HL Deb 21 July 1967 vol 285 cc522-6

12.2 p.m.

House in Committee (according to Order).

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 14), Bill read 3a.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. This is a little occasion, and perhaps I may say a few things. When we first debated these affairs—and how long ago it seems!—I said that your Lordships had it in your power to remove fear from the hearts of men. This you have done. It was this House which gave the lead. Because of the Bill now to be enacted, perhaps a million human beings will be able to live in greater peace. I find this an awesome and marvellous thing. The late Oscar Wilde, on his release from Reading Gaol, wrote to a friend: Yes, we shall win in the end; but the road will be long and red with monstrous martyrdoms.". My Lords, Mr. Wilde was right: the road has been long and the martyrdoms many, monstrous and bloody. Today, please God! sees the end of that road.

I ask one thing and I ask it earnestly. I ask those who have, as it were, been in bondage and for whom the prison doors are now open to show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity. This is no occasion for jubilation; certainly not for celebration. Any form of ostentatious behaviour; now or in the future, any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the Bill regret that they have done what they have done. Homosexuals must continue to remember that while there may be nothing bad in being a homosexual, there is certainly nothing good. Lest the opponents of the Bill think that a new freedom, a new privileged class, has been created, let me remind them that no amount of legislation will prevent homosexuals from being the subject of dislike and derision, or at best of pity. We shall always, I fear, resent the odd man out. That is their burden for all time, and they must shoulder it like men—for men they are.

Now, my Lords, I feel that I should single out some of those who played a big part in bringing about this reform. The palm, goes, of course, to Mr. Leo Abse, the lion-hearted, whose Bill this is and whose name, I hope, will be given to the Act. But of course there have been many others? It is due to Sir Robert Boothby (now the noble Lord, Lord Boothby) and to Dr. Desmond Donnelly that the Wolfenden Committee was set up; and, after its Report was published, it was our noble Leader himself who inaugurated the first debate in either House. The first full-scale attempt at reform was made by the present Minister of Health, Mr. Kenneth Robinson, and a Motion was tabled in the other place by the Father of the House, Sir Thomas Moore. My Lords, you see what an all party effort it has been. Later, too, Mr. Humphry Berkeley bravely introduced this Bill in the other place where it had a Second Reading. I say "bravely" because sometimes I think that we Peers are inclined to forget just how lucky we are to have no constituents but our own consciences.

So much for the Members of the two Houses. There are two other people that I must mention. One is Mr. Antony Grey, Secretary of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, who has done more than any single man to bring this social problem to the notice of the public; and the other, that great man whose name has been mentioned more often than any other in these long debates. I refer, of course, to Sir John Wolfenden. It is my strong hope that we shall one day see him a Member of your Lordships' House.

For my own small part, just this. In the last two years I have been navigating in deep and troubled waters, so deep and so troubled that at times I feared I would be engulfed. At such times I have been strengthened and sustained by the knowledge that I had the approval and support of the majority of this House, including the Lords Spiritual and, in particular, of my new and neutral friends, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to whom I owe so much. These things have meant much to me. I count myself privileged to be a very minor member of this generous and, in the true sense, noble assembly. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Earl of Arran.)


My Lords, I want to say only two sentences. Whatever views we may hold on this subject, I think we should pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Arran for his sincerity and his great courage. He has really seen this Bill through, and I think we ought to be grateful to him.


My Lords, before this Bill passes, I should like to add one word from these Benches. Some of my noble friends have taken differing views on the merits of this Bill, as have noble Lords opposite, but I think we shall all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, in one thing: that this Bill would not be reaching the Statute Book in the very near future but for the devotion and dedication which my noble friend Lord Arran brought to his task, his self-appointed task, in these last two years or so. I should like to add my tribute to my noble friend and navigator.


My Lords, briefly I should like to add a word on behalf of the Government, but first may I thank the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for the remarkable description he applied to me of his new and neutral friend. My Lords, I do not think there is such a thing as a neutral person, certainly not on an issue such as this where everyone has a feeling, probably a deep feeling, either way. Neutrality, therefore, is not possible. Neither do I feel "new", because this is the third time we have considered this Bill since 1965 and some of the newness has worn off. I always seem, on behalf of the Government, to have to adopt a cloak of neutrality in relation to such Bills as this, and I can only hope that I have discharged that obligation.

The Government have, of necessity,—and I think quite properly—regarded this matter as one which Parliament itself should decide, free from any kind of pressure; and it is to the credit of Parliament that it is about to reach a decision on this extremely difficult matter. I should like to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, upon his efforts in this matter. They have been inspired throughout by the highest motives of compassion, and all his efforts have been infused with a feeling of sincerity. It is true that, as the Minister, as it were, looking after the Bill for the Government, I have perforce been in close touch with the noble Earl on many occasion, and I know how deeply he has felt over this problem, and how much it has taken out of him. Now that it is over, or almost over, I hope that he will soon recover his health.

My Lords, there is one thing arising from the remarks of the noble Earl on which I feel I must comment. He said that the prison doors are now opening. I have no knowledge of whether there are at present any persons in prison who would come within the confines, the somewhat narrow confines, of this Bill. But I would remind your Lordships of something I said when this point was raised on the earlier Bill. I said: If this Bill becomes law the Home Secretary would be prepared to look at the cases of those who are serving terms of imprisonment for conduct which had ceased to be an offence, and consider in each case the possibility of recommending the use of the Royal Prerogative of mercy to remit the remainder of the term."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, June 16, 1966: col. 152.] As your Lordships will be aware, my right honourable friend gave an assurance in another place on December 21 of last year that he would look into the matter sympathetically if the Bill became law. The only other thing I have to say is that, because the Home Office always tries to be up with events, steps are already being taken to identify any cases which may be affected.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might add a word from these Benches. I think we recognise the great issues of morality, and while we are not divided in our upholding of that morality, or in our desire to maintain it, we are deeply divided as to the ways in which we conceive this should be done. This has led to the most acute discussions in this House, and in the process of the passage of this Bill and all that preceded it, we have been through some agonising debates. Speaking from these Benches, I should like to say how deeply I, and others, have been aware of the depth of sincerity and concern, not only of those who have upheld this Bill but of those who have opposed it. For there is no division between us in our desire for the maintenance or the protection and upholding of that morality for the well-being of the community. I would endorse very much the recognition which has been given to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for the deep sincerity and conviction which he has displayed and the assistance which he has given in helping us through to this point.


My Lords, from these Benches we, too, would wish to be associated with the expressions of praise for the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and also to recognise the great work done by Mr. Leo Abse in this matter. Many of us have campaigned for this reform for many years and I think that this House, in particular, may be extremely pleased with what it has achieved in the last few years.

On Question, Bill passed.