party.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)


Sir S. McAdden

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) said that it is disgraceful. If he thinks that it is disgraceful that they should be expelled from the Labour Party that is a matter for him. I am saying that the Division records will show that be it a free vote or not the overwhelming majority of the party opposite and the overwhelming majority of the Liberal Party—the one Member of the Liberal Party—behind me will vote for this Measure.

Dr. David Kerr

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he concede that whatever the Government's corporate view—I am in no position to speak for them—they have a responsibility to pay some heed to two votes in the other place and one vote here, every one of which has recorded the overwhelming support of Parliament for this Measure?

Sir S. McAdden

I do not dissent from what is said by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr), whom I regard an hon. Friend of mine. I do not dissent in any way from his views. But if it is right that the Government should take cognisance of the views expressed by votes in the other place and in this House, and should also take account of public opinion expressed in the only way available to us, through the public opinion polls then if the Government took cognisance of the public opinion polls they would never have given the facilities to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and the hon. Member for Pontypool.

Mr. Sydney Silverman


Sir S. McAdden

I have no intention of giving way to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, whose contemptuous arrogance towards other Members of the House is well known.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the custom of the House, when an hon. Member is referred to several times, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) has been, for the hon. Member making the references to give way?

Mr. Speaker

Whether an hon. Member gives way is in the discretion of the hon. Member himself.

Sir S. McAdden

I am always willing to give way, as hon. Members opposite will agree, and most hon. Members are ready to give way to others, but I have no intention of giving way to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who displays such contemptuous arrogance towards other Members of the House.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

The hon. Member is telling lies.

Sir S. McAdden

I have no intention of giving way to the hon. Member, who keeps on interrupting and who now says that I am telling lies. I should think that that is completely unparliamentary language, but, if the hon. Member wants to indulge in it, that is for him.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have had a very good debate so far. I hope that the hon. Member will get back to the Second Reading of the Bill.

Sir S. McAdden

I am most anxious to get back to the Second Reading and not to provoke any undue conflagration. I have told you before, Mr. Speaker, and I ask you to accept, that I hope that I shall never throughout my Parliamentary life incur your displeasure, and I seek not to do so tonight. I am most anxious that the House should be clear on what is happening in the name of Parliamentary democracy. We have before us what is alleged to be a Private Member's Bill, but it is a Bill to which quite extraordinary privileges have been accorded. It is being given a Second Reading debate, which should normally finish at 10 o'clock but we have suspended our rule so that the debate shall run until midnight. This is a procedure which is not normal—

Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are we discussing whether the Bill is or is not supported by the Government, or are we discussing whether the Sexual Offences (No. 2) Bill should be given a Second Reading? I have heard no reference to the Bill so far in what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must leave the Chair to decide what is in order.

Sir S. McAdden

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I trust that, if I ever do stray out of order, I shall readily accept your reprimand, although I shall regret it for the rest of my days.

In considering this Measure, we ought also to consider the circumstances in which it is being put before the House. Ostensibly, it is a Private Member's Bill, as other Bills have been ostensibly Private Members' Bills. I would much rather the Government had taken their courage in their hands and said, "We wholeheartedly support this Bill and we shall, therefore, provide extraordinary facilities so that it may have a Second Reading". If they had done that with the Bill to abolish capital punishment and if they had done it in this case, I should have said that at least they were men of vision, they were ambitious men prepared to take their courage in their hands. But I have no respect whatever for people who skulk on the Government Front Bench, unable to come forward openly and say that this is a Measure which they support, but hoping that private Members will be able to sneak Measures through the House, as they are seeking to do now.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman cast his mind back a few years? Did not a former Conservative Administration find time for the Private Member's Bill on homicide introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman)? Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Conservative Administration then was wrong?

Sir S. McAdden

I do not mind the hon. Gentleman drawing my attention to the weaknesses of a previous Conservative Administration which provided facilities which he thinks ought not to have been given. That is no justification for what the present Government are doing. Unfortunately, we are saddled with this Government for some years. As we are saddled with them, it is right that, from time to time, hon. Members on this side should draw attention to the fact that they espouse Bills which they have not the courage to support as a Government but for which they are ready, willing and able to provide special facilities.

Had the Home Secretary, for whom I have very great regard, believing that he is a very respectable chap, come forward openly and said, "This is a Bill which the Government think ought to have a Second Reading", I should still have voted against the Bill, but I should have appreciated that he had been honest enough openly to espouse the Bill. To allow it to sneak through under the guise of a Private Member's Bill ought to be resented by the House.

I am not concerned with the merits or demerits of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I might as well state my position frankly. What I am concerned with is the transformation of Parliamentary procedure to pass into law proposals which are enunciated by the hon. Member for Pontypool and afforded full Parliamentary privilege not provided even for Government Bills, and the pretence that this is a Private Member's Bill.

For these reasons, I hope that the House will reject the Bill and send it back so that it may be introduced as a Government Bill. If a Government Bill is introduced, then we shall at least know that this is a Measure openly proposed by the Government and backed by the Government, a Bill on which they will go to the electors and say, "We as a political party are in favour of this Measure". If the Government are prepared to say that, then let them introduce the Measure. We shall vote against it just the same.

10.27 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Roy Jenkins)

I think that immediately following that somewhat extraordinary effusion it might be a particularly appropriate moment and for the convenience of the House if I were to try to explain briefly the Government's attitude to the Bill.

I thought that the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) took a very surprising line in his speech. As I understood it, it was that if hon. Members were left free to vote unwhipped according to their conscience, this was sneaking a Bill through the House. I have certainly always taken the view that in many circumstances our traditional system of party whipping is necessary and desirable, but where the House of Commons can give its untrammelled attention to Bills of this sort, to describe such a procedure as sneaking Bills through the House seems to be a misuse of language almost beyond the bounds of imagination.

Sir S. McAdden

I was suggesting that to provide extraordinary facilities for the Bill was objectionable.

Mr. Jenkins

I will deal with that in two ways. First, although the hon. Member says that he is not interested in parallels, perhaps I may remind the House that the facilities being given to the Bill by the Government are almost exactly the same as those which were given to the Obscene Publications Bill, which I promoted in 1959, by the Government of the day and by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Lord Butler of Saffron Walden.

Secondly, perhaps I may explain certain special circumstances regarding this Bill. When I spoke on the debate on Mr. Humphry Berkeley's Bill in February of the last Parliament, I said that the Government regarded that Measure, the same as this, as pre-eminently a subject for decision on a free vote of the House according to the individual consciences and views of hon. Members in all parts of the House. This is still the Government's view. There will be a free vote tonight, and that free vote will apply as much to members of the Government as to other hon. Members. However, should the House decide to give the Bill, as it did on a previous occasion, a Second Reading, we shall be ready to give such drafting assistance as we can during its remaining stages—for example, in particular, on questions affecting the shipping industry, to which reference has been made tonight.

I am sure, from my acquaintance with my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), going back over a number of years, that he would not have put forward this proposal in the form he has done unless he really wished to be met on the point he had in mind. He would not have put it forward merely to wreck the Bill while pretending to do something else. I also believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has indicated that he is seized of this problem. I believe that it is certainly not beyond the wit of the sponsors of the Bill, with drafting assistance, to deal with this problem in Committee. This is what we should endeavour to do.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides, inside the Government and outside, are entitled to vote against the Bill if they do not like it, but it would be wrong to pretend that the Bill should be voted against because of this problem—which I agree is a problem, but which I also believe can be dealt with in Committee.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Is my right hon. Friend giving a categorical undertaking that the whole view of and opinion of the N.U.S. will be met in Committee?

Mr. Jenkins

No. It would be wrong for me to say that, in a Committee of this House or on the Floor of the House, without regard to any other considerations, the view of one body of men, however important and distinguished, should automatically prevail. What I am saying is that the point which has been made is valid. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool accepts it as valid and that, with good will, we can work out a solution to it in Committee.

There are some differences between this debate and that which we had on a previous occasion. The first is that Mr. Humphry Berkeley, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill in the last Parliament with such distinction and courage, is no longer here to do so on this occasion. I pay my tribute to the way he did it on that previous occasion. I should also like to say that I do not believe that the Bill could have been better moved than it was today by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool.

The other difference is that, as the hon. Member for Southend, East pointed out several times, the debate is taking place in time provided by the Government. The fact that we have provided this time does not mean that the attitude collectively of the Government towards the Bill is other than one of neutrality. But we felt that, in a situation where this House had twice expressed, by decisive majorities, its approval of the principles embodied in the Bill, and where a similar Bill had twice been passed through all its stages by substantial majorities in another place, it was only right to give the House the opportunity to accept or reject the change in the law proposed.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Does the right hon. Gentleman say that had this Bill not been brought forward as a Private Member's Bill, the Government certainly would not have introduced such a Bill themselves?

Mr. Jenkins

I am not answering a hypothetical question which does not arise. This Bill, as I have said, is eminently suitable for the Private Member's Bill procedure, which is a valuable part of the procedure of this House, and for free, cross-party voting. I believe it desirable, in the circumstances which have gone before, that the Government should make it possible for the House not merely to give an expression of opinion but, if it wishes, to carry the Bill through.

I believe that there is one special reason for this to which I shall now turn. Had we not taken this course, we should have found ourselves faced with the anomaly that the sanction of the criminal law continued to apply to acts which Parliament no longer considered to be criminal, and that solely because of the hazards of the Private Member's Bill procedure the law could not be changed. It would clearly have been an unsatisfactory position, in which the police authorities and the courts would have been required to go on applying a law which had twice been pronounced, by decisive majorities in both Houses, itself to be unsatisfactory.

Sir S. McAdden


Mr. Jenkins

I have given way enough. I would prefer to get on.

Such a situation would be clearly unsatisfactory and that in itself is a thoroughly adequate reason—and I make no apology, that apart—for the Government providing time. I doubt whether the great majority of right hon. and hon. Members are against the Government providing time for private Member's legislation and free decisions by the House. On that ground alone, it is highly desirable that we should have given an opportunity for the House's opinion to be expressed.

Having explained the Government's attitude, I would now like to explain my own, as I have done on a previous occasion. I say that I shall without hesitation support the Bill this evening and shall vote for it in the Division Lobby. I do not think that anyone would deny, not even the hon. Member for Southend, East and others who take his view, that over the nine years since the Wolfenden Committee reported there has been a steadily growing Parliamentary support for the view that homosexual acts between consenting adults in public should no longer be subject to the processes—[HON. MEMBERS: "In private."]—in private; let there be no doubt about this—that homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should no longer be subject to the penalties and processes of the criminal law.

We have had a fair number of debates since 1957. In the first, in November, 1958, there was no Division, but the then Home Secretary, Mr. Butler, spoke sympathetically in favour of a change, but said that time and the education of public opinion were necessary. Time has certainly gone by and I believe that to a large extent that education has taken place. In 1960, in a debate initiated by my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health and wound up by myself, the majority against us was the fairly decisive one of 114. As late as 1965 my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool failed by a very narrow majority to get leave to introduce a Bill under the Ten-Minute Rule.

As the House will recall, by February of this year the proposal to change the law had gained such increasing support that Mr. Berkeley's Bill was given a Second Reading by a majority of 57 and a few months ago my hon. Friend's Bill was given a First Reading by the much more decisive majority of 144.

We have, therefore, seen over the last decade a massive and decisive shift in Parliamentary feeling on this subject. I believe that this is evidence of a growing recognition that, whatever our views about particular forms of conduct, there has to be a very clear social purpose served before it is right to subject private conduct to the rigours of the criminal law.

There are a number of grounds for this view. First, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) pointed out in his very cogent speech, the present law is manifestly unsuccessful and capricious in its incidence. It certainly does not deal with homosexual behaviour, let alone stamp it out. Some of the opponents of the Bill argue—though I do not know on what statistical basis—that homosexuality is on the increase and that any relaxation of the law is dangerous because it would accelerate the increase. This is a fairly illogical argument. It amounts to saying that because the law has failed, it should be continued in force.

The truth of the matter is that in all societies throughout history there has been a certain amount of homosexual behavour and probably, I suspect, a fairly constant amount regardless of whether that behaviour has been condemned, as it sometimes has been, or condoned, as it sometimes has been, or even positively encouraged, as it sometimes has been. I doubt very much whether what the law has had to say about it has had any substantial effect upon its incidence.

There is certainly no evidence whatever that homosexuality has increased in those countries which have relaxed the law very much on the basis proposed by my hon. Friend, such as Sweden in 1944, or Austria in 1960.

Such evidence as there is goes the other way, and suggests that the existence of largely unenforceable legal provisions tend to bring the law into discredit and to invest the behaviour it seeks to prohibit with a spurious and most undesirable glamour and attraction. The present law certainly does not discourage homosexuality. I believe that homosexuality cannot be described as a disease in the sense that it can be cured; it is a disability and a very real disability for those who suffer it, which greatly minimises their chances of finding ordinary stable emotional relationships.

The question that we have to answer is whether on top of that disability, we should subject these people to the rigours of the criminal law. We would have to be very certain in our own minds that we were sustaining some clear social purpose by doing that. Unless we are doing that we do not discourage homosexuality, we do not reduce it to any extent. We merely, by the capricious way in which the law operates, ruin the lives of a relatively small number of homosexuals by subjecting them in a quite irrational and arbitrary way to the terrifying penalties of the law, terrifying not because of the criminal penalties, but because of the ruinous consequences, of which blackmail is one, but only one, which accompany this.

Sir S. McAdden

If the right hon. Gentleman feels so strongly, why on earth does he not introduce a Bill to deal with it?

Mr. Jenkins

I thought that I had dealt with the hon. Member's point. I may not have done so to the satisfaction of the hon. Member, but I doubt whether I shall succeed in dealing with any point raised in this House to the satisfaction of the hon. Member. I thought that I had deployed to the House a case and that most Members were prepared to accept, whatever their views—and there are deeply held views on this subject—that this was pre-eminently a subject for decision by individual conscience.

Captain W. Elliot

The right hon. Gentleman has made the point that the law does not discourage homosexuality. I think that he will agree that in the Wolfenden Report it quite clearly says that if naval discipline and the Army Act and so forth were changed, it would lead to an increase in the Services. Service men are exactly the same as civilians, except that they wear uniform. Why does the right hon. Gentleman make this distinction between civilians and Service men?

Mr. Jenkins

Because it is probably desirable in this law which we are considering to deal with the generality of the problem, as it applies to civilians. If there are special problems in relation to Servicemen, then let the Services stand aside and be dealt with under naval and military discipline Acts. Furthermore, the position is very much the same as for that raised by my hon. Friend. If hon. Members wish their arguments to be taken seriously, and I am sure that they do, they must not try to have it both ways. They must not first of all raise the claim that there is a special problem, and as soon as anyone makes an attempt to meet that special problem, turn round and say, "Ah, but the fact that it is admitted that there is a special problem proves that your case must be wrong."

Captain W. Elliot

I certainly do not argue that there is a special problem. I maintain that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that there is a special problem. He is differentiating between the Services and the civilian.

Mr. Jenkins

If this is so I do not know why the hon. Gentleman devoted a very large part of his speech, of some considerable length, to talking almost entirely about the Services, which is a tiny proportion of the total, and not to the general problems.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) is wrong in saying that the Wolfenden Report said there would be an increase in the Services if this reform is brought in. Section 144 of the Report merely said that there might be problems of discipline and made no suggestion that there would be any increase in the Services.

Mr. Jenkins

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was so busy dealing with what appeared to be the fallaciousness of the argument that I overlooked the fallaciousness of the fact. I do not wish to detain the House for more than a moment or so longer.

The essential feature of the law, in so far as we need a law on this subject, should be to penalise public indecency and the corruption of minors. I believe that that is fully safeguarded by the Bill as it is put forward. On both these points, my hon. Friend's Bill is specific and unequivocal. Penalties for the corruption of minors are increased. So long as the House is satisfied on these points, and I can see no reason why it should not be, it is right to leave the difficult, often distasteful problem of homosexuality to private morals and to the judg- ment of individual conscience and not to the full rigours of the criminal law.

This is a difficult issue and one which has perplexed the House for many years. It is right that the House should take a decision tonight on a free vote, and I do not think that it will have a better opportunity or a clearer Bill on which to do it.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Richard Wood (Bridlington)

At one moment during his speech, I was afraid that the Home Secretary was taking a look at the far distant future and foreshadowing legislation of which not many of us would approve until I realised that he had merely made a slip of the tongue.

The right hon. Gentleman and a number of other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have joined in the general praise for the moderation and restraint of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) in introducing the Bill, and I should like to add my support to that proposition. I was also grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his mention of the way in which my former hon. Friend, Mr. Humphry Berkeley, also introduced an identical Bill a very short time ago.

I, I am sorry to admit, also spoke on that occasion and I wondered, because it was a very short time ago, whether I should inflict another speech on this subject on the House. I was strengthened by two thoughts. The first was that there are, I think, 92 hon. Members who were not hon. Members 10 months ago, and that is one-seventh of our total number. The other thought was that I hoped that the approach of the Christmas season would lead the other six-sevenths to be more than usually tolerant if, as is almost inevitable, I am guilty of tedious repetition.

The terms of the hon. Member's Bill are the same as those of Mr. Humphry Berkeley's Bill. Although it deals with other matters and although a number of substantial points have arisen in the course of our debate tonight, the most important question that we have to decide is whether a homosexual act committed in private between two consenting men over the age of 21 should or should not continue to be an offence.

The reasoned Amendment for rejection, which has been supported by a number of hon. Members, certainly deserves the close attention which the hon. Member for Pontypool promised to give it. I naturally cannot possibly improve on the undertaking that he gave, but I am confident, like him, that the omission referred to in the Motion can be repaired and I am wholeheartedly in support of his objective that merchant seamen should be brought into exactly the same position as—no worse and no better than—naval ratings.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), in what, I am sure, he will forgive me for calling a courageous and honest speech, happened to level some criticism, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), that the Government have found time for discussion of the Bill. Contrary to my usual sentiments, I have some sympathy with the Government. When the Bill was last debated, it was considered, in the words of one hon. Member, to be too grave a social problem to be discussed on a Friday afternoon when most hon. Members were absent. In the debate in February, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne), in a characteristically forthright speech, deplored the absence because of their sensible retirement to Scotland for the week-end of the good Scottish Socialist Calvinistic M.P.s".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 833.] He suggested on that occasion that if the debate were held on a weekday, and I imagine that in Parliamentary terms a Monday is more a weekday than is a Friday, the presence of those M.P.'s would make a difference. I have been looking around me during the debate and I see a number of Scottish Socialist Members present. I do not know them well enough to know their theological opinions or whether they are followers of Calvin or not. We will soon discover whether their presence makes a difference.

Much attention has been paid tonight to what I believe is the most profound and important distinction between the homosexual condition and its manifestation through overt homosexual practices, and the incidence of a condition which we all agree is no more a crime than the incidence of any other propensity which we may have. The condition is not only not an offence against the law; it is normally neutral, properly attracting neither condemnation nor condonation.

Whatever our natural propensities, sexual or otherwise, we are left with the choice, either to give them free rein or to bring them or keep them under partial or complete control. The degree of freedom which we allow them is a matter not only of moral significance. It is also, in some cases but by no means all—and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) made this point clearly—a matter of concern to the law.

In sex, so long as a man is fortunate enough to be attracted to women and not to men, he can go far beyond the code of morality preached by any church and the law will be almost completely silent. There is no penalty for adultery except, of course, divorce, which for many adulterers is more a reward than a punishment. Nor is there any legal penalty for fornication provided that neither participant is less than 16. Even more significant in this context, homosexual behaviour between women is not illegal. The law, although morality less so, allows wide freedom to the heterosexual and it allows this for two good reasons. The first, which has been mentioned frequently during the debate, is the impossibility of enforcing a law against sexual misbehaviour. The second, mentioned less frequently, but which is more important, is that the more misbehaviour we bring or keep within the ambit of the criminal law the more we diminish the total moral responsibility borne by each individual.

This brings me at long last to the Wolfenden Report. In the debate in February I quoted paragraph 52 and I will do so again tonight. It says: We do not think that it is proper for the law to concern itself with what a man does in private unless it can be shown to he so contrary to the public good that the law ought to intervene in its function as the guardian of that public good. The question which we have to ask ourselves is whether there is a case that the law should deal with private homosexual acts between men so differently from those between women, and men and women who are not married to one another. There are two grounds on which such a case can possibly be offered. The first has been mentioned by several hon. Members and that is that homosexual practices menace the health of society and disrupt family life.

I happen to believe that this simple proposition is generally true. I believe that all great moral lapses in a society—and this is certainly one—make that society less healthy than it would otherwise be, and many of us know from experience, and have quoted it tonight, of families which have been disrupted by homosexual behaviour, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central, I have for long been convinced that other sexual misbehaviour is a far more serious menace to the health of family life and to society.

Nothing, for instance, is so menacing as the deliberate intention of a man or a woman to destroy the unity of another family which would otherwise have happily continued. Because of its disruptive consequences, there may be a strong case for introducing legal penalties for adultery, but I doubt whether many of us would think that a wise or practical course to take.

If, therefore, we shrink from prohibiting sexual misbehaviour which is comparatively more disruptive of family life, this seems to be a very slender reason for maintaining the legal penalties for private homosexual behaviour whose power to destroy a family circle, although it exists, is comparatively small.

I am potentially more impressed by the other main argument which has been powerfully advanced by one or two hon. Members this evening, in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, because I know that this argument is based on the sincere conviction of a number of people whose views I greatly respect. The argument runs like this, that if Parliament were to remove the penalties which are at present attached to homosexual offences committed by men in private, this would be taken to imply the tacit approval of society for this practice. That is the argument, and, furthermore those who put it forward genuinely fear that society's implied approval will lead to an opening of the flood gates and to a wild orgy of vice.

This clearly must be a matter of opinion. I believe that the argument is based on a false premise. I do not think that action by Parliament to treat these offences in the same way as other private sexual misbehaviour will be interpreted as approval for them. I believe that very few people hold what in the last debate my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) described as the over-simplified view that those actions which the law … does not condemn and punish are right, or at any rate not very seriously wrong."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 800.] I do not believe that many people take that view. Therefore, whether or not homosexual offences remain grounds for criminal action will not greatly affect public judgment on them.

I do not know whether anyone knows, but I believe that the majority of public opinion would like to see a change in the law. I am equally certain that the majority of public opinion, whether or not the law is changed, will continue to disapprove of the acts themselves, and while this is so, while this disapproval continues, I believe that we are unlikely to see the orgy of vice which some fear as a result of the Bill.

The debate tonight is not concerned with approval or disapproval of homosexual practices. If any hon. Member were to introduce a Bill on these lines I believe that for as far ahead as we can see he would be overwhelmingly defeated. But this is not the issue. The issue, as I put it in February, and perhaps the House will let me put it again, is whether or not homosexual behaviour in private between consenting men should be within the same area of private moral choice and judgment which a man or a woman exercises when he or she commits or refrains from committing adultery or fornication. I believe strongly that it should, and therefore I hope that the House will agree to give a Second Reading to the Bill.

Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question, put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).