HL Deb 12 May 1965 vol 266 cc71-172

2.52 p.m.

THE EARL OF ARRAN rose to call attention to the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee on homosexual offences; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am going to make a simple speech. I am going to speak as an ordinary man, who is privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House, and as a Christian. There are many things that could be said, but I shall concentrate on what seem to me the important things. I have read much on this subject—so much, indeed, that at times the issues became blurred, and I no longer knew what it was all about. But, in the end, having read all, or most, of the books, and absorbed to the best of my ability all the clever arguments and counter-arguments, I found myself back where I started, and with these conclusions: that, in accepting the law on homosexual practices as it now stands, we are persecuting a minority and we are being unjust. And these things, I think, are unbecoming to our country.

My Lords, this afternoon I am calling attention to the second part of the Wolfenden Report. This makes eighteen recommendations. I shall mention only three of them, which are those of the greatest substance. Though the others, too, seem sensible enough to me, they are ancillary to the main issues. These recommendations are, No. (i): That homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private be no longer a criminal offence"; No. (ix): That except for some grave reason, proceedings be not instituted in respect of homosexual offences incidentally revealed in the course of investigating allegations of blackmail"; and No. (xiii): That except for indecent assaults, the prosecution of any homosexual offence more than twelve months old be barred by statute".

Without preamble, let me come straight away to the first recommendation. It is, to me, all-important. If we can agree that men over 21 may do what they like together in private so long as no one else is the worse off because of it, then we have accepted the spirit of Wolfenden; and the rest, I believe, will follow. Can we accept that recommendation? Is it right or is it wrong that grown-up men with abnormal sexual desires who indulge their tastes together should be regarded as criminals and sent to prison? Let me put these questions, and attempt the answers. What is homosexuality? What causes it? Answer: No one knows. Many have theories, but no one knows. Some people call it a disease; some people call it a diversion from the biological norm, others a weakness; others, quite simply, a vice. What is the cure? Again, my Lords, no one knows. Some even doubt whether a cure exists, at least in the extreme cases. That does not mean, of course, that we should not anxiously pursue our quest for an answer. Out of 1,065 men in prison in 1955 for homosexual offences, only 158 were regarded as suitable for therapeutic treatment, and only 65 were actually treated.

How many homosexuals are there in Britain? Again, no-one knows, but the best guess is somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million men—at the least, one-twenty-fifth of the whole male population. A minority, if you like, but a great, a frighteningly great, number of souls—and I mean souls. How do they live? In shame if they restrain themselves; in fear if they practise their homosexuality. They are the odd men out: the ones with the limp. Can they help it? Are they deliberately homosexual? Will any man or woman in your Lordships' House tell us seriously that a man, out of perverseness—and I mean perverseness, and not perversion—purposely renounces the joys of love with the opposite sex, the joys of having a wife, the joys of having children? Is there a man in the world who would be, not so wicked, but so silly? As a Member of another place said in debate, "Look what they're missing". And is it even remotely possible that there could be half a million of such obstinate men in Britain alone?

My Lords, I want to say quite unequivocably that I believe that homosexuals are born and not made; or, if they are made, that they are made in very early childhood. And the evidence strongly supports this view. The Wolfenden Committee—that most responsible of bodies—which listened to so many experts, says it in paragraph 98. I quote—and I think this is my only quotation: It is a view widely held, and one which found favour among our police and legal witnesses, that seduction in youth is the decisive factor in the production of homosexuality as a condition, and we are aware that this view has done much to alarm parents and teachers. We have found no convincing evidence in support of this contention. Our medical witnesses unanimously hold that seduction has little effect in inducing a settled pattern of homosexual behaviour, and we have been given no grounds from other sources which contradict their judgment".


My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, does he not think it is rather unusual and rather strange that, on this particular question, the Wolfenden Committee did not take evidence from the police, who at least have some knowledge of the question and the problem?


But, my Lords, they did.


No; only on statistics


I quote again: It is a view widely held, and one which found favour among our police and legal witnesses …


I said, on statistics.


Would witnesses not be more impressive still than statistics? But perhaps I may continue—and this point is of high importance. Where we must all have anxieties is about the corruption of youth. It is the nub of the business. If it were demonstrably proved that a man of over 21 is likely to be diverted from his normal sexual instincts and turned homosexual permanently, then I do not think that many of your Lordships would support a change in the law. Fortunately, I repeat, I do not think that we are faced with this difficulty. For myself, I believe firmly that nothing or nobody is going to change a man's basic desires, his erotic make-up. If a man is basically homosexual he will continue to be homosexual; if he is heterosexual, the same applies.

It may well be that because of the lack of women at a given stage in his life a man or boy may be temporarily sidetracked to affection or desire for his own sex. You find it in ships and in public schools (in my own public school 20 or 30 boys were regularly and actively engaged in minor homosexual practices, though it did not last), but it does not last. At the first contact with a woman the fellow is off and he does not return; he knows what he likes, and he goes after it. If any doubt still lingers in your Lordships' minds regarding the corruption of youth, may I here make a practical point, with great emphasis? Assuming the threat of prison to be a deterrent to predatory homosexuals, are they not far more likely, if the law is changed, to seek their adventures among the over 21's and to leave the boys alone? Surely this is obvious.

We talk about homosexuality as unnatural; but the truth is that whatever a man or woman does, unless they are paid for their services, is natural to him or to her. They would not do it if it were not. There is no ultimate standard of natural behaviour. Nothing is more unnatural than Nature herself. In defiance of her own laws, she delights in producing sports and deviations; she does it with plants, with flowers and with animals; and, most cruelly—and most incomprehensibly, if one is a Christian—she does it with human beings. As with the animals, we do not like these sports; and although we do not mob them and peck them to death like the birds, they embarrass us; we wish they were not there. And, in the ultimate cases, where the deviations result in gross mental malformations which to us are loathsome, we put them away in silent places and pretend they do not exist.

It is much the same, I believe, with homosexuals. To normal people, to the very great majority of whom life has no such problems, these men are unpleasant. We do not want to think about them; we try to regard them as evil; our instinct is to want to stamp them out. We use all kinds of moral and highfalutin language about them, and we send them to prison. We talk uninformedly about the empires which are said to have crumbled because of this appalling vice. As a classicist, I hope that no one will tell us to-day that Athens fell because of sex perversion. It is not true.

My Lords, I have spent some time, perhaps too much time, on this part of my speech because I believe it to be so fundamental to the whole case, which is this: that if homosexuals are what they are by birth, or through early environment, and are not in themselves deliberately vicious men they should not be punished for indulging in what are to them their natural desires, so long as they do not do harm to others, and particularly to young people. To punish in such circumstances is to persecute: to persecute a minority: to persecute as others have persecuted Jews and Negroes.

Next, I come to the matter of blackmail, to which Recommendation No. (ix) of the Wolfenden Report refers. I fear that because this point has been made, and has been accepted by Governments as valid, it has somehow become less important—"Point taken; no action". But, in truth, action needs to be taken; and urgently. About ten years ago the Attorney General of the time said that he found that 95 per cent. of the blackmail cases that came his way were of one man threatening another because of his homosexual activities. Can a man who is being blackmailed for such activities go with safety to the police? I should like to think so; but I am sorry to say that it is not true. There have been cases quite recently of men going to the police to complain that they have been robbed or threatened, only to find themselves in trouble. It is a sorry state of affairs when the Homosexual Law Reform Society, that most learned and respectable body, write: In our view it still remains impossible to advise anyone who has committed a homosexual offence to seek police protection if they are blackmailed or robbed. Personally, I find blackmail far worse than buggery, and I find assassination of the soul far worse than assault upon the body. At this moment perhaps a hundred, perhaps a thousand, perhaps 10,000, men are living in fear and allowing themselves to be bled to death lest their world fall about them. Should we not listen to the things they cannot tell us and give them peace? Moreover (and this is no small consideration with security very much in our minds at the moment), will not a change in the law reduce the risks to the security of this country? A man in the possession of secrets and at the same time a crypto-homosexual (and let us not forget that nine out of ten homosexuals are crypto-homosexuals) is exactly what the enemy is looking for. "Tell us", they say, if they find out about him, "what we want to know, or we shall see to it that your police are informed; and that would be unpleasant for you, would it not?" And so he tells. There have been notorious instances of this.

Finally, with humility, I presume to find fault with the law on the grounds that it does not work. I have always been told that a law which does not work is a bad law. Taking the minimum figure for practising homosexuals in Britain as half-a-million—all criminals, of course!—and the annual number of convictions at about 100, it appears that only one in 5,000 of these evil men is apprehended and punished each year. Should not more police be taken off the Great Train Robbery inquiries, taken off the beat, to go and peep into people's windows or down the public lavatories, in order to bring these miscreants to book? Or should perhaps a wrong and ineffectual law be revised?

Here, if I may, as it were in parenthesis, I will speak of two matters which have disturbed Members of both Houses. The first is the matter of conscience. To be in favour of repealing the law on homosexual practices, it is said, is, in effect, to condone such practices. Frankly, this seems to me the most inexact of arguments. To agree that something is not a crime does not mean that it is not a sin, or that you approve of it. To say that hanging is wrong does not mean that you approve of murder; all you are saying is that hanging is not the right or effective answer. And all you are saying, in the case of homosexuality, is that this particular form of misbehaviour does not rate a prison sentence; that it merely takes its dreary place side by side with lesbianism or adultery, or any of the other quirks and dis-loyalties which are not punished by law. I hope that this matter of principle will not prevent noble Lords from speaking or voting in accordance with their consciences. I do not think that in so doing they will be ranging themselves on the side of evil. My own conscience is perhaps at times an over-flexible instrument; but it is clear on that.

Then it has been suggested that to change the law would be to open the floodgates and to promote a wave of homosexual activities. I believe that the opposite would be the case. The reason sex perversion is so much written about, talked about and whispered about is precisely because it is, at the moment, forbidden fruit. It is invested with a glamour to which it has no claim. Remove the penalties, substitute the weapon of compassion for the weapon of punishment, and the thing will become uninteresting overnight. In the European countries perversion is accepted, tolerated, pitied; it is not a topic of conversation. Why should it be? What is there to say on this most grey and drab subject, except in its precent context of injustice?

Now for the "stale offences" referred to in Recommendation No. (xiii) of the Wolfenden Committee Report. I see clearly that there is a difficulty here. For what, in fact, is recommended is that, except in cases of criminal assault, prosecutions for homosexual offences should not be instituted more than twelve months after the offence has been committed. Of course, this would be something rather new; but it would not be unique. It would mean that a man who commits a sexual offence with a youth between 16 and 21 and evades detection for a year could go scotfree. Why should he? Why should he, alone among crimininal offenders, have this special privilege?

My Lords, it is for this reason alone that we are still confronted with classes of men being prosecuted for acts of indecency committed perhaps ten or fifteen years ago when they were going through a homosexual phase, as we are told many do: men who have since married and are leading normal, happy lives—who have, if you like, reformed—and suddenly find the charge flung at them. Usually what happens is that X is interrogated by the police, perhaps because of some quite other malfeasance. Under questioning he admits to or even volunteers information about other men. He "shops" them, he turns Queen's evidence, the understanding being that his reward will be to get off lightly, or not to be prosecuted at all. Y and Z are then interrogated in their turn and, faced with X's confession, they themselves confess, and for good measure and for the same reasons involve A, B, C and D as well, on something that happened years previously. Now the hunt is up. There is a mass of prosecutions; the police have a field day, and I am afraid sometimes the learned judge comes down on all concerned good and hard and talks about "the cancer in our midst". This same sickening pattern is repeated time and time again and it will go on being repeated so long as the law sets no term to the length of time in which a man may be prosecuted after this offence.

These, then, are the particular processes and procedures over which I feel it is time to make a change, and now may I say a few further things to your Lordships as human beings? I believe that all men with normal sexual instincts must have an a priori dislike of all forms of perversion. In most of us it is the reasoned dislike of something which is outside the pattern of our comprehension; in others it is an irrational hatred—what the late Bishop of Southwell called "a kind of subconscious racial horror". Charles Lamb said, I am a bundle of prejudices made up of likings and dislikings"— and, of course, it is true of all of us. I tend to believe that it is the older ones among us who are the most intolerant of homosexuality. My father would have been horrified if he had known that I was bringing forward this Motion before your Lordships to-day—


And he would have been quite right.


This grieves me very much, because I respected him deeply. But I am comforted to know that my grown-up sons do not think I am doing wrong, and I think most young people would agree. I know it is not a good argument to say that because no one bothers about these things these days it means that these things are right. The final standards of right and wrong, of good and evil, remain ultimate. They do not change; they will never change. But it happens that, from generation to generation and from age to age, we get things out of perspective; we condemn unjustly. What seemed so terrible to our fathers and grandfathers may not seem so terrible to us; and, of course vice versa. One hundred and fifty years ago child labour was taken for granted.

Surely, my Lords, it cannot be mere accident that the Wolfenden Committee's recommendations on homosexuality have been supported by the Church Assembly, The Church of England Moral Welfare Council, The Roman Catholic Advisory Committee set up by the late Cardinal Griffin, the Methodist Conference and an influencial group of Quakers. These are great bodies and their views cannot be taken lightly, nor can those of the four right reverend Prelates and the noble Lords, Lord Brain, Lord Devlin and Lord Robbins, who wrote to The Times yesterday in support of the change. And it may be that to-day the same views will be expressed by Members of your Lordships' House for whom the whole country has the deepest respect.

I have been impressed to note that at the end of many speeches in both Houses on this subject, it was said frankly, "Sooner or later a change in the law is bound to come". If this is so, why in heaven's name not now? If something is wrong, why delay in putting it right? If it is right, then leave it untouched and forever. The Wolfenden Committee published their recommendations seven and half years ago. What has been done in regard to them? Precisely nothing. The law pursues its majestic, inexorable way; there are the same anxieties, the same anguishes, the same miseries, and from time to time people die because of them. Can we not put an end to these things? Can we not abolish what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has called "this relic of barbarism"? And will not Her Majesty's Government give us a lead? After all, they are our leaders and they pride themselves, I think justly, on being social reformers. If they will do this, if to-day we can move forward a little towards removing fear from the hearts of men whose sin is that they are different from the rest of us, then our deliberations will not have been in vain. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl has brought this Motion to the House. I wish to support him. I want to start by making clear what is the moral standpoint from which I approach this question. I believe that homosexual acts are always wrong in the sense that they use in a wrong way human organs for which the right use is intercourse between men and women within marriage. Amidst the modern talk about the "new morality" I would uphold the belief that just as fornication is always wrong so homosexual acts are always wrong. At the same time, wrong acts in this case as in others can have various degrees of culpability attached to them. In this case there are not only degrees of culpability but also varieties of causes of the trouble and categories of the trouble, psychological and sociological.

Discussion is often bedevilled by silly over-simplifications of the problem. We have an example of what I think is such an over-simplification in a pamphlet issued by the Homosexual Law Reform Society, which states homosexuality is an involuntary emotional condition which in the present state of medical knowledge can only be cured in a tiny minority of cases. To say that is to ignore the variety of states and the variety of causes in the condition of persons known to perform homosexual acts.

It is a strength of the Wolfenden Report, I believe, that it emphasises the variety of states and causes, and refuses to label them all with a single clinical formula. I think the only clinical aspect of the problem is a large one, but I am sure it is impossible to put the matter entirely in the realm of the clinical or to sum it all up by such a word as "disease". There is a region where moral responsibility must certainly enter into the matter.

When we pass from the variety of conditions and causes to the question of cure or deliverance, it is again a strength of the Wolfenden Report that it emphasises the variety of aims which can be held in view. It describes three broad aims. One is to change the direction of the sexual impulses from the homosexual to the normal, and we are rightly warned in the Report that in one type of homosexual person the chances of this are small. A second aim is a better adaptation to life in general; and this is surely relevant to almost every condition. The third aim is greater conscience or self-control; and this, too, is an aim widely relevant, especially to those who believe seriously in the means of Divine Grace. It does not seem on the evidence that the impulses are basically stronger in the homosexual than in the heterosexual person.

Together these aims, which the Report describes comprehensively, constitute a big field for the possible bringing of deliverance or, if not of deliverance, at least of considerable help. It is a field in which all that is being increasingly learned of psychological method has its place. It is a field in which there must be a sensitive discrimination of the needs of individuals. It is a field where compassion is always called for. But I would emphasise this. It is not an exclusively clinical field. Moral responsibility does come into it and, with responsibility, guilt, forgiveness, discipline and choice. If medicine does its part, so does law and so does the cure of souls.

I ask now whether the present law helps in the work of remedy. I take first the law which makes homosexual acts in private between consenting adults a criminal offence. It seems obvious that those who are convicted for it are only a small fraction of those who practice these acts. Certainly those convicted for this crime are only a fraction of the total number convicted for all the kinds of homosexual crime. So the alteration of the law here would still leave by far the greater number of homosexual crimes and convictions unaltered, and it would be a gross misrepresentation of this particular change to say, in sweeping words, that such a change would legalise homosexual behaviour.

The case for altering the law in respect of homosexual acts between consenting adults in private rests, I believe, on reason and justice, and on considerations of the good of the community. As to the first, I think that there is real cogency in the plea of the Wolfenden Report that not all sins are properly given the status of crimes, not even such sins as the adulterous conduct of a man or woman, which can smash up the life of a family and bring misery to a whole family of children. If the line can reasonably be drawn anywhere, homosexual acts in private between consenting adults fall properly on the same side of the line as fornication. To say this is not to condone the wrongness of the acts, but to put them in the realm of private moral responsibility. I believe that the present location of the line gives a sense of injustice and bitterness, which helps morality no more than would a law which made fornication a crime.

There is also a case based upon the considerations of what helps and what hinders the deliverance of those who are caught in these practices. Obviously only a fraction of the cases come within the comprehension of the law. It can hardly be argued that the law in this matter has been successful as a deterrent or a means of eradicating the practices. But we have the plea made by Mr. Adair, in a Minority Report of the Wolfenden Report, that the legalising of these acts could have a corrupting moral effect upon the attitude of young people. This plea needs the utmost consideration. After anxious consideration of it, for my own part, I believe that the Report was right in thinking that it is only overborne by several considerations.

One consideration is the total effect of all the proposed legislation, including the provisions concerning young persons on which I shall say a word presently. Another is a consideration which was put in this House by my predecessor in a debate in December, 1957. He argued that the existing state of the law creates fear, secretiveness, despair and deeper involvement in some homosexual practitioners, who would like to be free to make themselves known and be helped, but dare not, lest they expose themselves and their friends to criminal proceedings. Remembering that these men often cannot protect themselves against the practices without making themselves liable to prosecution, the most reverend Primate, as he then was, described the state of some of these men as a nightmare world into which there can be no entrance of the forces of rightness until the offences are made not criminal. I believe that that judgment is still true.

I now pass to another part of the Wolfenden proposals which I am anxious to commend. It concerns the prosecution of offenders under 21 years of age, and there are a large number of prosecutions of these offenders. Here again I would say that it is unsuitable to regard these offenders in criminal terms. Wrongdoing and punishment are realities. But all too often prosecutions and sentences do not take account of the great variety of mental and moral states which can lie behind the offences. The Wolfenden Report mentions those who are merely immature, those who have been severely damaged and are anti-social, resentful personalities, those whose disorder of personality is very superficial and those who are deeply on the wrong lines. Clearly the assessment of these matters should come into a court's decision as to what to do with the offender, how to punish him, where and for how long. But a court of itself cannot know the answers. This is where I would plead for what the Report recommends both about the control of prosecutions and about the need for a psychiatric report before sentence. The Committee refrained from suggesting this requirement in the sentencing of adults, but it asks for it urgently in the case of others and surely this last must be right.

One more word. The Wolfenden Committee were rather pessimistic in what they said about the curing of offenders. They were no doubt naturally cautious about claiming too much for psychological methods and the evidence then before them compelled this caution. Perhaps, if the Report were being written to-day, it might he a shade less pessimistic about this. We know that under the Home Office much has been done in research into methods of treatment of offenders, and I hope that the Government will be able to tell us to-day something of how research and the treatment of offenders are advancing. The information available about this might bear a good deal upon some of the details of the desired legislation. For I keenly hope for legislation to carry out the Wolfenden recommendations, particularly in the two matters of which I have spoken. There will be no question of thereby declaring homosexual practices to be a right use of sex. Rather will there be a greater possibility for some to find their way from wrong uses of sex and to be helped towards better uses of their energies. In the moral state of our country we need all the forces available to combat evils, of which homosexual practices are one. The proposed reforms would, I believe, help greatly by enabling a greater balance between the forces of law, morality, remedial science and the cure of souls, by promoting what is good and right.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, the Wolfenden Report recommended legislation on two subjects—namely, homosexual offences and prostitution, and changes in the law on both these subjects are easily capable of causing public misunderstanding On that part of the Report dealing with prostitution, the late Government were fairly prompt in bringing in legislation in the Street Offences Act, which was so ably conducted in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Chesham and the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir. But we were often criticised on that Bill on the ground that we were trying to sweep the dust under the carpet. That, of course, showed a misunderstanding of the purpose both of the Bill and of the Wolfenden Report, which was a purely pragmatic purpose, not intended to try and stop what cannot be stopped by human law, but simply to remove a social annoyance from certain English cities. The reason why the Bill did not apply to Scotland was that in Scotland the law was already adequate for that particular purpose.

Now my noble friend Lord Arran has again raised the other part of the Wolfenden Report, upon homosexual offences. On this subject, I do not think my noble friend quite appreciated in his interesting speech that the late Government did take certain administrative steps, to which I shall refer in a few minutes. But we did not take any legislative action. I think the reason why we refrained from legislation was not, as I think my noble friend was inclined to feel, any kind of cowardice or any reluctance to do what we thought was right, but because we had doubts about the real strength and value of a great deal of the medical and sociological evidence upon which the reasoning of the Report was largely founded.

I shall only make one short quotation from the dissenting reservation of Mr. Adair, with whose general outlook on this subject I do not myself see eye to eye. However, he was the Procurator Fiscal of Glasgow for a long time, and he is, at least, I think, a very good judge of evidence. He says: I have studied carefully the evidence laid before us, and find that it came from four sources—official, medical, legal and sociological; and on the threshold I feel compelled to say that in each group there is in varying degrees a diversity of opinion on the proposal. Nor is it without significance that in those instances where it might be said that the majority of the group favoured the change now proposed, that majority was proportionately markedly smaller than that in the Committee now making this recommendation. This is a subject which we often hear discussed with assurance, and sometimes even with arrogance, both in speech and in print. I think it is a subject which we ought to approach with great intellectual humility, and with a determination not to jump to hasty and superficial conclusions, because I think that both the origin and the extent of sexual perversion are probably as unlimited and as unfathomable as human imagination is unlimited and unfathomable. Of course, the evidence submitted to the Committee was not published. But if it was representative of a great deal of the discussion which we hear and see in the newspapers and in speech, I think very likely Mr. Adair was right in saying that he found the opinions of some psychiatrists—although, of course, not all—manifestly indefensible; and that a great many of the witnesses who had made representations to the Committee were apparently unacquainted with the very limited powers of the medical profession in the bringing about of the change in either outlook or the behaviour of homosexuals.

But, my Lords, if changes in the law are often recommended and supported with a certain amount of bad science and bad reasoning, the same criticism can quite properly be made of a great deal of our existing law, as it stands now, and of the way in which it was enacted. If any of your Lordships care to read the reports in Hansard of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1885, I think you will agree with the strictures contained in the Wolfenden Report about the Labouchere Amendment to that enactment. The Bill was introduced in your Lordships' House. It was entirely concerned with offences against women and young girls. It went through all its stages here, and went to another place. There they had a Second Reading and the Committee stage, and it was not until very near the end of the Report stage that Mr. Labouchere suddenly got up and moved his new clause. Until then, sodomy had been the only kind of homosexual act which came within the range of the criminal law. This new Labouchere clause brought every other kind of homosexual act within the range of the criminal law. An honourable Member raised a point of order to know whether it was in order to bring in an Amendment in a Bill whose title contained no reference to this. The Speaker ruled that it was in order. But if your Lordships will read Mr. Labouchere's speech, which takes up only one-third of a column in Hansard, you will see that, to all appearances, he had not much idea at all what the subject of his Amendment was.




I will not read it, but the noble Lord can look at it in Hansard of August 6, 1885, col. 1397. After a subsequent discussion, which took up only a quarter of a column, the new clause—a pretty wide new clause—was accepted without a Division. But it came back to your Lordships' House on August 10 (leaving a rather short time in which to deal with Commons Amendments), and there was a fairly lengthy discussion. But nobody mentioned this Labouchere clause. In moving that the House agree with the Commons Amendments, the Paymaster General, Lord Beauchamp, said that he thought it would be more convenient that they should be agreed en bloc. Lord Fitzgerald said that he preferred very much the structure of the Bill as it left the House and he found himself in great difficulty in dealing with the Amendments made by the Commons, because they went very far indeed, and also the law of evidence, in several material respects. But he did not say anything about the Labouchere Amendment, and perhaps, owing to the exaggerated deference which your Lordships so often pay to the vagaries of the other place, no one disagreed with this innovation introduced by Mr. Labouchere, so hastily accepted by the House of Commons.

When your Lordships debated the Wolfenden Report a year or so ago, after it was published, and when it became evident that our wisest counsellors in this House were deeply divided on the subject, I remember suggesting to a few of my friends that if it should prove impossible to get agreement on comprehensive legislation, perhaps the best course might be to introduce a short, one-clause Bill, simply repealing this Labouchere Amendment and its consequential repetition in the Criminal Justice Act, 1956.

That was probably not at all a good idea, but I had three reasons for suggesting it: first, that if legislation is manifestly passed negligently and in an atmosphere of misunderstanding on the part of the Legislature, there is at least a prima facie case for repealing it; secondly, that the Labouchere Amendment is known as "the blackmailers' charter", and although there are many other crimes which provide opportunities for blackmail, it seems that the consequences of this Labouchere law are responsible for a great deal of the disagreeable and undesirable consequences of our present law. My third reason was that even the most hidebound, bone-headed reactionary could not have accused us of being too progressive because all we should have been doing would be to put the law back 73 years exactly as it was. If we did it in 1965, we should be putting it back 80 years. It would be a 100 per cent. reactionary piece of legislation, and it might be a very good one. My idea was not favourably received by my friends, and they pointed out, probably quite rightly, that if we were going to have any major piece of legislation at all we should have to deal with sodomy, which had already been a criminal offence for centuries before 1885.

On the general question whether we should have major legislation, as my noble friend Lord Arran wants, or whether we should not, I think very likely a great many of your Lordships feel, as I am inclined to feel, that if our law in Great Britain at the moment were the same as it is in France, where homosexual acts in private between grown-up people are not illegal at all, few of us, if any, would want to make them illegal. But the converse proposition is not so easy to answer. If something which you believe to be bad is legal, and if you think it is undesirable, although it is bad, to make it illegal, and simply refrain from doing so, no one will conclude that you think it is a good thing. But if it is illegal, and if you proceed to make it legal, a great many people are sure to infer that you think it is good and that they may allow themselves to be encouraged to practise it.

I wonder whether the most reverend Primate will agree with me that there are many people who think that the Church of England should never have been brought under the authority of the State; that it would be much better, much freer, if its doctrine were not subject to control by Parliament and the appointment of the Bishops not subject to Government approval. But since it has been done, the great argument against Disestablishing the Church is that, although it might result in greater freedom, it would give the impression that England was dissociating itself from Christianity. If I had been allowed to vote 400 years ago I would have voted against the nationalisation of the Church of England, just as I intend to vote against the nationalisation of steel. Now the Church has been nationalised for 400 years, I think there is that argument against denationalising it. It would give the impression that you were disapproving of what you had dissociated from the law.

In regard to the subject which we are discussing, human imagination is such a very easily influenced thing, especially among young people, and imagination is very much inclined to follow the fashion. When we think of all the literature in which homosexual behaviour is looked upon as a good joke, even, I am afraid, some television items in which it is regarded as a great joke and very funny and not at all reprehensible, I wonder whether, if we were to pass an Act of Parliament legalising homosexual conduct the result would not be that a large number of young people might think it was a thing to be followed as a fashion, and whether they might think it was the creditable thing to practise and to encourage among their friends. I do not say that would be sure to happen. It may be a false apprehension, but I think it is a possibility to be considered.

I do not think I can quite follow the most reverend Primate in his equation or parallel between homosexuality or fornication. There are many different kinds of illicit love affairs, some of which may merit rather more severity, and some of which may merit leniency. In any case, they all proceed from a natural impulse, good in itself, which can at any time be put in its true environment by means of a happy marriage. But whether homosexuality is a mental disease to be pitied, or a vice to be reprobated—and I am sure that in some cases it is one of those things and in some cases the other—it can never be good in itself, and it has got to be changed, if it can be changed, in order that real sexual happiness may be found.

These are some of the reasons which deter many of us, on all sides of the House, from being anxious to have legislation. But we can, I think, by administrative action mitigate a great many of the undesirable consequences which follow from the present state of the law. The late Government caused a directive to be issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, a few short questions about it, because I was rather disturbed to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Arran, that some of the things which I thought the directive was intended to prevent had not in fact been prevented. The three points I want to raise are blackmail, stale offences, and the protection of doctors or psychiatrists against being legally compelled to betray the confidence of their patients.


My Lords, may I interrupt one moment? The noble Earl used, perhaps inadvertently, the expression a "directive" issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I think he means the Chief Constable. It cannot be regarded as a directive, because the Director of Public Prosecutions has no power to enforce.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am only going to mention three recommendations of the Report. I know this directive, or encyclical, or whatever it is, issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions is very cautiously worded, but I understood its purpose to be to restrain and possibly to stop prosecutions for homosexual offences which had come to light in the course of investigations about blackmail, and I think that is a very important recommendation of the Committee.

If I refer to what happens in Scotland my only reason for doing so will be that I think that sometimes a concrete example is more useful than an abstract argument. Two of these recommendations have already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Arran. The first is that, except for some grave reason, proceedings be not instituted in respect of homosexual offences incidentally revealed in the course of investigating allegations of blackmail. I am not well up in the English procedure, but in Scotland no prosecution of this kind would be initiated unless the procurator fiscal had asked the advice of the Crown Office, which means the Lord Advocate. I think I am right in saying, that in Scotland there has not been a single case of prosecution for homosexual offences which have come to light as a result of blackmail investigations.

All I want is that the administrative procedure in England should be calculated to achieve the same result as in Scotland, because I think it is a very had thing in the public interest that the prosecution and punishment of blackmailers should be prevented by the fear of the person who is blackmailed of being prosecuted himself. In paragraph 112 of the Wolfenden Report what I call a very bad case of this kind in England is described; that must have happened, of course, before the Report was published in 1957, and I was disturbed to hear the noble Earl, Lord Arran, say that there had been some much more recent cases. Perhaps the noble Lord speaking for the Home Office can enlighten us about that.

I also would like to agree with what Lord Arran said about stale prosecutions. I think it is a great pity that the police should often have to waste so much of their time in getting evidence about acts which had been committed a long time ago. There again, in Scotland I do not think prosecutions are ever instituted, unless for some very grave offence, if they have occurred more than twelve months or so ago, and the consent or advice of the Crown Office would have to be obtained. There is also in connection with this the point about the Larceny Act, which I think would probably need legislation. It is recommended in paragraph 113 of the Report that the penalty for threatening exposure should be as great for a threat to expose other offences as it is for a threat to expose sodomy. And then there is a recommendation I would like to ask about, recommendation No. viii, that sodomy should be classified in England as a misdemeanour.

That does not arise in Scotland because there is no distinction between misdemeanours and felonies, so that there is no such thing as misprision of felony in Scotland and a doctor therefore has no reason to fear he is breaking the law if he does not report a patient whom he discoverer in his professional capacity has committed a felony. In England I do not suppose that in practice there would be likely to be any prosecution of a doctor for misprision of felony in a case of this kind, but it is unsatisfactory that the law should be as it is. Perhaps this matter may be one of those which are being considered by the Lord Chancellor's Committee on Law Reform. I think it is a reform of a minor nature which would be worth doing

My Lords, I am very far from suggesting that these administrative actions will always be an adequate substitute for full legal reform. But I do not think the present Government will feel any more able than we felt able, to bring in a major legislative reform on this very difficult subject at the present time. I therefore hope that they will agree with me about these matters which I have mentioned; that doctors and psychiatrists should be protected against any legal obligation to betray professional confidence reposed in them by homosexuals whom they may be treating; that the time of the police will not have to be wasted in snooping around getting evidence about all sorts of offences, some of them perhaps of comparatively trivial nature, which happened a long time ago, when the police have got so many other things to do.


My Lords, if I may intervene, the waste of the time of the police, though grave enough in itself, surely is not as bad as the results for these poor people prosecuted years after for doing something when they were almost children. Surely the police time is only ancillary to this major question.


I entirely agree with what my noble friend has said about this, and I think it is a great pity that the police in England should have to spend so much time on it. Most of all, I hope the noble Lord, and the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, will agree with me that, unless the homosexual offence has been associated with some other and very grave offence, it is always in the public interest, in the interest of society, that punishment of the blackmailer should be preferred to punishment of the homosexual.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, on the last occasion on which I addressed your Lordships' House, about a week ago, the noble Earl who leads the House observed to my credit or discredit that he had not time to clear his throat before my speech had come to an end. On this occasion I hope I am not going to give him the opportunity of registering a tickle, and the reason for my brevity is twofold. In the first place, I had thought that two noble Lords from these Benches would be speaking in this debate and they are unable to do so; and I cannot possibly allow this occasion to pass without indicating my support for the Motion and my admiration for the excellent way in which it was moved by the noble Earl.

My second reason for brevity is that all of us who have come to this House to-day have presumably studied responsibly and in some detail the many speeches, writings and talks about this particular subject, and we have probably come to a conclusion. I do not think that anything I can say would really add to your Lordships' knowledge. I think we know this subject, if not inside out at least as it is seen by that excellent Committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Wolfenden. And I rise merely to say that, so far as I am concerned, I hope that if the noble Earl actually goes to a Division he will prevail; but, in any case, he has my good wishes for this Motion.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, whatever your views on this, as I regard it, most distressing subject, I am quite sure that you will have been impressed, as I have been, by the sincerity or authority of the speeches to which we have just listened. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, the most reverend Primate, and Lord Arran, asked me a number of questions and I hope to answer all of them in the course of my speech. Other points, if there are additional points, raised during the debate will be answered by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor when he comes to wind up. I believe that the great majority of us are born sound in body and mind and, because these priceless gifts are as natural as breathing, we are prone to undervalue them. Nevertheless, we are much concerned for those who are broken in body or mind, and ready to give what help we can.

In like manner, the great majority of us are happily heterosexual, but, in this vitally important part of life, I think we are not quite so ready to help those who do not enjoy the priceless gift of normality. I think it is true of most of us, as Lord Arran said, that "we don't want to know about them". Certainly it was true of myself. I must have been remarkably lucky, or exceptionally blind, but during a fairly active life among men, including 25 years participation in team games, I did not personally encounter homosexuality. I was content to leave it at that, and I believe that is the attitude of the man in the street. That is why, presumably, previous Governments have felt unable to give the lead which Lord Arran asks the Government to give now.

Most of us, I believe, shy away from reports of these cases in the newspapers. Most of us know that in ancient Greece even Olympic heroes took male lovers. Looked at through the mists of 2,000 years it becomes etherealised and possible. Looked at in a 1965 magistrates' court it is at best impossible, at worst bestial. That was certainly my attitude until, perforce, because of this debate, for the first time I was obliged to read the Wolfenden Report. I commend the exercise to your Lordships in the certainty that, whatever your views may then be, you will not be numbered among those who "don't want to know."

My Lords, it is my task to indicate Her Majesty's Government's position on the matters which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has brought so sharply to our notice. It is eleven years since the Wolfenden Committee was appointed and seven since your Lordships discussed its findings, and it is right that this House should have as much current information as I am able to give. It may be helpful if I divide my speech into three parts: discussing first the available statistics, next the Government's view of the arguments, for and against the main Wolfenden recommendation; and thirdly, stating the present position on the 17 other recommendations which this Committee of distinguished educationists, clerics, lawyers, doctors and sociologists, made in their carefully considered and valuable Report.

In considering their main proposal, it is important to keep very clear, as the Wolfenden Committee did, the distinction between "homosexual offences", and "homosexuality". They define "homosexuality" as "a sexual propensity for persons of one's own sex", and declare categorically that it is a state or condition, and as such does not, and cannot, come within the purview of the criminal law". With this I think we must agree—otherwise it would be logical to claim, for example, that epileptics were criminals because they were epileptics.

How many men in this country are homosexuals? By this I do not mean men who at some time in their lives experience a homosexual phase, but those unfortunates who are still homosexual in their early twenties and will, according, as I understand it, to most eminent medical opinion, be unhappily, perhaps irrevocably and exclusively, homosexual throughout their lives. The Wolfenden Committee could make no firm estimate. They quote the Kinsey finding of 4 per cent. for adult males in the U.S.A. and, the 1 per cent, estimated after an inquiry in Sweden. Taking an average of these two extremes—2½ per cent. it means that half a million adult males in Britain are homosexuals. My Lords, the Government have no information—and I have not heard that anyone else has—which would provide a better estimate, and we must proceed on the generally accepted assumption that we have in our midst a sizeable minority of men who, whether they practise it or not, are afflicted for life with the condition of homosexuality.

It is even more difficult to estimate the numbers who engage in homosexual practices, which is what the law is solely concerned with. But one thing seems certain, namely that, to quote Wolfenden, There is an almost astronomical disparity between the numbers of illicit sexual acts that occur and those which are detected and prosecuted by the guardians of the law. It must be remembered that any sexual act between males is an offence and that over half the homosexual offences known to the police are cases of indecent assault or importuning. These would still be offences if we accepted the main Wolfenden recommendation. For the other offences—buggery and gross indecency—the statistics for England and Wales show that the number of offences known to the police has remained fairly constant, over the past ten years, at around 2,000 a year, with the number of prosecutions also fairly constant at around 1,300 a year. My Lords, if permanent homosexuals number 500,000 even after allowing for those—a large number no doubt—who practise restraint and whose homosexuality does not therefore express itself in physical behaviour, it is clear that these figures of offences known to the police represent only a small proportion of the number of offences committed against the present law.

Even these figures need to be further refined to relate them to the main Wolfenden recommendation. Seperate figures are not available in the ordinary statistics, but we know from a special inquiry over a three-year period conducted for the Wolfenden Committee that only about 100 convictions a year relate solely to homosexual offences committed in private with a consenting adult. This means that the overwhelming majority of those whose homosexual acts become known to the police would still be guilty of an offence, even if we implemented this recommendation. Of the 100 persons, who were prosecuted each year for private acts, only 40 were sent to prison. We have to consider this tiny number in relation to half a million men, if we are to put the effect of Wolfenden in its true perspective.

This enormous difference between the number of homosexual offences which come within the cognisance of the judicial machine and the number which it may be supposed are actually committed is of great significance to the arguments on the merits of the proposal to which I now turn. As your Lordships are aware, the Wolfenden Committee declared that It is not the function of the law to intervene in the private lives of citizens". That function is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against the exploitation and corruption of others, particularly the young. I think most of us would support this and agree with Wolfenden that all homosexual offences committed in public or involving a minor must continue to be regarded as criminal offences. Lord Arran made it quite clear that he is in agreement with that.

The issue, then, is confined to acts by adults in private, on which the Committee took the view that it was not the function of the law to intervene in the private lives of citizens any further than is necessary. It follows from this that they did not believe that the criminal law should concern itself with all forms of immoral conduct. They pointed to other sexual acts generally considered sinful, morally wrong, or objectionable, such as adultery, fornication and Lesbianism—and there are grounds for thinking that the proportion of homosexual women is no lower than the proportion of homosexual men. All these are outside the existing criminal law.

Many people would go thus far with the Wolfenden Committee, and we are left with the problem of deciding whether the legalising of private homosexual behaviour among adult males, as it is already legal amongst adult females, would in fact cause harm to society and therefore be against the public interest. Or to put the question another way, does the present law wrongly and unjustly bring actions within the scope of the criminal law which could be properly and safely left as matters for the individual conscience? It is apparent from the letter in The Times yesterday, and still more apparent from what we have heard today from the most reverend Primate, that the Church at least feels that on this narrow part of this particular issue it is a matter which could be left to the individual conscience.

In attempting a balanced view of the matter, I start, as Wolfenden did, by considering the objections to a change in the law. The Committee summarised, in paragraph 53 of their Report, the three main arguments on which it is contended that homosexual behaviour in private is contrary to the public good. They relied on eminent medical and other opinion in rejecting the view that such behaviour constituted a general menace to the health of society, and quoted authoritative opinion (which has not, I think, been challenged) that very few men who indulged in these practices with other men, turn their attention to boys. The Wolfenden Committee conceded that, like other immoral behaviour, homosexual behaviour sometimes has a damaging effect on family life, but they concluded that no case had been made out for treating homosexual behaviour between adults in private as a criminal offence.

There remains the more general argument, which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that to change the law in this way might imply a degree of toleration, of approval—Government approval—of homosexual behaviour, and as Lord Arran said, would "open the floodgates" to unbridled licence. On this point the Committee, whilst conceding that it would amount to a limited degree of toleration, rejected the view that the change would have disastrous consequences. They thought that such claims exaggerated the effect of the law on human behaviour. The Report claims that, though it may be true that the present law deters some who would otherwise commit homosexual acts, it is much more obvious that if the amount of homosexual behaviour has increased in recent years then the present law has not proved an effective deterrent. The Wolfenden Committee also concluded that there was no valid reason for supposing that any considerable number of "conversions" to homosexuality, if I may so express it, would follow the change in the law which they proposed.

Some, perhaps many, people believe sincerely that in an age when, unfortunately, so many people are outside the influence of religion, it is important that the support of the criminal law, which provides at least an arbitrary basis for notions of right and wrong, should not be removed. Against this it is argued with considerable force, by those with clinical experience of homosexuals, that the man who is exclusively homosexual and who thus has little or no hope of any treatment which will alter his condition is condemned to a life where he has no legal physical outlets for his sexuality, and therefore it is said that no law can deter many of this unhappy half million. Indeed, it is argued further that the present law inevitably creates furtiveness, ultimately neurosis, and sometimes suicide, with, as has been mentioned in this debate and as the Wolfenden Committee so clearly demonstrated, a considerable risk of the miseries of blackmail. They argue that the present law drives homosexuals into an immoral underworld, whereas if we drew a legal distinction between private relationships, on the one hand, and public behaviour, on the other, we should be promoting public morality. Because, they argue, just as action on Part III of the Report swept prostitutes off the public streets, so action on Part II would sweep homosexuals out of the public lavatories and, as Lord Arran claimed, we should end the persecution of a minority.

They are the arguments. Your Lordships will wish to consider where justice lies in this, having regard to the random way in which enforcement of the law affects these men. This random effect derives primarily from the way in which homosexual offences come to the notice of the police, which is something no one can control. What can be done is to secure uniformity of prosecution practice in those cases which come to notice, and this we are trying to do.

I listened with much interest and sympathy to the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that we should legislate to free those who are being blackmailed from the fear of prosecution. I am sure we all agree with him; that we should regard blackmail as one of the most detestable of crimes and should not want to do anything which would inhibit the victims from going to the police. But I doubt whether this would be an acceptable basis for an amendment of the law. The law could hardly provide that a person who indulged in homosexual offences and was blackmailed about them afterwards should not be guilty of committing a criminal offence, but that if he were fortunate enough not to be blackmailed he thereby became guilty of a crime. And, of course, persons may be blackmailed about crimes that we should describe as diabolical, and which in almost no circumstances should go without prosecution.


My Lords, could it not be done by administrative direction, as it is in Scotland?


My Lords, I shall come to that in a moment. What the noble Earl is, in fact, asking is that either the Attorney General or the Home Secretary, or the Director of Public Prosecutions, should constitute himself a judge. And that, as I shall try to explain, we would not regard as acceptable. I can, however, say that proceedings are taken only in grave or exceptional cases, or where the complaint of blackmail is not bona fide. For instance, it might happen that somebody, in the hope of escaping prosecution, would try to contrive or fake a case that he was being blackmailed.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could say anything about the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Arran, that there have been recent cases in which people have been prosecuted for homosexual offences arising out of blackmail.


My Lords, on that particular point I should like to study the recent cases. I should be very surprised if they proved to be contrary to what I am now saying about the particular practice with regard to these blackmail cases. Shortly after the publication of the Wolfenden Report, chief constables agreed to consult the Director of Public Prosecutions before prosecuting homosexual offences which could be regarded as "stale" or which came to light from investigations of alleged blackmail.


My Lords, in this context may I, with great respect, quote cases 4, 5, 6 and 7 of a memorandum by the Homosexual Law Reform Society? I will not go into them, but those are cases which I think the noble Earl would like to have a look at.


My Lords, I, too, should like to have a look at them. But I want to say again what I am advised is the case—I think it only fair to say this again, to make the position perfectly clear, and to put it on record for the sake of all concerned. The noble Earl mentioned a directive, and I intervened during his speech to alter that word. The Director of Public Prosecutions has no power to enforce his request on chief constables, but nor has he any reason for believing that they have not followed his suggestion.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister a question, because most people think that this question of blackmail is very important? Would it be competent for either the Lord Chancellor or the Attorney General to give instructions to chief constables throughout the country that no prosecution against consenting males should be brought without the approval of either the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions? That would ensure uniformity throughout the country.


My Lords, subject to certain limits, which are quite clear, that is precisely what is now being done. Provided that the noble Earl will accept the substitution of the word "request" for the word "instruct", so far as I know that is precisely what chief constables are doing; and not only with cases where blackmail comes into a homosexual offence, but with the "stale" cases, and with cases involving homosexual acts in private between consenting adults. All those three classes of case are now, I am advised, being submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions before a decision is taken with regard to a prosecution. Is that quite clear to the noble Earl?


My Lords, does that mean to say that it is at the whim or fancy of the chief constable of a city or a county borough, whether prosecutions take place with regard to these offences? Surely this is a travesty of the ordinary principles of Common Law.


My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will study tomorrow what I have said on this particular point. I thought I made it quite clear that what happens in the three classes of cases which I mentioned is that the chief constable submits details of the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions.


My Lords, is he compelled to do so?


My Lords, I have answered that question twice. With respect to my noble friend, I made it clear that this was not a directive. I also made it clear that the Director of Public Prosecutions had no power to enforce his decision on a chief constable. It obviously follows that if a chief constable wished to disagree, the responsibility would be with him and he could do so.


My Lords, may I just make this point? There has never been any suggestion that the directive, or whatever it is called, ever emanated from the Director of Public Prosecutions. It emanated from the Attorney General, who instructed, or requested, chief constables not to proceed without referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was the Attorney General who issued the instructions, and not the Director of Public Prosecutions.


My Lords, the noble Lord may be right about that, and certainly it is the responsibility of the Attorney General. But I was talking about actual practical terms, and the chief constables do, in fact, write about cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions who, of course, has available to him all the advice of the Law Officers.

But, I was dealing with this question of blackmail, and I want to repeat that proceedings are taken only in grave or exceptional cases, or where the complaint of blackmail is not bona fide. Persons who are blackmailed in respect of homosexual practices can therefore report to the police without fear generally that they will themselves be prosecuted. Last June the new Director reminded chief constables of these arrangements for consultations and, as I have said, he asked to be consulted, in addition, about all homosexual offences between adults in private.

But I wish to emphasise this point, which, I think, is the answer to the noble Earl's request. This is not a means of implementing the Wolfenden recommendations by the back door, or of providing complete and absolute immunity for the victims of the blackmailer. If the law is to be changed, it must be changed by Parliament. Neither the Home Secretary, nor the Attorney General, nor the Director of Public Prosecutions, nor chief constables, nor anyone else, can properly implement the Wolfenden recommendations by administrative action or inaction. Again, the Director's request was made solely with a view to obtaining greater uniformity in the enforcement of the present law. I wanted to make that clear, in view of the complaint which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, made about prosecution in "stale" cases. This does not mean that there is necessarily an end of all such prosecutions. There has, however, been a steady reduction in custodial sentences, and receptions under sentence for homosexual offences declined from 781 in 1954 to 370—that is, less than half—in 1963. Wolfenden recommends that we should now remove from this total the very small number of men who are sentenced for acts in private.

These, then, are the issues and considerations as they appear to the Government, and we are faced with a straight choice between acceptance and rejection of this main Wolfenden recommendation. There is no compromise. As individuals we cannot evade our responsibility for making a clear decision on this moral issue but as legislators we must have regard to public opinion. I do not mean that we have to wait until the pollsters tell us that 51 per cent. are in favour of Wolfenden before we change the law: I hold the view that the law should be a step or two in advance of public opinion. But it must not range so far ahead as to lose contact.

Unfortunately, although it is frequently said that public opinion about homosexual practices is this or that, the fact is that no one really knows how widely and how tenaciously the opposing views are held. It may be that there is a trend towards toleration; and I certainly share the impression of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, that, whereas my generation mostly recoil from this subject with revulsion, young people are more inclined towards pity and tolerance, or, perhaps, at worst, amused contempt. In this debate your Lordships have an opportunity to demonstrate to Government and people authoritative opinion on this subject, and so to give a lead.

I now turn, very briefly, I hope, to the Committee's other recommendations. Many of them stem from the main issue, and cannot usefully be considered until the main decision has been reached. However, there are some others which are quite important and about which I can report progress. Recommendation (xv) asked for a review of the prison medical service, and that has been implemented. The review was started by the previous Government and was completed last year, and the Government have accepted and are carrying out its recommendations. The Report recommended that the prison medical service should be expanded substantially to meet the growing demands on it: that psychiatrists at consultation and lower levels should be appointed for service part-time in a prison service establishment and part-time in a psychiatric hospital or clinic outside the forensic field, and possibly also in a teaching post; and that eventually all reports on the state of mind of accused persons (and this is the point raised by the most reverend Primate) should be made by doctors trained and specialising in forensic psychiatry. We are working towards the achievement of that objective as quickly as we can.

The Wolfenden Committee noted that there were only 46 full-time medical officers, of whom just six possessed the Diploma in Psychological Medicine. There has been a substantial expansion of the prison medical service since 1957, and there are now 74 full-time medical officers, of whom 22 possess the Diploma in Psychological Medicine, and a number of others are studying for the qualification.

Recommendation (xvii) was: That prisoners desirous of having oestrogen treatment be permitted to do so if the prison medical officer considers that this would be beneficial. This recommendation, also, I am glad to say, has been implemented, and this type of treatment, which reduces sexual intensity but does not change its direction, has been available in suitable cases since 1958. In every case the treatment requires the Home Secretary's approval and the prisoner must give his consent in writing and sign a statement that he has had explained to him and fully understands the risks involved.

But, my Lords, despite these improvements, it would be wrong if I were to convey the impression that suitable and adequate medical treatment has been devised which would enable a significant number of homosexuals to alter their homosexual condition. Such treatment is not yet available in prison, any more than it is available outside, and it would be a cruel evasion of the issue to pretend that it would be possible to send a man to prison so that he can have treatment to end his abnormality. Psychiatric and other medical treatment, if available, may make life a little more tolerable; but that is all.


And is it not a fact (this point will no doubt be made later on) that if a homosexual goes to prison he is likely to come out more, rather than less, homosexual at the end of his sentence?


My Lords, I cannot pass an opinion on that, but from what I have just said it appears to be likely that he will not come out any better.

Recommendation (viii), which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, asked me to deal with, urges the reclassification of buggery as a misdemeanour; and recommendation (x) recommends the application of the Larceny Act, 1916, to all homosexual offences. As the noble Earl said, these recommendations raise points that would require legislation. Both are under consideration by the Criminal Law Revision Committee in connection with their review of the law relating to larceny and of the present distinction between felonies and misdemeanours. This precise point, the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours, is the subject of a Report by the Committee which I understand will shortly be ready and will be laid before your Lordships in the very near future. It may be quite a short time before we can answer that particular point.

Recommendation (xviii) was: That research be instituted into the aetiology of homosexuality and the effects of various forms of treatment", and the most reverend Primate asked for information on this matter. The Home Office has given financial support to two research projects in this field. The first was a book published in 1962 by Richard Hauser, entitled, Homosexual Society, and the second was a study, carried out by Mr. Schofield, of Birkbeck College, under the supervision of Professor Roger, which seeks to compare the backgrounds and personalities of selected groups of homosexuals and non-homosexuals. This Report will be published later this year, and should make a further valuable addition to our knowledge on this subject.

My Lords, mention of these researches brings me back to the main recommendation, because, whilst every addition to our knowledge of this difficult subject will take us further towards unravelling the arguments for and against a change, no amount of research will resolve the fundamental principle involved, and we must not evade it by persuading ourselves into believing that the remedy lies with the doctor. I have done my best to expose the arguments to your Lordships as impartially as I can. It may be that my own personal views have coloured the way I have set them out (neutrality does not come very easily to me), but, in case that is so, I must now make it crystal clear that the Government regard this as a moral issue which is essentially a matter for the personal judgment of each one of us.

This Administration will not attempt to drive your consciences into one lobby or another on this issue. If a change in the law is to be made, I say frankly to your Lordships that it must be by a Private Member's Bill, with the decision left to a free vote of Parliament. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, has not yet made his intentions known with regard to a Division: he may be deciding later in the debate. But if he does choose to divide the House on this Motion, then noble Lords on this side of the House, including Ministers, will be entirely free to vote according to their consciences. It took years of discussion to secure the appointment of the Wolfenden Committee. It is eleven years since they began their deliberations. Meanwhile, the numbers of men who are arraigned for private acts has dwindled to a comparative handful, but for an unhappy half-million the threat and its consequences remain. My Lords, I am sure that this debate will assist the country and Parliament to decide whether or not the law should be changed.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I have no wish to detain your Lordships long when you have such a long list of distinguished speakers in front of you. I cannot claim, either, to be deploying any particularly new arguments. This is, after all, a subject that has been debated again and again. Most of us know all the arguments that can be produced on both sides. All one can do is to affirm one's own position, and try and make clear the rational basis, if there is one, on which it rests. I think it appropriate, however, that someone who has spent his working life in teaching should speak, because the difficult questions we are discussing this afternoon have certain special relationships with young people, and also because one cannot, or at any rate should not, be a teacher of any kind without thinking and reading as closely and as hard as one can about the more general moral problems which debates of this kind raise. I can summarise my own position quite simply by saying straight away that, even if I do not accept every proposition in it, the Wolfenden Report seemed to me when it was published, and still seems to me as I re-read it, to be a document which shows the greatest courage and very great ability, and which brings to me an overwhelming conviction that its recommendations are right.

This is not, of course, to say that the subject is a straightforward one where all the conclusions are easy. They are not. We know little enough about the origin or treatment of the homosexual condition. Its consideration leads us straight away into very difficult discussions about the relationships between the law and what is called private morality. My noble and learned friend Lord Devlin, whose signature I was both surprised and delighted to see to yesterday's letter in The Times, has put us all under an obligation by the way in which he has examined these issues in his book The Enforcement of Morals, a book with much of which one may well disagree, yet which it is impossible not to find immensely stimulating.

I am not proposing, even if I were competent to do so, to analyse his arguments in any detail. I am not proposing, certainly on this occasion, to defend the position which he attacks, the classical exposition of which we can find in J. S. Mill, which states that the law has nothing to do with a man's private behaviour, provided that he does no harm to others. What I want to do is to argue that, even if one accepts the contrary position, even if one says that there are some private acts with which the law should concern itself, one may still maintain that it is right and necessary to support the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report.

The problem presents itself to me in fairly practical terms. At one end of the scale let us admit, for the purposes of the argument, that it is possible to argue that there are some acts—for example, incest—which although committed in private should be illegal. At the other end of the scale there is behaviour, such as adultery or excessive gambling, which most of us would agree is morally wrong yet which is, and should be, outside the province of the law. The practical problem is to decide at what point in this scale we put these homosexual acts between consenting adult males—for, with staggering illogicality, we have decided that where only women are involved, the law has nothing to say. What I want to do to-day is to express my own conviction that our present practice probably does more harm than good.

Lord Devlin has written: … there is, for example, a general abhorrence of homosexuality. We should ask ourselves in the first instance whether, looking at it calmly and dispassionately, we regard it as a vice so abominable that its mere presence is an offence. If that is the genuine feeling of the society in which we live, I do not see how society can be denied the right to eradicate it. Even if we accept this position; even if we take the plain man's view that homosexuality is simply an abominable vice; even if we cherish the hope that it can ever be eradicated—a hope that history, psychology and physiology unite in regarding as vain—it is still the case, believe, that to make it a criminal offence in all circumstances is not the way to abolish or even discourage it.

One of the initial difficulties, of course, in discussing it rationally is that we still know so little of the causes and treatment of homosexuality. We tend so often to confuse the issue—the word "homosexuality" so often presents itself to our minds in its most harmful form—and concentrate on the compulsive molestation of boys; which is as logical as if we envisaged heterosexuality in terms of offences against small girls. Again, we are only now beginning to understand that complete homosexuality and complete heterosexuality are not hard and fast conditions but opposite ends in a spectrum of attitudes. Certainly, we know that many, if not most, people that we shall call normal pass in adolescence through a homosexual phase. It may well be, therefore, that the homosexual is one who for environmental or physical reasons is arrested in his development. We are still uncertain whether this is a condition which can be successfully treated in all cases or even in some or even in any.

These are technical things which I have not the time and certainly not the knowledge to pursue. I mention them simply to make one point as forcibly as I can. Without embarking on those immensely difficult questions of what we mean by moral and criminal responsibilty in terms of growing knowledge of the mind and of society, it seems clear that in homosexuality we have a form of deviant behaviour which, more than almost any other that springs to mind, is clearly psychological or physical in its origin and must be treated accordingly.

It is incidentally—and this is a very important point—precisely this kind of crime or sin or abnormality (call it what you will) that is least comprehensible to that consensus of ordinary decent men in which Lord Devlin finds the only source of moral authority in a secular society. It is precisely here that such men are lacking in the necessary knowledge and experience and are most likely to be swayed by the same kind of cruel stupidity that over the centuries has characterised the behaviour of the herd toward the mentally ill. I am not saying that homosexuality is a mental illness. I am saying that this is a field in which the perceptions of the consensus of ordinary people are most likely to be blunt.

But let me return to my original line of thought. It may still be argued that the deep psychological roots make it the more necessary to discourage it by the force of law. But do we discourage it? Where is the balance of advantage? What are we really seeking to enforce? Not the protection of youth—for the amendments to the law proposed by the Wolfenden Report strengthen, rather than weaken, the law in this respect. Are we afraid that homosexual practice if legalised will spread? The very phrase "intolerance, indignation and disgust" which, to quote Lord Devlin, characterises the attitude of the ordinary reasonable man to these offences, is sufficient safeguard against that, reinforced as it by the plain physical and psychological fact that the majority of people naturally become heterosexual at some stage. So we are left finally simply with the argument that the law should reflect the moral feelings of the community.

Against this we must set what seem to me to be the far greater dangers that the present law involves. Let us try to imagine the immense difficulties of the homosexual's life, quite apart from legal penalties. Superficially an ordinary man with ordinary desires, the trivial everyday circumstances of his life provide him with temptations far greater than those which most of us are ever called upon to face. T believe that by adding the stigma of criminality we make him less rather than more able to resist carrying his deviant instincts to excess.

He is exposed to three great risks. First, we make him a potential victim of blackmail. This has been mentioned already and I believe it to be an important point. It is a tragedy for him and it is a danger to the country. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, will not mind, I believe, if I quote what he said to me privately, that during the time when he was responsible for the security of the country he had experiences which by themselves would make him in favour of the Wolfenden Report. Secondly, we make the homosexual far more reluctant to seek treatment, where treatment is possible. Thirdly, above all, by branding him as a criminal we make restraint and continence more difficult by pushing him down into a hopeless and criminal sub-world of squalid companionships and furtive satisfactions that may indeed turn him away from people of his own age to attack the vulnerable and the young. For a man of sensitivity and intelligence who may well be in other ways a normal citizen, the knowledge that he has not only his particular disability to contend with but is also outside the law—an outcast—may be disastrous. There can be few noble Lords who have not known personally of tragedies which might have been avoided had an individual been able to seek treatment and, if treatment failed, to organise his life so that decency should not be offended and no other person be corrupted, yet so that the possibility of giving and receiving affection and love could still be open to him.

Finally, I would say this. If it is essential that the law should have regard to morality, if we accept the whole of that argument, then it must not be in a merely negative and condemnatory sense. Understanding and compassion are part of morality as well as the condemnation of sin. However strongly we individually may regard homosexual behaviour as a grave breach of the moral law, we can still maintain that the implementation of this Report would not lead to a weakening of the moral fibre of society but would be a step towards a healthier, because a more humane and rational, one. The time has surely come when we should have the courage to bring in legislation on this subject, when in fact legislation must move into line with what I believe to be the overwhelming weight of informed opinion.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to take up a great deal of your Lordships' time in this matter. There are a great many others who wish to speak, many of them with greater authority than I would wish to claim for myself. I bring to this subject, as many of your Lordships also I am sure do, a natural repugnance which it is difficult to overcome. I think, as has already been said, that part of the great problem of dealing adequately and successfully and intelligently with this matter is that so many ordinary people feel a repugnance to it and wish merely to try to forget all about it.

In so far as our knowledge of homosexuality goes—and as the most reverend Primate has already said, it does not go very far—we do not know, medical science does not know, the causes, nor has it been able to find a cure, but what does seem clear is that where homosexuality exists and where homosexual practices are indulged in it is not in general the result of a deliberate moral choice. It is the result of what can be called an illness, a divergence from the normal, psychologically and physiologically, a state of emotion and of a physical nature which is different from that which modern society has accepted as right. It is not, as most crimes are and as what we normally regard as crimes are, the result of a deliberate moral decision to take a course which is contrary, and can be shown to be contrary, to the general social good. This does not fall at all within that sphere.

In so far as I know something about the state of homosexuality, I know it because my wife was for many years a consultant psychologist at one of the great London teaching hospitals. She herself was only very occasionally concerned in cases where homosexuality arose, but inevitably in the course of knowing those with whom she was associated I did discuss with many who were dealing with patients who were homosexuals. We have to recognise, as the most reverend Primate said earlier, that there are many variations and many degrees of homosexuality; that it is not simple in its diagnosis, and certainly not simple in its cure; and we have to recognise that, although research is going on, and it is probably true to say that some advance in knowledge is taking place, and in some areas some possibility of discovering remedies or treatment which may be of some value has been found, yet it is still the case that on the whole and in the vast majority of cases we are still up against a blank wall. When we condemn homosexuals we condemn those whom we do not understand and whose condition we cannot help, and I do not believe that it ought to lie within society to condemn as criminals those to whom it can offer no genuine help or hope of change in their condition, and the reason for whose condition they cannot understand.

As has been said by many speakers before, there is no question in what is now before your Lordships' House of anything that would increase the danger of the seduction of the young; nothing that would increase the danger of acts which would be contrary to public policy by bringing out into the open matters which would be repugnant to the general level of public opinion. We are concerned solely with the position of homosexuals who are adults and who act in private. They are not doing anything to affront public opinion, since public opinion has no knowledge of what they do unless and until they are haled before the court as criminals. All such medical knowledge as there is shows that, if they are over the age of 21, their homosexual nature has already formed. They are not capable of seducing, one or the other. They are fixed in their unfortunate condition. Perhaps they are seeking some relief and affection in an association with another of a similiar state.

I suggest to your Lordships that what the present law does is to put in jeopardy, not only those who actually perform homosexual practices, but also those who, as the most reverend Primate suggested, are seeking that self-control which is as necessary and desirable in the case of the homosexual as it is in the case of the heterosexual. What happens if two men of a homosexual nature, who are seeking to avoid, if they can, homosexual practices, seek to find in their association with one another an understanding of their condition, an affection and a support in enabling them to conduct themselves according to what they believe to be the moral law? If their association is innocent, then they are in a position of jeopardy if a blackmailer comes along, because just as it is impossible to prove that what is now a crime has taken place between consenting adults in private, unless one of them turns Queen's evidence or there are some exceptional circumstances and they have been spied upon, it is extremely difficult, if such a charge is made by a blackmailer, to prove innocence, because only those involved in the suspicion are concerned.

Therefore, I hope that not only those who indulge in homosexual practices, but also those who, although of a homosexual nature, seek to exercise that discipline which the most reverend Primate said is as desirable in this matter as in others, and who are equally in jeopardy before the threat of the blackmailer who, because of their association, sees an opportunity in the present state of the criminal law to make money in the vilest and meanest manner open to man, may be protected against this kind of threat.

It has been argued by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and clearly there is some force in this, that one of the dangers is that if the law is altered it may appear that homosexuality is in consequence socially approved, even although it is not, and as a result more may be attracted to homosexuality. I should like your Lordships to consider what is now the position. What we are now doing is to turn homosexuality into a secret society, with all the attractions that a secret society offers to the unbalanced young. And we must appreciate that only those who are in some measure unbalanced, emotionally or physically, are likely to be attracted to homosexuality, since the normal life, with its immense rewards in love and affection and achievement which are not offered to those who are homosexual, has so much more to offer than has the homosexual life. But to those who are unbalanced, to those who are perhaps on the edge of a homosexual nature, the appeal of what can be presented as a secret society is immense. Any who have moved at all in homosexual circles, some of which also try the spurious appeal of a kind of intellectual Bohemianism, will know how strong that appeal of a secret society can be.

It is because I believe that it is immensely important that we should bring this matter out into the open that I support the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in this Motion. I do not know whether he con- templates a Division, which is unusual in the case of such Motions.


My Lords, I have moved for Papers. I do not propose, I think, to withdraw my Motion. I shall proceed with it, subject to the orders of the House.


My Lords, what I wanted to say was that if the noble Earl proceeds to divide the House, I hope he will get great support from your Lordships. The speaker for the Government earlier threw out the suggestion of the possibility of a Private Member's Bill, on which there would be a free vote. If the noble Earl, as the result of this debate, decides that it would be worth while to proceed in that way, I should count myself proud to support him in doing so.

I do not believe that we can go on waiting for a public opinion which can never be defined in hard and concrete terms. There has been support for a reform of the law from a great many religious, social, political and other bodies. There have been surveys conducted by a number of newspapers. There have been radio and television programmes. And in every case, so far as I am aware, the evidence shows that, although there is a minority whose repugnance to the whole subject outweighs every other consideration, the majority of those who have followed these newspaper surveys and television programmes have been in favour of some change in the law. I believe that on the grounds of social good and human morality such a change is overdue. I hope that we in your Lordships' House, whose power lies only in influence, will be able to do something to-day to influence public opinion to bring that change about.


My Lords, may I just put this thought to the noble Lord, on a point of procedure? There are a great many of us in this House who could not vote for a Motion for Papers. In my recollection, it is entirely a novel idea. I only once remember a Motion for Papers being pressed to a Division, and it was carried, or given away. Nobody knew what to do when the Motion had been carried, and somebody in a Department found a lot of papers and put them in a box and sent them along to the Clerk of Parliaments, who had not the faintest idea what to do with them. Historically (I am sure the noble Earl the Leader of the House will agree with this), when a noble Lord wishes to have a Division he puts down a Motion of a positive nature, saying that something should be done. The only point of putting down a Motion for Papers is that it gives the mover of the Motion a chance of a reply.

I am not going to make a speech about this matter, but if the noble Earl, Lord Arran, wants to test the feeling of the House, in which I am sure he would have great support—he would certainly have mine, for a reason given by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme; though, as I have said, I could not vote for this kind of Motion—he can produce a simple, short Bill. He will find plenty of people willing to help him to draft such a Bill, and the Government would, I am sure, give him the opportunity of having a Second Reading debate in this House. He would then be able to get the sense of the House, and those who felt that there should be a change in the law could give him their full support.


I do not think those remarks were addressed to me—they were obviously addressed more to the noble Earl, Lord Arran—but I should like to say that I entirely agree with the noble Earl. I should very much regret it if this Motion were pressed to a Division. It seems to me to be contrary to the practice of the House. I am sure there are many noble Lords who would support the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who, not expecting a Division to-night, would not be available to take part in it, even if they did net have—and some of them no doubt would—the scruples that have been mentioned.


My Lords, could we have some sort of guidance from the noble Earl the Leader of the House as to what would or would not happen as a result of our passing this Motion for Papers. I understand that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, looks forward to the Division as an opportunity of indicating support for his main propositions. If the Motion vaguely indicates that, I am certainly one who would wish to vote for it. On the other hand, I am sure that there must be many noble Lords who are here to-day not expecting the Division to be of a serious character, and if the noble Earl were to divide the House, I think it would probably be a very insufficient indication of the support on which he might count.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I should say that one or two noble Lords with great experience in this House—one, certainly—approached me yesterday and raised with me the question of whether it was appropriate to see a Motion of this kind carried. I took such advice as was open to me, and I think I had better lay before the House one or two facts about past precedents. They are not conclusive in any way, but I feel that I should put them before your Lordships. I obtained, at rather short notice—so the list may not be complete—a list of Motions for Papers which have been agreed to in the last 30 years. If we look back only to the post-war period, we find that there have been nine such Motions: on crime, in 1950; dogs, in 1959; the Colombo Plan, in 1959; British Claimants under the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement, in 1961; the National Health Service, shortage of dieticians, et cetera, in 1962; the Beeching Report, 1963; industrial design, 1964; pensions, 1964; and road accidents, 1964. Therefore there have been a number of occasions when the House has not refused to accept Motions for Papers, and the problem of providing Papers has to that extent been solved.

I may be asked whether there have been any Motions which were similar to the one—and it may be said as neutral—before us to-day. The two closest parallels, extracted rather quickly—and there may be others were these. On December 20, 1961, the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, moved: To call attention to the situation of the various categories of British claimants under the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of February, 1959, in the light of the Order in Council laid before Parliament on Monday. December 4, 1961: and to move for Papers. That is perhaps the closest parallel. It has been recorded here, for my benefit. that, the sense of the House being against the Government, they accepted the Motion. I am not sure whether they would accept that way of putting it; but, at any rate, that Motion was accepted by the Government on December 20, 1961. On May 1, 1963, the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth moved: To call attention to the Beeching Report The Reshaping of British Railways and to the need for the utilisation of each form of transport for the purposes for which it is most suitable; and to move for Papers. That is perhaps slightly less neutral, although there was still the same opening phrase, "To call attention to …".

That is the result of my researches up to the moment. I do not think it would be up to me at this moment to offer my opinion as to whether it is appropriate to divide on this Motion—I think that would be a matter for the House—but I thought it right to place these precedents before your Lordships.


My Lords, could the noble Earl say whether, in any of the cases he has quoted, there was in fact a Division?


Not as the information is placed before me here. But I think it is fair to suggest (I am sorry that Lord Salisbury is not here, because he could have helped us as to what was in his mind on December 20, 1961) that there was not a Division on the Motion of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, because it was accepted by the Government. I suppose it is possible that had it not been accepted, there would have been a Division. I am not sure that the fact that there is not a Division is decisive. I am merely answering the question put by the noble Earl by saying that it does not appear that there was a Division in any of these cases.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl this question? He mentioned as his favourite precedent, so to speak, the debate about compensation of British refugees from Egypt. But is it not fair to say that on that occasion the Government were being asked to do something which the Government, and nobody else, could do? It lay in the Government's power, and not in the power of anybody else, to compensate these people. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said just now, in this debate this is something which can be covered by means of a Private Member's Bill: and, if it is to be done at all, is not a matter which must be done by the Government.


My Lords, I feel that it would not be for me to agree or disagree with the noble Lord, except to point out that the actual Motion was not one calling on the Government to do something, but simply a Motion, as this one is, To call attention to the situation of the various categories … in the light of the Order in Council. On the face of it, that Motion was very close to this one. It was not, "To call the attention of the Government", but merely, "To call attention". I say this to inform the House as to what has happened on past occasions, but I do not think it is for me, subject to the views of others, to come forward with some clear recommendations as to whether it would be wise or unwise, appropriate or inappropriate, for the noble Earl to insist on carrying this Motion to a Division.


My Lords, I must say that I should be deeply sorry to have to withdraw the Motion. It is couched in the most innocuous terms, and to withdraw it would seem to me rather to indicate that there was a feeling of disapproval in the House, which I do not think would correspond with the views of your Lordships. This Motion does not commit anyone to anything. It says simply that these matters are worthy of earnest consideration. There is something slightly symbolic in this. If we withdraw the Motion for Papers, I think there will be a feeling throughout the world, or the country, particularly among those who are afflicted, that it is just another putting off, just another delaying action, and nothing done. I must be at the mercy of the House on this matter, but I should like, if it is permissible, to have the Motion put in the hope that there will not be a Division. I do not know how anybody could object to something which merely "calls attention".


My Lords, I should very much like the opinion of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, in particular, on whether I ought to offer any suggestion. It does not appear to me to be my function to offer a suggestion. It seems that I have performed my duty in calling attention to the precedents.


My Lords, this is getting into a Committee debate. On the other hand, I have so much sympathy with the noble Earl that I will try to contribute what I can to help. I agree that the nearest case that the Leader of the House has cited was when the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was dealing with Egypt. I think there is this difference: he was pressing the Government very strongly on something they might have rejected, and what he was saying was: "This is so important that I feel I must press it unless the Government say that they will do what they can to help". I think that was the position. The Chief Whip will no doubt agree. Therefore the Government assented.

What the Government have said today is that they do not take any sides on this matter that if there was a Private Bill they would certainly leave it—a most proper observation, I thought to the free vote of the House, including all Ministers, with no Whips put on. I should have thought that, in those circumstances, if the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in winding-up, emphasised what he has said—that it is obviously a matter for the free vote of the House, and that therefore he was prepared to accept this Motion—it would be better. It might be misleading, one way or another, if a vote were actually taken on this Motion. He would not produce any Papers—that is a formula—but he would accept the Motion on the understanding that what that really meant was that this was a suitable matter for further action (the House is not in the least committed) in which noble Lords in all parts of the House would be able to (express an opinion. The proper way to do that would be on the Second Reading of a Bill. I think then everybody would be satisfied. Nobody in the House would be committed on a vote. They would merely be committed to the feeling that this was the kind of subject on which there ought to be a free vote after a further debate on a suitable Motion, which would be for the Second Reading of the Bill. The Leader of the House appealed to me to try to help the House on this point. I think if I were Leader of the House in his place that is what I should do.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, who has a tremendous fund of wisdom and experience in coping with a problem of this kind, but I am afraid that course is not open to me. The Lord Chancellor is going to wind up the debate, and I must not anticipate his remarks. But I think it would be wrong to give the impression that he is likely to accept the Motion. That would be a decision for the Government, and I do not think will lie in the power of the Lord Chancellor. We shall be left with the situation where the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will have to decide, according to his conscience and judgment, whether or not to stand by his Motion. I do not feel that it would be right for me, having given those precedents, to try to influence him. All I can do is to say that it would be wrong for me to imply that there was one course which was more right than the other. It is for the noble Earl to decide.


My Lords, do I understand that Her Majesty's Government would not even be prepared to accept the Motion which is "drawing attention to", and making no recommendations? That is all it is.


It is difficult to get out of order here, but in so far as it is possible, we seem to have achieved it. I think we had better wait to hear what the Lord Chancellor has to say when he winds up.


My Lords, I think it is very unfair on the supporters of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, not to know now, because we do not know what he is going to decide then, and he might not get the majority he would hope to get.


I am not sure who is being unfair. I have left it entirely to the noble Earl. I shall not be stopping him. I shall not emerge at the last moment with some constitutional point of order. If the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, says that the Lord Chancellor ought to tell us now what he is going to say—


I thought the noble Earl himself told us.


I have not made the Lord Chancellor's speech, but I was trying to be as helpful as possible in going a lot further than is usually the case on these occasions.


My Lords, I do not know whether this would be in order. The operative words are "to move for Papers." Suppose the Motion merely stood that this is a subject worthy of the further consideration of the House. Surely the noble Earl could accept that.


I do not want Papers.


This is the last time I shall speak. I am afraid this is a matter to which the Government have had to give a good deal of prior attention, and I am afraid they cannot, even in the face of a procedural problem of a new kind, come forward with some new line at the last minute.


My Lords, since this phase of the discussion has followed my speech, I hope, as a supporter of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, that he will not press the Motion to a Division to-night. I feel the result would be to get a very ragged and unsatisfactory reflection of opinion in this House which, if anything, would do his cause much more harm than good. Instead, if he decided to bring forward a short Bill for reform on which there would be a free vote, then I think he would do something which would emphatically be of value.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, it is clear from the Reading of the Wolfenden Report and, indeed, from the debate to-day, that we are dealing with a minority, but a substantial minority, of men who call for our understanding and help, and not for our condemnation. It is also clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, that here is a moral issue, the remedy of which does not lie entirely with the doctors. History has provided us with many an example of a great citizen of the world whose tendency has been homosexual but whose gift to the world has been great—men who have battled on against desires for which they were not to be blamed, and who in the battle have refused to yield.

I wish at this rather late stage in the debate to speak only briefly on two points. The first was alluded to, but only in parenthesis, by my noble friend Lord James of Rusholme, when he referred in passing to what the Report had to say on the matter of youth. Here it is obviously of first importance that youth should be protected from entanglement; and Recommendation (iii) on grounds which I, for one, would consider wholly adequate, fixes the age at which a man should be deemed to be adult, not at sixteen, as it might have done, or indeed even at eighteen, but at twenty-one. This recommendation, if adopted, would guarantee that there were written into our Statute Book a very considerable measure of safeguard for young people; and this we should, T believe, warmly welcome.

Further, Recommendation (vii) would actually tighten up the present law by increasing penalities for offences against juveniles. This point has hardly been touched on in to-day's debate. It is a serious thing for a man to indulge in homosexual behaviour with another fully adult man, but to commit an offence against a boy or a youth is infinitely worse, and if with an unwilling partner even worse still; and the fixing of maximum penalties as outlined in paragraph 91 of the Report seems to me an act of wisdom and goes a considerable way to the protecting of the young from emotional or psychological damage. The law must so be framed that the welfare of the adolescent homosexual and of the young heterosexual is provided for. This seems to me to be adequately dealt with in Recommendations (iii) and (vii) of the Report.

If I may refer to a second matter, it would be to one which has been touched on frequently in the course of the debate by your Lordships. I refer to the matter of blackmail and particularly to Recommendations (ix) and (xiii). It is because I believe the present law has positive evil effects in the particular opportunities for blackmail, which it gives, and because it has ill effects on people whose personalities are most liable to psychological damage from the existence of this kind of law, that I support these recommendations. We want to see a body of unfortunate men released from the fear of criminal prosecution, and especially from blackmail and intimidation, while at the same time we want to see the law's witness maintained that homosexual acts of fornication are no more approved of in our society than are such heterosexual acts. The Report refers in a mild phrase to blackmail as a pernicious social evil. That indeed is to put it mildly. The situation has been created by the present state of affairs in which the homosexual is looked on as fair game by the lunatic and hooligan fringe, and there has been, and I believe still is, a disturbing number of cases of blackmail and intimidation of homosexuals, and in all too many cases, and often resulting from this, there have been suicides. If these recommendations are passed then it would seem to me that blackmail would be in a fair way to be reduced and a number of suicides and much mental ill health might well be prevented.

The Homosexual Law Reform Society which has been alluded to more than once in the course of this debate has given several examples, most of them I think recently—although I speak subject to correction, I believe most of them since 1963—which deal with the serious results of blackmail, such as this one: blackmail by his former homosexual partner of a man who had abandoned homosexual practices and was now enjoying a heterosexual relationship. As he would not return, his former friend threatened to send incriminating letters and other things to the police, and his threats only ended when the man committed suicide. There are many instances of that, and to this very serious attention needs to be given.

One closing word. Expression has been given to the need for research and we have been encouraged to hear of recent books produced on this matter. But there is also, it seems to me, great need of psycho-sexual counselling centres in different parts of the country, and not only I would say in or near London. But many of those who need, and indeed many who desire, such help as these centres would afford would not venture to avail themselves of it so long as the law stands as it does. But young people especially must be able to seek advice and treatment without fear of blackmail or other evil consequences. Given this, then, we should have throughout the country a thin string, if you will, but a string of psycho-sexual counselling centres with Government support behind them. Let the Government not wait but act courageously on the advice of experts and those experienced in social work in this field. I rejoice to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, say that the law should be a step or two ahead of public opinion. As the Government have shown courage in finding time for a Private Member's Bill on the abolition of the death penalty, so let them see through, by whatever means devised, to a sensible conclusion of this equally important matter.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, as has already been said, the last time we debated this matter was in December. 1957, quite a long time ago, and I, as a veteran of that debate and like the rest of your Lordships, am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Arran for introducing this subject to-day and giving us an opportunity of assessing the view of the House in regard to the Wolfenden proposals, especially that one dealing with homosexual behaviour in private between consenting adults. In 1957, I recollect, there were several strong speeches against the Wolfenden recommendation, while to-day, certainly up to now, the majority of the speeches have been in favour of it, except that I have noticed a few hostile mutterings by the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, who is not at the moment in his place.

The reason for this change in atmosphere is, I am sure, based on an increased knowledge of the subject. On re-reading the rather admirable speech I made in 1957, I find that I said that I had been converted as a result of reading the Wolfenden Report with great care. I discovered, contrary to popular opinion, that homosexuals were not confined to the richer classes, to the intelligentsia, and in fact that they were mostly undistinguishable from their fellow citizens and lived otherwise normal lives. I discovered that homosexuality was either inborn or acquired at a very early age—that does not make much difference—and that exclusively homosexual men or women cannot be turned into heterosexuals. It is not a question of wanting to be like that; it is just that they cannot help it. I came to the conclusion that, if those were the facts, I must take a new look at the problem.

Are we really going to continue to approve laws which make it a crime for these people to indulge in what for them are natural desires? I should like to quote a passage from the speech made by the late Lord Brabazon of Tara in that last debate which we had, in which he said: And what we have to get into our heads, although it is difficult, is that that glamour of love, odd as it may sound, is just as much present between two homosexuals as it is between a man and a woman. Perhaps that is a terrible thing, but it exists and we cannot get away from it. We are born not all the same. We may be right-handed or left-handed, intelligent or not intelligent, but we ought to thank our Maker that we are not born warped as to sex, because no more terrible affliction can be imposed on anyone."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206, col. 764, December 4, 1957.] Those are wise and humane words from a man with great knowledge of the world. So I think it is our duty to try and arrive at some fundamental adjustment between the homosexual and society, and, as a first step, a form of law on the Wolfenden lines should help to do this.

What are the prospects? Still not very encouraging, in spite of the fact that the Churches, priests, many eminent doctors, psychologists and sociologists have spoken out in favour of the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee. What is the reason for this? I suspect, indifference and ignorance. The general public is not interested in the subject, and has not bothered to study the problem. The average man or woman is not interested in temptations which they do not understand and which have never come their way. They have an instinctive dislike of the idea of homosexual practices and are irritated by the few homosexuals of the extrovert type whom they have come across.

To my surprise, that great lawyer Lord Devlin, who I had hoped would be speaking here to-day, in a lecture in 1959 took this view—and here I quote: If it is the genuine feeling of our society that homosexuality is a vice so abominable that its mere presence is an offence, then society has the right to eradicate it by the use of the criminal law". He went on to say that by "society" he meant the man in the street, whose judgment was not necessarily based on reason but on feeling. I could not quite follow this, and I was pleased when, a few months later, in a B.B.C. Third Pro- gramme talk, Professor Hart commented on Lord Devlin's address and said—I paraphrase him—that the legislator must ask whether the feeling of the man in the street is based on ignorance, superstition or misunderstanding. If this is the case—and I believe it is—we should all do what we can to educate public opinion.

I say quite frankly that in urging for this change in the law we are much more likely to get a sympathetic hearing from the present Government than we did from the previous Administration. The noble Earl the Leader of the House is well known for his interest in social misfits and down-and-outs. The noble and learned Lord Chancellor has campaigned for years for many kinds of law reform, and I hope that he will add this to his list. I feel sure that the change in the law is bound to come one day: but unless some Government are prepared to take positive action, or, as has been suggested, to give their blessing to a Private Bill, we may be having the same debate in another eight years' time—that is to say, if we still exist.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords. I should like to add my thanks and gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for initiating this debate. I thought his speech was absolutely brilliant, clear, restrained, thoughtful and humane, and I go all the way with him on it. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will not accuse me of being arrogant because I happen to hold fairly strong views on this subject. I have thought a great deal about it. I am not young, and I think that if one is not young one will have learned quite a lot about homosexuality in this life; and I agree with all noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the Wolfenden recommendations.

I personally do not regard homosexuality as a disease. I should like to make this quite clear. I do not know, and I do not know how anybody else knows, that it is a disease. I believe that the sex instinct manifests itself in many ways, some more attractive than others, and that homosexuality is just one of its manifestations. When approaching the subject we have to try to lay aside, if we cannot divest ourselves entirely of them, any deep-seated historic prejudices that we may have, and try to be as objective as we can. This is not easy, because the whole subject of sex is so ringed round with sentimentality and self-deception that it is only by serious introspection that we can clear our minds and emotions, especially when we come to homosexuality.

This is a subject where distaste so quickly turns into moral indignation, and this applies, as I say, more to homosexuality than to heterosexual behaviour. There are many reasons for it. After all, not everything in the heterosexual garden is lovely. We tolerate and we ignore, and we laugh at it. I wish we could do the same about homosexuality. Up till now, everything that is known about male and female characteristics in both sexes shows them to be mixed up in the human personality. Doctors, psychologists, lawyers, teachers and priests would be hard put to it to define normalcy with scientific precision. Certainly, it is not just the accident of a homosexual physical experience when young that makes a man into a homosexual when he grows up. A man is more likely to become a stubborn homosexual because of a possessive and over-protective mother for whom he conceives a strong unconscious tie, than because of a homosexual experience when he is a boy.

Recently, I read an article about an inquiry into the family background of a group of drug addicts. In every case there was a history of an over-loving possessive mother, who in some of the cases discouraged the cure of her son. Most young people pass through a homosexual phase on their way to sexual maturity. After all, everyone knows of the case of the schoolgirl "crush" and of the boy's hero worship. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the traumatic effect of a physical homosexual experience would be rare if we, as parents and teachers, gave our children more education in the matter of sex.

There is, of course, the case of the older man who corrupts young boys. This is the kind of case that comes up quite often before our magistrates. It is a most unattractive phenomenon. But is it really so much more unattractive than the picture of the young, good-time girls with their "sugar daddies"? I am not sure. Everything that I have known and learned about homosexuals came under the scrutiny of the Wolfenden Committee, and all their recommendations reinforce my own views on the matter. I am in entire agreement with their recommendations. I hope that research will continue into the aetiology of homosexuality and that all help—medical and psychological—will be given to those who desire it, for their own happiness.

The Wolfenden Committee recommendations were approved by twelve to one. If I had any grave doubts about my own attitude to this social problem, they were dispelled by the arguments in the minority reservation of Mr. Adair. Why? Because I do not believe that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults is harmful to the community, or can have a serious effect on the whole moral fabric, as it is called, of social life. The whole moral fabric of social life often looks somewhat tattered to me after I have read my morning newspapers, or even my Sunday papers. The misdemeanours between man and woman far outnumber those between man and man.

I do not believe that homosexual conduct in private between two consenting adult males injures the public, nor does its influence or its example have a harmful effect on the young. Young people should not be kept in ignorance about the complexities of human behaviour. I do not believe that our present laws keep homosexuality in check, and I do not believe that homosexuality would be increased if the law were liberalised. In fact, our laws as they are at present introduce an element of danger to those who flaunt them, and this very danger acts as a sexual stimulant rather than as a deterrent. We persecute these men for what they are, and we do not persecute heterosexuals for many of the perversions in which they indulge—we treat these as private and confidential. We expect a degree of self-restraint from them that is absolutely unrealistic.

What kind of loyalty can we expect from these people towards a society which hounds them, often in such a humiliating way? What can be more squalid than the police spy in the public lavatory? No blame on the police officer, for he is carrying out his instructions. But what of the general public, the doctors, the psychologists, the priests—are they to be informers, too? The whole business of being an informer is most repulsive in a democracy. How can we maintain such rigid attitudes in this day and age when sex is treated with candour? The argument is used that these laws are four hundred years old, and so are good because of this. On this premise we should bring back prison for adultery or hanging for theft.

So, finally, I make my plea that the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report be accepted by the Government and that the laws against homosexuals be amended to be in line with the laws against heterosexuals. The recommendations are not sentimental, and this fact has not been stressed enough in this debate. The recommendations of the Wolfenden Report are wise and realistic, and contain very severe penalties for sexual crimes. It is fashionable nowadays to criticise and run down this House, but here in this House we have a good opportunity to exercise the good wisdom that comes from maturity—and may I add also, perhaps sophistication; though I must say that I myself am more shockproof than a good many other noble Lords who have spoken. The aggregate of the years which we share between us in this Chamber would add up to a formidable figure.

In the Commons, whatever liberal views a Member of Parliament may hold, he can be inhibited, and sometimes hamstrung, by consideration of his constituents. Many of these are uninformed and fearful of homosexuality. It is in this House, where we can freely express our views, that we can have a better chance of changing public opinion and make it more tolerant and understanding. We can revise the prejudices and certainties of our younger days. I heard a most distinguished noble Lord in this House say that the older he got the less certain he was about some of the views he had held before. Our laws must be kept under continuous and strict scrutiny so as to keep them objective, to humanise them. There are often no simple solutions to complex problems. The simple solution is usually one empty of compassion.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lady sits down, may I say a word or two in support of her argu- ment? Five years ago I was about to enter a public lavatory; there was a policeman on duty just outside, a man who for many years had been in the House of Commons and who knew me well. He said, "Don't go down there, unless you must". I asked him, "What on earth are you talking about?" He said, "We have two plain-clothes policemen working down there, and when that happens anything can happen—so keep clear". That supports the noble Lady's argument completely.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to say some things that might perhaps lead your Lordships to believe that I have no Christian sympathy. I find myself completely out of sympathy with the main trends of this debate. I should like to read the conclusions of the memorandum by the Standing Conference on National Voluntary Youth Organisations submitted to the Wolfenden Committee: We are bound to uphold the position that our young members must be protected against sin and perversion and must also be fortified to overcome these if they meet them. While we recognise that the genuine invert may he so congenitally, we are sure that many others become homosexual through circumstance—perhaps emotional entanglement or immaturity, perhaps corruption by others. Therefore, in the formative years up to 21 (and leaving on one side the inverts who require special treatment), the principal concern should be to strengthen and improve home life, to prevent corrupting circumstances, and to provide the right educational and emotional support. The legal questions should, in our view, be seen against this background. I have had a fair amount of experience in dealing with youth movements, and I know the difficulties we face in keeping such people out of our youth leadership. This debate is dealing more with consenting adults than with youth, but at the same time we have to consider the effect on youth and young persons, particularly those aged sixteen, seventeen and eighteen. They may be led to believe that this is a toleration of homosexuality and will therefore be open to greater temptations than they otherwise would have experienced. Despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said about the laws being 400 years old, they have a psychological effect on people. The withdrawal of a law which works against what are generally regarded as not only undesirable but disgusting practices must have a greater effect than the imposition of new Statutes which will merely place restrictions on these practices.

I am afraid that the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, does not like very much what has been said by Mr. Adair, yet I believe that Mr. Adair is much nearer to the truth than the Wolfenden Committee. He knows the temptations of youth. He knows that in Scotland, at least, respect for the law is much more widely spread than the Wolfenden Committee seemed to imagine. He asked: In view of everything, is this the time to legitimise practices such as these, when the whole tendency is to remove the last vestige of personal responsibility for crime and other practices, and when the whole tendency is to destroy self-discipline among the citizens, and particularly among the young? I believe that the bringing into force of the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee will strike a disastrous blow at those who are now working, and devoting their time and leisure to bringing up young fellows with a decent sense of responsibility and a decent sense of morality. I deplore any attempt to legitimise in any way the practices which we have tried to bring up our young fellows to abhor.


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive my interrupting for one moment? He surely realises that the Labouchere Amendment, which is really all we are discussing to-day, was passed in an empty House of Commons on an August night without any speech being made at all; and it was an Amendment to a Bill which was called "A Bill for the Protection of Young Girls". All we are talking about is the Labouchere Amendment, and that is all that the Wolfenden Committee wants to be removed.


I am afraid that I cannot accept such a statement.


My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, had been here a little earlier, he would have heard from my noble friend Lord Dundee a very full description of what happened.


My Lords, I am not taking any side in this intervention, except to say that the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, is entirely wrong in saying that all we are discussing is the Labouchere Amendment, or that that was the sole subject of the Wolfenden Report.


Of course it was.


Of course it was not.


My Lords, I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, might be allowed to continue.


I thank the noble Earl. I shall not detain the House very much longer. I am quite sure that it will be a very severe blow to workers among youth if such an amendment is made to the law. I am not talking about what has been called the "stale" prosecutions. I believe it is desirable in every way to remove the threat of blackmail. I regard blackmail as a much worse evil than homosexuality, and if we could remove the "stale" prosecutions and stop the use of evidence given against themselves by victims of blackmail from leading to prosecution, then I believe that we should have done a great deal to remove the evil to which so many noble Lords have referred, of men being driven to suicide and to absolute despair because of a blackmailer. My Lords, I deplore any suggestion that we should weaken the law as it is at present, and I hope, in view of the present troubled times for youth, that no greater obstacle will be put in the way of their growing into decent citizens.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, in order to refresh my memory I spent part of last Sunday afternoon re-reading the Report which your Lordships' House is considering this afternoon, and I was reminded forcibly of words which I had previously said, and which many of your Lordships may have said, to the effect that we had "left undone those things which we ought to have done." There is a tendency to-day, in matters of public importance, whether it is in the Church or the State, to appoint a Committee, which in due course meets and after a time presents a Report. And there, unfortunately, the matter rests. The Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution was, I believe, presented to Parliament in September, 1957. It is now 1965, and I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for bringing the matter to our attention. I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government may now feel able to implement the recommendations made in the Report and to bring about the reforms suggested.

I want to say at once that, in supporting the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee, like them I believe that it is the function of the law to give the fullest protection to children, young people and those who suffer from mental defect, and that boys should be safeguarded from homosexuals. I would not wish the present law to be changed here, nor would I wish the law to be changed with regard to offences committed by adults with adults in public places. I want to stress that point, because the Church is always concerned for the protection of the weak and for the preservation of public order and decency. But, having said that, I would go on to say that I believe that homosexual acts between adults in private (and I accept the definition of an adult and the age limit as given in the Report) should no longer be regarded as a criminal offence.

My reason for presuming to speak, briefly, in your Lordships' House this afternoon is that during a ministry of nearly 40 years it has been my privilege to give what help I can to a number of homosexuals. In using the word "privilege" I do not want to appear sanctimonious, but I do believe most sincerely that it is a privilege to help anyone in need, and a homosexual is often a man desperately in need of help. He lives his life in constant fear of discovery and the publicity of a trial and prison sentence. He is, as many of your Lordships have said, faced by possible blackmail. He feels an outcast from society, which tends to classify him as different from other men. He knows that his sexual impulses, which to him are normal impulses, are considered by others to be abnormal. Why he is and what made him so, he does not know. Often he is a man of great genius, endowed with many gifts, yet his life is dogged by a sense of guilt which drives him more and more into himself. So it is that very often such a man may come under the care of a doctor or a parson, desperately hoping that in some way they can help him to become an integrated personality.

In trying to help such a man, I think I may say that I have learned one or two lessons which perhaps the general public might also take to heart. I have learned that, so far as it is humanly possible, I must be open-minded and detached when I talk to him. I must put completely on one side any feelings of repulsion at conduct which I may personally find disgusting. I must, indeed, beware of assuming that I am normal and he is abnormal, for in the artificial life we live to-day it is extremely difficult to define what actually is the normal and what is the abnormal. I suppose that, if all of us were really honest with ourselves, we should define ourselves as normal, and say that anyone who differs from us in his attitude and behaviour must in some way be either abnormal or subnormal. And, in giving advice, I must always strive to preserve the balance between two things: compassion on the one side, honesty on the other.

My Lords, one cannot put all homosexuals into one category. Being human beings, they are different in character, in personality and in mental ability. Indeed, the reasons why they are homosexuals differ in every case. So does the possible treatment for them, as outlined in the Report on page 65 and the following pages. My very small experience has taught me to believe that ethical considerations and religious observances enable some, perhaps many, to lead chaste lives, but that the present severe penalities for homosexuality between consenting adults make their often herioc and self-denying efforts still more difficult. It was Edmund Burke who said: No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. I have felt over and over again, in trying to help such cases, that these men need desperately the help of a psychotherapist who is familiar with their problem and skilled in treating such conditions. Yet over and over again one finds that a man is afraid to seek this help because, if he goes to a clinic, it may be discovered that he is a homosexual, and that might lead to a prison sentence.

I am bound to acknowledge, in common honesty, that there are some homosexuals—perhaps many—who are unwilling, or not sincere in their desire, to be cured. For them, I suppose, psychological treatment is useless, as I believe is prison treatment. But at least they call for our pity as much as for our censure. If such behaviour, confined to adults in private, with all the safeguards which now exist to protect boys and young people, were no longer to be regarded as the law's concern, then I honestly believe that we could remove a tremendous load of fear and guilt which haunts those who genuinely wish to attain to some measure of self-control, and even a cure. My Lords, frankly, to me, this is primarily a pastoral problem. My profession has inevitably made it so. I have read the recommendations of the Report. I believe they are morally sound; I believe they are right, and I believe they are just. My plea, without being in any way sentimental, is that Her Majesty's Government will make the implementing of this Report a matter of urgency, and so remove from a minority of men who, often through no fault of their own, bear a disability which fate has thrust upon them, the stigma of being regarded as criminals.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for introducing this debate to-day. As we have heard, it is more than seven years since your Lordships had the opportunity of discussing the Wolfenden Report, and one thing that the debate has already made clear is that the problems surrounding homosexuality and homosexual crime are certainly no less to-day than they were on the last occasion when this subject was debated. I think it is right and useful, also, that your Lordships should have an opportunity of discovering what Her Majesty's Government's intentions are regarding the recommendations made in the Report.

My own reason for speaking (and I shall not detain your Lordships for very long) is that, being a member of Sir John Wolfenden's Committee, I should like, very briefly, to put before your Lordships again some of the things that the Committee were trying to achieve. I may say that the Committee's Report has had such general acclamation this afternoon by people who are far more qualified than I am to boost it, that I really feel that there is hardly any need for me to say anything at all. But, looking back to when the Report was published, one gets the impression that many people, possibly the majority, thought then that the Wolfenden Committee were condoning homosexual crime, or at any rate appearing to "play it down". Of course, this, it is clear, sprang from our recommendation concerning homosexual acts between consenting adults in private.

My Lords, I believe that this impression was based on a misreading of the Report and, to a certain extent, on a misinterpretation of what the Wolfenden Committee were trying to achieve. Of course, one must remember, first of all, that the Committee were not set up to pass a moral judgment on homosexuality. This is for the Churches, for Parliament and for the nation to do. Nevertheless, while obviously I cannot claim to represent my colleagues in this, I am certain that, without exception, we took the view that homosexual acts are wrong and harmful—some very gravely so—and, therefore, to be deplored. I think we also agreed that, in general, homosexuals are more often than not unhappy people, maladjusted and sometimes degraded. This, I suggest, is in line, not only with ordinary, decent, Christian opinion, but also with a good deal of medical evidence as well. From this, two things follow: first, that the young and the weak must be protected; and, secondly, that homosexuals must, so far as is practically and medically possible, be assisted towards cure. I think that this constructive, curative approach forms the basis of the recommendations in the Wolfenden Report.

The noble Earl, Lord Arran, and indeed many other noble Lords, have put forward most cogently the arguments in favour of our recommendation concerning private homosexual acts, and I do not propose to go through them again here. I endorse what has been said, and I should like particularly to endorse what was said by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, and I think the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, with regard to the setting up of clinics in the country. I am quite certain that the present law deters a great many homosexuals, either through fear of blackmail or persecution or through their shame of social exposure, from seeking treatment when they really would like to do so. The view is held quite sincerely by many people that the present law acts as a deterrent. I believe myself that to some extent it probably does. All laws do. But I am equally certain that this has been exaggerated, because, as has been pointed out, it is difficult to see how any law that cannot be properly enforced can act as an adequate deterrent. At best, this law can act only indiscriminately; and, at worst, as we must know, it is openly flouted.

I should also like to say that the Committee gave very serious consideration to the question of the watershed between what one might call the Christian morality and the pragmatic approaches to such crimes: to such questions as the degree to which sin and crime can be equated and the extent to which the State should, and indeed can, interfere with private morality. These are very deep and fundamental questions and, as we have seen, there are undeniably deeply-held divergences of view on them because it is true that the law in this country has, in general from the beginning, been a reflection and a defender of the Christian principles upon which to a large extent it was founded.

I think it must be realised that there is in this country a fear that any relaxations such as we proposed concerning private homosexual acts would give the impression that this type of behaviour was no longer wrong or morally harmful, because a great many people still regard the law as a kind of moral yardstick. A further difficulty which I think confuses people is that, if our recommendation is accepted, something which would be permissible to someone over the age of 21 would be wrong and criminal and quite severely punishable under that age. The Committee—I have to say this—faced these questions very squarely and they undeniably impose a heavy responsibility on Parliament. I think that homosexual behaviour is, in some instances, morally worse and possibly more degrading than illicit hetero-sexual behaviour. But, nevertheless, this is a question of balance.

The Committee, rightly, in my view, having weighed up all the factors and taken everything into account, came to the conclusion that, provided that everything could be done to protect the vulnerability of the young and the weak, the right of an adult to decide for himself how to conduct his private life in this respect should be paramount. I am certain in my own mind that this was the right decision. I have said that because I do not wish it to be thought that the Committee were in any way condoning homosexual acts. That was very far from the case.

We have already heard in the debate from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—and I am grateful to him—of some of the consequences of the Report to date. I think he told us in this respect that prosecutions for this type of offence had now to be undertaken on the authorisation of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am not certain that I have him aright; but it would be interesting to your Lordships to know whether, since the Report was issued, there has been a drop in prosecutions for this type of offence between consenting adults in private.

May I now turn from this fundamental and broad issue to a few details? As your Lordships have heard, there are eighteen recommendations in the Report. It seems that not very much action has been taken on them owing to a disagreement, and possibly political considerations, concerning the first and major recommendation. I personally think that this is a pity; for many of the recommendations were designed to tidy up the existing law, to make its operation easier and more efficient. Let me take one very small example: in Recommendation (vi) we suggested it should be made explicit that the word "brothel" includes premises used for homosexual as well as heterosexual purposes. This is a small point of clarification but I think it a quite logical one and uncontroversial.

I shall not weary your Lordships by commenting on all the recommendations in the Report, but I should like to mention one or two. First, one that has already been brought out, notably by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, concerning stale offences. I think we were all very glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that prosecutions on what we now term stale offences also have to be taken under the guidance of the Director of Public Prosecutions. This, I think, is an excellent thing; but, nevertheless, I believe I am right in thinking that as the law still stands the police should investigate, and prosecute if the evidence is there, any homosexual offence whenever it is committed. As other noble Lords have pointed out, this seems to be not only a great waste of time for the police but frequently a cause of a great deal of family trouble. One may find a person, who is now leading a normal and happy married life, who may be prosecuted—although this is very unlikely to happen—for some offence he committed ten or fifteen years ago.

Concerning police procedures generally, the Committee were a little disturbed at that time to find how wide were the discrepancies between the approaches of different police forces to homosexual offences. Some were very strict; others turned a blind eye on them. Of course, this applies, to some extent, to other offences as well. But I feel that the House will agree that it is essential, while making all allowances for individual autonomy and discretion of all police forces, that there should be as much uniformity as possible in the practice of dealing with sexual offences.


My Lords, may I ask just one question? It is of interest, in view of the fact that the noble Marquess was a member of the Committee. Is it true to say that the chief constables now no longer have complete discretion?


This point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham.


Yes, I heard.


But they have not got complete discretion.


My Lords, if the noble Marquess will allow me, I should like to make it clear that chief constables consult the Director of Public Prosecutions. The precise purpose of that consultation is to try to ensure that, so far as possible, there shall be uniformity in this matter.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. I think the House will be very glad to hear that information repeated.

Finally, my Lords, there is the very complex and technical problem of treat- ment. This, I think, is very dangerous ground for the layman to venture on and I do not propose to do so in detail. But I think we must remember that it is equally important as a weapon in the prevention of homosexual crime as is the law. We know, for instance, that psychiatric treatment is helping in the question of self-control. That is important; but it depends on the level of intelligence and the co-operation of the patient; and I have to say that among homosexuals this is often less than adequate. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, of the improvements in the prison medical service and also in the steps taken to improve the psychiatric services both inside and outside prison. I agree with him, of course, that there is a long way to go yet and we cannot be satisfied with this.

I urge upon Her Majesty's Government, therefore, to have a really dynamic and purposeful approach to this subject, because I think this is something where only the Government can take a lead. It cannot possibly be left to a Private Member's Bill. In conclusion, may I say that when this Report was published I was very proud of it. I thought it was a good Report and a practical Report; and I still do. It set out to do three things. One was to make the present law more equitable and more efficient; the second was to protect young people and the weak from what is the most vile form of exploitation; and the third was to tackle the problem of the homosexual condition at its roots. There can surely be no one who will disagree with these aims and, I hope, with the suggestions for attaining them. The late Government, with what I thought commendable speed and a good deal of courage, implemented that part of our Report which dealt with prostitution. Now I hope it will be the turn of the present Government to follow our example by implementing with equal success the part of this Report dealing with homosexuality and thereby cause what would be a great reform in our legislation.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, at this hour I do not intend to keep your Lordships long. Many speakers have exhausted the subject, which I feel is an extremely difficult and complicated one: and particularly is it difficult to get hold of the facts. I always think that before one attempts to base either an argument or a judgment one should try to be sure of one's facts. I have talked with doctors who have been concerned with the treatment of homosexual patients, and also to psychologists who, understandably, do not want their names advertised, or to be quoted, and one still seems to be in a sort of morass when one tries to understand this subject. Take, for instance, the question of statistics. No one really knows how many male or female homosexuals there are. The figure has been given as somewhere near a million, and the fact certainly remains that there is a strong minority of homosexual males and females in this country who have an extremely difficult life.

The other thing on which there seems to be no agreement is the actual cause of homosexuality. From my conversations I have found that the general medical view seems to be that the very early childhood has a considerable influence—the relationship of the child to the parents, and of the parents to each other, certainly has an effect. But it would seem to me, from what I have heard, that there must also be some very strong hereditary cause that produces the kind of tendencies which will cause a person to have homosexual inclinations. As to cure, we have heard so much on this subject that I will not repeat it. So far as I could gather, although certain, rather borderline cases respond to treatment, no one seems to have discovered, or to know, a sure cure for this particular state. But one thing seems certain, and we must accept it: that for the genuine and complete homosexual it is not a question of something that one chooses to be; it is innate. To these people the ordinary feelings which we have for the opposite sex they feel only for their own sex. The thought of having any relations with the opposite sex is just as repugnant to them as is the thought to the ordinary male heterosexual man of having a relation with another man. I think we have to get that point very clear.

The third point on which we ought to be clear (because there is still a great deal of misconception in the public mind about it) is that this is not a thing of advanced decadence, or something which has come to light only lately, in societies which have become over-civilised. It is something which all history has known. The Germani, who were extremely good fighters, and who even withstood the Roman legions, were very much inclined to homosexuality, as were the Romans themselves. The Greeks, to whom we owe so much of our culture and who possibly saved Europe from the Persians, accepted and esteemed homosexuality. The Arabs have always accepted it; and, after all, from a small spot in Arabia they conquered North Africa, the Middle East, Spain, and very nearly the whole of Europe. So that this is not a weakness or decadence, but is something which is innate in a certain proportion of nearly every society.

Some societies, like the Arabs or the Eastern, accept it; others react strongly against it. I always think that there must be some reason for this, and I am wondering whether the strong reaction that we have in this country stems originally from the fact that we were facing great dangers from outside with only a very small population. We have always been threatened by rivals, whether Spain or France, and the thought that homosexual elements would not be producing children, particularly at times of tremendous infant mortality, and not providing the absolutely necessary soldiers and sailors, would obviously induce the Government to use all their influence to discredit homosexual tendencies. I wonder whether that was the origin. If so, that aspect hardly applies to-day, when the whole world is suffering from overpopulation, and especially this island which is having to import more than half its food, and is in very difficult conditions. I put that out as a theory, not as a fact.

But what we have to consider now, and what I think is important in this debate, is whether this law which everybody is suggesting should be reformed, with regard to consenting adults, is good or bad. That is the big question we are facing. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, that youth should be protected. I do not think anyone in this House would suggest that children, whether they are young girls or young boys, should not be protected as much as we can from advances or seduction of older people. I think we are all completely agreed on that.

The second thing which I think is not appreciated is that actual sodomy can be punished by a life sentence, which seems a little excessive these days. Actually it is not at all frequent in homosexual relations, and one doctor put it to me that it is probably not more frequent than happens between ordinary married couples.


I think it is correct to say (I stand to be corrected) that sodomy between husband and wife is also liable to a life sentence.


Yes. I agree. I welcome the noble Earl's intervention. It is perfectly true, and it does seem an excessive sentence.


Will my noble friend allow me to interrupt? He is, of course, talking of a maximum sentence. But there are many cases of this offence which are known to the police where they do not prosecute at all.


Again I welcome the intervention of the noble Lord. I realise that I was referring to the maximum sentence, but it still seems to give a very wide margin indeed for what, although it may be very unpleasant, is nothing like so serious an offence as the major crimes, such as murder.

However, the question we are really considering is that of consenting adults, and here I heartily agree with the suggestions contained in the Wolfenden Report, except in one particular. I think it would be worth considering whether the recommendation of 21 years is the right age. It seems to me that something like 18 would be more reasonable. In these days I think that people mature much earlier, and to consider men of 18 or 19 as infants or children seems to be unreasonable. When one thinks that the age of consent for girls is 16 it seems to me that the age of 21 for men would be taking it too late and I should have thought 18 would be a much wiser age to choose. That, of course, would be a detail to be considered if anyone produced a Bill.

There seems to be only one real argument against it; that is, the corruption of youth and the corruption of others to homosexuality. From reading the Report and talking to doctors, it seems that, on the whole, the corruption of youth is very seldom the cause of the real, complete homosexual. That is something innate, as is borne out by the fact that in nearly all public schools there is a certain amount of homosexuality. We all recognise it, but inevitably it passes away when the boy becomes more mature, and especially when he has relations with a woman.

I do not think that corruption is such a major factor as some people would make out. In any case, it seems completely outweighed by two factors. The first, is the misery and unhappiness caused to the half million or more homosexuals who live under continual fear or frustration. If I may put their opposite point of view, suppose that a dictator made heterosexuality illegal, what would our young men do if they were to fall in love with girls, and if, in making any advances, they risked prison and ruin? Yet that is the position of homosexuals who have as strong desires as we have and who through life can never give way to them in any way. That is a miserable and unhappy situation to be in.

A second and most formidable factor is that the present law is a blackmailer's charter. One mistake, and these men can become victims to the most despicable of crimes. So much has already been said about blackmail that I will not go on with that point. The third danger is security. There are homosexuals in all walks of life, and in all classes, and among them are extremely able men who work up to high offices of State and know valuable secrets. What a weapon this gives to the foreign agent! If he can find out one indiscretion committed by a man in high office, he can threaten to ruin him unless he gives him a bit of information. That is a very dangerous situation to put ourselves in. By passing a law allowing homosexual acts between consenting adults in private, we should with one blow knock away the weapon from the blackmailer and secret agent and lift out of misery and fear the lives of perhaps half a million people. I sincerely hope that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, will be introducing a Bill in your Lordships' House, and if he does I hope that your Lordships will support it.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, in the letter which appeared in The Times yesterday, there is a formidable list of Churches and other organisations which support the proposal which we are debating, that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offence. From that list a notable abstention is the Church of Scotland. I think the House should be informed of the attitude of the Church of Scotland in this matter.

On the publication of the Wolfenden Report, the matter was remitted to the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland, over which Dr. Neville Davidson, later to become Moderator of the Church, presided. Dr. Davidson is now one of the Vice-Presidents of the British Council of Churches, which, as we see from the letter, supports this proposal. After a long consideration in the Committee and debate in the General Assembly, the General Assembly decisively supported this motion: That they do not feel able to support the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report with regard to the removing from the sphere of criminal law certain forms of homosexual behaviour. The General Assembly would regard such legal changes, if implemented, as liable to serious misunderstanding and misinterpretation and as calculated to increase rather than to diminish this grave evil. In view of this debate, I made inquiries of certain leaders in the Church of Scotland, and the conclusion to which I have been led is that if this matter were raised again there is no reason to expect any different decision from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.


My Lords, am I not right in thinking that the General Assembly turned down the recommendations of a special ad hoc committee of specialists who had been into this matter?


My Lords, that is correct. There was a small committee which went into this matter and reported to the Church and Nation Committee. That was what sparked off what I might call a major debate. As the matter had been more thoroughly aired then it might otherwise have been through the report of this sub-committee, the decisive resolution of the General Assembly was the more marked. I think it is right also to say that, although this resolution holds good for the Church, it is also the view of most of the people in Scotland, whether they are members of the Church of Scotland or not.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again. I do not like to be discourteous, but that is a very sweeping remark. Can he tell us what evidence there is for that assertion?


My Lords, the General Assembly is a large and democratic body, which represents a very large section of the population, and it has contacts throughout the whole country. On many occasions, previously and since, the General Assembly has held views which have been the general views of the people of Scotland. This is not invariable, but it has often happened to be the case.

The General Assembly were much impressed by the Minority Report of the Procurator Fiscal of Glasgow, Mr. Adair, and in particular by his third reason: If the recommendation be adopted, the moral force of the law will be weakened. I am convinced that the main body of the community recognises clearly the moral force of the criminal law of the land … and the removal of the present prohibition from the criminal code will be regarded as condoning or licensing licentiousness, and will open up for such people a new field of permitted conduct with unwholesome and distasteful implications. There is another reason why the Church of Scotland adopts a somewhat different attitude. In this matter, Scotland has been for many years considerably more civilised than England. The Scottish legal approach to this is treated in the Wolfenden Report in Paragraph 10: … where homosexual offences are concerned, the law is substantially similar on both sides of the Border, but the Scottish system, under which criminal proceedings are in practice instituted only by a public prosecutor, acting in the public interest and subject to the control of the Lord Advocate, makes for a uniformity of practice in regard to the prosecution of these offences that is absent in England and Wales. And the fact that all but the most serious of these offences may be dealt with summarily in the sheriff courts, with a limited maximum penalty, makes for greater uniformity of sentence than is apparent in England and Wales. That may account, in some measure, for the fact that one so seldom reads in the papers of Scotland about homosexual offences which have taken place in Scotland.

There are three other small points to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention and which, so far as I am aware, have not been dealt with in this debate. There is the question that has been raised: if this practice ceases to be criminal, does it also cease to be a ground for divorce? I think this question should be considered at some time. Another matter which I think is related and must be considered is: What is going to be the position of the Services if legislation of this nature is passed? My third point is one which was raised in the debate on the B.B.C. and Television by my noble friend Lord Ferrier; that is to say, the rather sly gibes which come from time to time on television relating to homosexual matters. I think a great deal could be done to get this matter under better control if the organs of public opinion, and particularly television, would exercise more discretion.

Finally, I would say how grateful I am to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for raising this subject. It seems to me to have been extremely well aired. And I wonder whether I may presume, as something of a "new boy" here, to suggest to the noble Earl that he should not press his Motion to a Division. I feel certain that such action on his part would not be misjudged, either in this House or outside.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, it would be proper for me, as a member of the Church and Nation Committee of the Church of Scotland, on a point raised by my noble friend Lord Arran, to point out that the sub-committee which was appointed by the Church and Nation Committee was in favour of the Wolfenden Recommendations, but the main Committee reported to the Assembly, as my noble friend Lord Balerno has just said, and the Assembly (I speak from recollection) overwhelmingly supported the recommendation of the Church and Nation Committee, as I think my noble friend Lord Balerno was right in saying they would probably do again.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, there was a point during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, when I rather felt my hackles rising. It was when he said that the nation which he represents were much more civilised in their attitude towards this problem than we are South of the Border. I sometimes feel, talking to my Scottish friends, that this is a feeling which is fairly widespread North of the Border. Nobody admires the culture and civilisation of the Scottish people more than I do, and in its way it is a fine and beautiful thing; but we in this country feel that ours is at any rate as good as theirs. It appeared that the noble Lord was saying that they were more civilised in their way of dealing with this problem in a uniform manner. That, of course, I accept.


I should not claim that we were in all things more civilised. I was referring particularly to this point.


I came to appreciate that, and I hone that the noble Lord will not mind if I use this as an opening gambit for my speech.

We have had a most interesting afternoon. There is not a great deal that has been added to the very wise Report of the Wolfenden Committee. It is one of the most remarkable, courageous and farseeing social documents that has ever been produced by a Committee of this kind. I should not have taken up your Lordships' time if it had not been that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, to whom we are so much indebted for opening this debate, felt that, as one of those who can go back to the earliest debates that we had on this subject, at any rate in the post-war period, right back in 1953, he would like me to come in and give him my support, which I am very glad to do.

I should like to refer for a minute to the debate in 1953, because it was on that occasion that my noble and learned leader, the late Lord Jowitt, told the House that in his view the blackmail aspect of this problem was much the most serious, and that in his experience as Attorney General this had been much the most serious aspect of all the blackmail cases he had come across. I think the noble Earl, Lord Arran, referred to this as a remark of an ex-Attorney General, but it was, in fact, the late Lord Jowitt who said it. I heard him make that remark on more than one occasion, not only in this Chamber, but also outside it. He undoubtedly took the view that for that reason, if for no other, the law should be altered in order that blackmail in respect of this particular matter might cease to exist.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has told us that some administrative steps have been taken which may to some extent have alleviated the position. He said—and he was obviously quite right—that in order to stop prosecutions altogether it would be necessary to change the law. And even if the Government promised to bring in a Bill to change the law in this respect, it would not satisfy most of us; because, while prosecution is obviously a serious aspect of this blackmail problem, it is not the only one, and from some points of view it is not the most serious. Threatening a man that you will tell his wife and family of his misdeeds is to many men even worse than threatening to inform the police. As chairman of quarter sessions, I have come across cases in which the fear that the father and mother would get to know about what had been happening was a very important element in the making of a criminal.

The difficulty in relation to Government servants who are entrusted with secrets, and the possibility of the foreign agent getting to know about this and bringing pressure to bear, has, very properly, been emphasised by several speakers this afternoon. I was for a time during the war working in the Home Office, and if there was any question of making an order against a man under the Defence Regulations, it was indeed a strong element in the case against him that he was known to be a homosexual. Many men spent time during the war shut up for very little other reason. Here again, if our law were not as it is, this would not be the situation; and this is another reason, I think, why we ought to change the law.

I regret very much that the present Government—they are of my own Party, and I should have expected them to be forward-doing, as well as forward-looking in all matters of social policy—are not prepared to fall in with what I think one can quite accurately describe as average progressive opinion. One noble Lord said that the Government ought to be a step or two in front of public opinion; and I agree with that view. The Wolfenden Committee, in one of the most important paragraphs in the whole of their Report, very early on analysed, as they say, the relationship between law and public opinion. They mentioned the view which some people take, that the law ought to follow behind public opinion, and the other view, that the law ought to be in advance of it. They stigmatise both these as over-definite.

It was certainly the view taken by the last Government, put forward by Mr. Brooke in another place, and by the Lord Chancellor, on their behalf, in this House, that the law on this particular subject ought to be rather behind—at least until public opinion had been much more clearly defined, and had shown itself much more favourable than they took it to be—and that it was not for the Government to introduce legislative proposals. I should have expected the present Government to be more go-ahead, especially as I feel that there has been a decided movement of opinion throughout the country, and certainly in this House.

I think the movement of opinion in this House is a clear indication of this general trend. Nobody would ever accuse this House of being in the van of public opinion. On the last occasion when we debated this subject, on a Motion introduced by the then Lord Pakenham, who is now the Leader of the House, in an admirable speech which it gave me great pleasure to read over again, if I counted up the opinions of the different speakers correctly we were just about evenly divided on this subject. This afternoon, out of fifteen speakers so far, I think only two have been clearly opposed to this Motion. That is, I submit, a clear indication of the trend of opinion in this House, and I feel that it is typical of what has happened in the country. Of course, I am talking of those who have been vocal this afternoon. It may be that the less vocal Members of your Lordships' House, as has sometimes been known to be the case, are the most conservative.

This movement of opinion seems to me, as I have said, typical of a movement which has been going on in the country as a whole. I do not think there has ever been a more useful public discussion. I think we can congratulate the Press on the whole on the information which they have put before the public. Ever since the Wolfenden Report was published, this has been quite a burning subject of discussion. Many people who knew nothing whatever about this subject when the Wolfenden Report was issued have studied it. Those who have not studied the Report itself have read a great deal in the newspapers. Some of us, like the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, admitted frankly that it was reading this Report which converted us to our present view. I think everybody—or almost everybody—who gives close and detailed study is bound to go the same way.

One of the most remarkable features of the Wolfenden Report is that its proposals on this subject were virtually unanimous. Several references have been made this afternoon to the reservation of the only member of the Wolfenden Committee who stood out against it. But let us remember that the thirteen men and women—thirteen very representative men and women—who heard all this evidence and pondered on this matter for many months, discussing it among themselves, were drawn from widely different spheres. They were drawn from the universities; from teaching; from the Judiciary and from the practising branch of the law; from medicine; from religion; from business; from all ranks of society—men and women of considerable standing in the community, including a Member of your Lordships House.

I should be prepared to bet that most of them, before they began to examine evidence and to consider this subject, had the natural revulsion which almost everybody instinctively has in regard to this distressing topic which has been mentioned so frequently in the debate this afternoon. Is it not a remarkable thing that these men and women, having considered this evidence and given careful thought to it, should, with one exception, have put forward what are, for this country, quite revolutionary views, although, as we have heard from the noble Earl, throughout almost the rest of Europe the law is, and has been for many generations, as Wolfenden would have it here?

On the occasion of the 1957 debate, the Government asked for further time for public opinion to make itself felt. I suggest that it has now made itself felt, and that it is time that a decision was reached on this problem. In opening the debate on the previous occasion, in the speech to which I have referred, the noble Earl the Leader of the House used these words: One day this change will be wrung from us …" [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206, col. 744, December 4, 1957.] Let us not wait, but let us go all the way to deal with this problem at the present time, and let us follow the lead given us by Lord Arran this afternoon.

Many noble Lords have referred to the repugnance at homosexuality felt by the ordinary heterosexual man and for that matter, by the heterosexual woman. Those who are normal, as the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, pointed out in a speech which I admired enormously, thank their lucky stars and try to find some sort of sympathy in their hearts for their less fortunate brothers. These are often men who live in deep loneliness, from which their psychological build-up prevents their seeking refuge in the sympathy and companionship of a woman. Are we to send them to prison for trying to obtain some sort of solace from their fellow men? I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, quote quite extensively from the remarkably compelling and understanding speech of the late Lord Brabazon of Tara in the debate on the former occasion. How true is what he said, and how much we ought to understand what he was trying to tell us!

My noble friend Lady Gaitskell has reminded us that a great deal of heterosexual conduct is disgusting and contemptible. Indeed, it is often no better than the farmyard—and sometimes it is a good deal worse; and a great deal of homosexual conduct is just on the same level. That which is on this low level is largely so because of the law as it stands at the present time, which drives these unfortunate men into frequenting these lavatories and into the sort of despicable conduct which goes on in such circumstances. Yet, my Lords, this sort of relationship is capable of giving obvious satisfaction to those who have resort to it, and often has in it an element of beauty. Human beings are, thank goodness! capable of creating out of their very animality something of the gold from which art and poetry are made; and the great literature of the world is full of beautiful descriptions of friendship of man and man from the time of David and Jonathan onwards, without which our literature would be very much poorer.

The world really is in deep debt, as one speaker has pointed out this afternoon, to many of the men who have been definitely homosexuals. The heritage which we have from the past is in no small measure due to what they have handed down to us. We have never in the past had either the courage or the understanding to be grateful for what we have received from them. But from the time of the Wolfenden Report we should no longer find it in our consciences to take up this sort of attitude. Let us start by making amends with a small act of penitence, by accepting the Motion that has been put before us by the noble Earl this afternoon.

7.13 p.m.


My Lords, my reason for taking part very shortly in this debate is simply that my experience compels me. As a parish priest for many years, I have been compelled to recognise that the existing law is unhelpful and defeats its own ends. The pastor has always to try to help people in all sorts of conditions—the sad, the bereaved, the depressives, the alcoholics, those who cannot face life, those who have lost their way, and of course the people who have got themselves into sexual difficulty, and among them homosexuals, men and women.

As I have listened to their problems I have tried to help them, as any pastor does, to come to grips with life and to adjust themselves to society. In the case of women homosexuals, Lesbians, we have been able to talk to one another without the threat of the law hanging over us. With male homosexuals it has been different. In the first place, they have often been hesitant in coming forward, because they have been afraid to disclose themselves, not quite sure what the reaction would be. Secondly, they have wondered what would happen if I was called upon to give evidence against them; and, in passing, I would say that this has only once happened to me, and I refused, of course, and would refuse in all circumstances. Even so I think it is most unfortunate that any attempt should ever be made to get a priest to break confidence on matters like this, when a homosexual comes to him with some great problem and wants the priest to help him face life. Thirdly, they worry because they inevitably wonder whether a careless word from myself or from somebody who may have seen them coming to my house might provide a clue, quite unintentionally, which could land them into difficulties with the police.

In other words, the situation which confronts a pastor when dealing with male homosexuals—not female—is just about as difficult as it could be. He wants to help. He wants the man to face his problem reasonably and constructively. He wants to give him the confidence to contribute usefully to society: but the atmosphere is vitiated by a sense of fear.

Let me give two examples very shortly. The first, a very few years ago, was of a student, aged 19, when I was vicar of the University Church at Cambridge. He had a homosexual experience, I think probably only one, and regretted it. He came to see me. I was satisfied it was a passing phase, just part of the business of growing up, and I was certain he would overcome it and shortly find a girl and eventually get married. Unfortunately, just when everything seemed settled the police got to hear of his adventure. And this boy, who really was a brilliant physicist and perhaps could have done much for our country, committed suicide.

The second was of a middle-aged man who had had homosexual experiences twenty years before. He had, I know, overcome his weaknesses and was doing most valuable social work on a housing estate. Alas! an unscrupulous blackmailer learned of his past and threatened to report him to the police. On the table of the room in which he gassed himself he left a note to the effect that, although he had done nothing in recent years of which he was ashamed or which could get him into trouble, he just could not face another inquisition.

These two examples from one's pastoral experience—and I could give several more—will explain why a pastor must want the law to be changed. No matter how distasteful sexual irregularities may be, the person concerned, if he is to alter his ways, needs what?—compassion, understanding and help. A priest, as you would expect, has to deal with every sort of domestic sorrow, failure and sin—fornication, adultery, sadism, Lesbianism, broken homes, homosexuality. His task is made more difficult and sometimes impossible if he has to work under the shadow of the criminal law. Why is it that one of these offences is singled out for such savage treatment? Why is it that the fornicator and the woman homosexual can behave more or less as they like, without fear of the courts? Why is it that only the male homosexual is the target for the police?

There is another reason why a pastor must question the wisdom of the existing law, and it is this. What does a prison sentence accomplish? During my ministry I see much of prisons and prisoners, and now as Bishop of Southwark I have two large prisons in my cure—Wandsworth and Brixton. It is not possible for me to go often, but I go as often as I can, and from time to time I meet the prisoners for informal discussions. Inevitably on these informal occasions there is a frank exchange of views. There is so much I could say, but let me confine myself to one point. The homosexual tells me that when he finds himself in an exclusively male society like prison, his problems are aggravated. He becomes more conscious of his peculiarities. In other words, prison is the worst possible treatment for the homosexual. It increases rather than diminishes his abberations, and when he returns to civilian life his homosexuality is more acute than it was before. It is surely as absurd as locking up an alcoholic in the bar of a public house. I think our successors may wonder how a society which is in many ways so farseeing and wise could in this respect be so blind, so stupid.

I have one last point—and I mention it with hesitation, because, alas! an engagement made two years ago means I have to be at Malvern at half-past eight to take a service. I apologise for that. I should like to know the Government answer. My point is this. I was really most disappointed with the Government intervention we have had to-day. Very often in the past the Church has been accused by members of the Party now in power of dragging its feet, of not being socially aware, of being timid and of being cowardly.

All those charges I throw on to the Government, and I accuse you now of what you have accused us. I really mean that. I think noble Lords on this side just cannot wash their hands in this matter like Pilate. You have got to face facts. You have got to give a lead. If I may say so with respect to a Party which frequently talks about justice and the fulness of life, I think that to say the things that you did this afternoon is sheer humbug. From the last Government we had a lead so far as part of the Wolfenden Report was concerned. Noble Lords on this side of the House know what my personal political convictions are. I wholeheartedly applaud the lead that we got from the Party opposite when they were in power. To me, it is a sad matter that the Party which I personally support and which is now in power should have given such a sad and dismal impression this afternoon and I sincerely hope that they will have second thoughts and be more courageous, and do what I am quite sure they know in their hearts to be right.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has given the Government two most striking examples of why they should take action in this particular matter. I should like to begin what I have to say by thanking Lord Arran for introducing this debate. What I am going to say now will at least have the virtue of brevity. I think that the standard of speaking has been so high that it has left little for a tail-ender like myself to say. In any case, I do not find this an easy debate in which to speak. I suppose that the reason for this is that it is a subject which is emotionally charged, and one's emotions do not always run together with what one knows to be the right course of action.

Like many heterosexual people, the idea of love-play between individuals of the same sex is something that I find difficult to accept without repugnance. This is not a creditable emotion, but it will, T hope, give perspective to my point of view. Here, we are dealing with a matter which has moral implications, and for this reason my religious beliefs are involved. To this extent, I speak as a Quaker. I imagine that I am indeed an oddity in your Lordships' House, in that I am probably the only Quaker among its Members. I do not speak, however, as one who has either the authority or the right to speak for the Society of Friends, or for any group in the Society of Friends. I speak for myself.

I believe that emotions are bad guides for conduct, and that the feeling of repugnance that I share with many others is a thoroughly unsound guide for resisting reform of the law as it now stands. I believe that the prevalent idea that nature and God are more or less the same thing is a fallacy and leads to the equally fallacious proposition that what is natural is good and what is unnatural is wicked.

In H. G. Wells's Country of the Blind your Lordships will remember that it was the sighted person who was the unnatural one, and because he was different he was hated, feared and eventually killed. This is the story of the triumph of barbarism. The story of the climb of homo sapiens from the savage state is told from totally different attitudes. It involves the developing recognition of an obligation on the part of society towards those who are different, and in particular to those who are handicapped. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to dilate on that subject. Your Lordships are well aware of the sort of attitude that society as a whole had, for example, towards the blind and the insane not so long ago. The predicament of the homosexual is too unlike that of the heterosexual to be easily understood. A compassionate attitude can replace moral judgment if we imagine, for example, a son or a brother or someone who is a close friend faced with the discovery that he is homosexually orientated in a more or less permanent way. Such an orientation is, and must remain, a handicap for anyone, and as the law stands at present it is a much more severe one than it need be. So far as I am aware, the arguments against reforming the law we have not heard this afternoon. I think that is so. They are rooted in most primitive emotions—


My Lords, if the noble Lord would give me leave, the arguments against the adoption of the Wolfenden recommendations were most forcefully put by my noble friend Lord Rowallan. I think it is not right that it should go out that the case of those who are opposed to any change in the law was not stated. It was most adequately stated.


My Lords, I was present when Lord Rowallan was speaking, and I understood him to say that his chief concern was that there should be no corruption of the young, and that if provision could be made to protect young people he was not opposed to a change in the law.


My Lords, may I correct that? I do not think I said that. Certainly I said that my main object was to ensure the protection of the young, but that at the same time I considered that it would not protect the young but would put ideas and temptations into their minds if we removed the criminal aspect from homosexual acts between consenting adults. I am quite sure that that is correct; and I think that giving an idea that it is not a serious matter at all makes the task of those working among them far more difficult.


Then I must withdraw what I said. I would, however, reiterate that I believe these arguments are rooted in emotion, that they stem from fear—whether from rightly grounded fear, of course, must be a matter of opinion. But I would remind your Lordships that the same sort of emotions animate the prejudice against race and, to go back a few centuries, religious persecution. These strong emotional roots are easily clothed by invoking such phrases as "the public good" and "the public interest" and so forth. In saying this, I am not attacking any particular speaker, but thinking more particularly of people outside the House. Your Lordships will be aware that on the last occasion on which this matter was brought to another place in a Private Member's Bill the reason given for killing it was that it was not in the public interest because the public was not ready for it.

The legal reform which is sought does not in any case involve a moral judgment; it does not give a moral licence. Reform merely takes the criminality out of homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private, and puts that kind of behaviour in the category of "heavy petting", as it is called, or, as has already been said by many noble Lords, fornication and adultery. None of these heterosexual acts is criminal. They may be wrong or they may be right. Objectively they will be judged according to the circumstances, and, subjectively, it is a matter of moral codes and of the consciences of those concerned. I believe that there is no truly sound reason why homosexual behaviour, under the special conditions which we are discussing, should make criminals of those who, being differently orientated from the majority, must inevitably develop a somewhat different sexual morality within our own heterosexual society.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think it is necessary for me to repeat the arguments in favour of changing the present law. It is nearly eight years since the Wolfenden Committee made its recommendations. In those eight years yet more unfortunate men have been sent to prison, yet more men have committed suicide, yet more unnecessary misery has been caused. Still the law has not been changed. Why not? Is it because we have no sympathy for those whose sins are not ones we ourselves find tempting? Is it because we no longer care at all for the freedom of the individual? Or can it be that both the last Government and the present one think that public opinion is still against a change?

I am sorry to say that I think the last reason is the true one. But that reason is doubly wrong. It is wrong to suppose that Parliament should always follow public opinion, never lead it, and it is wrong in this case to suppose that public opinion is still against a change in the law. On the contrary, the law concerning homosexuals is widely held to be wholly unjust. It is generally considered to be one of the last of the great Victorian injustices which we in this century have spent so much time in putting right. Let us put this right without further delay. It is a relatively simple matter. It should not need a long or complicated Bill. It will cost no money. It will merely make life a little easier for a number of men who have in some ways been unlucky. I share the great disappointment of the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop, in the attitude shown by the Government, and I hope that they will change their attitude.

7.36 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a long, interesting, and, at times, very moving debate. I shall be extremely brief, especially as I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, who has so courteously given way to me, wishes to speak. I do not wish to add anything except some degree of personal emphasis to what has already been said in support of the principle recommended by the Wolfenden Committee. My only reason for speaking in this debate is to add my voice to the voices of other noble Lords who have already spoken in favour of changing the law.

I think your Lordships will agree that the more speakers there are in your Lordships' House in favour of legislative reform and who declare themselves to be in favour of it, the bigger will be the impact of the debate on public opinion in the country and the more chance it will have to influence the attitude of the Government. The former Home Secretary, Mr. Brooke, said in another place that the reason why the late Conservative Government would not legislate about the Wolfenden Report was—and here I quote—"the climate of Parliamentary and public opinion". May I, in passing, remind the right reverend Prelate that this was the reason used for seven years of inaction by successive Conservative Governments? I do this because I thought that he laid rather more than a fair share of the blame at the door of the present Government, who have, after all, been in office for less than a year. I say this without any Party animus and simply in order to get the record right. I would also make that point in relation to the interesting and excellent speech, with which I cordially agreed, made by the noble Marquess, Lord Hertford. My noble friend Lord Stonham, speaking for the Government, made it clear that he also, following, I fear, in the footsteps of Mr. Brooke, does not consider that public opinion is ripe for legislative action by Her Majesty's Government. That, he said, was his reason for his official neutrality, though I think I could easily see where his own personal sympathies lie.

I would ask the Government whether they cannot move from a position of neutrality. I am not asking them to move to a position of support for the Wolfenden Committee, but I am asking whether the Government could move from a position of neutrality to a position of benevolent neutrality. What I mean is this. My noble friend Lord Stonham said that if legislation is required by Parliament it must take the form of a Private Member's Bill on which the Government would allow a free vote, presumably both in this House and in another place. But my noble friend knows as well as I do that a Private Member's Bill has no earthly chance in another place if it does not happen to catch the fancy of a Member who has the luck of the draw in the ballot—unless the Government are prepared to allow Government time for its discussion.

I would ask the Government whether they would consider in the next Session of Parliament—clearly it could not be in the present Session—allowing Government time for a Private Member's Bill to implement the Wolfenden Report. This has been done in the case of Mr. Silver-man's Bill on the abolition of the death penalty, and therefore it is not an unusual practice. If the matter is of sufficient importance and urgency I have no doubt that the Government in the next Session could do what they have done for Mr. Silverman's Bill in this Session. I am not asking my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to answer this question on the spur of the moment. I am merely asking if he will be good enough to draw the suggestion to the attention of his colleagues.

The great majority of speakers in the debate want a change in the law relating to homosexuality, including the major change recommended by the Wolfenden Committee. There can no longer be any doubt in the minds of the Government, when they are assessing Parliamentary opinion, that this House is in favour of legislation. So far as opinion outside the House is concerned, it can certainly be said—in fact, it has already been said in this debate—that enlightened opinion throughout the country is in favour of changing the law; and that the extent of enlightened opinion, which obviously, numerically, is not very large compared with the total population—


My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him? What right has he to insinuate that enlightened opinion is in favour only of change? It might be that enlightened opinion is in favour of retaining the status quo. It really is a condescension to argue on those lines.


I am sorry that my noble friend does not agree with me—


The noble Earl should not be so condescending about it. What right has he to assume that enlightened opinion favours a change?


I was taking up a point made of the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, when he said (I hope I am quoting him correctly) that in his view enlightened opinion was in favour of the recommendations in the Report.


My Lords, if I may say so, the noble Earl is quoting me quite correctly; and what I said represented what I believe to be the facts. I should be interested to ask the noble Lord who has just spoken—


My Lords, even before I hear the question, I venture to suggest that it must be inappropriate to put a question to a noble Lord when the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is speaking.


I am sorry, my Lords. I was just curious.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for confirming what I said, as my memory is not always as accurate as it should be. If the case for a change in the law is as strong as I believe it is now, and if the main opposition stems from either ignorance of the facts or indifference or hostility to homosexuals, we are surely entitled to expect from the Government the minimal support a private Member needs to give him a reasonable chance of getting a Bill through Parliament.

The law as it now stands—and this is, in fact what the great majority of speakers have said—imposes an intolerable and undeserved hardship on a substantial minority of our fellow citizens. How substantial this minority is must be a matter for speculation, but my noble friend Lord Stonham, speaking for the Government, described it as "a sizeable minority". It is certainly enough to merit the concern of Parliament and whatever alleviation Parliament can bring about by altering the present law. This debate will, I believe, have served a very useful purpose if it has shown the Government and the public outside, which reads the Press or listens to the radio, that this House stands for justice, tolerance and humanity towards the homosexual minority in our midst.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate, extending over 20 speeches. Having been in this House since the end of 1934 I have heard a good many debates, and I recall hearing another debate on this Report some seven or eight years ago. Although I did not intend to make a speech this afternoon, I feel that I ought to say just a few words before the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor replies to the debate, and before the noble Earl also gives his reply to his Motion for Papers.

I should not like the public to say that the House of Lords is in favour of homosexuality. We have had 20 speeches, of which the great majority have been in favour of relaxation of the law. This particular relaxation is only a comparatively small relaxation, but the general public may get a very different view from hearing that the majority of speakers were in favour of the Motion. I therefore thought it only right that I should say a few words against the Motion, because I move about the country a good deal in various capacities, and I find a great many Church people who are rather surprised at the attitude of the leaders of the Church of England, who appear to be in favour of this relaxation.

We know that the proposed relaxation may be only a small one but many people in the Church of England—and also laymen—feel that if boys who are in favour of this practice, and indulge in it when they are young, can then say "Ah, ha! When we are 21 it will be all right", that will encourage them to go on with their practice. I have also consulted doctors on this subject, and I am afraid that many people who are not of this persuasion, and do not know much about it, feel that it has a kind of inevitability; that people are born this way and, therefore, must be allowed to go on this way. I know one eminent doctor who says that it is like theft: you need not steal anything unless you want it. But, my Lords, with theft, if you steal something you probably get locked up or fined for doing so.

This afternoon we have had a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, who was for many years Chief Scout. I feel that what he said should count for a great deal, and I was very glad indeed to hear him make that speech. We have also had a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and I was very amused, as I have a wife who is half-Scots, to hear that they are a much more civilised nation across the Border. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was also, I think, rather amused at that. I am not going to discuss that matter at this late hour, because that might take a good time, but I thought that his speech, which was largely founded on Mr. Adair's Minority Report, was a very able one, putting his point of view.

If I may, I should like to quote three extracts from Mr. Adair's Minority Report, on page 119, paragraph 8. Subparagraph (i) states: If the sanctions of the criminal law are removed, there is also removed one, if not the main, motive which at the present time influences homosexuals to consult medical advisers. I shall not make any comments on that statement, except to say that it seems to be very good sense. In sub-paragraph (ii) of paragraph 8 occur these words: If the sanctions of the criminal law are removed, there are also removed from the police opportunities to carry out important preventive work of social benefit to the community. Then in sub-paragraph (iii) occur the following words: If the recommendation be adopted, the moral force of the law will be weakened. I am convinced that the main body of the community recognises clearly the moral force of the criminal law of the land. I should like to say that I think it is a fact that in England the criminal law of the land is regarded as a moral force and, far from making it easier to deal with the medical aspects and the curative aspects of homosexuals, I feel that if this deterrent is removed a great increase in this habit and practice will follow.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord on what he bases his very wild statement that if these sanctions are removed there will be a great increase? Has he some reason for telling us this?


My Lords, I have a great many reasons, but it is too late to go into them now.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a long and interesting debate and my first duty must be to thank the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for having given us the opportunity to discuss to-day a subject which, whatever our views may be, is undoubtedly one of public importance. Lately there have been some discussions in some places as to how far your Lordships' House is representative. There is of course one way in which perhaps on this occasion your Lordships House is not representative, and I say that because I think that anybody who has much discussed this subject with both men and women cannot be unaware that, on the whole, women have a different view about this from that of men and a much more charitable one. I was not surprised that the only noble Lady who spoke in the debate said what she did, or that in another place the majority of those who took part took the same view. They are perhaps more down to earth about sexual matters than men are; it may be that they have to be. It may be that if your Lordships' House were composed of an equal number of Peers and Peeresses there would have been an even greater preponderance of view than there is today.

My noble friend Lord Stonham has given the House the statistics; he has summarised the arguments on both sides and has explained the Government's view. If I may just add a word about the Government's view, may I take first those recommendations other than the main recommendations? A good deal has been said about blackmail cases and stale prosecutions. One can of course mishear something. I thought I heard the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, say that the Attorney General and I have given some instructions to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, said that the Attorney General had. In the first place, of course I have nothing to do with the Director of Public Prosecutions at all and it is important that the Judiciary should be kept entirely separate from prosecutions. Nor has the Attorney General given any instructions.

The position is this. First, the Director himself has no powers to stop anybody from prosecuting. Any citizen is entitled to prosecute any other citizen, except only in those few cases in which Parliament has said that there is to be no prosecution without the consent either of the Attorney General or of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as the case may be. What the Director can do, and has done, is to ask chief constables to report these classes of case to him. He cannot enforce that if they do not do it, and he can only give them advice which they are under no obligation to take. Now in the case of a homosexual reporting blackmail, he has advised chief constables not in ordinary circumstances to prosecute for the homosexual offence. There may, of course, be exceptional cases. A case of blackmail may be reported when it is not really a case of blackmail.

The position with regard to the list referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, is that, apart from one case which I think has been recognised and which I think was not reported to the Director, it is quite impossible for him to identify the other cases. They are cases which start, "A man in a Midland town"; the next one begins, "A young man who complained to the police". The Director has looked at these, but has been unable to identify them, and therefore I cannot say what the position may be about them. But that is the position with regard to blackmail. He has similarly advised chief constables not to prosecute in stale cases unless there is also a current offence, in which case there may be a count added in respect of an old matter because otherwise the court may be led to think that this was something which had just happened instead of its being a continuous practice.

So far as the main recommendation is concerned, as my noble friend Lord Ston ham has already explained, the Government's view is that there are certain questions which are not in the ordinary sense political, still less Party political, and they are questions on which many people, probably in all Parties, hold very strong moral opinions; and where that is so there is no obligation on a Government to state a view. This is a question on which it has been made plain—we have heard the view of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, and we have heard the view of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, both of them holding very serious opinions, and although he has not made a speech it has been plain that the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, also takes a very strong view—that the matters involved are not Party political matters at all. Therefore, the right view to take, I suggest, is that which the Government have taken: that this is eminently a matter for each citizen to decide for himself.

Any Member of Parliament is at liberty to introduce a Bill. I understand that in another place a Bill is about to be introduced. There is nothing whatever to stop any Member of your Lordships' House from introducing a Bill tomorrow. If that is done the Government are not prepared to give Government time for it, but they will not impede it in any way, and it will be a really free vote in which everybody, including Ministers, can vote as their consciences may dictate. I think that, in many ways, both Houses are never better than when everybody is saying what he really thinks free from Party Whips—and that perhaps applies particularly where the question at issue is one on which people have strong and sincere views of conscience.

My Lords, I had prepared a masterly summary of the different arguments adumbrated in your Lordships' House on both sides, but at this hour of the night I propose to spare your Lordships that. Of course, as a lawyer I am prejudiced because one has seen many of these cases both in the criminal courts and in the divorce courts. One sees the individuals, and where boys are concerned one sees the boys. Of course, as a lawyer I am prejudiced because I do not like laws which you cannot enforce, and you cannot attempt to enforce a law about what people do by consent in private; and those who are prosecuted are just a few who are unlucky. Making it quite clear that in this matter the Government have no view whatever, my own view has for some time been that, on the whole, this is a law which does more harm to the public than it does good to the public, and I very largely share the views which have been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell—but then, I nearly always do agree with what she says on most subjects.

Finally, my Lords, may I conclude by referring your Lordships to two arguments which in some ways I think are the strongest ones on each side. I think that the strongest argument of those who support the existing law is the argument, which has been forcibly expressed in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, that whether or not you would enact this recommendation to-morrow, still homosexuality is there; and if you abolish the existing law do you not give people, and particularly young people, the idea that society is now saying that this behaviour is all right?—particularly, perhaps, in days when increasing numbers are unaware of, or not guided by, the standards of the Churches. And what other public standard is there than the law? Those of your Lordships who heard the debate in 1957—I did not, but I have read it—may remember the very strong speech made on this point by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who I am sorry cannot be here to-day; but those who are in favour of changing the law have, I think, to bear this argument very much in mind.

The argument on the other side, which I only mention because it has hardly been referred to to-night, and partly because I have never heard it answered—and perhaps if a Bill is put down we shall hear it answered—is this. As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, pointed out, those best qualified to judge think, though no one knows, that there is about the same amount of female homosexuality as there is male. It is, in any case, obviously a subject of interest to both sexes. May I remind your Lordships that, after all, we are not talking about a word derived from the Latin "homo" but a word derived from the Greek "homos", meaning "like" as opposed to "heteros" meaning "unlike".

The question which has not really been mentioned, except by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Southwark, is the question: is it right—and I am not using the word "right" in the theological sense but like the ordinary man in the street—that if two men, by themselves, choose to do things to one another, they can be sent to prison for life, yet if two women do what they like together it is not a criminal offence at all? This was mentioned I remember in a debate in another place. The fact that it was not an offence for women was mentioned by somebody who advocated the retention of the present law. He was at once asked: "Would you make it a criminal offence for women?", but he declined to answer. The only person I have ever known to face this point was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, in the debate to which I have referred. He did, and he said this: Then let me take the charge of inconsistency so far as Lesbianism is concerned. Lesbianism is generally regarded as not so widespread or so harmful as offences between males. Indeed, that is the sort of distinction that is taken by the law it depends on the degree to which the practice is widespread or harmful."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 206, col. 808, December 4, 1957.] My Lords, I have never understood on what ground it is said to be less harmful. I appreciate that it is said that homosexual offences by men are inimical to family life. But, if that is so, I suggest that anyone with a divorce practice knows that the Wolfenden Committee were right on this point when they said: Cases are also frequently encountered in which a marriage has been broken up by homosexual behaviour on the part of the wife, and no doubt some women, too, derive satisfaction from homosexual outlets to prevent their marrying. We have had no reasons shown to us which would lead us to believe that homosexual behaviour between males inflicts any greater damage on family life than adultery, fornication or Lesbian behaviour. These practices are all reprehensible from the point of view of harm to the family, but it is difficult to see why on this ground male homosexual behaviour alone among them should be a criminal offence. This argument is not to be taken as saying that society should condone or approve male homosexual behaviour. But where adultery, fornication and Lesbian behaviour are not criminal offences there seems to us to be no valid ground, on the basis of damage to the family, for so regarding homosexual behaviour between men. Moreover, it has to be recognised that the mere existence of the condition of homosexuality in one of the partners can result in an unsatisfactory marriage, so that for a homosexual to marry simply for the sake of conformity with the accepted structure of society or in the hope of curing his condition may result in disaster. I mention that because it seems to me a point worth considering, and it is a point which I have never heard answered. Some of your Lordships may have seen, two or three months ago, a film on television on Lesbianism, and may remember in it, an ordinary wife and mother whose daughter, who was in the 20's, had told her that she had discovered that she was only homosexual. Neither of them, of course, knew much about it; and the need for advice for young people and parents may be pretty clear. But I could not help wondering whether, if it had been a criminal offence, the girl would have told her mother what she had found out about herself.

There has been, I understand, some discussion, part of which I did not hear, as to the position of a Motion for Papers. Some of your Lordships may think that it might be helpful to ask the Procedure Committee to look into the whole question of Motions for Papers and, in particular, to consider the suitability of the proposer's pressing such a Motion and of the House's accepting it when no Papers are really required. But the matter is, of course, entirely one for the mover of the Motion. If such a Motion is not withdrawn, it is my duty to put it to your Lordships' House.

May I conclude by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for having given us the opportunity of discussing this subject, and may I make it clear that the point of view that I have expressed is a personal view. The Government have no view, as such, on the main issues and will continue to leave the matter to private Members, who have their rights and who can introduce a Bill here at any time.

8.4 p.m.


My Lords, I will not attempt to summarise this great debate. Too many good things have been said by too many good people to pick and choose. I will simply say that I have been surprised and delighted by the virtual unanimity of opinion in this debate on the need to implement the main recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee on homosexuality. Lest noble Lords who spoke against should think I am disregarding them, I can say I am not. A former Chief Scout and a Commissioner of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland are major personages; but, as has been pointed out, out of 22 speakers I think 17 or even 18, have been broadly—and some of them very strongly—in favour. They have included four of the Lords Spiritual and other names which are noted and respected throughout the country.

It had been my intention to ask the House to vote on my Motion—Heaven knows! it is couched in most innocuous terms—but I have been told by noble Lords who support the Motion that should be ill-advised to do so and that the terms of the Motion are such that to vote one way or the other would mean nothing. I am sorry about this. I think that a favourable vote would have been a clear message from this House, if only a symbolic one. But I bow before the views of those wiser than myself who gave me their best advice. But, overwhelmed by the support for a change in the law as evinced by your Lordships' House this afternoon, I can say definitely that I will introduce a Private Member's Bill on this subject, and I hope that the Government will afford us the time and facilities. I would say squarely that the Government's reputation for genuine belief in social reform is at stake; and I hope that they will carry out their very clear obligations.


Do I gather that the noble Earl is withdrawing his Motion?


With your Lordships' permission, I withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.