HC Deb 05 July 1966 vol 731 cc259-67

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law of England and Wales relating to homosexual acts.

It is now nearly nine years since the Wolfenden recommendations were made—a period during which the recommendations have been so much publicised and so much debated that if public opinion polls are any guide there is little doubt that the public understand and, by a substantial majority, approve those recommendations.

Nevertheless, in seeking leave to introduce a Bill of this kind it is important to emphasise that the recommendations made in the Wolfenden Report, as in my proposed Bill, would result in a penalty for a homosexual offence against any boy under the age of 16 which could be up to life imprisonment; that it would mean, under the Bill as under Wolfenden, that any indecent assault upon a boy could result in a period of ten years' imprisonment; that any public act of indecency, as now, could result in two years' imprisonment; and that further, under the Bill and by way of the recommendations of Wolfenden, in the case of any act of gross indecency against a youth between the ages of 16 and 21 it would result in the present penalty of two years' imprisonment being increased to one of five years' imprisonment.

More, my Bill would embody a Clause similar to that hammered out in another place. It would protect military discipline in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, so that Section 66 of the Army Act would remain undisturbed—that Section providing punishment for disgraceful and immoral conduct.

Further, in accordance with the Wolfenden proposals, the Bill would provide that any premises found to be used for homosexual practices would constitute a brothel, attracting the same penalties as would be the case for premises now used for heterosexual practices. Only those wilfully blinding themselves to the nature of our proceedings could suggest that the Bill would assist or approve of homosexual practices, or would condone any act of indecency against a youngster, or any public display of homosexual conduct.

No one suggests that the House approves of fornication, adultery or lesbianism because we do not catalogue them in a list of crimes. Nor would any such approval be extended to homosexual activities by the Bill, particularly as, in so many instances, homosexual conduct would remain a crime attracting the most severe penalties. But the Bill would mean that the burden of criminality would no longer be attached to acts committed in private between adults.

I believe that the present law is unjust and unenforceable. The Home Office spokesman in another place suggested that there were half a million homosexuals in the country. Evidence given to the Wolfenden Committee suggested that there were perhaps about three-quarters of a million. Certainly, since there can he little doubt that the sexual drive of those fortunate enough to be heterosexual may be attributed similarly to homosexuals, but directed, of course, elsewhere, it must be, as the present law stands, that millions of criminal acts, speaking legalistically, are committed each year.

It is an absurdity that, as a result of the law as it stands, apart from motorists, homosexuals comprise the largest class of criminals in the land. Yet the position is, as we all know, that there are fewer than 100 convictions in a year amongst homosexual adults committing acts in private. The detection rate, clearly, therefore, is derisory. The law is as random in its application as it is demonstrably unenforceable. Those who wish to retain the law as it stands must face up to the fact that if it could ever be enforceable at all this could only be done with the most massive recruitment of police ever envisaged, by the invasion of privacy in a manner which I believe the whole House would find intolerable. Nor can it be pleaded that the law can bring reformation. I have said before, and may be permitted to repeat, that to send homosexuals to overcrowded, hermetically-sealed male prisons is as therapeutically useless as incarcerating a sex maniac in a harem.

Can the law be said to be a deterrent? How would we married men respond to a law enforcing celibacy upon us? Would we be deterred? Since these wretched men have similar compulsions, only, lamentably, directed to men and not women, how is it credible that the law acts as a deterrent? In the meantime, the law has side effects which, as the Lord Chancellor has said, means that it does more harm than good to the public. It is a "blackmailer's charter" which no sympathetic administrative action can or has prevented. Almost half the total cases of blackmail reviewed over three years by the Wolfenden Committee showed that they had some connection with homosexuality.

The law as it stands is an invitation to hoodlums. Too many recent documented cases have revealed that it allows them to steal with impunity. It prevents the integration of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens into the community, for any person who suffers the appalling misfortune of being a homosexual is bound to be under the gravest burdens. For most of them there can be no question but that they are permanently denied the blessings of family life, the gifts and rewards of parenthood, the gift of a mature love with a woman.

As the law brands them as criminals and outlaws, their isolation is intensified, they become increasingly estranged and many retreat into a ghetto, cut off from involvement in the community, feeling hostility from the community. Too often they react by succumbing to anti-social attitudes.

It is because they are informed by compassion that it is not surprising that the Church Assembly, the Church of England Moral Welfare Council, the Roman Catholic Advisory Committee, set up by the late Cardinal Griffin, the Methodist Conference and the Unitarians, with all the clinical experience which comes to them from their pastoral care, have all called for the implementation of the Wolfenden Report. Is it not time, is it not overdue, that the Churches' call was heeded in this House?

In Belgium, in Holland, in Sweden, in Denmark and in France, the law is substantially the same as that recommended by the Wolfenden Committee. I understand that the law has recently been altered permissively in Czechoslovakia. The Home Secretary pointed out recently that there is no evidence that the relaxation of the law in Austria in 1960 has led to any increase there in homosexuality. To change the law will not take us into uncharted seas. Indeed, this country went boldly through its history until but 80 years ago free from the present harsh laws without the decay which those who oppose the Bill so frequently prognosticate.

Yet I believe that the worst failure of the present law is the preoccupation with punishment of homosexuals which leads to the community not taking the preventative action which might possibly save a little boy from the terrible fate of growing up a homosexual. Little as we know of the etiology, certain it is that there are dangers to a boy if an over-possessive mother ties him to her with a silver cord so that the boy, enveloped in a feminine aura, is never able to break out and assert his masculine independence.

Equally certain it is that among fatherless boys there is a disturbingly high rate of homosexuals. A lad without a father, lacking a male figure with whom to identify, is sometimes left with a curse, for such it must be, of a male body encasing a feminine soul. If such are some of the precipitating causes of the ambiguity of the sexual rule amongst these people, who, with any compassion, can demand that to one disability in childhood must be added the stigma of criminality in adulthood?

All in this House, on both sides and all sections of opinion, I know, wish to see a diminution in the incidence of homosexuality. But I believe that education in mothercraft and, what is perhaps even more important, education in fathercraft, the mobilising of our social resources to lend more aid to the fatherless, the provision of more male child care officers and more male teachers are far more likely to succeed in this respect than praying in aid our penal system.

We have debated this issue within and without the House now for nine years. Earl Attlee, when he supported this change, said recently that far more is being said about homosexuality than need be said. I think that that is right. There is an element of morbidity in this continuing debate. I hope that the House today will take the step which may bring this debate, ere long, to its conclusion.

3.59 p.m.

Sir Cyril Osborne (Louth)


Hon. Members

Oh, no.

Sir C. Osborne

I hope that hon. Members will not make up their minds, at least until they have heard what I want to say.

I beg leave to oppose the Bill and I will be brief. I believe that the Bill could have such grave social consequences that it is the duty of all hon. Members who are not already pledged to vote against it. I will give three practical reasons for so claiming. The first is that the sponsors have never explained why the Bill should not apply to the 600,000 men in the Armed Forces, nor how discipline will be maintained if private buggery is permitted to civilians and denied to the soldiers, sailors and airmen. [Laughter.] Hon. Members gave my opponent a fair hearing. I hope that they will give me one.

Nor have the sponsors explained how discipline could be maintained if this licence were given to our fighting men. I believe that the result of the Bill would be an increase in the very crime, the bestial habits, which the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) deplores. The very fact that the Bill would increase the penalties for crimes against boys under 16 and youths under 21 surely emphasises the immense dangers that could result if this filthy habit were to increase.

My second practical objection is this. I claim that the sponsors of the Bill have no mandate whatever for the Measure. I hold in my hand the three party election manifestos. The Liberals, the Conservatives and the Socialists did not put one word in their manifestos about this so-called homosexual reform. I therefore say that the sponsors have no mandate whatever for the Bill. Why was there not a word in the party manifestos? We are all politicians and we have all sought votes. The framers of our manifestos knew full well that the ordinary people of Britain, to whom we go for our votes, would not have stomached this proposal.

The hon. Member for Pontypool referred to the Army Act and to "disgraceful conduct" of "an unnatural kind". Ordinary people are horrified at the thought that this sort of thing might increase. I am certain that had it been put in the party manifestos it would have been rejected by the electorate.

The Bill would appear to give Parliamentary and public approval to this revolting form of immorality. Thus, I put it to the House that the sponsors of the Bill, who have previously claimed that there are about 1 million "homos" in this country, cannot really make that claim. I do not believe it. I do not believe that our country is as rotten as all that. It is an awful slur on the good name of the country to say such a thing.

Further, if this House is representative of the nation, it would mean that there are at least 30 "homos" in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Names."] The allegation comes from the benches opposite, not from me. I am denying it. it is exactly 21 years today that I first had the great honour of being made an hon. Member of this House. During those years I have had the great privilege of having friendships with hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the House will allow the hon. Member to proceed.

Sir C. Osborne

Dirty minds come to dirty conclusions. I have never come across one case of a "homo" in this House.

How can the sponsors of the Bill be so certain that this practice is so widespread? Will the hon. Member for Pontypool say how many "homos" he has known in Parliament during his membership of the House?

The third practical objection I have to the Bill—[Interruption.] I regard this as a desperately serious matter and I urge hon. Gentlemen opposite, especially those below the Gangway, to take note of this—is that there is no Parliamentary time available for the Bill.

>Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

Hear, hear.

Sir C. Osborne

No Private Members' Bill can be made law unless the Government of the day find the necessary time. I have more confidence in the northern common sense of the Prime Minister than to believe that he would give Parliamentary time for this Bill, and thus have the odium of this dirty Measure tied to his party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Shame or not, I am standing up for what I believe to be right. The Government's timetable is already choked. Eight major Bills are already going through and more are waiting to go through.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have from time to time complained that no Parliamentary time is available to discuss urgent public problems like Vietnam and the Common Market. We have not been able to discuss them because of the lack of Parliamentary time. Indeed, a week last Thursday the House was told seven times during one hour that the Government would like to bring in certain reforms, but that the necessary Parliamentary time was not available.

It is scandalous that the hon. Member for Pontypool and the sponsors of the Bill should claim that the private privileges of homosexuals should, from the point of view of Parliamentary time, come in front of the urgent matters which hon. Members want to discuss. I beg hon. Members, with my whole heart, to vote against the Motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 244, Noes 100.

Division No. 94.] AYES [4.7 p.m.
Abse, Leo Dunnett, Jack Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)
Albu, Austen Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Anderson, Donald Edwards, William (Merioneth) Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Archer, Peter Ellis, John Judd, Frank
Armstrong, Ernest English, Michael Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
Ashley, Jack Ennals, David Kerr, Russell (Feltham)
Astor, John Ensor, David Kirk, Peter
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Lambton, Viscount
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Fernyhough, E. Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)
Awdry, Daniel Fisher, Nigel Lee, John (Reading)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lector, Miss Joan
Balniel, Lord Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lipton, Marcus
Barnes, Michael Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Barnett, Joel Floud, Bernard Loveys, W. H.
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Foley, Maurice Luard, Evan
Bell, Ronald Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Lubbock, Eric
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Bessell, Peter Forrester, John Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Bidwell, Sydney Fowler, Gerry Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Biffen, John Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh(St'fford & Stone) MacColl, James
Blenkinsop, Arthur Fraser, John (Norwood) MacDermot, Niall
Booth, Albert Freeson, Reginald Macdonald, A. H.
Boston, Terence Gardner, A. J. Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Mackie, John
Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert Ginsburg, David Mackintosh, John P.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain
Bradley, Tom Gregory, Arnold McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Brinton, Sir Edward Gresham Cooke, R. McNamara, J. Kevin
Brinton, Sir Talton Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Maddan, Martin
Brooks, Edwin
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hall, John (Wycombe) Marquand, David
Brown, Bob (N'e'tle-upon-Tyne, W. Hamling, William Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard
Buchan, Norman Hattersley, Roy Maxwell Hysiop, R. J.
Cant, R. B. Hazell, Bert Mayhew, Christopher
Carlisle, Mark Heffer, Eric S. Mellish, Robert
Henig, Stanley Mendelson, J. J.
Carmichael, Neil Herbison, Rt. FM. Margaret Mikardo, Ian
Channon, H. P. G. Higgins, Terence L. Millan, Bruce
Chapman, Donald Hirst, Geoffrey Miller, Dr. M. S.
Coe, Dents Hooley, Frank Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Concannon, J. D. Hooson, Emlyn Moonman, Eric
Crawshaw, Richard Hornby, Richard Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Horner, John Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Moyle, Roland
Dalyell, Tam Howell, David (Guildford) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Murray, Albert
Davies, Harold (Leek) Howie, W. Neave, Airey
Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Newens, Stan
d'Avigdor-Coldsmid, Sir Henry Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Nicholls, Sir Harmar
de, Freitas, Sir Geoffrey Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Delargy, Hugh Hughes, Roy (Newport) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip(Derby,S.)
Dell, Edmund Hunt, John Oakes, Gordon
Dewar, Donald Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Ogden, Eric
Dickens, James Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Oram, Albert E.
Dobson, Ray Jeger, Mrs. Lena(H'b'n&St. P'cras,S.) Orbach, Maurice
Donnelly, Desmond Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Orme, Stanley
Driberg, Tom Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Owen, Will (Morpeth) Royle, Anthony Varley, Eric G.
Page, John (Harrow, W.) Sharples, Richard Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Palmer, Arthur Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Pardoe, John Sheldon, Robert Wall, Patrick
Park, Trevor Shore, Peter (Stepney) Wallace, George
Parker, John (Dagenham) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.) Walters, Denis
Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Silkin, John (Deptford) Watkins, David (Consett)
Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.) Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich) Weitzman, David
Peyton, John Silverman, Julius (Aston) Wellbeloved, James
Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Skeffington, Arthur Whitaker, Ben
Price, David (Eastleigh) Smith, John Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Prior, J. M. L. Snow, Julian Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Probert, Arthur Spriggs, Leslie Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Redhead, Edward Steel, David (Roxburgh) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Rees, Merlyn Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Reynolds, G. W. Swingler, Stephen Winnick, David
Richard, Ivor Taverne, Dick Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Worsley, Marcus
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.) Yates, Victor
Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Thornton, Ernest Zilliacus, K.
Roebuck, Roy Thorpe, Jeremy
Rose, Paul Tilney, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Rowland, Christopher (Meriden) Tinn, James Mr. St. John-Stevas and
Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) Tuck, Raphael Dr. David Kerr.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mawby, Ray
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Goodhart, Philip Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Alldritt, Walter Goodhew, Victor Murton, Oscar
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Gurden, Harold Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J. Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Bence, Cyril Hannan, William Neal, Harold
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Harper, Joseph Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Berry, Hn. Anthony Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) O'Malley, Brian
Black, Sir Cyril Harris, Reader (Heston) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Blackburn, F. Hiley, Joseph Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Bossom, Sir Clive Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Page, Graham (Crosby)
Braine, Bernard Hoy, James Pentland, Norman
Brewis, John Hunter, Adam Percival, Ian
Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. Sir Walter Hutchison, Michael Clark Pink, R. Bonner
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Iremonger, T. L. Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Bullus, Sir Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pym, Francis
Cary, Sir Robert Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Randall, Harry
Chichester-Clark, R. Kaberry, Sir Donald Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Cooke, Robert Kenyon, Clifford Robertson, John (Paisley)
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Kerby, Capt. Henry Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Cordle, John Kershaw, Anthony Small, William
Costain, A. P. Kimball, Marcus Stainton, Keith
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Kitson, Timothy Symonds, J. B.
Crowder, F. P. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Talbot, John E.
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Leadbitter, Ted Tomney, Frank
Dalkeith, Earl of Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Urwin, T. W.
Doughty, Charles McAdden, Sir Stephen Vickers, Dame Joan
Drayson, G. B. McBride, Neil Ward, Dame Irene
Eden, Sir John Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Mapp, Charles Winterbottom, R. E.
Galpern, Sir Myer Marten, Neil Younger, Hn. George
Gibson-Watt, David Mathew, Robert
Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan Maude, Angus TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Sir C. Taylor and
Mr. Dance.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Abse, Mr. Grimond, Mr. Wood, Mr. C. Pannell. Mr. Strauss, Sir P. Rawlinson, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Hugh Fraser, Mr. Varley, Mr. Ian Gilmour, Mr. St. John-Stevas, and Mr. John Horner.