HL Deb 24 May 1965 vol 266 cc631-52

2.39 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. It is this Motion for Second Reading and this Motion only that I am presuming to place before your Lordships this afternoon, and which I hope we shall discuss this afternoon. We had a long and, I thought, outstanding debate on this subject twelve days ago, and because of the measure of support then given from all sides of the House for reforming the law on the lines of the Wolfenden Report, I felt encouraged to introduce a Bill straight away, and thus to crystallise the views already expressed. Moreover, as your Lordships may remember, I was urged to introduce a short, simple Bill by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who cannot be here to-day but who authorises me to say that he gives his full support to the Bill and would vote for it if he were here.

Well, my Lords, here it is—a Bill for a change in the law on homosexual practices; a Bill in its earliest and most unvarnished form; a Bill which, to judge by the number of speakers, has stimulated interest, some of it far from favourable. Because of this opposition, I fear that I must weary your Lordships once again, although I promise to speak as briefly as I possibly can. Perhaps I should apologise to your Lordships if I appear to be over-hasty in thus, as it were, rushing into print. I have done so entirely because there is to be a debate on the same subject in another place on Wednesday, and it seemed right that we, the Upper House, should give formal expression to our views first. Though it may sometimes affect not to, I believe that the other place pays considerable attention to what your Lordships say.

What is this Bill? It is an attempt to concentrate in one simple clause the essence of the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee for homosexual reform. It is an expression of opinion—if you like, an expression of faith. I repeat that it is a simple Bill. It is, and I gladly admit it, an over-simple Bill. I am sure that it can, and indeed will, be shot full of holes. I made it simple deliberately, because I wanted to put the main point before your Lordships and to get a formal expression of the view of the House. After all, what would be the point, at this stage, of drafting a complete Bill unless one knew that your Lordships were generally in favour of reform? To do so would surely be to prejudge the opinion of the House. My Lords, have no anxieties. I know that, in its present form, the Bill could not become law; nor am I asking that it should do so. After all, what Bill ever ends up in the form in which it was originally drafted? What are the Committee and the Report stages for? And will not noble Lords, including myself, have the fullest opportunities for removing at the appropriate moment those things which they do not like and adding those things which they do?

If, on Second Reading, we must discuss things which I should have thought more properly belonged to the Committee stage, where lie the difficulties? What are the things that are likely, in particular, to irk and disturb your Lordships? There is, first of all, the question of youth, of young people. It may be suggested, that the Bill disregards young people, inasmuch as it makes no mention of them. My Lords, it makes no mention of them because it in no way weakens or alters the present law in regard to their protection. For an older man sexually to interfere with a youth under the age of 21 would remain a criminal offence. The Bill does not say this because it does not need to be said: because the law remains as before, because it is implicit—and I am going to ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to confirm that what I am saying is correct.

But some of your Lordships may still feel that this is not enough: that there should be some strengthening; that the penalties for homosexual acts with the under 21's should be made direr still, as indeed the Wolfenden Committee itself suggested; that it should be stated positively and forthrightly that nothing in the proposed changes would in any way imperil the present safeguards for youth. I would welcome—I think all of us would—such additions or Amendments to the Bill, and I think it would be quite splendid if these Amendments came from one of the Lords Spiritual; and best of all, from the most reverend Primate himself—because for the Churches it must be a special concern that, in our desire for reform, we do not go too far and involuntarily undermine those moral standards which are permanent and absolute.

Next, my Lords, I come to the possible legal objections. I note that two former Lord Chancellors and a former Lord Chief Justice are to address us this afternoon. Arrayed before us, indeed, are the might and majesty of the Law, and I, with no legal knowledge whatever, stand in awe; but I take comfort in the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, signed a letter to The Times in favour of reform. Moreover, I fear that these great men may not speak in favour of the Bill. I cannot say, of course, what arguments will be adduced. No doubt they will be cogent and well-reasoned. We may be told that the Bill as it now stands would make permissible what is known as the ultimate offence—buggery; or what I think is known in Scotland as sodomy. We may be told that this offence has been a crime for 600 years or more—although, why a law which has been in existence for 600 years should necessarily be a good law, I do not know. The law which made sheep-stealing a hanging offence was not a good law, and was repealed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will tell us of the position which would be created if the Bill went through in its present form.

We may be told that the Bill as it now stands is not in accordance with the main recommendation of the Wolfenden Com- mittee—although, frankly, in my simple mind, I cannot see where the difference lies, and Sir John Wolfenden himself has written to me to say—and I am quoting: It must be clear to everyone that the Bill lays down the basic principle which is recommended in our Report". I shall be impressed by the arguments, and I am sure your Lordships will be, too. But if noble and learned Lords have these objections, as also in the case of the Lords Spiritual, will they not come forward and tell us where we have gone wrong? Would they not themselves like to draft the Amendments that would put the matter right? I should like to put the ball into their court. I ask for their help, as I ask for the help of the right reverend Prelates. If we are on the right lines, then let us go through this thing together.

Last of all, my Lords, I think that there may be some objections in relation to the Armed Services. I note that the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, is to speak to us this afternoon, and no doubt he will "hit me for six". I recognise that there are special problems in this field. The Wolfenden Committee recognised this, too: it is the major question of discipline. But the Committee pointed to Section 66 of the Army Act, 1955, which provides for the punishment of disgraceful conduct, or conduct of an unnatural kind. I understand that this section is still effective. Quite relevantly, I think, I might ask the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who looks after Service matters in this House, this question: Lesbianism not beng a criminal offence, has discipline in the Women's Services suffered because of it? And would Her Majesty's Government advocate a change in the law making Lesbianism a crime, so that order may be maintained? And, to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, may I put this question? Will he tell us, from his NATO experience, whether he found that discipline in the contingents from the other European NATO countries (which, with the exception of West Germany, do not treat homosexual offences as a crime) was the worse because of it? And if not that, does he think that we have a special propensity in this country towards homosexuality which calls for special legislation?

These are, perhaps, some of the objections that will be raised. Doubtless there will be others. They are weighty objections, and they will have to be met at the appropriate moment. But may I remind your Lordships once again that what we are debating to-day—and I shall certainly divide the House on this—is a matter of principle, a matter of right and wrong. I hope that we may be able to keep this steadfastly in mind throughout the debate and not allow ourselves to be diverted into the alleys and byways, however attractive or unattractive they may be.

The Bill may well be unsatisfactory and in need of amendment, but the issue is clear and we cannot fight it. What we shall have to say squarely from your Lordships' House this afternoon is this: Are we or are we not in favour of homosexual law reform? Do we or do we not think that the present law on homosexual practices is a good and workable law and should remain as it is? Do we or do we not think it right that a man should be persecuted and prosecuted for being what he is born to be? Do we or do we not think it right that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men should live in permanent fear of blackmail? Do we or do we not think it right to say that the present law endangers the security of this country? These are the issues that we are debating, these and nothing else. I pray that this House may show itself what I believe it to be, a place of progress and of compassion. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Arran.)

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to welcome this Bill and the initiative of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in putting down this measure for your Lordships' consideration so quickly after the recent debate. I know there are many speakers who wish to air their views in this discussion and I shall therefore be brief. I do not intend to repeat in any detail the main arguments put forward twelve days ago, but I think it right to say—and I can say this because I was overseas at the time of the last debate—that anyone who reads that debate will recognise the very high standard of contributions to it and also the significance of what was said by those in favour of reform. I believe that 17 out of the 22 speakers in that debate were in favour of reform. Looking at the names of to-day's speakers I do not suppose that we shall have quite such a favourable ratio. Nevertheless, I think that we should recognise that there has been a distinct shift in public opinion over the last few years. Of course, we are always told that public opinion is not ready or would not approve; but, in the ultimate, it must be the collective wisdom of Parliament which bears on this problem and it is Parliament, in both its Houses, which must amend or refuse to alter the law.

No one can deny that, as I have said, there has been a considerable shift in public opinion, and I think that to a large extent it is because of the excellent work done by the Wolfenden Committee. That Committee of eminent people studied this problem for three years, and they reported with a 12 to 1 majority. That, surely, must be an important factor in any consideration of this sort. But one must also notice the significant change in the opinions, of for instance, many Church leaders, of teachers, of dons at university and of others who are in continual and constant contact with young people. And this to me is a very significant change of opinion.

In the newspaper world there has already been the approval of The Times, The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Times, the Observer and many others. In February of this year—and I am not making this a Party point—the Liberal Council, which lays down the policy of the Party in time for the Annual Conferences, passed a resolution in favour of the Wolfenden recommendations, with nobody dissenting. This is something which would not have happened five years ago. I bring it forward merely to indicate that there has been a remarkable shift in public opinion. I am not claiming that there is a majority of public opinion in favour of reform—I think it extremely difficult to test public opinion in matters of this sort—but what cannot be denied is that the more carefully this matter is studied by people who are sympathetic in general to social reform the more convinced they become that a gross injustice is being perpetrated against the minority of our people and that, in addition, it must be clear that the way we are handling this problem is not in the best interests of society as a whole.

I say this for three main reasons. First, I believe there will be better protection for the young if those over 21 have an opportunity, should they so wish, to behave homosexually in private without fear of prosecution. Second, I believe that once the criminal stigma is removed from the homosexual practices of consenting adults it will be far easier for those concerned, both those under 21 and those over 21, who wish to do so, to seek help in trying to conquer the problem they face. This is a particular problem, I believe, in the universities and it is something which is very important. Third, as the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has said, it will remove the very great opportunities of blackmail which the present law fosters. This must be of concern to everyone in the country. And I would add that I cannot believe that we can go on dealing with the problem by way of prison sentences. This must be contrary to all modern ideas of reform. I do not believe we shall be able to tackle this problem properly until we get rid of the criminal stigma that this Bill seeks to take away from consenting adults.

I do not believe, as the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said, that it can be right to subject a substantial number of our fellow citizens to the misery and degradation they suffer to-day because, in the eyes of the majority of us, they are not just different but abnormal. No one pretends that this is a simple problem or that we know all about it. We certainly do not. But I believe we have a better chance of finding a social solution if the criminal stigma is removed than if we go on as we are at the present time. Therefore, I commend the Bill to your Lordships. As the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said, many Members of your Lordships' House may find the Bill in its very brief form not exactly what they would like to see as the final measure. But there is to be a Committee stage and we can amend it. It is on the principle that there should be reform along the lines of Wolfenden that we are going to vote on to-day. It may be that some would like to see severer penalties for the possible corruption of the young, and there may be many other things which should be considered; but the principle of the Bill is clear. I would therefore ask the House to give it full support, and I implore the Government to be sympathetic to what we want to do in the way of reform.

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, I intend, like the noble Earl, Lord Arran, to devote my remarks to the question which is before the House, "That this Bill be read a second time". Twelve days ago we debated a Motion. Speaking for the Government on that occasion I stated the facts and arguments for and against the Wolfenden recommendation, and told you that the Government would not attempt to persuade your consciences into one Lobby or another, but would leave the issue to a free vote. When I sat down I was not concerned for the facts which I had stated. I knew they were correct. But I was concerned in case my own views had rendered my speech less impartial than I would have wished. I need not have worried. The next day I was roundly slated in the Press for my neutrality, and several noble Lords were kind enough to approach me about my speech. They were divided equally between those who welcomed the way in which my personal support for Wolfenden had shone through my words, and those who assured me of their support in my personal opposition to the objectionable proposals. Such, my Lords, are the dubious fruits of neutrality.

My rôle to-day, speaking for the Government, is exactly the same. I have to say that it is entirely for your Lordships to decide the issue, and we want you to decide it. If there is a vote it will be, so far as the Government are concerned, entirely free, with Ministers voting in their personal capacities and not as Ministers. To-day we are debating a Bill—and let me say at once that it is a shockingly drafted Bill. Because, my Lords, it is simple, it is clear, and it is short. No reputable Parliamentary draftsman would have allowed a measure to emerge in a form which a child could understand, so it must be full of legal loopholes. I do not intend to examine any of them because they will be matters for your consideration at a later stage. Like most of your Lordships, and the Government, I am concerned to-day solely with the main principle of the Bill. Any defects can be remedied in Committee, and I was very glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Arran, give such a categorical assurance that he would welcome suggestions and would co-operate in improving the Bill.

I should like to deal with three questions which the noble Earl addressed to me. First of all, he drew attention to the alleged disquiet because his Bill does not explicitly state that homosexual acts committed against minors will still be an offence. My Lords, there can be no doubt on this score. The Bill is clearly limited to acts committed in private between consenting adults. All other homosexual acts would remain criminal. This means that any man who interfered sexually with minors, whether in public or in private, would be guilty of a criminal offence and liable to precisely the same heavy penalties as he is now. The addition of a clause to the Bill specifically declaring this to be so would be redundant and would serve no more than a propaganda purpose. It is not usual for a Statute to list and declare all the laws which it will leave unaffected. Indeed, if this were a Government Bill and such an Amendment were proposed, it would be my duty to ask you to reject it on the grounds that clauses in Bills should be confined to the creation of new laws or the amendment of old ones.

I must also deal with the concern which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has expressed at the weakening of the ancient law against buggery and the suggestion that in considering the legalising of private homosexual acts we should distinguish between buggery and other forms of homosexual conduct. The object, apparently, would be to repeal the Labouchere Amendment of 1885, which first made indecency in private between males an offence, but to retain the law as regards sodomy. Those who argue in favour of this course feel that, while it might not be so strongly opposed as the Wolfenden Committee's main recommendation it would go some way to satisfy those who are in favour of a change in the law, since it would considerably reduce the scope for prosecution of homosexual conduct in private.

But we must consider the situation which such a well-meaning Amendment would create. Among homosexual acts committed in private between consenting adults there would be one—buggery—punishable by life imprisonment, where- as other forms of indecency, which to many people would be no less repulsive, would not be an offence at all. Such a distinction between one form of indecent conduct and others would have no apparent basis in logic or in morals. It would also make the already difficult task of the police in enforcing these laws quite impossible. How could they be expected to tell the precise form of indecent homosexual conduct which had taken place in private between consenting adults? And how could they decide whether these people should be prosecuted as criminals, or left alone? On whom would they rely for evidence—blackmailers, provocateurs? Such a suggestion, however well meaning, appears to be impracticable.

The noble Earl, Lord Arran, also asked me whether the fact that Lesbianism is not a crime has had any effect on conduct in the Women's Services. I am not able to answer that precise question, but as regards the Armed Forces, I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that in their Report, in paragraph 144, the Wolfenden Committee recognised that it might be necessary for the Service authorities to continue to treat homosexual acts in private between adults as offences under Service law. We have consulted the Minister of Defence on this particular point, and apparently the Service authorities are inclined to agree—this is just a view—that the Wolfenden Committee might be right. But the position of the Services arouses different considerations which require study, and the passage of this Bill, as it stands, on this issue will not prejudice the position of the Services or of the Ministry of Defence one way or another. Service law creates offences and it could, if necessary, be used to deal with this matter irrespective of your Lordships' decision on this particular Bill.

My Lords, the more one studies this matter the more one comes to the conclusion, as I said twelve days ago, that no compromise is possible. The Wolfenden Committee examined these issues with great care, and came to the conclusion that if a line was to be drawn it should be between offences committed between adults in private and offences committed either in public or against minors. This makes sense, and we must not attempt to evade the issue by grasping at compromise where none is possible. If we do we shall end not with a compromise but with a nonsense. The choice before your Lordships is very difficult, but it is also very simple. I should mislead you if I were to suggest that there were alternatives other than those propounded by this Bill, or that there was some way of evading a difficult choice. In making that choice you may wish to take account of the statistics. Some of them are estimated but most of them are official.

If we take 500,000 as the best minimum estimate of the number of adult males in this country who are and will remain all their lives exclusively homosexual, then, even allowing for the fact that a large number of them will stay continent all their lives, the remainder may well constitute the largest class of criminals (except for motoring offenders) in the country: scores of thousands of persistent criminals; they have to be; most of them were born or became that way in childhood, and, as yet, medical science cannot materially change their condition.

Against this large number of offenders, consider the number of prosecutions. Figures over the years show that, although the number of offences known to the police has continually increased, the number of offenders prosecuted has not increased in so high a proportion. In the 1950s, for every five cases known to the police, the police prosecuted two persons. I will not speculate on the reasons but, knowing our police, they would be ones which we should respect. Last year, the total of prosecutions for all homosexual offences, whether in public or private and whether committed against an adult or minor, was 1,300, out of we know not how many scores of thousands. The conviction rate is only a fraction of one per cent.

I hope your Lordships, whether you support or oppose the main Wolfenden recommendation, will agree with me that this situation, is manifestly unsatisfactory. If private homosexual acts are to be crimes, then the criminals should be brought to justice. A decision to keep the existing law is tantamount to a decision that you want it enforced. This would mean that more policemen would spend their time prying into the private lives of individual citizens—for, unless they do this, there is little prospect of catching those who commit their crimes in private, except perhaps through blackmail confessions, and your Lordships have agreed that this should be ruled out. If your Lordships are not prepared to instruct the police in this way, the alternative is to change the law as the noble Earl, Lord Arran, proposes. This would mean toleration of a certain amount of private vice. There is no getting away from this. But it certainly need not mean an indiscriminate acceptance of it. Indeed, one of the consequences of allowing limited toleration might well be that the police would be able to devote more of their energy to pursuing and prosecuting those real menaces to the health of our society, the homosexuals who interfere with boys. At present, we have an all-embracing criminal law which neither society nor the police are really united or whole-hearted about enforcing. If we restrict the scope of the criminal law to that area of vice which, I hope, we are firmly agreed should be relentlessly attacked, it might contribute to the strengthening of morality in general.

These, then, are the alternatives. I hope that your Lordships will take one or other of them boldly and not seek to avoid the necessary decision. The worst and most cowardly solution would be to instruct our policemen that "these men are criminals, but you must not be over-zealous in catching them, and if you should happen to catch them you will probably be advised not to prosecute them". I was interested that when we discussed Lord Arran's Motion, twelve days ago, your Lordships were unanimously in favour of the Director of Public Prosecution's arrangements as regards blackmail and stale offences. Both the noble Lords, Lord Rowallan and Lord Balerno, who spoke against the Wolfenden recommendation, said that these offences should not be prosecuted. But it is a little odd to have an arrangement whereby, if a criminal can escape detection for twelve months, he can expect to get away with it for good. We should not think of offering this kind of "close season" to house-breakers.

We have certainly gone to the limit of what can properly be done to mitigate the effect of the present law by administrative action. Some might even say that we have already gone beyond that limit. There can be no question of the present indulgence to blackmail or stale offences being extended administratively to offences between consenting adults in private. Although the Director of Public Prosecutions has asked chief officers of police to consult him about this as well, he does not make a general rule of advising against prosecution in such cases. I need not elaborate to your Lordships the constitutional objections to any branch of the Executive making general rules that certain classes of offences which Parliament has declared to be crimes shall not in practice be treated as such.

The limits to which we have already gone in this field are illustrated by the latest figures. In the nine months to April 30 last—that is, up to three weeks ago—76 cases were reported to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This was a total comprised of offences over twelve months old, and offences disclosed in complaints against blackmailers and offences between consenting adults in private. That is an annual rate of about 100 cases, in a field larger than that covered by this Bill. Out of those on which a decision has been taken, there were prosecutions in about 55 per cent. of cases and it was decided to take no action in 45 per cent. If we are down to 55 prosecutions a year on cases submitted to the Director, we have surely reached the administrative limit. It is for your Lordships to decide whether we now finish the job by changing the law, or retain the whole of the law and insist that it is carried out. The choice is yours and yours alone.

I have always believed that no man can be truly impartial on any subject, unless he is totally ignorant of it. My duty of putting the Government's neutral view before your Lordships, therefore, has not been an easy one, although I hope that I have succeeded as well as apparently I did on the previous occasion. Commenting on my speech in the last debate The Times Parliamentary Correspondent declared, Fence sitting can be an agonising pastime almost as painful to watch as to perform. I wholeheartedly agree, and to avoid inflicting any more pain on your Lordships or myself, I shall conceal my personal views no longer. If it comes to a Divi- sion, I intend to vote for the noble Earl's Bill. I have reached this decision as a result of the close study which I had to give to this subject in order to speak to your Lordships about it. I certainly approached it with no predisposition in favour of legalising homosexual conduct in any circumstances. But I am satisfied that the injustice and the evils of continuing the present law are greater—very much greater—than the risks involved in making the proposed change.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill. I claim no special knowledge. My only knowledge of the subject goes back to nearly sixty years ago when I was at the Bar and these matters were discussed and I used to go over cases that came up at the Sessions. I am convinced by the arguments in the Wolfenden Report. After all the Wolfenden Committee took a long time in considering this matter, they went into it most thoroughly, more thoroughly than any of us can have done, and they came to a very definite conclusion. I am convinced that the time for this change has come. We have always been careful over the years to get rid of the confusion between the ecclesiastical idea of what is sin and what is a crime. This is one of the exceptions—an exception extended by the mischievous Labouchere Amendment. I believe it is false to imagine that doing away with this matter as a criminal offence will in any way extend the evil. I profoundly believe that the evil is mainly a matter of physical condition; it is a matter of misfortune rather than crime.

I remember very well that a few years ago we discussed this question in your Lordships' House, and I was greatly impressed by a speech made by the late Lord Brabazon of Tara. It was full of good common sense and of that courage which he always showed. It may be that the Bill will require amendment; but we can leave that to the lawyers. I do not think you can have a compromise. I agree with my noble friend Lord Stonham that you need a definite conclusion, and this House is entitled to state its view. That view may have an effect on the debate in another place. Well, let that be so. We have here great experience and the highest legal knowledge in the land.

To-day we have the chance of getting rid of an evil of which far more is said than need be. I believe that homosexuality is an evil, and I do not think you will cure it. But I think that blackmail is a greater evil. I am sure that the present law gives an opportunity to the blackmailer, and the sooner we can do away with that opportunity, the better. I will say no more, other than to repeat that I wholeheartedly support the Bill.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I regret very much that I was unable to be present in your Lordships' House on May 12 when the Motion on homosexual offences was moved by the noble Earl, Lord Arran. With great courtesy, he told me that he was going to move the Motion and gave me the date, and I said I would be present. So I apologise to the noble Earl. I read with the greatest interest in Hansard all the speeches that were made on that day, and it seemed to me that overall the speeches dealt mainly with the legal aspect of the law as it stands to-day, covering blackmail and questions of that sort. It also seemed to me that many in your Lordships' House wanted to bring in some measure of legislative reform of legal technicalities on this difficult subject; and may be that is right. But, apart from the strictly legal side of it, there is the human side; and I should like to speak to-clay on the human side of the problem.

I agree very much with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, and the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, on May 12. I cannot reconcile with my own beliefs what was said in their speeches by the most reverend Primates. To condone unnatural offences in male persons over 21, or, indeed, in male persons of any age, seems to me utterly wrong. One may just as well condone the Devil and all his works. I am entirely opposed to this Bill, and I return the courtesy of the noble Earl by telling him so now. I am against any suggestion that we should weaken the law as it stands at present. My main reason is that a weakening of the law will strike a blow at all those devoted people who are working to improve the moral fibre of the youth of this country. And heaven knows! it wants improving.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to develop this theme and I will take three categories of young people about whom I know a great deal. Do not let us forget that it is the present young generation who will have to handle the problems that lie ahead in this distracted world of politics, war and mixed-up values. They will need all the help and guidance that we older ones can give them. The first category I take is the boys and young men in our schools and universities, whom I suppose number some millions, although I would not know the exact figure. What influence on their minds and characters will follow if they know that their masters and tutors are indulging in these unnatural practices, and if they know that the law of the land allows it? What effect will this have on the moral fibre of these boys, some of them quite young and under 21? The practices are illegal; and yet suddenly, on the morning of their 21st birthday, they can do what they like, and they are legal.


My Lords, with great respect to the noble and gallant Viscount, does this not apply equally to the age of consent for girls? Suddenly, over the age of sixteen, it is all right.


I am not very expert on girls. No doubt the noble Earl knows more about that than I do.

The second category I take is the youth organisations throughout this country. I will mention just a few, about which know quite a lot: the Boy Scouts, the Boys' Brigade, the Church Lads' Brigade, the Cadet Forces, the National Association of Boys' Clubs—and there are other such organisations. In Canning Town in the East End of London you have David Sheppard and his Mayflower Centre. Many London gangs come from that area. I have been there. I have sent boys from that centre to the Outward Bound schools, magnificent places for the building of character. A boy is taken from his home area where the atmosphere may be bad and spends a month having his character developed in an entirely different atmosphere by the sea, in the mountains, and so on. I sent one boy from that school who was a leader of one of the worst London gangs. I saw him before he went; I saw him when he came back, and he was a changed boy.

The third category I should like to take is the Armed Forces of our nation. It may be that some of your Lordships will think that on the first two categories I have no mandate to speak. On this category, I do not think you could say that. The fighting men of Britain have been my comrades-in-arms for over half a century. What is the greatest single factor making for success in battle, or for efficient and well-trained Armed Forces in peace? It is morale. And what is the very foundation of morale? It is discipline. If these unnatural practices are made legal, a blow is struck at the discipline of British Armed Forces at a time when we need the very highest standard of morale and discipline, with those forces serving throughout the world. Take an infantry battalion. Suppose the men know that their officers, perhaps, are indulging in these practices, and it is legal and nothing can be done. Take a large aircraft carrier, with 2,000 men cooped up in a small area. Imagine what would happen in a ship of that sort if these practices crept in. No action could be taken; it is legal. How can good order—


My Lords, I really must interrupt the noble and gallant Viscount again. Under Section 66—



I beg your Lordships' pardon.


How can discipline and good order be maintained in such circumstances? Surely, it must not be. Is it going to be said throughout Britain that the House of Lords gave the lead in striking a blow at the moral fibre of the youth of our land, or at the discipline or morale of our Armed Forces?


My Lords, will the noble and gallant Viscount permit me to intervene, because he has made a statement which seems to me to be slightly misleading the House? The noble Viscount will know that the Government are taking an impartial view, but Section 66 of the Army Act will still apply. If it does not apply, as the noble and gallant Viscount knows, it is open to the Services to get rid of any undesirable person who practices disgraceful conduct—and I think there can be no argument on the subject that these practices are disgraceful conduct. I do not think we ought to allow it to be suggested that these practices could possibly be condoned in the Services. I hope the noble and gallant Viscount will reconsider his remarks.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, I do not reconsider anything I have said about it.


Never retreat!


Far from helping these unnatural practices along, surely our task is to build a bulwark which will defy evil influences which are seeking to undermine the very foundations of our national character—defy them; do not help them. I have heard some say—and, indeed, the noble Earl said so himself—that such practices are allowed in France and in other NATO countries. We are not French, and we are not other nationals. We are British, thank God!

Expressed in the simplest terms, I suggest that the issue is this: Is this House, or is it not, to give the lead to the British people by agreeing to a Bill which will have the effect of undermining the moral fibre of the youth of the nation? Hansard to-morrow morning will tell us who wishes to give that lead. In conclusion, let me say this. When the time comes to vote on the Second Reading of this Bill, I would appeal to all noble Lords who have at heart the best interests of the young men of Britain, to go with me into the Not-Content Lobby and knock this Bill for six right out of the House.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I know that it is the tradition of your Lordships' House that a maiden speech should not be on too controversial a subject, and I hope that you will excuse me for speaking for the first time on this issue. It is, however, a matter about which I have felt strongly for many years, and for this reason it seemed to me that it was appropriate that I should speak on this occasion. During the debate on May 12, most of my thoughts on the Wolfenden recommendations were stated most cogently, and I will therefore restrict myself to those few things which do not seem to me to have been covered, and to certain personal reflections.

It seems to have been generally agreed that there are a sizeable minority of men in all countries who are homosexual, and certainly most countries in Europe do not have laws which penalise homosexual acts between consenting men in private. Nobody has so far suggested that these countries have a worse problem over this issue than we do. In Sweden, where in 1944 the law was amended along the lines of the Wolfenden recommendations, there is nothing to suggest that homosexual behaviour has increased. It has been suggested that in Sweden one man out of 100 is homosexual, whereas in the United States of America, where in most States there are laws comparable to our own, Dr. Kinsey estimated that four men out of 100 are probably homosexual. This may well mean that the Americans have a greater propensity to homosexuality than the Swedes. But it might also be looked at in a different way, and one might say that it indicates that the laws in the United States are not acting as a deterrent. I do not believe that our laws on this subject, as they relate to adults, are in any way a solution. They have, if anything, helped to produce a nasty, furtive, underworld that is bad for society and had for the homosexual.

According to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, it has been suggested that in this country possibly one man in 25 is homosexual. Despite this figure, the debate in your Lordships' House on May 12 was almost entirely impersonal. If one accepts this figure as an approximation—and I would—then many of us must have some first-hand knowledge from a homosexual of his particular predicament. I do not mean the sort of situation such as might be experienced by a priest or a doctor when asked advice, but rather an occasion when one has discussed, in a purely personal and private manner, the life of a friend who happened to be afflicted in this way. I have certain friends with whom I have done this, and I do not think that they are in any way more depraved or immoral than either myself, or any other normal man of my acquaint tance. They came slowly to realise in early manhood what they were, not through any particular influence of which they were aware. They are unable to explain why it should have been their lot to develop in this way, and I suggest to your Lordships that neither psychologists nor doctors are able to explain this, either. It would seem that it is much more to do with genetic predisposition and environment in early childhood, than it is to do with corruption at an impressionable age.

Mr. Schofield, the sociologist, whose book The Sociological Aspects of Homosexuality is to be published in the autumn, assured me that in his research he has found very little to suggest that homosexuality in the adult is connected with seduction in youth. The majority of homosexuals, I believe, have no particular wish to corrupt youth; in fact I would say that in this respect they are often very much more responsible than the average heterosexual. As an interesting indication of the irresponsibility of the normal man one could take the statement which appeared in the recent report of the Central Council for Health Education on the sexual behaviour of Britain's teenagers, that 38 per cent. of the teenage girls who were approached on this subject indicated that they had had sexual intercourse for the first time with men over the age of 21.

I believe that homosexuals are only too aware of the desperate problems and difficulties of their life. They are, after all, denied the supreme biological function and the great happiness that is to be found in the love between parents and children. Can one expect them to add to this the almost impossible task of living a life of total abstinence? Celibacy, surely, can only be chosen by the individual; it cannot be imposed by law, except in extreme cases of anti-social behaviour. It is, after all, something that is achieved, with great difficulty, only by members of a religious order. There is no indication that the sexual urge is appreciably different for homosexuals than it is for normal men. Consequently it is easy for any of us to imagine the enormity of what our present law asks them to do. This degree of self-control for which one hopes may be possible for a few, but can one expect it from everyone? One must ask, therefore: what is a homosexual expected to do in his particular predicament? As our law stands, he commits a criminal offence if he indulges in any form of physical love with his own kind; and this, we must remember, however unnatural it may appear to us, is natural to him.

I would suggest that the best possible solution, for society and for him, is that he has the opportunity to lead a quiet ordered life, finding, if he must, sexual satisfaction with another adult man. Yet at the moment this is exactly what our law denies to him. I know that by the Christian moral code this life could never be approved of, but it seems to me that it is the best compromise that any reasonable man could hope for.

It would be inappropriate for me in your Lordships' House to say what is the business of the law, but certainly most citizens of this country believe that one of the important principles of freedom is that a man should have the right to choose to do something that is morally wrong, provided that it is not anti-social. It is certainly thought by those who study these matters that most men during their adolescence manifest homosexual tendencies, and that even in the normal adult male an element of this lingers on. We are, after all, a physical and psychic process which we ourselves only partly control and direct, and it is not easy for us to have any final judgment either about ourselves or about others. That great scholar and humanitarian, Dr. Jung, has said: There is no man so masculine that he possesses no feminine qualities. Should one not bear this in mind and, taking into account the statistical probability that any of us might have been homosexual, approach this problem in the spirit of, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I."? I believe these laws will be changed and that when my children are grown up they will be amazed that laws of this sort could have existed in the, middle of the twentieth century.

I agree wholeheartedly with the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, that the heterosexual garden is not so rosy; and it is perhaps worth while reflecting that the irresponsible act of a normal man can have far more devastating results than the equivalent irresponsible homosexual act. Nature has taken care of this. We who are fortunate enough to have been born into what is at least an easier and potentially more happy life should not punish the adult homosexual for what he does in private. Most of us have led by no means perfect lives, and we should do better to remember the words of Christ: Let he amongst you who has not sinned cast the first stone. I support this Bill wholeheartedly, and I trust that your Lordships' House will give it a Second Reading.