HL Deb 23 May 1966 vol 274 cc1170-83

2.44 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Arran.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Amendment of law relating to homosexual acts in private

1.—(1) Notwithstanding any statutory or common law provision, a homosexual act in private shall not be an offence provided that the parties consent thereto and have attained the age of 21 years.

(2) An act which would otherwise be treated for the purposes of this Act as being done in private shall not be so treated if done—

  1. (a) in the presence of any person other than the parties to the act; or
  2. (b) in a lavatory to which the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise.

LORD SALTOUN moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "21" and insert "25". The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Amendment has a double purpose. It not only has the ostensible purpose that I put before your Lordships when I moved it on the last occasion, but also tries to differentiate between the different motives of those noble Lords who have supported this Bill in your Lordships' House. In order to do this, I have to go back and refer to a passage in my life to which I am not very fond of referring or thinking about, and that is the time when I was a prisoner of war in Germany, and in Eastern Germany, too, during the first World War. There were then a good many of these people to be found in the various camps, although not so many as later on, when the Naval Brigade was imprisoned by the Russians in 1919, and British seamen moving about the prison among the other prisoners for any reason at all had to go about in threes, for their own safety. But still, there were quite a number of these gentlemen in the camps where I was, and they were marked by one important characteristic: they were extremely arrogant. They had the greatest contempt for normal people and said that we did not know how to live. Far from trying to conceal their idiosyncrasy, they were very proud of it and boasted of it.

I saw a book by a German psychologist on this subject which entered into a good deal of detail. One unfortunate thing about these people is that they have a great attraction for some women. This is most unfortunate, because they have no real use for them. Not long after your Lordships rejected my Amendment on the previous occasion, I received a letter from a parson saying how he had had a case not long before where the marriage of a homosexual young man had broken down because his wife could not stand his behaviour. He went on to say that he preferred the first chapter of Romans to the most eloquent speeches made on the subject in your Lordships' House. That is only one case, but I have known similar cases all my life. It is one of the things that we are here to consider. As a matter of fact, the law being what it is, it seems to me (although I would not have gone out of my way to make the law, had it not been the law) to act the part of covering fire: it keeps the heads down. When the covering fire is over, they get their heads up, and I have no illusions as to the forces that your Lordships are prepared to let loose in this country.

One of the principal motives for passing this Bill is the question of blackmail. This has never been said in our debates, but I think it ought to be pointed out that Lesbians who bask in the full sunshine of legality are blackmailed just as much. After all, if it comes to blackmail, are we not all engaged in blackmail? The language of every industrial dispute is the language of the blackmailer. Only the other day the Scottish teachers demanded more. I said to myself: "Here are educated men—some at any rate partly educated. Let us see what their language is." The language was just the same. They were insulted by the offer that the victim dared to put forward, and were entirely reckless of and disregarded the sources from which the money to satisfy their demand would come. If that is not blackmail, I do not know what is. I do not mind telling your Lordships that, if I could think of any way of getting a stranglehold on the community, I should probably be a blackmailer myself. But in any case, I think the argument from the blackmail point of view is very largely exaggerated.

There are three propositions before your Lordships this afternoon. There is the proposition of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, for the age 18; there is the Bill, which proposes 21, and there is my proposition for 25. I do not want to repeat the argument that I put before your Lordships on the last occasion, when I said that I did not care very much what aberrations and practices were indulged in by people who had got beyond the time of producing the next generation. There is only one small biological argument I could add to that. My biological friends tell me that whereas women come into the world with a certain number of ova which cannot be increased, men go on producing spermatozoa, if they are fortunate, for the rest of their natural lives. Your Lordships will remember that that fact is one of the facts recorded in Holy Scripture in praise of the ancient patriarchs. As a matter of fact, with the ages we have to consider, that does not enter into it very much. The noble Earl will explain his Amendment, but I imagine his idea is that you have this relaxation at puberty. The idea of the Bill is that you put this before the young man as one of the enlargements and liberties of coming of age. My Amendment definitely seeks to say to him: "Well, you have come out you have become a man. You have been responsible for your own actions, and now you have lived a year or two in the world. If you still cannot control yourself we must shrug our shoulders and let it go."

There is one point of which I am perfectly certain. People tell me that, because the youngest permissible age in the Bill is 21, that will act as a protection for boys. I think that they are entirely mistaken. It will not have that effect in the least, because in order to act you must have evidence; and you can never get evidence, and it will be very unusual if you are able to prove the matter. In the Dorset case it was not possible to get evidence, and it will always be the same. These arrogant, contemptuous, gentlemen (and I am not alone in giving this character; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, last year came and gave your Lordships exactly the same information as I have given this afternoon, from a different source) do not care two straws about your 18 or 21. What they want to do is to get quite young lads, when their glands are just developing, and when their future course in sex matters is governed largely by their imagination. That is when they want to get at these lads. If this Bill goes through, I do not see how that can be prevented, and with all the evil consequences which that will produce on the society for which we are making our laws. I am bound to say that it is with great sorrow that I have to move this Amendment, but it is the best I can do, and I am perfectly certain that it would be a great help to the country if it were put into the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 8, leave out ("21") and insert ("25").—(Lord Saltoun.)

2.55 p.m.


I do not know whether it might be for the convenience of the House if we discussed my Amendment, which is to substitute the age of 18, and this Amendment at the same time. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has kindly agreed to that procedure, so I think the course is for me to speak to my Amendment and then, after the general debate is finished, Lord Saltoun's Amendment can be put, and I will move mine. Perhaps that would be the most convenient procedure, if noble Lords will agree.

The one thing I should have thought the whole Committee will be agreed upon is that noble Lords do not want to hear a recapitulation of the old arguments that we went through when the Bill was previously before this House. So I shall be very brief on this subject. On the previous occasion, I went very briefly into the Wolfenden Report and the four sets of recommendations, two of which suggested 16 as the best age, one 18, and one 21. My own feeling is that, had the Wolfenden Committee met to-day, it is probable that in the new circumstances and the new climate of opinion they would have come out strongly for 17 or 18. But that is only a personal point of view. It seems to me very illogical that women do not have to be protected after 16, and that, suddenly, we say that the men are so incapable of looking after themselves that they have to be protected up to 21. However, I do not want to recapitulate. We have all heard the arguments in full and I wish to make only two points.

The first is this. I have always believed that one of the chief reasons for this Bill was the prevention of blackmail. I think this is a horrible crime, and the homosexual is particularly vulnerable to the blackmailer. Those of your Lordships who saw the reports of the very unpleasant case known as the Moors case, will remember that when the criminals were discussing whether to rob banks, and so on, they all said that the easiest way to get money was what they called "rolling the queer", or attacking the homosexual, who was unable to protect himself legally. I think that goes on all over the country now. These wretched people are subject to the worst form of blackmail. If you make the age 21, instead of 17 or, as I suggest 18, you at once open up a much wider field for blackmail. There will be many more people involved who can be blackmailers, and there will he many more who can be blackmailed. More than that, it is easy for a young man of 20 to pretend that he is 21 or 22 and get away with it, and then, if he wishes to blackmail, he discloses his age and has a grip hand on the wretched victim.

This is not just supposition. I have recently received a letter from a well-known firm of solicitors who said that in the last two years they had had through their files several cases of youths of 16 and 17 who quite obviously had led older men into trouble. When we are talking about corrupting youth—which naturally we all deplore—we must remember that often it is youth who corrupt the old. That is something worth bearing in mind.

I should also like to add that, to-day, of course, youth is growing up more quickly. I saw an interesting point in the Guardian last Saturday. The British Medical Association, in a memorandum submitted to the Latey Committee, recommended that the legal age at which young people should be able to marry without parental consent should be 18. They said that by this age both boys and girls are physically mature, and that in the experience of family doctors most young couples of 18 or 19 (other things being equal) discharge their duties of parenthood no less effectively than those in their early 20's. I think there has been a steady tendency to grow up more quickly within the last few years, which is still going on, which again makes it rather foolish to adopt such a late age as 21 which is now in the Bill. Moreover, despite what has been said, blackmail is, to me, one of the most detestable crimes. It makes its victim despairing, hysterical and sometimes prone to suicide, and if only for that reason we should be wise to put back the age to 18 to try to prevent some of this horrible blackmailing which has been going on.

There is only one other point that I want to make. To me, and I am sure to your Lordships, homosexual practices are utterly repellent, but I think we must all recognise—as, indeed, I think we have done, by agreeing to the Second Reading of this Bill—that there is a big minority, it may be half a million or a million, who have this tendency and cannot help it. Whether it comes innately or in early infancy we do not know, but the Wolfenden Report contained a lot of medical evidence which came to the conclusion that a homosexual was set in his way of life well before the age of 16. What I suggest we do not want to do with this minority is to turn them into a criminal class. I think that in some ways 17 would be a very good age to take, because cases of this kind could come under the Protection of Young Offenders Act, which is not possible after 17 and I have suggested the age of 18 only as a compromise with those who might think that a later age was better. Certainly I think it is important to realise the danger of the prison sentence, because that is not the way to cope with the problem. Very often it has the reverse effect with a young man, who might go for help and advice to his psychiatrist, doctor or priest, but would hesitate to do it when he had to come and confess that he had actually engaged in criminal activities. If we could remove that slur I think a great many more people would seek help and advice, which is, after all, what we want them to do. That alone, I think, reinforces the suggestion that the age should be 18. Sex is a very strong motive. None of us would suggest that the ordinary young man should forgo his contact with women in the young years of his life, and I do not think we should expect homosexuals to do so. If we do, we may well fail. I see no reason for labouring this point, but I would strongly urge your Lordships to consider the logical aim of bringing in this Bill and to support me in my Amendment in regard to the age of 18.


We can leave school at 15; we can marry, with parental or magisterial consent, at 16, or engage in sexual intercourse at 16. At 17, we escape from the clutches of the juvenile court; at 18, until recently, men were liable to be called up for the Army. At 21 we can inherit property; we can take a seat in your Lordship's House, if we are qualified, or we can offer ourselves for a seat in another place. There is no other privilege which sets the age as high as 25. I personally do not feel very strongly whether it should be 18 or 21, but in this day and age, when young people are maturing so much earlier, I think that to push forward the period of tutelage to 25, an age which has no meaning in any similar context, would be an absurdity.


If I may be excused the phrase, this is surely "where we came in." Some noble Lords are putting forward the same Amendments which they put forward a year ago. I respect their resolution. If one feels strongly about something one should obviously not keep silent, but I hope your Lordships will not change your minds, at any rate in regard to Lord Saltoun's Amendment. I said last time, and I say it again, that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, may well be right. It is surely the height of absurdity as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, said, that the age of consent to an act of sex should he five years older for a man than for a woman, if only because a woman can have a baby but a man cannot. But here we are sailing into uncharted oceans, and it might be unwise to take risks. It may well be that in time to come this age anomaly will be recognised as such and the age of consent will be lowered. Meanwhile, I should myself prefer to stick to the script, to the Wolfenden script. It is a very good script and I think it would be a mistake to go beyond it. But, of course, your Lordships may decide otherwise. I said that I thought the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon may well be right; I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun is wrong. Indeed I regard this as a wrecking Amendment, and I deeply hope that your Lordships will reject it.

When is a man to make up his mind for himself—at 20? At 30? At 50? I think of the traditional balad in which a man tells his parents of his wish to marry but says that the lady is a young thing and cannot leave her mother. When asked how old she is, he says, "She is six times seven, twenty-eight and eleven; she is a young thing and cannot leave her mother." This adds up to eighty-one, a year ahead of the age limit suggested by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, a year ago. All age limits are arbitrary but they have to be fixed somehow, for better or for worse. Despite what has been said, I see no valid reason to reject the compromise of 21 proposed by the Wolfenden Committee. It is the age, as has been pointed out, when a man becomes a full citizen; it is the age when he can decide and vote for what he thinks is right for his country. That being so, to say that he is not able to decide what is right for himself is surely carrying unreason and illogicality to the point of absurdity. We are shortly to vote on the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. I ask your Lordships firmly to reject it.


I wish to speak, with the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, against this Amendment, and I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, with the greatest respect, that many of his fears are completely groundless. There is absolutely no logic in his Amendment. Twenty-one is the legal minimum age for marriage, for voting, for contracts, for criminal liability. Young people nowadays mature much earlier; they are bigger physically. The trend to-day is entirely towards lowering this age, and I am rather in sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in his suggestion that it should be 18, though I would stick to 21, Lord Arran's idea. There is in fact a Committee, the Latey Committee, sit-sing at the moment considering this minimum age.

We all know that between the ages of 18 and 25 the sex instinct is much the strongest. Making the age 25 only concentrates the field for blackmail. I believe we should not expect a greater restraint from homosexuals from 21 to 25 than we do from heterosexuals. This is very harsh and unrealistic. We should not make laws in this House knowing that men will not be able to endure them and so will break them. Though most of us in this House are no longer young, I hope we shall not be accused of a puritanism which springs from forgetting our youth. A lack of understanding and intolerance about the vagaries of human nature often manifests itself when we are no longer young. We should not legislate for a self-control and chastity that we know to be difficult to attain. If we do, posterity will only condemn us of an intolerance and lack of compassion born when all passion is spent.

3.13 p.m.


The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said there was no logic in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, and then the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, asked us to be logical and support his Amendment. I found no logic at all in the noble Earl's argument because his argument was based entirely upon blackmail. We all dislike blackmail, and he posed the case that if the limit was 21 some youth of 20 might take part in homosexual activities and then blackmail the other participant. That was his main argument for reducing the age below 21. Why stop there? Whatever limit the noble Earl likes to put in, surely that could equally well happen in relation to someone just below the limit. If he applies logic to his Amendment he will find that what he really wants is no age limit whatsoever. I can find no logic in that argument.

The noble Earl put a great deal of force in the blackmail argument. In considering this matter one ought not only to remember the poor homosexual liable to be blackmailed—and that, I think, is very exaggerated, as indeed the Wolfenden Report shows—but also to have regard to the young man between 18 and 21 subjected to considerable inducements and pressures to participate with older men in homosexual activities. That is the other side of the coin to which some regard should be had, and I hope this House will reject the noble Earl's Amendment as it has done on previous occasions.


I should like to take up that particular case which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, has just quoted: the slightly weak young man between 18 and 21 who may get led into temptation. If this occurs, and if as a result of it this young man (perhaps not 100 per cent homosexual; merely perhaps a little weak or bored, led in the wrong path) is going to be arrested and perhaps put into prison—and the prisons, as we know, are no strangers to homosexuality; how could they be?—when he emerges from prison he is going to have a far harder time finding a nice, understanding, intelligent girl he may marry who may bring him back on to the paths of heterosexuality and allow him to lead a normal heterosexual life than if he has not gone to prison. If he goes to prison at the outset of his career, when he is making his name and his way in the world, he will emerge afterwards scarred by his experience and very probably outlawed and ostracised by the society in which he has grown up.

There is one other point I would make. I fear—I hope I am wrong—that the Amendment as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, may conceivably encourage one or two of the more hesitant Members of your Lordships' House, who are not perhaps quite certain where truth and morality lie, in this case, to accept his Amendment as a sort of watering down of the law as we have it. I think this would be very wrong. If any of us is doubtful—and, indeed, obviously many of us are—about the rights and wrongs of this particular subject, the only thing we can do is abstain. If we think it is a bad law, we must throw it out. If we think, as I think, it is an extremely good law, we should go into it with confidence and courage and, above all, common sense.


I have no liking for the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Saltoun. To-day at the age of 21—and the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, would say at 18—people are as mature as they are ever likely to be, especially sexually, as in these days they do start much earlier. I think it is true to say that to-day, by the age of 21, by and large, the sexual urges of young people are definitely determined, except perhaps in a few borderline cases. The homosexual of 21 is not going to change by waiting another four years. In fact, if during those years he is legally classed as a criminal he may deteriorate as a person and become a less valuable member of society. He may marry as a solution, to his own detriment and that of the unfortunate woman he has used as a sort of guinea-pig.

I have great sympathy with the point of view expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, but I think it contains an element of risk. It is still possible today that a young man of 18 may have lived in an almost entirely male society, not had the opportunity of appreciating the attractions of heterosexual love; but by 21 he would certainly know his own mind and come to terms with his own misfortune. Therefore, personally I am against the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, and that of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and would vote for the Bill as it stands.


I do not want to detain your Lordships, but there are two things I should like to say. The first is that I have had an appeal to my logic. In reply to that I would say there is no logic about an elephant, but it exists, and when you have lived with the animal you know something about it, probably more than most people who only go by reports. That is the first point. Secondly, I am going to ask your Lordships to divide, because I am responsible, in my own mind at any rate, to a very large number of people: fishermen, farm servants, private soldiers and others, people who do not take much interest in politics at all and who let one Govenment go and another come without worrying very much, but who cannot understand how the House of Lords seems to vote always in favour of homosexuality. They cannot understand it and they are puzzled to death.


I really must interrupt the noble Lord. The House of Lords has not voted in favour of homosexuality; it has voted in favour of homosexual law reform.

Albemarle, E. Fortescue, E. Long, V.
Blyton, L. Grenfell, L. Merrivale, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Milverton, L. [Teller.]
Dilhorne, V. Hawke, L. Monsell, V.
Ferrier, L. Kilmuir, E. Oakshott, L.
Saltoun, L. [Teller.]
Aberdare, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Norwich, L. Bp.
Ailwyn, L. Faringdon, L. Norwich, V.
Amherst, E. Ferrers, E. Ogmore, L.
Amulree, L. Fleck, L. Plummer, Bs.
Archibald, L. Furness, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Arran, E. [Teller.] Gaitskell, Bs. Raglan, L.
Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs. Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Reay, L.
Attlee, E. Gifford, L. Royle, L.
Auckland, L. Gladwyn, L. Runciman of Doxford, V.
Audley, Bs. Goschen, V. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Barrington, V. Greenway, L. St. Davids, V.
Boothby, L. Haire of Whiteabbey, L. St. Just, L. [Teller.]
Brain, L. Hall, V. Samuel, V.
Brockway, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Segal, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Hilton of Upton, L. Sherfield, L.
Burden, L. Huntingdon, E. Sinha, L.
Burton of Coventry, Bs. Jessel, L. Snow, L.
Byers, L. Kinross, L. Sorensen, L.
Clwyd, L. Latham, L. Stocks, Bs.
Cohen, L. Leatherland, L. Stonham, L.
Colwyn, L. Lilford, L. Strabolgi, L.
Cranbrook, E. Listowel, E. Strang, L.
Denham, L. Longford, E. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Drumalbyn, L. Mitchison, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Effingham, E. Napier and Ettrick, L. Terrington, L.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Newall, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.

After the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, I feel that I ought again to press my Amendment. Many people were for it. I beg to move.


That may be very true, but one gets tired of explaining and explaining, and they do not understand the explanation. For that reason, I am going to stick to my guns, and I am going to ask your Lordships to support me.

3.20 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 16; Not-Contents, 77.*

* See col. 1199.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 8, leave out ("21") and insert ("18").—(The Earl of Huntingdon.)

3.40 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 12; Not-Contents, 78.

Aberdare, L. Ferrers, E. Newall, L.
Ailwyn, L. Fleck, L. Norwich, L. Bp.
Albemarle, E. Fortescue, E. Oakshott, L.
Amulree, L. Furness, V. Ogmore, L.
Archibald, L. Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Royle, L.
Arwyn, L. Gladwyn, L. Runciman of Doxford, V.
Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs. Goddard, L. Russell of Liverpool, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Goschen, V. St. Just, L. [Teller.]
Blyton, L. Greenway, L. St. Oswald, L.
Boothby, L. Grenfell, L. Samuel, V.
Brain, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Segal, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Hall, V. Sherfield, L.
Burden, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Simonds, V.
Byers, L. Hilton of Upton, L. Sinha, L.
Clwyd, L. Jessel, L. [Teller.] Sorensen, L.
Cohen, L. Kilmuir, E. Stocks, Bs.
Conesford, L. Leatherland, L. Stonham, L.
Denham, L. Lilford, L. Strabolgi, L.
Derwent, L. Lindgren, L. Strang, L.
Dilhorne, V. Listowel, E. Strange, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Long, V. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Drumalbyn, L. Longford, E. Summerskill. Bs.
Dudley, L. MacAndrew, L. Terrington, L.
Effingham, E. Merrivale, L. Thurlow, L.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Milverton, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Monsell, V. Twining, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to according.

House resumed.