HL Deb 13 July 1967 vol 284 cc1283-323

4.25 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is not unfamiliar to this House. As before, it sticks closely to Wolfenden, and indeed it is in substance the same Bill as that which your Lordships have twice been good enough to pass. It has now been debated, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, urged that it should be, in another place, and it has been passed there by a majority which I think I can fairly describe as overwhelming. The principle of reform has also been accepted by a considerable majority of those questioned in two opinion polls. In these circumstances, I do not think I need weary your Lordships by a further repetition of my own views about the principles of this Bill, which must be familiar to you. What I feel I must do is to outline and explain briefly the new clauses and alterations which derive from another place, and to commend them to your Lordships.

In Clause 1, there are two new subsections, (6) and (7). Subsection (6) ensures that the onus of proving that an alleged homosexual offence has been committed through not being done in private or without consent, or because one of the parties was under 21, shall lie with the prosecution. The clause is, as it were, a declaratory one, inserted to make quite certain that, as Mr. Abse said in Committee in another place: No one is in the position of finding himself having to prove a negative. The purpose of subsection (7) is to make it clear that an act of whipping which may or not amount to an indecent assault shall not be made legal as an unintended side-effect of the Bill. The subsection achieves this by stating that "consent" applies only to homosexual acts as such. But flagellation of a male by another male remains an offence, just as flagellation of a female by a male is an offence. This subsection ensures that no immunity is given to the offence of whipping.

Clause 2 is a new clause, and an important one. In effect, it puts the United Kingdom Merchant Navy in the same category as the Armed Services. In other words, the Bill will not apply to merchant ships any more than to ships of the Royal Navy. Your Lordships will recall that this proposition was previously debated in this House on the initiative of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. I confess that at that time I had reservations, but strong representations to the sponsors of the Bill in the other place were made by the National Maritime Board, which represents both the unions and the shipowners, and on the strength of these representations it was agreed that this clause should be inserted.

I do not myself think it unreasonable, first because the Merchant Navy is akin to the Royal Navy, in that discipline on board is essential; and, secondly, because merchant ships, again like ships of the Royal Navy, are often at sea for long periods. Clause 3(2) contains in line 19 the new words: or being a party to. Those words were not in the previous Bill. The purpose of this addition is quite simply to make uniform the penalties for all offences under this clause. The additional words were inserted at the request of the Home Office.

Last, we come to Clause 8, which is a new version of what was Clause 7. Under it, as before, police prosecution in cases of offences between men over 21—that is to say, offences committed when more than two persons were present, or in public places, or where there was no consent—will be, as it were, automatic and without reference to the Director of Public Prosecutions. But in a case in which one of the parties is under 21 the consent of the Director will be needed to prosecute; and for two special reasons. One is that the younger man may well be blackmailing the older man—which, as we know, often happens—and it is important therefore that the case should be examined as a whole, not simply on the bald facts, so that full justice may be done. The other reason is that a situation may occur in which there is a continuing relationship between two young men and when one of them reaches the age of 21 he suddenly becomes subject to far greater penalties, even though the responsibility may be equally shared. Such, as it were, "across the line" cases, call for special investigation and discretion.

In order, however, that the police may not be hampered in their duties by these things, a second paragraph has been added which allows them to arrest or charge any such person without awaiting the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It will lie with him merely to say whether the charges shall be proceeded with, and the requirement of his consent by no means implies, of course, that his decision either way will be a foregone conclusion.

One more word, my Lords, and I have done. It may well be that noble Lords will wish to divide the House this afternoon. If this should happen—then two things. First, I would dare to hope that noble Lords will speak briefly, as I have tried to speak, so that the Division may not be too late; and, secondly, that I shall entirely understand the wish to divide. If ever there was a matter of conscience, it is this. And just as the supporters of the Bill firmly believe it to be right, the opponents are equally convinced that it is wrong. And they may wish to register their disapproval once again.

Nor, my Lords, do I forget three voices, alas! now stilled: those of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Kilmuir; the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, and the noble Lord, Lord Brocket, who spoke in condemnation of what we are seeking to enact. It is not for me to make points for the other side, but I have always respected my opponents and their point of view, and I should like to be entirely fair. But the more I have come to learn of the plight and the unhappiness of homosexuals, the more convinced I have become that this Bill is necessary. I earnestly pray that your Lordships will accept it. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to welcome this Bill and to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Arran, on his tenacity in introducing it in this House once again. I say this all the more sincerely because we all know the tremendous strain which his health has been suffering in the past few months, and we are glad to see him taking an active part once again in our proceedings.

When I spoke on the Second Reading debate on a similar Bill over a year ago, I said that there had been a marked shift in public opinion over the last few years, and during the past 12 months I believe that this shift has become even more pronounced. Its passage through another place has emphasised this all the more. Not before time, the law really is in the process of being changed—not in order that society will accept the homosexual, but so that the homosexual will be able to come to terms with himself. I believe that the present law is ill-conceived and unjust, and my sympathy—even though I abhor homosexual practices—goes out to this oppressed minority. I feel certain that reform along the lines of Wolfenden will not only give better protection to young people in the future, but may well reduce the number of people actually suffering from this problem, because they will be able to get real help openly from the time this Bill gets on to the Statute Book.

I have referred to Mr. Michael Schofield's enlightened book in which he suggests that the child-molesting homosexual and the adult-seeking homosexual are different phenomena; and under the new atmosphere which this Bill will create there will be a line of research which could show us how to differentiate between the two and what treatment is required. Among other things, I believe that the Bill should lessen the blackmail to which so many homosexuals are subjected. A considerable number of blackmail cases which come up in the courts have to deal with men who have committed homosexual offences. The passing of the Bill will enable the psychological and physiological sexual misfits to live in the way they choose without fear of prosecution or persecution.

I hope that the Bill in this House will not be opposed. We have won the reputation of being a reforming Chamber, and I hope that the present Bill will have a speedy passage through the House and on to the Statute Book. I say "speedy", because we have now debated this subject on many occasions during the past two years. I can well understand that noble Lords, like myself, will rise to reaffirm their position. But may I, with every respect to your Lordships' House, emphasise what Lord Arran said, and suggest that all our speeches to-day should be as brief as possible and that if we are to divide—and I hope we shall not—let it be sooner rather than later.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill, except for two clauses, is exactly the same as the Bill which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Arran earlier in this Session—although it seems a very long time ago. Exactly why the other place did not succeed in considering it I do not know. One cannot help feeling that it might have saved a little time if it had been amended there. However, this Bill, as I say, is exactly the same apart from two new short clauses, one about merchant seamen and the other about methods of prosecution which have been introduced. We have spoken so much on this subject, not only on Motions but on previous Bills of my noble friend, that, like the noble Earl and Lord Byers, I do not feel there is a great deal more which ought to be said. Whatever our views may be, most of us would wish to congratulate my noble friend on his perseverance for so long in this kind of legislation.

I remember that when I last spoke on the subject of a Motion moved by my noble friend, afterwards we had to broadcast on the B.B.C. about it at eleven o'clock at night. I know my noble friend will not misunderstand me if I say that I do not always agree with the emotional overtones in which he sometimes expresses his view on this subject. It would not be useful to try to have any kind of debate on pathology. I do not know much about that subject, but I find it very hard to believe—in fact, I do not believe—that more than a small minority of people who practise homosexuality are pathological cases who cannot help doing so. In my belief, they are not like kleptomaniacs who cannot help stealing, and the great majority know that it is wrong.

But, of course, it is quite a different question whether wrongdoing should in all cases be punishable by law. Most of the Ten Commandments are Commandments whose breaches are not punishable by law. Murder and theft are punishable and there are still a few vestiges of Sabbatarian law, and bearing false witness so far as it applies to legal perjury. But breaches of the rest of the Commandments are not punishable by law. As for the seven deadly sins, none of them is punishable by law at all, or could be. You could not prosecute a man for envy, anger, avarice, pride, gluttony or any of the others. The real question which we have always had to decide is: is it in the public interest that this particular kind of moral evil doing should be illegal, or not?

I do not have the figures ready to hand of how many other countries which have a Christian civilisation make homosexual misbehaviour illegal. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will be able to tell us. I think the majority do not. Certainly, France does not. I think Germany is the only one which does, or did, have laws against it. But all of them, of course, have laws against homosexual ill-treatment or perversion of young persons, which is quite a different principle altogether. What we have to consider is this. We did, by a very large majority, pass the Bill before. Another place has, by a very large majority, passed the new Bill which is virtually the same.


My Lords, would the noble Earl forgive me? Is he really saying that a majority of 18, which was the majority on the Motion, That the Bill do now pass, is a very large majority?


My Lords, there have been so many Divisions about this that I am afraid I do not remember which had a majority of 18 and which had a bigger or smaller one. I certainly remember larger ones, but I have no doubt there may have been some which were smaller than others. Of course, nobody wishes to discourage either my noble friend or anybody else from dividing and speaking against the Bill now. But I do not feel that the supporters of the Bill—I have always so far abstained from voting—will want to say a great deal more about it.

The Bill does not apply to Scotland, and I think the reason may be that prosecutions in Scotland are conducted by a different method. I asked the Crown Office about this, and I was informed that efforts have been made to find when the last prosecution of two consenting adult males in private took place, but nobody was able to remember a single one. The reason is that in Scotland prosecutions can only be initiated by the Public Prosecutor, in this case with the consent of the Crown Office, and that, in fact, they are never undertaken, except in cases which would still be criminal offences under this Bill. I think that—


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend for one moment? They are required to consider whether or not it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution.


Yes, and the fact is that they have never done so in living memory, so far as I can ascertain. Of course, they are required to consider whether it is in the public interest, and I had thought that the resulting difference might be a substantial one between Scotland and England, but I am not now quite so sure whether it is.

If your Lordships have read the report of the debate on the Third Reading in another place you will have seen that my right honourable friend Mr. Quintin Hogg appeared to suggest that there were very few prosecutions, even in England, which would be stopped by this Bill. I had always thought that there were a considerable number, and that there was a considerable problem of blackmail arising out of them. If that is not so, then the answer is that this Bill is not really very important. Under the Bill there is a very wide range of offences concerning persons under 21, or merchant seamen, or the Army, where there are special disciplinary reasons for having a different law, and in which no difference will be made by the Bill. Here, again, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, could help us by giving us an idea of the actual number of prosecutions in recent years which have taken place in England, and which would no longer be able to be brought under this Bill. Whether it is considerable or very small, I do not know. But certainly there are none in Scotland.

I do not want to use the word in any sense which is offensive to anybody, but I have always resented the sentimentality which surrounds discussion on this subject. I have never taken a strong view on the actual merits or demerits of these legislative proposals. They do not apply at all to my own country under this Bill. I think I would probably feel, if I were an Englishman, that on balance the evil which is done by blackmail and by prosecutions which may be unnecessary, and which do more harm than good, arising out of the present state of the law, is on the whole greater than the evil which arises from homosexual misbehaviour in private between consenting adult males.

I conclude with what has to me always been the strongest argument against this Bill; that although it may be unwise to have our present law as it is, and although most other countries do not have it, the very fact of changing the law and of making this thing no longer illegal may cause people to think that Parliament approves of it and that it is a good thing. That has always been an argument which weighs with me very much. But that is something which your Lordships must judge for yourselves; whether the majority of educated people in this country will really take that view. When I consider what is probably the small number of prosecutions which have been taking place which under the Bill will now be dispensed with, and the very large range of misconduct concerning juveniles, and procuring, and other offences which will still be illegal, anyhow, I rather doubt whether the majority of our people will regard this Bill as a great encouragement to immorality and national degradation.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I rise on behalf of many of my brethren in this part of your Lordships' House to reaffirm, very briefly, the support which we gave to the principles of this Bill when it was before the House on a previous occasion. In so doing we do not condone homosexual practices; nor do we regard them as in any way less sinful. But in supporting the Bill we are concerned mainly for the reformation and recovery, if it can be, of those who have become the victims of homosexual practices. The fact that the law as it stands is difficult to enforce, and leads so often to blackmail, frequently results in those who need spiritual and psychiatric help being reluctant to reveal themselves in order to obtain that help. It is our hope that if this Bill becomes law we shall be able to bring to more people the help, guidance and reformation which they need and which we believe it to be our duty to make possible for them.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, we are often told that the Second Readings of Bills which come before Parliament ought to be devoted to the broad principles underlying the measures under discussion, rather than questions of detail, which ought to be left to the Committee stage. That, my Lords, is my reason for intervening to-day on this Bill, which has been moved by my noble relative, Lord Arran. My intervention will be very short indeed, for it is concerned with only one single point, though I believe it to be an important one. If I am asked why I have not made it before, my answer is that I have only just reached my conclusions, quite lately, after very considerable thought.

The point that I want to make to your Lordships, with all deference, is this. It is frequently suggested nowadays as a conclusive argument in favour of relaxing the existing laws with regard to such matters as homosexuality that such practices are not, in any true sense, crimes at all: they are sins, and should therefore not come within the purview of the secular law. I am sure your Lordships have often heard that argument. I certainly have, and I confess that I have found it very worrying. I have therefore tried to sort out in my own mind what is the proper relationship between sin and crime. When, in other words, does a sin become also a crime, to be treated as such? Who makes it a crime, and why? I have come personally to this conclusion, which I offer with very great diffidence to your Lordships: that it is when a community considers that a brake simply must be put on that sin because it is becoming a danger, not only to the individual who commits it but to the moral fabric of the community as a whole.

I raise this point this afternoon with regard to this particular Bill because I, like, I believe, others, am coming to feel that we are reaching that danger point in this country with regard to this particular sin, and possibly others as well. We are becoming too inclined to say to ourselves, "This is not a crime; it is merely a sin"; and from there it is all too easy to take a further step and say, "It is not really a sin; it is a misfortune, a psychological misfortune, which an individual has incurred not from any fault of his own but from a variety of circumstances—his upbringing, his temperament and so on—for which he is, truly speaking, not responsible". That is what we may broadly call "the diminished responsibility argument". It has been put very clearly this afternoon, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Byers.

That argument may appear a perfectly reasonable one when one approaches the matter purely from the point of view of the individual, but it may become, as I see it, an infinitely dangerous one if one approaches it from the point of view of the community—and that is what I believe is happening all too often to-day. We may believe each time we pass one of these Bills that we are becoming more good, kind and civilised, and even Christian; but what is really happening to us as a community, as I see it, is that our moral fibre is being steadily deteriorated. As we all know, subjects are to-day being more and more freely discussed, and practices which, until a very few years ago, could hardly have been mentioned at all in decent society, are now taken as a matter of course, almost by children. There as almost a sort of glorification of sex, and even of sex perversion, that is forced on our attention, not only on the films but in the Press. And though I may be regarded, my Lords, as being very old-fashioned in saying so, I cannot regard this as the right time for the community to relax its attitude towards such practices. I regard it, on the contrary, as a time when the community should do its utmost to show its aversion to them by any means in its power, as being a danger to the whole moral structure of the community itself.

I fully realise, of course, that it is entirely open to the community, if it feels so inclined, to change its mind regarding these practices, and to come to regard them as very largely harmless to the nation as a whole. And in that case, no doubt, it will regard a steady growth in the practice of homosexuality with the utmost unconcern. But I am not one of those who take that view. Nor, if I may say so, am I in the least impressed by the argument about blackmail; for if people did not practise homosexuality they would not be open to blackmail. It seems to me that one might use exactly the same argument about murder.

My Lords, if we were concerning ourselves to-day with, say, ancient Rome, or some other ancient country, and not modern Britain, and were to read in our history books that during a certain period, say, in the history of Rome the practice of homosexuality had grown to such a degree that it had been necessary for the authorities to take certain steps to relax the laws against it, I think we should all regard that as evidence of increasing decadence in the country concerned. And I am afraid that that is the only conclusion I can draw from the introduction of a Bill such as this in the British Parliament now. For that reason, my Lords, if the Second Reading of this Bill is pressed to a vote I am afraid that I shall have no option but to vote against it.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to address your Lordships once more on this subject because I have already spoken far more than I should have done in the various debates on this subject in your Lordships' House. But I feel that there is a completely wrong attitude on this subject promoted by what is known as Christian charity. I have had many letters and many conversations with people who have approached me because I have spoken of it in previous debates. Several of them have written to me, and have also spoken to me, saying, "Has nobody ever heard of the power of prayer?" They have found the value of that power; with God's help, they have succeeded in completely overcoming the disability from which they previously suffered. They have said, "Why cannot people talk more about that power?". We were told on the last occasion of several cases where Christ had forgiven sin. We were, in particular, told of the woman who was taken in adultery; and Christ's words were quoted: "Neither do I condemn …". But why was that quotation not continued?—for the words that follow seem to me to be the most important of them all: "Sin no more!"

My Lords, I was listening the other night to a debate on television on a new film of St. Matthew's Gospel that had appeared. During the discussion a Roman Catholic priest and a Protestant Minister were asked what had impressed them most about that film. It was that they had realised, perhaps for the first time, that Christ was not the "gentle Jesus, meek and mild"; but that he was indignant, and righteously indignant, in the face of evil; that he did not stand idly by saying that it was not his job, that it was not this and not the other; and that he never failed to condemn evil. One has only to look at the 23rd Chapter of St. Matthew to realise his views about the Pharisees and the sins for which he condemned them.

My Lords, we have the wrong end of the stick; we are now in a position where the sinner must be saved from the sense of guilt and shame of his sins. It does not matter how many other people have to suffer, he must not feel that guilt and shame. But that sense of guilt and shame is nothing but the normal psychological protection against giving way to these tendencies. There are a lot of things that many of us would probably do if it were not for the feelings of guilt and shame that we might bring upon ourselves if we did them. To-day there is too much thought for the evil-doer and too little for the person who is struggling to go straight. The Wolfenden Report admitted that the passing of this Bill would increase homosexual tendencies and increase homosexual practices. I see the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, is shaking his head. That is what they said in their Bill; but they did not mind that—


They did not produce a Bill.


They did not mind how many were corrupted so long as they did not have the feeling of guilt and shame which they had earned for themselves.


My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. I am not aware that Wolfenden ever produced a Bill.


He said "A Report".


The noble Lord said "A Bill".


My Lords, I ask the noble Lord's forgiveness. It had become so well known as "Arran's Bill" and also as the "Wolfenden Bill"; because it followed so closely the recommendations.

Are we to sit idly by and watch the increase of homosexuality among the young people? Or are we to say: No; the evil-doer must suffer as the innocent must be protected? That is the proposition before us to-day. I am quite convinced, as was the noble Marquess, that this is the point at which we have got to stop and say, No; that we must get back our moral fibre and not be afraid to accuse the evil-doers.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, no one who has just heard the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, speak will doubt at all the sincerity with which he expresses his views; and, of course, everyone will understand the sense of duty which made him, as a former head of the Boy Scout Movement, speak as he did just now. I have always had regard for those who sincerely felt that the passage of a Bill of this kind would encourage the spread of homosexuality among the young. But may I put into the balance, against his experience, my own judgment? For 20 years I was a tutor and head of a Cambridge college and now I am head of a college at London University. One of the happiest parts of my duties has been to get to know undergraduates and how they live their lives. One gets to know something also of their lives at school, and particularly at boarding school. Of all the changes that I have seen during these years, nothing has been more striking than the decline in homosexuality or to be more accurate, the decline in young men who are pretending, or flirting with, homosexuality. This is an immense change and the reason for it is obvious: to-day, boys in their teens go out with girls; the old days of segregation of the sexes, of shyness and awkwardness and of formal relations between them are over.

Of course, there will always be homosexuals. Even if this Bill is passed some will be sentenced for soliciting or for interfering with minors. The Bill does all that it should to protect the public. I do not believe it will lead to any increase in homosexuality among the young or have any adverse influence on their way of life. That is what I would put in the balance against the striking statement that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, has just made. I do not believe this Bill will in any way lead to a weakening of the fibres of our moral life. We in this House have often debated that precise point and I will not waste your Lordships' time with further observations upon it.

My Lords, all that I would add is this. One does not have to be a Member of your Lordships' House for very long to be as jealous as its oldest Member for its great reputation and standing. Having passed Lord Arran's Bill twice, having educated public opinion, having stood (as this House should stand) as a forum where controversial issues can be debated and voted upon without Party alignment or without constituency pressures, should we not ask ourselves this afternoon how that reputation will fare if we were to defeat this Bill? Now that it has come to us from another place, surely we should re-affirm our past votes. It is true, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, reminded us in his interjection, that the number of votes by which Lord Arran's Bill was passed last time was not so many as all that. It is equally true that the number of votes that could be mustered in another place in the final stages of their debate was even smaller than the majority by which it was passed in this House.

I sincerely respect the feelings of those who still feel repugnance for this measure. If they feel this repugnance so strongly, then I suppose they must vote against it. But I appeal to those noble Lords who still feel this repugnance but who have followed the course of these debates in this House and in the other place during the past two years, to consider whether it would not be wise to abstain when the House divides. I believe that there is quite a new feeling of respect and admiration for your Lordships' House throughout the country, and particularly among the young, who have learned that this is not an assembly of inverted Micawbers waiting to turn something down. My Lords, let us enhance this respect, and either vote for this Bill or abstain from voting.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I was interested in the noble Earl, Lord Arran's remark that his experience in the schools and universities, extending over his whole life, had been that there is a diminishment of homosexual practices. Having been in university life and connected with schools, my own experience is towards the same conclusion. It is something which one cannot reduce to mathematical terms, and one may indeed be wrong.

My Lords, it is a little presumptuous of me, a Scot, to address your Lordships when this Bill applies neither to Scotland nor to Northern Ireland. I am impelled to do so by the fact that, when the noble Earl, Lord Arran, introduced his Bill for the first time in this House, he queried a statement of mine that the Church of Scotland was against such a proposition. I had good reason for saying that as I had taken some care to discover what I thought would be the attitude of the Church of Scotland on this matter. The matter had not been discussed in the General Assembly for some five years previously, but I have to report to your Lordships that at the General Assembly held last May the Church of Scotland, discussing this subject, came out quite clearly, and with a very substantial majority, against the proposals in this Bill. I think your Lordships should be aware of that. There was a minority for the Bill in the Church of Scotland, as there are minorities against the Bill in other Churches.

Whether that is slightly from the curiosity angle; whether it indicates a difference of Presbyterian ethics—which is perhaps implied by the fact that Northern Ireland also is ex- cluded —whether it is a different system of Church government, or whether it is for some other reason than a purely religious one, it is very difficult to say. It may be that in Scotland we are not yet ready for the more permissive society that is overcoming England and encroaching into Scotland. It certainly is the case, I think, as was said by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that in this respect we have a more liberal legal system. It is less hidebound and more easily adjusted to the circumstances of the period than the system which obtains in England. On the other hand, my Lords, it may be merely that we in Scotland suffer from an inferiority complex by being the junior Kingdom.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I think we are all agreed that the subject we are debating to-day has already been gone into with the greatest thoroughness. I am confident that there are very few people in your Lordships' House who have not made up their minds on this subject already. My only reason for taking a few minutes of your Lordships' time is to reiterate what I have said in the past concerning the opinions that I believe young people in this country hold on this important matter. I cannot claim to speak as a particularly young person myself, but my work as a teacher in an institute of higher education brings me in contact with a great many people who are in their early twenties. They are very responsible and intelligent people, and it will not be long before they will be the people running this country and exerting more and more influence. I believe that among people of this age there is an overwhelming feeling that the law of this country should be changed.

I can speak with certainty, of course, only about my own students, but I know that almost 100 per cent. of them would support this Bill. I am convinced that if this subject were to be debated in any university in this country, one would find that the consensus of opinion would be almost totally in favour of a change in the law; and probably there would be a wish that the law should be changed very much more drastically than is proposed to-day. It seems to me that the important issue is whether homosexuality among men (for some odd reason nobody seems to be the least concerned about women) would be likely to increase if the law was changed. The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has put over very clearly that it is his fear that this would happen. I find it almost impossible to believe.

We have information from other countries that have altered their laws in a more lenient direction, and I do not think anybody has produced one shred of evidence to indicate that this change in the law has produced an increase in homosexuality. When I spoke on this subject before, I pointed out that in Sweden, where the laws were amended along the lines of the Wolfenden Committee recommendations in 1944, there has been no indication of an increase in homosexuality. One would like to know which countries that have altered their laws have seen a savage outbreak of homosexuality, and indeed an outbreak of those strange clubs that have been referred to in this House and in another place as "buggery clubs". I am confident that a careful study of this problem would indicate that these fears are without substance.

We know that the number of prosecutions for homosexual acts between consenting adults in private are very few. We also know—and I am personally happy about this—that the vast majority of acts between men in private are not detected, and therefore are not punished. It is impossible for the police to enforce the present law, and a law that is not enforceable seems to me somewhat meaningless. Furthermore, a law that imposes such monstrous conditions on the lives of a minority of people who I believe, rightly or wrongly, through no fault of their own are different from the rest, is a law that should be changed. Your Lordships supported Lord Arran's Bill when it came before you in the past and I sincerely hope you will support this Bill and give it a Second Reading.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, at two minutes to eight this morning I was listening to the wireless and I heard a voice saying, "To-day the Sexual Offences Bill, sponsored by Lord Arran, gets a Second Reading in the House of Lords; and in 'The World at One' we are putting on a special programme including an interview with a practising homosexual". I hope that the prognostication is incorrect. I listened to the programme, "The World at One", which consisted of interviews between practising homosexuals of a type for which people like myself have the utmost sympathy and feeling. But, my Lords, I feel that programmes such as we have to-day are further evidence of the unbalanced approach in which a lot of media have indulged in regard to this measure, and for this reason. I believe that after the debates in your Lordships' House in 1965 and 1966, to which reference has already been made, when Bills introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, were being discussed, the Division figures were not altogether a fair guide to the opinion of this House. We all knew at that time that neither of the Bills could ever become law because of the Parliamentary time-table. This, I feel, kept many noble Lords from taking part in the debates. Certainly I found that I had to drive myself to take part in them. That is not the case to-day, because your Lordships' House is dealing with a Bill which has been sent up from another place, and it is our duty to debate it properly.

When on June 16 the noble Earl, Lord Arran, called for "a smashing majority", the figures were 78 to 60 in favour of the Motion, That the Bill do now pass. Four Bishops took part in those debates. It seems to me curious when, as we know, the Church of England is split right up the middle on this issue, that four of the Lords Spiritual should support the Bill and none should be against. Perhaps in fairness to them the reason may be that the Bishops had paired. I should be glad to know if that were so, but the fact is that four Bishops voted for it, and no Bishop voted against it.

Your Lordships know my views from previous debates, and I do not intend to deploy them again, except to say that I agree entirely with what my noble friend Lord Rowallan has just said. He indicated that there were grave risks of increased homosexuality if this Measure based on the Wolfenden Report were adopted. But I pin my faith to the reservations made by Mr. Adair. To my mind, these are most important factors in our approach to this situation as it is to-day.

All I propose to do, in deference to the wish of the House that speeches should be short, is to add what I can to what has been said in opposition to the Bill. If your Lordships decide to give this Bill a Second Reading, I hope that it will be rejected at a later stage. One cannot but admire the tenacity of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and his courage and determination in this matter, but I cannot respect him for having taken up this particular Bill, nor for persisting in it.

I am satisfied that the Bill will not stop blackmail. Why?—because, law or no law, the people as a whole detest homosexual behaviour, and blackmailers will continue to cash in on this fact. I am satisfied that the Bill is a "queer's charter" and will encourage that most loathsome creature, the male prostitute. I am satisfied that it will increase the temptations which lie in the path of adolescents. I am satisfied that Clause 2, excepting the Services and the Merchant Navy, makes absolute nonsense of the whole Bill. I cannot see why what is a crime in one part of the nation is not a crime in another. I am satisfied—and this is the worst of all—that this Bill would introduce into our way of life a horrible power in the hands of any man in authority in civil life. It will give someone who has power to promote or employ the power to make acquiescence a step towards advancement. I think that this is perhaps the worst feature of the whole Bill. I had a conversation the other day with a young grandmother who had some theatrical experience earlier in her life, "Ah", she said to me, "I see what you mean—the male equivalent of the casting couch". This is a dreadful situation, which I think must be borne in mind.

I appeal to noble Lords who are in any doubt whatsoever to abstain from voting. Even if they cannot vote for the status quo, they should abstain. As against the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I would say: abstain or vote against. It is not that I lack compassion for the unfortunate homosexual—I am also not lacking in compassion for those who are dragged into his net, as my noble friend Lord Rowallan said. I should like to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Byers. I feel certain that there has been a change in the people's attitude in regard to permissiveness in our society, not in recent years, but in recent months. I appeal to your Lordships to reject the Bill. I for one will go into the Lobby against it whenever there is a Division.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I usually agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and I regret that I am unable to do so on this occasion. I used to think that 20 minutes was the ideal length for a speech, so your Lordships may be relieved to know that, rather late in life, I have come to the conclusion that a maximum of ten minutes is better, and more effective. We have played this record anyway very often.

I am speaking only because I fired the first shots in this campaign with a speech to the Hardwicke Society in February, 1954, which got quite a lot of Press support. This encouraged me to ask certain questions in another place, which led to a correspondence between myself and the Home Secretary, then Sir David Maxwell Fyfe; and this in turn resulted in the appointment of the Wolfenden Committee. My noble friend Lord Arran and Mr. Abse have now led, with conspicuous ability, the final Parliamentary assault.

I always estimated that it would take about ten years, following the publication of the Wolfenden Report and the animated discussion in Parliament and in the Press which inevitably followed it, to allow the climate of public opinion to change sufficiently to enable the necessary legislation to be passed. It has taken a little longer, but not much. The climate of public opinion has now changed right through the country, and there is general support for this measure. I assert that its main purpose is to remove the Labouchère Amendment from the Statute Book. I know that that is not the view of one or two of my noble and learned friends. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, does not altogether take this view.

I go back to the remark made in another context by Lord Kilmuir, when he said: It ought to be done by legislation directed to the point, and not by a side wind in a different Bill. The Bill in which the Labouchère Amendment was inserted was a Bill to make further provision for the protection of women and girls. It was passed on a hot night, in an empty House, without discussion and without a Division. With great respect, and as against some noble and learned Lords in this House, I am content to rely on the considered opinion of Sir Travers Humphreys. He said: In committee Mr. Labouchère moved to insert in the Bill the clause, which ultimately became Section 11 of the Act, creating the new offence of indecency between male persons in public or private … It is doubtful whether the House fully appreciated that the words 'in public or private' had completely altered the law. There is certainly no dubiety about Sir Travers Humphreys' remarks. That was how it was done, and that is what I think should now be undone.

In conclusion, I support this Bill for four simple reasons. There is a lunatic fringe of homosexuals who get a kick out of being on the wrong side of the law, and of the danger arising therefrom. To a great extent the Bill will take that kick away, and some of them may even give it up. Secondly, the vast majority hate being on the wrong side of the law, and wish only to be good and useful citizens, though they may sometimes, perhaps often, lead rather unhappy lives. Another reason why I support the Bill is because I am convinced that prisons are the last places on earth to which homosexuals should be sent. This really is an overwhelming reason.

I further believe that what consenting adults of either sex do in privacy is their own affair in a free democracy. I will not go into the question of sin and crime raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury—I think we have already dealt with that, and he dealt with it extremely well to-day—except to say that I believe there is a difference between what some may hold to be a sin and, what the State may hold to be a crime; because "crime" means a crime against the State.

Finally, there is the question of blackmail. And do not think, my Lords, that it does not exist, or that it will not be reduced if this Bill is passed; or that blackmail is not a more horrible thing than homosexuality between consenting adults.

This Bill does not go as far as I would wish. I think that some of the prescribed penalties are excessive. Nevertheless, it deals with what I believe is the essential point. I feel that we all owe a considerable debt to Sir John Wolfenden and his Committee for all the trouble they took and the work they did. It was not a very agreeable inquiry to conduct. Sir John once told me that, in suggesting it, I had done him the greatest disservice that had ever been done to him in his life. But he did a fine job. I would end by saying that I cannot help hoping that when this Bill and the Abortion Bill are both out of the light we shall not hear of sex in this House again for a very long time. Because the plain truth is that, after a while, sex can be very boring.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, there are times in Parliamentary life when one has to face a Bill which one abhors, and yet to oppose it categorically would beg the question: what are you going to put in its place? After a great deal of thought, this is how this Bill presents itself to me. I think we all admire the courage of my noble friend Lord Arran in having persisted strongly with this measure; and nobody who knows him would doubt the sincerity of his motives.

At the outset, there is one question that I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. Whatever happens to this Bill, will the full stretches of medical research be put to the limit to try to help these unfortunate people, the homosexuals, and to try, at least in part, to cure them of these habits? Because with medical research as it is at present. I believe that this can be done, even if it takes a long time. I think it is a great fault to suppose that this can never be cured. Having said that, I would add that I hope some of the penalties which are outlined in the Bill will be looked at before the Committee stage, because some seem to me to be too lenient. I do not think that at this hour of the evening we want to pursue Committee points, but I am thinking particularly of Clause 5, which deals with living off the earnings of male prostitutes. It seems to me that the penalties there might be looked at again and, if necessary, increased. I would ask the Government and my noble friend to consider this.

In one of the more popular Sunday newspapers last week there appeared an account, which some of your Lordships may have seen, of a homosexual wedding in a Continental country. I think the newspaper concerned is to be congratulated on high lighting this very nasty happening. I only hope that if this Bill becomes law, as I believe it will, the most vigilant eye will be kept on practices of this kind. I do not think these things could happen in this country, but it is possible, and I hope that the Government will read this particular article. I cannot remember in which newspaper it appeared.


It was the News of the World.


I will not make any further comment on that, except to ask the Government to look at what I think is a serious matter.

It seems to me that the whole Bill has been well summed up by my right honourable and learned friend the Member for Marylebone in another place. To paraphrase his words, he described it as an undesirable Bill, because it would not have the alarming effects that some of its opponents claim it might have. My own feeling is that to oppose the Bill on Second Reading would be a mistake, because, as I said earlier, the whole point is that we have to think of what can be put in its place to deal with the element of homosexuals who cannot control their feelings. I can only hope that, even at this late stage, the Bill will be more thoroughly examined in Committee, particularly so far as the penalty clauses are concerned.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to see that my noble friend Lord Arran has recovered sufficiently to go through the Second Reading of his Bill—this Bill which has become a hardy annual. I am going to be shorter than usual in support of this Bill, as I do not wish to repeat the arguments that I have adduced before. We have debated this subject ad nauseam, and each time, though I have searched my conscience, I have discerned no reason for withdrawing my support for such a measure. I believe it is a step in the right direction of understanding and tolerance towards the age-old problem of human behaviour, which in the past the law has dealt with in the most savage way.

The sexual instinct is so ringed round with taboos and primitive fears that it is not surprising it is smothered in self-disception. I believe that in this context to bandy about with words like "normal" and "unnatural" does not bear even examination, let alone introspection or analysis. I have some sympathy with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, because he has had so much experience with young people, but in this context I sincerely believe that this Bill in no way increases the danger of corrupting the young. The law is still severe enough on compulsive homosexuals who find their pleasure only with young boys. After all, so-called normal men who display the same kind of vice with very young girls get off relatively lightly, and the results can be much more serious.

The assumption to-day that youth is a state of innocence, and therefore sexless, is in itself a false and dangerous assumption. It is here that I think the psychologists have a greater role to play than they have done so far. They could do much more to guide parents and teachers in instructing children. I am not referring to the simple biological facts, but to the deeper physical and emotional urges and the dangers they may encounter. A more profound understanding of human sexual behaviour is the best defence against temptation from older men.

As a society, we gloss over many perversions between men and women in private. The law, and society, are very tolerant towards these and turn a very blind eye. Those men who are born, conditioned or tempted irrevocably into homosexuality should have extended to them the same degree of tolerance as is extended to any other so-called perversion between men and women. I do not believe, my Lords, that intolerance towards homosexuals is a hall mark of virtue. So, once again, I support the Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and wish him final success with it.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, I have not spoken on this subject before, and I take this opportunity to make my own position clear. I have my own approach to this matter, and I want to emphasise one or two things that perhaps have not been particularly emphasised, even from these Benches. If the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, detects in my speech some slight rift in the monolithic episcopal unity, I hope that it will be of some little encouragement to him. On that point, I think it is only right to say, as an objective fact, that when the Wolfenden Report came out there was a very clear statement by one of the most informed Committees in the Church of England on this matter which did in fact support the Wolfenden findings. And that really is the historical explanation of the apparent unanimity between the Bishops on that point.

I accept the fact that, in the modern climate of public opinion, it is no longer possible to keep offences of the type we are considering on the list of criminal offences. In so far as the change in public opinion arises from a new tolerance and a new charity, it is to be commended. But, in so far as it arises from a sense that moral values no longer matter, it is to be regretted. I suspect that both influences have been at work in this change in public opinion. There is a certain danger of coarsening of public taste merely by the prolonged discussion of these matters. I was a little shocked myself to see the final decision in the House of Commons announced in a banner headline of one of the London evening papers: Men Only Bill Passes at Last". I could not help wondering how many children would ask their parents what that meant, and what sort of an answer they would get. It is just an indication of the price one has to pay for facing questions of this sort.

But the two points I particularly wish to make are these. It has been repeatedly said in these debates that a proportion of men cannot help being homosexual; and, subject to certain modifications, that is of course true. But it should not be assumed, because of the passing of this legislation—I think it will pass—that because a man is psychologically homosexual he is bound to give physical expression to these tendencies. All men, whether heterosexual or homosexual, have to learn to live with their sexual natures, to discipline themselves, and to see that the expression of their instincts is in accordance with their own and others' best interests.

The other point, my Lords, is this. I personally believe that the law has a much more positive contribution to make in the upholding of moral standards than is commonly recognised. It would be a bad day for Britain if we came to the point where law was reduced to the status of an agreed social convention, no longer related in any vital way to the law of Nature or, as I should wish to say, to the Law of God. My conscience will be clearer now that I have had a chance to make my position plain in this matter, and I think the balance of my convictions can be expressed only by abstention.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, one of the great effects, it seems to me, of the protracted debates in another place and here on this topic has been the tendency, at least, to education in many fields where before there was little but ignorance and prejudice. It may well be, as the last speaker has said, that this has tended in some cases to produce a coarsening of thought. But on the whole the evidence I would bring from the Free Churches is that the process has been to the good, and that since this question first appeared in headlines this process within the Free Churches has led to an almost total unanimity, so far as it is expressed in our affairs, that, on the whole, this Bill ought to be supported, and that in general it clarifies and expresses quite important moral issues.

It would seem to me, if I may say so with respect, that there is still some confusion in the minds of some people, perhaps even in your Lordships' House, as between homosexuality as a condition, an ineluctable condition, and homosexual practices as a way in which that condition expresses itself. I am quite sure that homosexuals, so far as I know them, are not aware that they are doing anything wrong or being evil because they feel these particular feelings and sustain these particular idiosyncrasies. And if it he argued that discipline is always required with regard to sexual matters, how much more, how much harder, is that discipline in the very often unrewarding and un-creating kind of environment in which a homosexual has to display that discipline, rather than in the far more natural and creative way in which the normal discipline has to be displayed!

But it would not be for me to deploy these arguments again, except to say—and in this respect I can speak for the Free Churches in this country—that I support this Bill on their behalf, and believe that it represents a necessary change in the law; that it represents a proper attitude to some aspects of homosexuality—and there has been, I think, a temptation in your Lordships' House to ignore some of the severer penalties now exacted for the corruption of youth; that it does care for the sinner, as well as execrating the sin; and, above all, that it does draw this distinction, which I believe to be a necessary one, between sin, Lesbian practices, adultery—which practices, according, I believe, to the argument of the noble Marquess, ought, if they are increasing, to be brought within the framework of penal exactment. I do not think they should. I believe that this consenting behaviour pattern between adults is sinful in many respects, but not necessarily always.

Since we speak frankly, or I hope we do, I suggest that there are homosexual practices which in the beginning, in the simpler expressions of physical affection as between homosexuals, are as natural and as innocuous in themselves as any practices as between a man and a girl. I cannot for the life of me (this is a purely personal observation) see that it is sinful for two men to hold hands, realising as I do that that holding of hands may well be, at least in part, or involved in, a sexual behaviour pattern. However, this is to raise highly controversial matters. What is, in my judgment, not controversial is that in this particular regard, certainly so far as I am concerned, to pass this Bill will remove a great deal of the terror, the fear, the unnatural hazards that affront so many good and decent homosexuals, and may be the beginning of other and better legislation to follow it, whereby the recovery of such people to what we call a normal pattern of life may be made easier. I support the Bill.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin my speech, if I may, by congratulating my noble friend Lord Arran on his remarkable success in getting a very controversial Private Mem- ber's Bill to this stage. This is the third time we have debated the Second Reading of a Bill which has precisely the same object, and while I disagree entirely with the arguments advanced by my noble friend, and object most strongly to the purpose of this Bill, I should like to say how glad I am that he was able to move the Second Reading to-day, and to congratulate him most sincerely on the success that he has so far achieved. I cannot help thinking that if the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, were here (and I am not sure whether he is or not) he would greatly approve of the course this debate has taken. I cannot remember any occasion on which a subject of this importance has been debated in such a short space of time with so many Members of your Lordships' House making short, succinct speeches with regard to it.

I hope I may be excused, speaking towards the end of this debate, if, although I do not think I can say anything that has not been said before, I put on the Record again the reasons why I, for one, could not vote for this Bill, and why I would think it entirely wrong to adopt the advice that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, so generously gave: that the opponents of this Bill should waive their objections to it and abstain from voting. I do not suppose that anything I say will alter opinion; nor is it the case that anything that has been said to-day has altered mine. But there are one or two things which it is important to bear in mind. The discussion to-day has been very much on the lines that we must alter the law with regard to homosexuality. If that were the issue, and the only issue, I should find myself in favour of that proposition. But it is not; and it is worth bearing in mind that the question here is not whether we are just altering the law as to whether it is unlawful to be a homosexual, because there is no such law: the law relates to the indulging in homosexual practices.

I heard for the third time the noble Lord, Lord Boothby (who I cannot believe has read this Bill), assert that its main purpose was to repeal the Labouchère Amendment, and he referred to that Amendment and the circumstances in which it came to be incorporated in a Statute. He referred to remarks, as I well know, of the late Mr. Justice Humphreys with regard to that Amendment. But the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has ignored the fact that this Bill deliberately sets out—and if he had read the Bill he would appreciate it—to legalise sodomy, or buggery, as it is called, between consenting adults in private. If the objects of the Bill were merely to repeal the Labouchère Amendment, to make it possible (as it now is) to deal with the very kind of conduct which constitutes gross indecency, when it is in public, just in by-laws, I say again that I should be in favour of that proposal. But this Bill goes much further than that. It seeks to legalise the "full offence", as it is called, of buggery. And what justification is there for that?

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said in one of our debates that he regarded homosexual practices as "utterly abominable". Those were his views. Homosexual practices may take many forms, and the most abominable form of all is surely the commission of the full offence of sodomy. The question really at issue in this House to-night, and which I think divides the supporters of this Bill from the opponents of it, is the question whether it is right now, when that has been an offence on the Statute Book for hundreds of years, and when it has been regarded as a most grievous offence, to say that in certain circumstances that disguesting, abominable offence can be lawfully practised.

That, as I see it, is the issue. And what are the reasons put forward in support of this proposition? We are told, on the authority of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that homosexuality in universities is decreasing. I am sure we are all glad to hear that. He did not go on to say that morality was increasing. Here I am concerned, not with the kind of dirty practices that sometimes take place in schools but with the proposals of the noble Lord that sodomy should be made lawful. And why? We are asked to pity, and indeed we do pity, those who are homosexuals. In some cases they cannot help it. But as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has so rightly said, it should not be assumed that because they have those tendencies they have to give way to those practices. In one debate we heard the noble Earl, Lord Arran, say that the number of those unfortunate people in this country was between half a million and a million. I do not know how those figures are ascertained.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment, those figures were from the Home Office.


Even so, my Lords, I have never been prepared to accept everything the Home Office said as being entirely accurate—and that not only applies to the lifetime of this Government. Be that as it may, a former Home Secretary, the late Lord Kilmuir, gave the House some figures. He said that when he was Home Secretary, of 96 cases then in prison there were only 15 cases of genuine inverts, and the others, he said, included those who committed the act for motives of sensationalism or for money, or reasons of that sort.

Then the late Lord Brain, who unfortunately of course has left us, also said that the number of genuine inverts was a very small proportion of the population; and he said, too, that there were those who were in some cases both heterosexual and homosexual and (and I quote his words) perhaps married with children, but with homosexual tendencies which may or may not be given overt expression". May not the relaxation of the law which the Bill proposes by making sodomy lawful in certain circumstances, make it less easy for people in this category to resist and fight against these unnatural tendencies? I believe it will, and that is one reason why I am strongly in favour of keeping that part of the existing law as it is now. The argument that the existence of a small percentage of genuine homosexuals justifies this change is really no more convincing than the argument that because some people are kleptomaniacs there should not be a law to prevent stealing.

Then we have heard again to-day the blackmail argument. At one time it was advanced as the main argument in support of this change. Reliance was placed on a statement made by the late Lord Jowitt as to his experience in relation to blackmail cases when he held the office of Attorney General. All the years I was a Law Officer not a single blackmail case in relation to homosexuality came within my purview. With regard to the blackmail argument the short answer, of course, is that if you do not engage in these practices you cannot be blackmailed. But the whole blackmail argument has been grossly exaggerated. This is stated in Wolfenden, in paragraph 110, and I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Byers, trotted it out again to-day.

It is, in my view, a grave misconception to suppose that if this Bill is carried there will be a cessation or even a diminution in the number of blackmail cases, because, as Wolfenden points out, it is not so much the threat of criminal proceedings but the threat of exposure to one's friends and relations and the people with whom one is engaged in business which is the real threat behind the blackmail. I should think it is true to say that possibilities of blackmail will continue as long as such conduct is regarded generally by the public—and I hope that will continue for some time—as it is by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, as utterly abominable. Indeed, there are those who have spoken to me who think that blackmail will increase if this Bill is passed, and that the blackmail will take the form suggested by my noble friend Lord Ferrier in his speech: that acquiescence in these practices, the giving of consent, will lead to advancement in occupation or profession.

Then there is the argument, advanced on many occasions and again to-day, that if sodomy is made lawful it will be easier to give help to those who have these tendencies. I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London put forward that argument to-day. I must confess I do not understand it at all. If a person has these tendencies there is nothing to stop him from getting help now. I do not believe that it will encourage him to seek help to say that that shall no longer be an offence. Then there was the argument advanced in Wolfenden, and repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, to-day, that acts which are done in private between individuals who are adults should not be criminal. I have always regarded that as a fallacious proposition and one which simply could not be accepted as a general proposition in relation to the law. Does anyone seriously suggest that private drug-taking by adults should be lawful; that the sanctions against that should be removed? Could it not be suggested with equal force that we ought to abolish the sanction of the criminal law against drug-taking as it will then be easier to help those who take drugs?

I have now summarised as shortly as I can what I think have been put forward as the main arguments for this Bill. In my opinion, they do not in any way justify making this major change in the law. Your Lordships will note that I have spoken in relation to the offence of sodomy, and I should like to repeat and emphasise once again that if this Bill dealt merely with gross indecency, with the repeal of the Labouchère Amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, constantly seems to think it does, my attitude would be different. But in my view no case has been made out for making any change in relation to the law of sodomy.

The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, made, if I may say so, a most interesting speech. On one occasion he expressed the view, which I think he resiled from to-day, that the relaxation of the present law—and I quote his words— would give the appearance of extending social approval to homosexual conduct", and that, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester then said, would be the last thing the Church would desire or support. I do not believe that what Parliament does in this respect will affect the question whether society approves of this conduct or not. I think that does not follow. But whether the Church desires it or not, if this Bill is passed with the Church's support it is, in my view, bound to have the consequence, not that such conduct will be socially approved, but that such conduct will be regarded as far less wrong than it was. It is bound to be regarded that your Lordships' House and Parliament as a whole are of the opinion that sodomy between adults is not such a grave sin or wrong as to be a crime.

As has already been pointed out, the last time that this House voted on a Bill with this object the Motion, That the Bill do now pass was carried by a majority of only 18. This time is the third time that we have had a Second Reading debate, and on a third occasion I hope good fortune will come to those who oppose the Bill. It is true that this Bill differs in some respects from those we have previously considered. For instance, under this Bill, under Clause 2, which was bitterly opposed by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, when it came before this House, members of the Merchant Navy will remain liable to conviction if they commit homosexual offences and sodomy with other members of the crew; but they will be able to commit those acts with complete impunity so long as the other person engaged in them is not a member of the crew—a passenger or someone else. This appears to me, to say the least, somewhat of an odd provision in our criminal law.

Little has been said about prosecutions for consenting adults for the full offence. I cannot myself remember cases where that has happened in relation to that conduct in private in recent years in this country. I think, in fact, the practice is very similar to that of Scotland, because my recollection is that the Director of Public Prosecutions always takes over the conduct of such cases. But I think that is really an irrelevant circumstance. What worries me is that this time, by altering the law, you are making it appear that sodomy is less sinful than it was. If I thought that there were the slightest chance at this late stage of getting the Bill altered to limit it to the Labouchère Amendment, I would, if the Bill got a Second Reading, move Amendments to it. But if the Bill does get a Second Reading, in the light of our experience of Committee stages on the earlier Bills I doubt whether we should ever get any amendment to it. So if the Bill does get a Second Reading I, for one, shall not seek to move Amendments to it in Committee.

It seems to me that we have discussed this subject, as I think the first speaker said, ad nauseam. We have been offered by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, the consolation that although Clause 1 removes liability from sodomy, in certain circumstances it retains the penalties for flagellation. I do not find that any great comfort. There are, I believe, those, like the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, who think we should not vote against a Bill on its Second Reading when it has passed through another place. This is a Private Member's Bill and I do not believe there is any such convention or custom in this House in relation to such a Bill. I think there have been many occasions on which this House has rejected a Private Member's Bill. To reject a Bill for which it cannot be claimed that there is any mandate, which, although supported by the most reverend Primate and certain right reverend gentlemen, was not in fact supported by the majority of the Church Assembly, a Bill which in my belief this country does not want and one which will encourage decadence in our society, is not something which will reflect adversely on the reputation of this House, but is something which will make people think that in these days at least this House has preserved some sanity. I would say in conclusion to my noble friend Lord Arran, take this Bill away, bring in another Bill to do what the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, stresses he wants so badly, the repeal of the Labouchère Amendment. My Lords, if any noble Lords will come into the Lobby with me, I will certainly record my vote against this Bill.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, but this is the third time, I think, that I have listened to the noble and learned Viscount on this subject and I felt that on each occasion I had made sincere and determined efforts to understand his point of view. The noble and learned Viscount and I differ on quite a number of subjects, although, surprisingly, I think, we have on one occasion on a controversial issue been found in the same Division Lobby. It therefore seemed that the gulf ought not to be unbridgeable. But every time that I listen to the noble and learned Viscount on this subject I am conscious that the gulf is completely unbridgeable.

I can understand that those noble Lords who oppose this Bill find certain practices repugnant. The way in which the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down pronounced the relevant words, the emphasis that he himself put, is, I think, a sincere testimony to the repugnance with which he views these practices. I ask myself: what are the opponents of this Bill afraid of? They cannot be afraid that these disgusting practices will be thrown upon their attention, because these acts are legalised only if they are performed in private. They cannot be afraid that there will be a corruption of youth, because these acts will be legalised only if they are performed between consenting adults. And obviously, they cannot be afraid, as they might be afraid in the case of illicit heterosexual intercourse, that such action will result in irresponsible procreation. I can only suppose that the opponents of this Bill will be afraid that their imagination will be tormented by visions of what will be going on elsewhere. Surely, if that is so, that is their own private misfortune, and no reason for imposing their personal standards of taste and morality on the minority of their fellow citizens who can find sexual satisfaction only in relations with their own sex.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I would join with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, and with many others, in saying with what great pleasure I offer to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, my congratulations, in that he has brought his Bill before us to-day for what is in effect the third time. I would also join with the noble and learned Viscount in hoping that if this Bill is given a Second Reading, we shall not again seek to move many Amendments in Committee. In this I have to declare some interest, because on every Sitting Day from now to the end of the Session I have to deal with one or other of five Bills in various stages, and if we do not go into Committee over and over again on the subject that we have discussed ad infinitum and, as some would think, ad nauseam, then it will be a considerable relief for me, irrespective of the view which you Lordships take of the merits of this Bill.

We have now had 17 speeches in less than 110 minutes, an average of six minutes per speech. If the Bill does nothing else, that is enormously to the credit of your Lordships' House. I am hoping not to spoil the average, but I must say at once that my reason for speaking at the end of this debate is, or rather was, so that on behalf of the Government I could deal with any factual points which were raised with regard to the Bill, and perhaps answer any questions which may be addressed to the Minister.

The first of these tasks is easy. Apart from the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who gave brief but lucid accounts of the five or six changes, Amendments or additions, which were made to the Bill in another place, only two noble Lords have made any real reference to the Bill at all: the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, and the noble and learned Viscount. A number of noble Lords have, of course, made eloquent speeches about things which I have not been able to discover in the Bill at all, although indeed, as the noble and learned Viscount will accept from me, I, too, have read the Bill, and I do know what it is all about. Heaven knows! I ought to, because I have seen it grow from the first single clause which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, moved—it seems years and many un-pleasantries ago.

So I can now, having dealt with the Bill from the Government point of view—or, at least, dealt with all the points that have been raised, almost nil—deal briefly with some of the questions that were put to me. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, asked how many people who could at present be sent to prison will not in future be sent to prison if this Bill becomes an Act. As I think your Lordships are aware, the criminal statistics do not distinguish offences committed in private or with consent, and I really cannot say how many persons have been convicted in recent years for conduct which will now cease to be an offence.

But it will be recalled that my Department conducted a special examination, on behalf of the Wolfenden Committee, for the three years ended March, 1956, and it was then found that in those three years there were convicted of a homosexual offence a total of 300 persons who would not have been guilty of an offence if the law were changed as the Wolfenden Committee recommended, and indeed as this Bill would enact. The figure is of that order, so far as I am aware, something like 100 a year—or it would have been 11 years ago.

We cannot say that the pattern of offences and sentences is the same to-day as it was then. Opinions have been expressed, particularly by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that these practices are on the increase. He gave that as his opinion. We have had contrary opinions from my noble friend Lord Annan, and from the noble Marquess, Lord Queensberry. But, with respect, I think they were just expressing opinions. I cannot find any figures to confirm one or the other of those opinions, but I am bound to say that such figures as I have rather lead one away from the belief that these practices are on the increase. The figures for the last six years, which I think the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, asked if I could provide, starting in 1960, are as follows.


My Lords, the only comment I would make is that this Bill has not yet been passed.


My Lords, I was under the same impression myself. I was talking about the figures for the past six years, and the position, therefore, of convictions under existing legislation. I think the figures of convictions under existing legislation at least give some guide, however imperfect, to a trend. I would not put it higher than that. These are the figures of the total number of men convicted of buggery, attempts to commit buggery and indecency. They are: in 1960, 1,857; in 1961, 1,901; in 1962, 1,876. So there was little or no fluctuation over those three years. In 1963, the figure was 2,064—an increase; in 1964, 1,784; in 1965, 1,483, which is a sharp decline, and indeed far and away the lowest figure for at least those six years. I would not claim that they prove anything, but they give an indication in favour of those who think that these practices are not on the increase. I hope that that will be some comfort to the noble Marquess.

The noble Marquess also raised the point about sin or psychological misfortune. This is something one cannot prove as a fact. One therefore can rely only on investigations, and one knows that such views have been expressed. This point was carefully considered by Wolfenden, and in paragraph 21 of the Committee's Report they said that: … there is a general measure of agreement … that there exists in certain persons a homosexual propensity which varies quantitatively in different individuals …". They also said in paragraph 33: … there seems to be no good reason to suppose that at least in the majority of cases homosexual acts are any more or less resistable than heterosexual acts …". That evidence, such as it is, is all we have. We have had opinions expressed in 17 speeches: 12 of them in favour of the Bill, 5 of them opposed to it. I agree with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, that it is unlikely that any one opinion has been changed by this debate because there has been nothing new about it whatsoever. No new evidence has been produced. There have been a few Amendments from another place which would have been accepted and approved by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, which my Department believe are technically viable and which, we think, are improvements. But there is nothing more.

I have come to the end of the questions which were put to me except for the noble Lord, Lord Auckland's point about research. I am sure he will appreciate that I cannot give any positive answer about that because there are Departments other than my own which are concerned. But certainly the noble Lord's point has been noted, and the fact that these opinions have been expressed in a debate may well facilitate research if the Bill becomes an Act.

I believe that I have fairly discharged my duty as a Minister. Now I am free to speak as a person and as an individual, on what is, and always has been, a Private Member's Bill and on which, so far as the Government are concerned, there has never been a Whip or any pressure of any kind. Your Lordships will remember that I first spoke on this subject on a Motion moved in May, 1965. I was at great pains, speaking on behalf of the Government, to keep my remarks within the bounds of strict neutrality. I succeeded so unbelievably that both sides, supporters and opponents, claimed me as a sympathiser in disguise. But I have long since shed the cloak of neutrality on this subject, which in any case has fitted very unhappily on my shoulders, and I personally welcome this Bill unreservedly. That it appears before us now in its present form is due, not entirely, but in no small measure, to the energy and perseverance of its present sponsor. I have been in a position to know that he has had moments of frustration and disappointment, but he has refused to be deterred. He has persisted in bringing this measure before us, and we have at last reached a stage when this reform, as I see it, from being a remote possibility has become a likelihood. I say "reform" without hesitation, although I know there are those who think differently. I respect their view, but I cannot agree with them.

Among supporters of the Bill there are, I believe, differing views on whether it represents a major or a minor reform—certainly in regard to convictions, it is not going to affect a large number of people. There is room for more than one view about that, and I do not propose now to rehearse the arguments. But I firmly believe that this is a worthwhile measure which makes a right and necessary adjustment in the relationship between the criminal law and private sexual morality. In doing so, it will, I believe, pave the way to a better understanding of and sympathy for those unfortunate men who by nature—and some of them perhaps irrevocably—are homosexual.

Nobody can say that there is going to be anything hasty about our decision this afternoon or that the decision, whoever has the majority, will be ill-considered. We have debated this issue in detail and at length in your Lordships' House, and the present Bill is in all essentials the same as the Bill which your Lordships passed early in the Session. Surely, the time has come when it is our duty, whichever way we feel, to make a final decision. I have made my own personal feeling quite clear, but lest there should be any misunderstanding at all, let me stress that in expressing sympathy for this Bill I am speaking in my personal capacity. Other Members of the Government are free, as I am, to vote on this matter according to their personal convictions.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be brief. This has been a crisp and a good debate, and I have been very impressed, as have others, by the shortness of the speeches and the good sense which they have contained. I have very little to say. I should like to give my personal thanks to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. Lord Dilhorne has been my opponent throughout these proceedings. He has sometimes been a hard taskmaster, but what little I know about procedure and about Parliament I have learned from him. I am in his debt, and I should like to acknowledge it.

I would say one more thing. It has been suggested several times during the course of the debate that blackmail will continue, or at any rate that the Bill will not have an appreciable effect upon it. I have no evidence, except perhaps this one case which I shall put to your Lordships. And although one swallow does not make a summer, I will tell the story, which has a happy ending. Last week a man rang my office and tried to speak to me. I was not there, and he said to my secretary, "Tell Lord Arran that for six years"—and this man, of course, is quite anonymous; I have not the faintest idea who he is—"I have been meeting a blackmailer once a month and have been paying out to him £100 in cash. I have paid out over £8,000 in all. I am a happily married man with three children, and it has almost bankrupted me. This month, for the first time, I have not kept my appointment." I hope the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will not think me overemotional in this matter, but I regard this man's statement—and there must be many others—as justifying all the efforts of your Lordships and of the other place, and particularly of Mr. Abse.

6.29 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 111; Not-Contents, 48.

Addison, V. Archibald, L. Boothby, L.
Ailwyn, L. Arran, E. [Teller.] Boston, L.
Airedale, L. Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs. Bowles, L.
Amherst, E. Barrington, V. Brockway, L.
Amory, V. Bedford, D. [Teller.] Burden, L.
Amulree, L. Beswick, L. Burton of Coventry, Bs.
Annan, L. Blackford, L. Byers, L.
Caccia, L. Hayter, L. Rea, L.
Canterbury, Abp. Henley, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Chelmsford, V. Hertford, M. Royle, L.
Chorley, L. Jellicoe, E. Sainsbury, L.
Colgrain, L. Jessel, L. St. Davids, V.
Collison, L. Kennet, L. St. Just, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Killearn, L. Sandford, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Kinnoull, E. Segal, L.
Cranbrook, E. Kinross, L. Sempill, Ly.
Darwen, L. Latham, L. Serota, Bs.
Denham, L. Leatherland, L. Shackleton, L.
Donovan, L. Lindsey, and Abingdon, E. Sherfield, L.
Drogheda, E. Listowel, E. Soper, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L. Sorensen, L.
Dudley, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Southwark, Bp.
Effingham, E. London, Bp. Stocks, Bs.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Stonham, L.
Emmet of Amberley, Bs. McCorquodale of Newton, L. Stow Hill, L.
Faringdon, L. Mitchison, L. Strabolgi, L.
Ferrers, E. Monson, L. Strang, L.
Fleck, L. Morris of Kenwood, L. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Francis-Williams, L. Mountevans, L. Teynham, L.
Gaitskell, Bs. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Thurlow, L.
Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Norwich, V. Walston, L.
Geddes, L. Ogmore, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Gifford, L. Parker of Waddington, L. Wedgwood, L.
Glasgow, E. Platt, L. Wellington, D.
Grantchester, L. Plummer, Bs. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hacking, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Winterbottom, L.
Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Rathcreedan, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs.
Aldington, L. Hall, V. Merrivale, L.
Allerton, L. Hankey, L. Mills, V.
Ampthill, L. Hilton of Upton, L. Milverton, L.
Balerno, L. Horsbrugh, Bs. Monsell, V.
Blyton, L. Iddesleigh, E. Morton of Henryton, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Ilford, L. Oakshott, L.
Champion, L. Kilmany, L. Peddie, L.
Craigavon, V. Kilmarnock, L. Popplewell, L.
Crook, L. Kirkwood, L. Rowallan, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Latymer, L. Rowley, L.
Daventry, V. Limerick, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
Dilhorne, V. [Teller.] Lindgren, L. Salisbury, M. [Teller.]
Ferrier, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Shannon, E.
Fortescue, E. MacAndrew, L. Shepherd, L.
Grenfell, L. MacLeod of Fuinary, L. Strathclyde, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Stuart of Findhorn, V.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Resolved in the affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.