Motion to Take Note
My Lords, noble Lords may ask why I have chosen this as the first debate I initiate in your Lordships’ House. I am proud and honoured to be able to do so because when I came into your Lordships’ House, I gave a commitment that I would use this platform in this House and this Parliament to give a voice to people who do not have a voice, and particularly to people whose are LGBTI citizens of countries where their voice may not be heard at home. That is why I chose this as my first debate.
“All human beings are born free and equal”.
So says the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet not everyone is listening or acting on that. As a gay man, I am, by pure accident of my place of birth, protected by the law. My human rights are enshrined in law, and I can live a free life. That is not the case in many places across the world. LGBTI rights are fundamental human rights, and that is what we are talking about today.
Before I go on to the role that the Government and this country can play, even though we have a good record over a number of years, we still need to hold up a mirror to ourselves. If we are to have moral authority in promoting and supporting LGBTI rights across the globe, we need to be aware of our own performance. This country has made great progress under a number of Governments of different persuasions. We should be very proud of that. Sitting on these Benches, I am particularly proud of the work of my noble friend Lady Northover and my colleague who will soon join us here, Lynne Featherstone, in DfID. I have a question for the Minister regarding progress on the inclusive society fund, particularly around LGBTI issues. Which Minister has been allocated to deal with what and what progress has there been since the election on the fund and the programmes associated with it?
If we are to have moral authority, we need to be doing the right things here as well. On Tuesday I was privileged to be a guest of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, where 23 wonderful people who were seeking asylum or had been granted asylum in this country due to their sexuality were feeding back to me what had happened to them not only in their home country but, just as importantly, in the asylum process here in the UK. I have to say that I was mortified when one female from Algeria talked about being detained for six months on the grounds that she was trying to claim asylum due to her sexuality. It is not illegal to be gay or lesbian yet this woman, fleeing her country, came here and was detained for six months.
I say to Ministers that on immigration issues around sexuality the Vine report still needs to be enacted. It is a clear action plan for how we can provide security and safety yet also a clear asylum process for LGBT asylum seekers. Since I have taken an interest in this, it has become clear to me that there needs to be greater co-ordination between the Foreign Office, DfID and the Home Office. What work is being done to further improve that co-ordination, particularly around asylum and LGBT rights internationally?
I turn to what happens worldwide. I could give many statistics and I am sure that many noble Lords will do so, but in 75 UN states in the world consensual same-sex conduct is criminalised. Out of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, where we should have much more influence on this issue than we do, 42 criminalise same-sex relationships. Two in particular—Brunei and a state in northern Nigeria—have the death penalty for same-sex relationships. What pressure are we putting on Nigeria and Brunei, and other countries outside the Commonwealth, that have the death penalty? That death penalty is for one thing—loving the person whom you naturally love. What action will be taken against those countries?
Since 2008-14, the Trans Murder Monitoring Project listed 1,612 murders of transgender people across the world. That is the equivalent of two per day. What co-ordinated work is being done to highlight the work that needs to be done and then to co-ordinate that particularly around transgender issues? Clearly there are issues around hate-motivated and honour killings, sexual violence, torture and the ill treatment of people, but I want to move away from statistics and talk about real people I have spoken to across the world and what I have heard.
I was in Istanbul a couple of months ago, speaking to the organisers of Istanbul Pride after they were water-cannoned and tear-gassed just for celebrating. They were telling me that international pressure, particularly from the British Government, is really important and they seek much more support from the British Government. They were saying that the official figures for the number of people who were going to hospital were understated because many lesbian and gay people in Istanbul would not have gone to hospital. One LGBT participant actually had a tear gas canister smash their face, but that person did not go to hospital for fear of persecution by the police. What is our ministry doing in Istanbul? This is a request from the people in Istanbul: will our embassy fly the rainbow flag on the date of the next Istanbul Pride to show solidarity with people who wish to march next June and take pride in their sexuality?
Russia says that it is not illegal to be gay there, but its anti-gay propaganda laws promote a culture where people can actually persecute and violently abuse in the street lesbian and gay people who are standing up and being who they actually are. I understand that Elton John wishes to have a meeting with President Putin. I have to say to Sir Elton that he needs to be very careful or else he will be subject to Russia’s laws. If he sings some of his titles, for example, one of which is, “All the Girls Love Alice”, he will be in conflict with its rules. If he says to President Putin, “Are You Ready for Love?”, again he could find himself in serious trouble. It is quite clear, though, to use another title of Elton John’s, that for President Putin, “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”. He should be sorry about the culture that he has allowed, and we should be doing more to ensure that Russia lifts those issues.
I heard two stories from the group that I was with on Tuesday, one good, one bad. The good one—there are things we get right on immigration—was that a lesbian woman fleeing persecution from Uganda was granted asylum only three days into our asylum system. That is excellent. However, another woman, who had to flee her family and go underground because she was not able to tell anyone about her sexuality, eventually came here; her case has been ongoing for over 18 months and she has still not been granted asylum. My understanding of the Ugandan case is that one of the reasons why the change came about was not just government pressure but the pressure that multinational companies put on the Ugandan Government. What role will our Government play in seeking to co-ordinate our multinational companies in the UK which go into countries that have anti-LGBT laws, and what can we do to ensure that, first, they protect and promote equal policies within their own operations there and, secondly, they can put pressure on Governments to try to change things?
Against that background, we as a nation are doing things but we could do more. We have to be resolute, as a Government and a country. We have to make it clear that we will not tolerate any dilution of human rights for LGBT citizens across the world. Action from the Government could include more diplomacy, soft diplomacy and pressure, helping to co-ordinate multinational and economic muscle.
Ahead of this debate, I did something that the leader of the Opposition also did but he got there before me: we crowd-sourced this. We agreed that All Out, an online organisation that works with ordinary citizens to promote LGBT rights across the world and to put pressure on Governments and multinationals that are falling below standard, would email all its citizens in the UK—some were LGBT, some were straight, and so on; that aspect was irrelevant—to ask them what questions they wanted to put to the Minister on this issue. So noble Lords can see that I was there first; it is just that the leader of the Opposition was able to ask his questions yesterday before me. Nearly 6,000 replies came in. These are the sorts of things that ordinary citizens in the UK seek answers on regarding this issue. Of the 5,624 people who responded, 97% said that they thought the Government were not currently doing enough. We need to be clear that we need to do more. There are things that happen where we are not fast enough. I give the example of the Pride demonstration in Istanbul; we could have been faster in calling in the ambassador. However, the things they wanted to ask were very simple.
One of the big issues that came up was the push for global sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics not to go to countries with anti-gay laws. The winter Games in Russia show why that kind of action might be useful. I hear some people say that sports and politics do not mix. Actually, I was not aware that sports was separate from promoting anybody’s human rights. That is an example of one thing which people, through this All Out survey, asked to be done. Interestingly, they suggested accepting more lesbian, gay and trans refugees fleeing persecution specifically by ISIS. Therefore, in the new wave of people whom we will take in and look after, and, I hope, grant asylum to, we should be aware of the sexuality of those fleeing being flung off roofs and stoned to death. That is the way of the world is for people in those countries.
This was another idea:
“Remove accreditation from anti-gay foreign diplomats”.
I do not know whether that is possible, but it is one of the questions that has been asked. Another suggestion was:
“Stop selling weapons to countries with anti-gay laws”.
Can the Minister say whether that is a policy initiative that is in place, and if not, could it be looked at?
The following idea not be the Minister’s responsibility, but it is quite interesting: to require British holiday companies to make holiday-makers aware of the LGBT track record of the countries that they wish to visit. Could that be looked at by the Government? It would be an interesting way of taking a significant step forward. This is also quite an interesting idea:
“An LGBT tour by the UK government to anti-gay countries, speaking in venues or on streets, delivering workshops”.
That might be hard to co-ordinate, but it could be looked at. I ask the Minister to enact the following suggestion:
“Fly the rainbow flag at all UK Embassies for Pride”.
Another issue raised was to pointedly and proactively send LGBT government reps abroad to represent the UK at high-level meetings in anti-LGBT countries.
We must make the protection of LGBT and gender identity rights central to the work of the Foreign Office and DfID. It has to be systematic and co-ordinated across government. It is no good us pressuring a Government abroad to protect and give people equality in their human rights if we have not sorted out our own asylum system here, so we need to do that. We must make this an issue that we champion, not just of LGBT rights but of human rights. With that in mind, and those questions—and I am sure that many contributions will be made—I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord on his speech, and in particular on his choice of subject. It is very rarely debated in this House, certainly in the time that he has given to us. I agree with a great deal of what he said.
I have followed the issue, obviously, for some time, but I confess that until two or three years ago I did not fully understand the extent of the utterly unfair treatment meted out to so many LGBT people around the world. It was when I started to research a book on AIDS around the world that it became clear that below the surface of what should have been a medical problem and a question of public health there lurked a vast iceberg of prejudice, persecution and disdain.
Fighting this prejudice is one of the most crucial human rights issues of our time. Around the world hundreds of thousands of people live in the shade. They are shunned and ostracised by their communities, abused and attacked, prosecuted as criminals and imprisoned or worse—and all for no reason other than their sexual orientation. The comparison is made, fairly, with the treatment of the Jews in so many countries before the war. I will give just three examples from my travels.
First, I went to Uganda. One noble Lord mentioned that. I was told by one practising Christian, expressing a view widely held there, that homosexuality was an illness, and that if gay people were locked up, it would prevent it spreading. Just before I came there had been a paper called Rolling Stone, which specialised in publishing photographs of homosexuals plus their addresses. Eventually the paper was closed down, only to be replaced by another paper which carried the front-page headline, “Exposed: Uganda’s 200 Top Homos”. In Uganda, gay men are persecuted, imprisoned and, in the case of David Kato, murdered.
Nor should it be thought—this is an important point—that such outrages are condemned by the public generally. In 2012 the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament went to Ottawa for a conference, where she was roundly attacked for her country’s polities. She robustly defended the discrimination, and when she returned home she was met by crowds on the streets who gave her a hero’s welcome. The public overwhelmingly support the repression, and the politicians compete to see who can be more extreme.
This morning the interviewer on the “Today” programme was corrected by one of the people being interviewed for saying that gay men could face the death penalty. The truth is that at one stage a proposed Bill did in fact threaten the death penalty for what was termed “aggravated homosexuality”, but then the author of the Bill relented, and very generously reduced the penalty to life imprisonment.
One law that did pass last year among other things put a duty on the citizen to report anyone they suspected of being homosexual. Failure to do so: a term of imprisonment of up to three years. In the event, that law was overturned by the Constitutional Court. However, no one can seriously doubt that a gay man in Uganda lives a precarious life, undefended by the vast majority of the public and the vast majority of politicians.
What of the churches? Tragically, there is all too little support from them as well. Here I do not just mean the American evangelicals, who have played a dismal part, but also the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. I am very glad to know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is calling a conference next year—but to date, with the exception of a few brave individuals, the churches have done very little to challenge the repression. In some instances, disgracefully, they have supported it.
My second trip was to Russia. My first interview in Moscow, with a gay rights campaigner, summarised so much of that country’s intolerance. The interpreter wanted to start with an apology. He was standing in at the last moment because the planned interpreter had been taken into hospital. She had been taking part in a small, 20-strong demonstration the day before outside the state Duma against the new laws making it a criminal offence to “promote homosexuality”. They had been set upon by a crowd of several hundred supporters of the new laws: Orthodox Christians and pro-Kremlin youth groups. Riot police had moved in and made arrests, mostly of the gay rights protesters.
Again, the official attitude is clear to see. The cover story is that repression is to protect children, which is both utterly unfair and utterly untrue. At the heart of Russia’s legislation is prejudice. It is illegal to suggest that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual ones or to distribute information on gay rights.
Again, the new laws of Mr Putin are not a series of measures forced down the throats of an unwilling public. The new laws were passed by a majority of 436 to nil. Opinion surveys showed that three-quarters of the Russian public believed that homosexuality should not be accepted. The measures and intolerance more generally were supported by the churches—in particular, the Russian Orthodox Church. Two weeks after I left St Petersburg there was a gay pride march, which was attacked by opponents. Seven marchers were taken to hospital with injuries and another 60 were arrested.
My third port of call was India, the biggest democracy in the world but one where the criminal law against homosexuality remains in force. Defenders say that it is not much enforced; but the point is that whether it is enforced or not, it sets the standard. It gives a cover of respectability to people who discriminate. The law has a persuasive effect but, in this case, in entirely the wrong way.
I should mention another minority who also face discrimination and persecution but are rarely mentioned—transgender people, who are one of the most marginalised groups in India. They are effectively barred from most jobs, not because they fail the interview but because they are turned away at the gates. Often they are rejected by their own families and are subject to violence. Yet, when one talks to them, one cannot fail to be moved by their accounts of realising that they have been born in the wrong body, of their long struggles to come to terms with it, and of little acceptance by the public generally. It is often a story of loneliness and rejection, which takes them on to doing the only job available to them: sex work. They remain an often tragic minority from whom, all too often, the public and officials cross to the other side of the road.
I have mentioned just three countries, which gives some idea of the size of the issue we face. They are not remotely the only countries. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, 75 countries around the world have criminal laws against homosexuality. Forty out of the 53 members of the Commonwealth criminalise same-sex relationships; 90% of Commonwealth citizens live under such a law. Nor do I wish to assert that our country is in some way free of prejudice. We know that that is not the case, as the noble Lord stated. We also know that it was only in 1967 that the law was reformed here—which was not before it claimed some notable victims such as Alan Turing and our old colleague who has just died, Edward Montagu, who was so unjustly imprisoned in the 1950s.
However, what we can say is that the position here has been improved, not least by the equal marriage legislation. It gives us an opportunity to try to change the climate of opinion, here and overseas. It gives us that opportunity because we are often blamed for introducing the anti-gay laws in the first place, apparently without anyone understanding that the position here has radically changed. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, mentioned, I note that Elton John has suggested a meeting with Mr Putin. I pay tribute to the work of both Elton John and David Furnish but am not sure how far a meeting of that kind is going to take us in follow-up action. I would much prefer and advocate a meeting with David Cameron, not because the Prime Minister shares Mr Putin’s views but because he simply does not share those views, and it could start a process whereby the discrimination can be fought and defeated. Perhaps there could be a London conference, with the serious aim of beginning that process. The agenda for such a conference is set out extremely well by the Amnesty report that noble Lords will have received.
The basic point is this. We can all condemn the outrages; that is the easy part. The difficult part is doing something practical about it. Necessarily, much depends on the bravery and commitment of people living in those countries where discrimination reigns. However, we should not just ask what they can do; we should also ask what we can do to help and fight what, I repeat, is one of the greatest human rights issues of our time.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for initiating this important and timely debate. I also welcome my noble friend Lord Cashman to the Front Bench. I remember that day in 1987 when he kissed a fellow actor on “EastEnders”; despite its tenderness, it prompted a storm of protests in our so-called popular press. It even resulted in Questions in Parliament about whether it was appropriate to have gay men in a family show when AIDS was sweeping the country. Things have changed. Since that time, the situation for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain has changed significantly and I am proud that much of that progress was made under a Labour Government. However, I am extremely proud and pleased that today we have a level of cross-party support that would have been unthinkable in the 1980s.
Domestic progress is not enough. If we are serious in our belief in equality, we should speak up for those beyond our borders. This country has led, and should continue to lead, the EU and the wider international community in ensuring that the rights of LGBTI people are recognised and protected. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, referred to the discussion this morning on Radio 4’s “Today” programme. I admit that what shocked me most about that discussion was that a man of religion refused to condemn the criminalisation of LGBT people in Uganda, despite repeated requests from a bishop.
Attitudes like that prompted many of us in Parliament to launch the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights with MPs and Peers across the political parties. I am pleased that two of our vice-chairs, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and my noble friend Lord Cashman are participating in this debate. Our first inquiry will be to examine the UK’s stance on international breaches of LGBT rights and will consider the most effective policies to champion and protect LGBT rights worldwide. I am sure that today’s debate will prompt ideas and questions for that inquiry.
In too many countries, LGBT people are threatened, jailed and prosecuted because of who they are and who they love. Too many Governments have proposed or enacted laws that aim to curb freedom of expression, association, religion and peaceful protest. As we have heard, same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults continues to be criminalised in 78 jurisdictions in the world, and 40 of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth of Nations criminalise same-sex relations for men, women or both. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, we have heard that these laws are a hangover from British colonial rule. While they remain on the statute book, they have a continuing impact of fear, stigma, rejection, violence and, far too often, murder. As the noble Lord highlighted in his excellent book—I am prepared to give it a plug, even if he was not—the persecution and criminalisation of identity can also decimate efforts to halt the spread of HIV. It often results in gay people not being able to access the healthcare, education and employment that they need, thereby preventing access to HIV testing and treatment.
I want to focus on the Commonwealth. Certainly the adoption of the new charter is welcome, with its commitment to human rights, gender equality and democracy. Today’s debate gives a real opportunity for the United Kingdom Government to underpin the steady support that they have given to the reform and modernisation of the Commonwealth and to ensure that the Commonwealth Secretariat takes a proactive approach and supportive role in promoting the reform of bad laws across the Commonwealth, starting with those that still criminalise gay men.
In 2011, President Obama and the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, identified championing the rights of LGBT people abroad as a foreign policy priority. I ask the Minister to do likewise today and make this an FCO priority. Challenging homophobia, promoting equality and pressing other Governments to introduce measures to ensure equality for LGBT people should be a priority for her department.
Earlier this year, US Secretary of State Kerry appointed Randy Berry as the US Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to approach this policy priority in a consistent and meaningful manner. My noble friend Lord Cashman and I had the privilege of meeting Randy during his recent visit to the UK, and he also had discussions with the Minister. Randy explained to us that, in his role as special envoy, he will adopt a new public-private type of approach. He will play a co-ordination role, not only in the State Department but across federal agencies, to ensure, as much as possible, that the US approach to the global protection of the rights of LGBTI people is uniform, consistent and focused on tangible results. In addition to the usual diplomacy with Governments, he believes that an essential part of his job will be to engage robustly, as we have heard today, with civil society organisations, foundations and businesses, both in the US and overseas, on promoting greater respect for the essential human rights of LGBTI people. He recognises that, in doing so, the US must be attentive to the needs and opinions of local civil society organisations, since they are doing the most difficult work, under some of the most difficult circumstances.
As Secretary of State Kerry has said:
“The human rights of LGBTI persons are fundamental and enshrined in the universal declaration”.
It is important to note that Randy’s new role is not special envoy for LGBTI rights, but Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons. That is a meaningful distinction, since the concept underscores the United States’ very approach to these issues as a core human rights issue.
As we have heard, real progress on gay equality will ultimately come from grass-roots movements, but we need to help create the conditions where those local gay rights movements can emerge and be sustained. I ask the Minister to set out what direct assistance the Government will provide to support the development of lesbian, gay and bisexual movements worldwide, in particular in the Commonwealth countries, and whether she will support and promote active collaboration with the US special envoy, Randy Berry. I of course acknowledge the positive way that the Government are working closely with organisations such as the Human Dignity Trust, Stonewall and the Kaleidoscope Trust on how we oppose human rights abuses of gay people worldwide. However, I am very keen to hear today of specific detail and action.
Finally, we cannot pretend that this does not affect us here. As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, giving people asylum is really important—giving them refuge from the terrible discrimination that they face. I recently visited the Asylum Aid offices in Highbury. It specialises in giving assistance to those fleeing persecution because of their sexual identity. There, I heard the story of Thomas. Growing up in Uganda, Thomas’s friends gossiped about him for years. In the school he went to, students were encouraged to inform on anyone they thought was gay. At university, Thomas started a relationship in secret but, when spotted with his lover one night, a large crowd gathered and started to threaten him. They chanted death threats, chased him down the street and attacked him with rocks. He tried to find shelter with his brother but was turned away. His father refused to have anything to do with him. His landlord locked him out of his home. Thomas came to the UK to study, but the clamour in Uganda to punish him grew; as we have heard, the law was getting even tougher. In 2012, the Ugandan Parliament passed a new anti-gay law. The most important thing about that law was not that it was finally not endorsed or passed by the President, but that it unleashed a new wave of extreme and violent homophobia, including physical attacks, arbitrary arrests, blackmail and evictions. Thomas was terrified and asked for asylum in the UK. Fortunately, Asylum Aid looked after him and took his case to the Home Office, providing expert advice and support. He was granted status as a refugee and started to rebuild his life in the UK.
I repeat the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven: will the Minister ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office works across Whitehall departments, and through the United Kingdom Border Agency, to ensure that lesbian and gay people are provided with a real safe haven when they flee from such terrible persecution? Is it not also time for us to acknowledge that the existence of these laws should be sufficient to establish persecution?
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Scriven for allowing us to talk about this important matter today. I declare my interest as one of the founding vice-presidents of the all-party group—and the only girl, I am sad to say; it is always the way with these things that we girls are in the minority. However, we are among a lot of very supportive men, I have to say.
I have been thinking about this debate all summer. In preparing for it, I arrived at the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler: what do we do? That is why our all-party group was set up. As my noble friend Lord Scriven said, many of us have had the great good fortune to be born in the time and place that we were and live in relative safety. We look around the world and we wonder what to do.
One of the first things that we have to do is congratulate ourselves on what has been achieved over the last 25 years, but not to become cocky and think that life is perfect. It is not; there is much yet to be done. We still have a National Health Service, great though it is, which, by and large, ignores the needs of lesbian and trans women. We have trans children in our schools who are being treated in the most appalling manner by teachers who refuse to look at the good practice of organisations such as Cornwall County Council, the police or other schools, and subject children to unnecessary distress and violence. We have a long way to go.
Perhaps our biggest failure in this country is that we permit our religious organisations to treat LGBT people in ways that would be deemed completely unacceptable if they were to behave that way to anybody else. When countries around the world look at the ways in which our religious organisations can behave towards us, that somewhat undermines our position.
In my preparation over the summer, I went back and read Section 28. When you look at it, you see that all the elements of the repressive legislation that pop up around the world are there: demonise gay people; make out that they are a threat to children; ensure that no public money goes towards them; and couch it all in terms that the general population can see as being protective. It is absolutely right and great that we have the political consensus that we have now achieved, but I want to say to the Government that we got rid of Section 28 because it was a blight on our political and economic life in this country. I think that the present Government, building on the work that was done under the coalition Government, who were pioneering and wonderful, are in a unique position to talk to conservative Governments around the world about why discrimination is wrong politically, economically as well as morally. I hope that this Conservative Government will take on that challenge and I think they should be judged on that basis.
The LGBT community in this country is acutely aware of the extent to which it was important for us to come under the European Convention on Human Rights and to have the Human Rights Act, which was a powerful measure for making sure that our aspirations for equality became a reality.
Let us consider countries across the European Union, and accession countries trying to become members of the European Union and live up to those commonly agreed standards of human rights, and contrast them with Turkey, for example, where there are abuses of LGBT people and cases of honour killings which have never been examined. Look at some of what is going on in places such as Ukraine and Russia. Over the summer, I watched one of the many excellent BBC3 documentaries—I will regret BBC3 going off the air; I think that it is a wonderful channel even though I am not in its demographic. I want to pay tribute to Reggie Yates and his production crew, who made a wonderful series of programmes where they went to Russia. If anybody believes for one moment the utter nonsense spouted by President Putin, I urge them to watch those programmes. It was absolutely chilling to see the extent to which people were harassed.
I say to the Minister that when talking to other people across the world, our willingness to subscribe to common standards in the field of human rights is important. I ask her for an assurance that if the Government go ahead with the establishment of a British charter of human rights, it will be set at a level which is additional to the protections we have enjoyed so far and is not of a lesser standard.
Many people have talked about the way that DfID’s aid programmes are changing—for reasons which we all understand—but one thing I have noticed in my very limited travels around the world is the extent to which organisations, particularly in middle-income countries, are concerned about the work they do with marginalised groups who their own Governments do not wish to support. They are really worried about the disappearance of aid from our Government. I commend to the Minister the work of one organisation, Micro Rainbow International, which works on issues of LGBT and poverty. It has recognised that if you do not have your own economic independence—particularly if you are a lesbian—it is extremely difficult, sometimes dangerous, to try to extract yourself from family or community situations which are oppressive. It has noticed that if gay people, and in particular lesbians, are encouraged to start successful businesses and become employers in their communities, not only are they safe but their standing and status go up. I encourage the Minister, if she has not done so already, to look at some of that organisation’s work and to see whether it would be possible to scale up its work across the world so that we can ensure that people have economic security, which then enables them to have personal and physical security.
Others in this debate have spoken about the work of government and how the Government should go about achieving the objectives which were set out under the previous Government with DfID. I remain open to, but not yet fully convinced about, the need for us to have a special envoy. What I am much more interested in is seeing different departments of government taking LGBT issues into the heart of what they do. I would like to think that when the Government next go on a big trade delegation to some countries we might include some gay businessmen but also some of those international companies which are based here in London and have diversity and inclusion at the very heart of their successful business strategies. That might speak to some of the critics in other countries.
I want to advocate two things. The first is that we listen to very brave people such as Frank Mugisha in Uganda, who lives in daily fear for his life, and that we listen to LGBT people when they tell us that aid conditionality does not work and is dangerous for them. Secondly, we should equip all our embassies and consulates to work to the best standards that we have in some of our embassies and consulates, not only to offer protection to people who face oppression but to give security to the small groups which often work under the most oppressive regimes. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and I met an extraordinary young man from Ethiopia who explained that, because of the way in which all internet traffic is monitored in Ethiopia, it is difficult even for people to meet online for the simple purposes of giving health information to one another.
We will have a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta. I ask the Minister what specific messages this Government will be giving at that meeting.
As good as it is to be who we are and to live in our country, let us not kid ourselves that there are not still people who really do not like gay people and who give us our rights under sufferance. However, they have to admit that a country which is big enough and strong enough to do what we have done will be much more prosperous and successful in the long run. I doubt that we will ever overcome the great forces in countries such as Uganda which are ranged against us, but we might begin through smart economics to change hearts and minds.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and thanking him for not only raising the subject but raising it for sustained debate. The quality of the speeches that we have already heard is a real tribute to his wisdom in putting this subject in front of us.
It is now 31 years since, as a Member of the House of Commons, I came out publicly as gay. At the time, it was a somewhat lonely and difficult thing to have done. How things have changed here in the UK since then: a huge amount of legislative, attitudinal, social and governmental change. I am very proud to have been part of a Government who brought forward a very substantial amount of that change. I congratulate the current Prime Minister on his courage within his party in bringing forward the equal marriage provisions, which I was delighted to see went through this House with a bigger majority than in the other place. I also pay particular tribute to the Leader of this House for the skill with which she steered that legislation through.
Our work here in the UK is still of course not complete. There is still bullying and violence. There are attitudes that need to be challenged and places that are not safe for people who happen to be LGBT, particularly the “T” part—people who are transgender. We have still not got to where we should be even in legislative terms for those people. We also still need to make progress in Northern Ireland.
However, the picture here has transformed beyond recognition. Around the world, as we have already heard in this debate, it is very different, particularly in Africa and Asia. There are 78 jurisdictions where homosexuality is still criminalised. Some have the death penalty. It is not only the laws, the imprisonment and the death penalty that cause the problem. It is the violence, antagonism, prejudice and harassment that those laws give license to, among the thugs and the crowds who will then take their lead from the laws, the politicians and the Governments, and perpetrate savagery against people who have committed only a crime of loving someone of the same sex.
As many noble Lords indicated, there is a particular problem with the Commonwealth. As both the noble Lords, Lord Scriven and Lord Fowler, mentioned, 40 of its 53 countries discriminate in legislation against homosexuality. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, alluded to, in a peculiar kind of way we are responsible for that. These are frequently relics of colonial laws that were imposed by Britain. There is an ultimate perversity in all this because many Commonwealth countries claim that homosexuality and liberal attitudes to it are a colonial imposition on them, whereas in fact it is the laws discriminating against homosexuality that are the colonial imposition. We have something of a special responsibility to make our voice heard around the world on this issue. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, in November we have the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta. There will be an ideal opportunity to start to discuss, raise and persuade on this issue.
In some places, things are getting worse rather than better. There are two examples. In the Gambia, on 9 October last year—less than a year ago—President Yahya Jammeh signed his assent to the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2014, which introduces the new offence described as “aggravated homosexuality”. That attracts a life sentence, raised from a previous sentence of 14 years. “Aggravated homosexuality” applies among other things to what are described as “serial offenders”—if you have sex more than once—and an offender who is a person living with HIV or AIDS. I am afraid that President Jammeh went even further in a speech marking the 49th anniversary of Gambia’s independence. He said:
“We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively”.
The other place where things are getting worse is Nigeria. In 2013, it introduced the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act. It actually goes much further than the title suggests. The Act not only prohibits marriage, it outlaws the registration of gay clubs, societies and organisations and their sustenance, processions and meetings. It outlaws the public showing of same-sex amorous relationships, directly or indirectly, and it prohibits same-sex couples from living together. These are frightening pieces of legislation.
Although in some places such as Gambia and Nigeria things are getting worse, there are small signs that in one or two places things may be making some progress. The high courts of Botswana and Kenya, for example, have recently made decisions to allow LGBT organisations to exist, to recruit and to campaign. This is perhaps a sign that somehow pressure, advocacy and persuasion from the rest of the world can help to begin to change things in some of these oppressive jurisdictions, and that is something that we here in this country must absolutely try to help with.
The Foreign Office and DfID ought to have LGBT rights around the world at the heart of their human rights programmes, and I would certainly echo the call made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that this should be made a Foreign Office priority. However—and this is a very important however—it must not be done in a preachy, finger-wagging way, and still less should it be done in a threatening way. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, mentioned, LGBT activists in countries affected by this have pleaded with us not to use aid as a bargaining tool to try to force change, because it would produce completely the contrary effect from what we might be trying to achieve. It has to be a process of painstaking discussion and persuasion. It is not going to be easy or quick, but in my view it has to be done.
We can take heart, I think, from the example of President Obama in his rather courageous speech in Kenya where he did not preach at the audience; rather, he drew analogies between the position of LGBT citizens in Kenya and the position of black people in the United States, their need for emancipation and the importance of ensuring that that emancipation happened. Above all, apart from just talk, discussion and the use of diplomacy, we can support the incredible courage of LGBT activists and campaigners in countries where criminalisation exists. That is because being open, making the arguments and facing down threats, and in some cases being beaten up, will eventually help to change minds in those countries. The work of organisations such as Kaleidoscope and the Human Dignity Trust to try and help those activists make their case has to be applauded and supported.
As President Obama recognised, this is ultimately about emancipation. It is about the fundamentals of freedom and democracy. I remember that when Section 28 was going through the House of Commons, the argument made by its supporters was that it reflected the needs and wishes of the majority, and therefore in a democracy that was what had to happen. Long ago I was taught that democracy is actually much more about protecting the rights of minorities than about reflecting the will of the majority. It is also about recognising, protecting and celebrating difference, because it is difference that makes a society richer, fuller and freer. We in this country must do everything we can to support and protect it around the world.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, on securing this debate. As my noble friend Lord Fowler said, it is really important that we regularly return to this issue so that we can chart progress where it has been made and keep up the moral pressure on those states which deny LGBTI people their fundamental human rights. As we have heard, some real progress has been made in recent years which it is right to acknowledge.
In our own country, now almost 60 years on from Wolfenden, we are one of 18 countries worldwide which have introduced same-sex marriage and, under all three political parties, have established a raft of other rights and initiatives which mean that all men and women are treated equally. These cover a whole range of issues vital to the welfare of LGBTI individuals, including discrimination and immigration, adoption and parenting, bullying and hate crime. That is a huge achievement, but as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, of course there is always more to be done. In gay equality, there will be no final victories.
There is one point I would like to mention right at the start of my remarks. In its ground-breaking report this summer, the UN Human Rights Council made 20 recommendations to national governments as part of a “systematic and comprehensive approach” to the human rights of LGBTI people. One of the recommendations was to end the abusive therapies and treatments to which gay men and women can be subjected, including the so-called “conversion therapy”. The use of such therapy is absolutely deplorable, and I am delighted that earlier this year the Prime Minister made clear his strong opposition to its use in the United Kingdom. But when you are dealing with bigots, I fear that words are not enough. I hope that in due course that there will be a suitable vehicle in a Bill passing through this House which will allow us to introduce measures to ban by law these grotesque and abhorrent therapies.
Outside of our own country and continent, while the picture is much bleaker, as we have heard in the debate, there has been a glimmer of progress that we should acknowledge. In some 118 countries, same-sex sexual acts between adults in private are now legal, with Mozambique being one of the most recent countries to decriminalise. A critically important legal case is pending in Belize which would have ramifications across the whole of the Caribbean. I know from Answers to Written Questions which my noble friend the Minister has kindly given me that the Foreign Office is fully aware of this issue, and I urge her to keep a very close eye on it.
The number of countries establishing hate crimes relating to sexual orientation is growing. Eight countries, including Mexico, now have a constitutional prohibition against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and many more, particularly in Latin America, are making significant progress on the issue of legal recognition of gender identity, which is one of the big issues that we still face. For this, and so much other progress, I join others in paying tribute to the work of organisations such as the Human Dignity Trust, Kaleidoscope and Stonewall. Their dogged campaigning and advocacy continue to pay real dividends.
Welcome though those developments are, they cannot obscure the fact that in far too much of the world, LGBT people are deprived of the most basic human rights. They are detained, persecuted, tortured, imprisoned and, in some places, killed just for being who they are. As we have heard, 78 jurisdictions still criminalise homosexuality. Those 78 jurisdictions cover 2.9 billion souls. Legal developments, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, in some parts of Africa are in fact deteriorating, with a number of countries such as Malawi revising their laws to criminalise consensual sex between women, and others increasing the penalties imposed on gay people. The noble Lord made very important points about Nigeria and Gambia. Of course, we have talked today about Russia, where initiatives have been taken to criminalise the “propaganda of homosexuality”. That has been copied in Moldova, Lithuania and other places.
This continues to have lethal consequences in terms of public health because of the link between criminalisation and increased HIV prevalence, as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS discovered when looking at the Caribbean. The figures are shocking. On islands where homosexuality is criminalised, and there are therefore no prevention campaigns, almost one in four men who have sex with men are infected with HIV. I am told that one appalling study recently found that, when random tests were conducted on homeless gay teenagers in Kingston, all of them were found to be HIV positive. However, in Caribbean countries that do not criminalise, the rate is not one in four, but one in 15. Criminalisation kills people.
As the work by the Human Dignity Trust has shown, criminalisation also tends to march hand in hand with bad or authoritarian government. Only one criminalising state is a full democracy. Of much interest to me, there is also a direct link between criminalisation and poor indices of press freedom—and here I declare my interest as chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust. In countries where the rights of a minority are so casually trampled on, it needs a free and vibrant press to foster debate and sow the seeds of change. That is what has been happening in Botswana, and which I hope will happen similarly in Kenya, Belize and Jamaica where the press has been able for the first time openly to discuss LGBT issues and question politicians, providing an important back-drop to vital court cases. For reasons of basic human rights, public health, good government and freedom of expression, decriminalisation must remain at the top of the Government’s agenda. I know that the Minister has been working hard in this area and she deserves our full support.
Decriminalisation can come about in a number of ways. Often it is a result of legal challenge. Sometimes it springs from the membership requirements of regional groups of countries, such as the OAS and the OSCE. The OSCE, for instance, should be a criminalisation-free zone but two of its members criminalise homosexuality. However, it can also come about because of pressure from civil society and, in particular, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and others have said, from international business. Businesses today carry as much influence as sovereign states, particularly in the developing world, and I believe they must leverage that power in furthering the human rights agenda. Businesses operating in countries where homosexuality is criminalised need vocally to express their concern about it, and if necessary make clear that investment decisions will take this issue into account. I think the UK Government can encourage those developments, and I ask my noble friend what action the Government are taking to ensure businesses play their full part.
There is one other substantive point I would like to make. It may seem obvious, but I am not sure that enough thought is given to it. It is on the subject of cultural change. Decriminalisation is the foundation stone, of course, but it is the first step on a very long road. Bear in mind, as I mentioned earlier, that in our country it took 60 years from Wolfenden, and 50 years from decriminalisation to full legal equality for gay men and women, and a huge shift in cultural values at the same time—including that first kiss on “EastEnders”. In some countries, the path will be a great deal more difficult than it was for us, and it seems to me that we need to be ready to help the process along by supporting and encouraging civil society and grass-roots groups who will foster change long after the lawyers have left town. In many places, gay men and women will have become used to a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude towards their sexuality. In the wake of decriminalisation they will find their lives very different and, frankly, not always easier in the short term.
This is particularly important because of the baleful influence of evangelical movements, many of them from the US, in so many of the countries affected, as my noble friend Lord Fowler mentioned. Where there is the prospect of legal change or where decriminalisation has happened, these groups, which are well organised and well funded, move in to take over the territory that the law is vacating. A friend of mine in Belize, where that vital legal decision is pending, told me that the evangelicals are already thick on the ground there. They play a key role in building schools and therefore influence the education of the young—clearly not in a positive way. They are often supported by influential and popular television programmes. Every morning in Belize there is a TV programme called “PlusTV”, the presenters of which invite viewers to join with them in praying to rid Belize of homosexuals.
That produces a massive cultural problem, which of course also often leads to violence, in particular in conflict zones. Stonewall recently undertook a consultation with 66 LGBT rights organisations worldwide, which confirmed that violence is the global movement’s top priority—even more so than decriminalisation. We heard the statistics earlier about the murder of trans people. In the Americas alone, a trans woman is killed in a hate crime every 32 hours.
The mere fact of decriminalisation will not alter the toxic culture that envelops so many LGBT communities. If we are to make a real difference, we will need to be ready to help tackle it by supporting grass-roots organisations. I wholly agree with my noble friend Lord Fowler and others that we need to look at practicalities. Here are some relating to this. In some cases, we may have to do that by providing funding mechanisms that explicitly support LGBT groups formed to create change. On a practical level, it will mean: helping NGOs to run education campaigns, especially in schools; providing training for diplomats and desk officers that equips them with the skills they need to engage with LGBT groups, along with workshops for public officials; ensuring that police and law enforcement officials treat LGBT people fairly and appropriately; and, crucially, providing advice and support on running HIV prevention campaigns aimed in particular at men who have sex with men.
As this extraordinarily good debate has shown, the agenda is huge. Global and regional organisations can play their part, but it seems to me that the British Government are in a unique position to play a leadership role in this area, particularly as—certainly according to the Economist—we possess more soft power than any other nation on the planet. Let us use it. In this 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta we have been constantly reminded that one of our greatest exports is the rule of law, which is undermined by criminalisation. Let us also use that heritage, which saw us play the leading role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the ECHR. Let us use, too, our position in the Commonwealth, in particular at the CHOGM in Malta, to ensure that its institutions bring maximum pressure to bear on countries that still deny LGBTI people the basic human rights that we take for granted.
Above all—I hope this will be one of the messages of today’s debate—we must remember that decriminalisation alone is in so many ways just the beginning of the story, not the final destination. How we build on those legal successes in supporting change at the most local level—change that is fundamental to the quality of life of LGBT citizens worldwide—will be just as crucial in securing the identity and dignity of so many of our fellow men and women.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Scriven for securing this very important debate. In considering the treatment of LGBTI citizens worldwide, it is important that we remember our own history. We have been where other countries are now. Therefore, it is possible for other countries to make the same progress that we have. As my noble friend Lady Barker said, it was not long ago that we had legislation similar to that which we are complaining about in other countries, such as Section 28.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not just for his lifelong work on HIV and AIDS, but for his work against prejudice and discrimination of all kinds.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Black of Brentwood, for introducing the very important issue of the link between the prevalence of HIV and criminalisation. I hope noble Lords will not mind if I appear somewhat self-indulgent in talking about some of my own experiences, but I think it is important for people to read about others’ experiences to help with the normalisation process.
Nineteen fifty-eight was a notable year. It was the year the Life Peerages Act was passed, and most of us would not be here if it was not for that. It was also the year that my twin brother was born. I am just testing to make sure that noble Lords are awake. It was also the year that the Homosexual Law Reform Society was formed to campaign for the implementation of the Wolfenden report.
While we have to go back to 1835 to find the last people in the UK to be executed for sodomy, when I was born same-sex activity between men was still a criminal offence. In England and Wales, homosexual activity between two men over the age of 21, provided no one else was present, was decriminalised in 1967, so by the time I had my first sexual encounter with another human being in 1979—another male police officer—I was not committing a criminal offence. However, that is only half the story. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, the problem in Russia is not just that anti-gay legislation was passed by unanimous vote of the Federal Assembly, but that 75% of Russian public opinion is also anti-gay.
My police officer colleague and I were petrified of being found out. He would talk to me only when I was in my room late at night, when there was nobody else around. He would not even look at me if we encountered each other when other police officers were present. Fearing the adverse reaction of my colleagues and the end of any further career progression if I was found out, it took me a while to officially acknowledge to the police service that I was gay—20 years. Because of social pressure, not least from my family, and the honestly-held belief that a relationship with a man was impossible because of the social conditions that prevailed at the time, and wanting a relationship more than anything else, I dated women. I was engaged three times and married Mary in 1983. It was only when work problems became so great that I could not deal with them and with “living a lie”, as some would have it, that I cracked under the pressure and told my wife. Mary said, “If you had told me you were leaving me for another woman I would never have forgiven you, but I realise that you need something I cannot give you”, and she has been amazingly supportive ever since.
The pressure of having to use gender-neutral terms at work to disguise your sexuality when talking about what you and your partner did at the weekend, and being in constant fear of being seen in the wrong part of town or in the wrong bar or club, is draining and inhibiting. In many countries that is what LGBTI people have to put up with today. It is a constant fear of being yourself. Even when I eventually decided to be publicly open about my sexuality, it was not easy. Having debated with a Mail on Sunday columnist at the Oxford Union, and having got on very well with him—at least, so I thought—he subsequently called me in my office at Brixton Police Station, where I was the police commander. “As you know”, he explained, “we keep files on people and I just wanted to check a few things. The first question I have for you is: is it true that you are homosexual?”. A few months later, Mary called. A journalist had tried to doorstep her to ask questions about me. It was only a matter of time before they tracked down one of my disgruntled male ex-partners. A front page and eight inside pages of the Mail on Sunday were filled with a mixture of lies and intimate details of the five years we had lived together—everything from where I bought my suits, what moisturiser I used and what my HIV status was. Eighteen months later, my claim that the newspaper had breached my privacy was settled out of court, although the newspaper claimed it settled because it had libelled me.
The points I make with these anecdotes are that, despite those difficulties, I have had a very easy ride compared with LGBTI citizens in many other countries, and that changing the law, although important, is only half the battle—arguably, the easier half. The other reason is that it is important for people living overseas to know what is happening here and the progress that we have made.
In January 2009, I did something that I never believed I would be able to do. The real significance of what was happening did not really strike me until the judge in the courthouse in Oslo, Norway, said, “We are gathered here to witness the marriage of Brian and Petter”. They conducted the ceremony in English; the Norwegians are very obliging. I married a man but when we got on the plane to fly back to London the next day and landed in England, we were not, in the eyes of the law, married here. Our marriage was recognised as only a civil partnership until last year. We did not feel that our relationship was equal until last year. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, mentioned, my husband and I are still not legally married in Northern Ireland and same-sex couples cannot marry there, which is unacceptable.
Using the very helpful House of Lords Library Note for this debate, it is easy for my husband and me to avoid going on holiday to the 75 UN member states where same-sex acts are not legal, not least the six that still implement the death penalty for those acts, but LGBTI people who live in those countries invariably cannot avoid being there. Not only can they not give expression to their true feelings but, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, said, the law encourages those who wish to violently attack those who differ from them. People are not being allowed to be themselves and their rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 2, 5, 7, 9, 12 and 18, are being breached.
Life for me has been difficult because I am gay and, even now in the centre of London, one of the most diverse and liberal cities in the world, I am still being subjected to homophobic abuse. I cannot go into further details because the case is sub judice. This is nothing compared to what LGBTI people in many other countries have to contend with, as my noble friend Lord Scriven so graphically described in recalling what happened at Istanbul Pride. Parts of this country are at least leading by example on equality for LGBTI people. However, what are the Government doing to raise these breaches of human rights against LGBTI people in other parts of the world?
I respectfully suggest that, rather than seeking to restrain the human rights of those in the UK through a UK Bill of Rights and repeatedly refusing to implement judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, this Government should divert their resources into championing the human rights of LGBTI people across the world.
My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for initiating it and for his excellent speech, as well as for the excellent speeches of so many of your Lordships.
As has been made abundantly clear by all those who have spoken, LGBTI people worldwide face an appalling, inhumane situation. Same-sex intimacy between consenting adults in private, which is now regarded as a fundamental right in Europe, remains a crime in 78 jurisdictions. LGBTI people are liable to be arrested, imprisoned, harassed, blackmailed and, in eight jurisdictions, still put to death. To avoid criminal prosecution they have to live lives that are isolated, fearful and above all subject to humiliation.
Again, as has also been made clear, we are dealing not just with a few people but with millions. On a conservative to moderate estimate that 2% to 6% of adults in the general population identify as LGBTI, we are talking about 58 million to 174 million people. In India alone, there are 41 million to 63 million people who are potential criminals as a result of the law.
The Human Dignity Trust, which does such excellent work on this issue, helpfully sets out 10 recommendations to the Government on how this issue can be made a fundamental feature of policy, and eight spheres in which action can and should be taken. Others among your Lordships have mentioned many of these actions, all of which I very strongly support. However, I want to focus on one area that the trust did not address: namely, religion. There is no avoiding the fact that hostility to same-sex relationships is shaped and fuelled by the teaching of most religions, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, so eloquently indicated. We cannot sensibly address this challenge without facing the uncomfortable truth head-on. In the Middle East, the dominant religion is obviously Islam. In the target areas that the Human Dignity Trust suggests—the Caribbean, west Africa, southern Africa and parts of the Pacific—it is Christianity.
On the whole, religious institutions, like all institutions, are slow to change. There is an understandable rationale to this, in that their role is to garner the insights of the past and convey them through time and space to future generations. But, as Cardinal Newman said:
“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”.
Religious institutions, while remaining true to their foundational principles, have to unfold and develop in response to the new insights of each generation. Inevitably, in every age there will be turbulence caused by disputes about what is an authentic development and what leads people astray. This process of discernment is not any easy one. Change can take a long time but it can take place: we know it has happened in at least some churches.
That change can take two forms. One is a change in the teaching itself, so that churches might come to see committed lifelong partnerships between people of the same sex in the same way that they understand marriage—in the lovely words of the Book of Common Prayer,
“signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church”.
The other change, which is the one I want to focus on, does not involve any change in the teaching on the issue itself, at least in the short term, but involves an acceptance of the civil sphere as valid in its own right. Some Christians, while not able to accept same-sex marriage as a Christian option, have, however reluctantly—some have been very reluctant indeed—come to accept civil partnerships as a valid option for society as a whole. It is that second kind of change that I believe we have to work to achieve first in relation to conservative religious institutions.
In short, church leaders and institutions in those countries where LGBTI people are criminalised have to be urged to make a distinction between teaching which may be applicable for their own members in their private lives and the basic rights and dignity that need to be accorded to everyone in their society, whatever their religion or belief. Of course, working through secular channels to challenge the laws in those countries is fundamental. But behind those laws is a culture, as the noble Lords, Lord Black and Lord Paddick, mentioned and stressed—very often, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, a “toxic” culture. That toxic culture is, sadly, intertwined with religion.
It is no secret that the Anglican Communion has become very frayed at the edges on this issue. That is what I wrote in the first draft of this speech, but from what we read on the front page of some papers today, “frayed” is much too weak a word. The churches in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are taking a very conservative and hard line and see themselves as quite apart from churches in North America. Nor is that the sum of it: the frontier of the culture wars in the USA has moved to Africa, with conservative forces in America lining up with and reinforcing the conservative forces in some African countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, quite rightly mentioned. Indeed there is evidence, which the Human Dignity Trust has on film, of some American churches actively proselytising in Uganda with a view to strengthening hard-line attitudes to gay and lesbian people.
In those countries, the Christian churches have been and continue to be very strong. In contrast to Europe, they are a major influence in shaping the lives of people. If it is unrealistic to think of changing the minds of those churches on the issue itself in the short term, what can and should be done is to work on getting them to accept the legitimacy of the civil sphere, and, in particular, laws which protect the rights of minorities, not least LGBTI people.
The way that such people are treated in those countries is an affront to any concept of human decency, and the church must be challenged to see that its support for their criminalisation is a direct cause of this. It is an offence against the human person: the unique value and dignity of the individual, whatever their sexuality. It is a violation of everything that the Christian faith is meant to stand for. As a minimum, those states must be urged to act against those who commit acts of violence against LGBTI people.
In its excellent set of recommendations, the UNHCR recommended among other things that those states should:
“Conduct prompt and thorough investigations of incidents of violence against LGBT citizens, holding perpetrators to account and providing redress to victims”.
Further, they should:
“Collect data on the incidence of such offences”.
Of course, such offences are encouraged by the harsh laws, and there can be no fundamental change until the laws themselves are repealed, but states can be urged to see that such violence is criminal even by their own standards, and churches must be forced to see that, whatever their teaching, this kind of cruelty is totally unacceptable and they must speak out against it.
The UNHCR and the Human Dignity Trust outlined various forms of action that can be taken in the way of working for legislative reform, highlighting breaches of human rights according to the UN charter, working with businesses, and so on. All these are important, but behind the opposition to change will be a highly influential culture that has been soaked with religious attitudes, and this must be faced.
I have not addressed this issue in relation to Islam, and I recognise that the challenge there is even greater: first, because of the decisive influence Islam has over so many societies; and, secondly, because of the claim that its teaching applies to all society in all its aspects. The distinction between a secular sphere with its own legitimacy and the religious one is not one that is natural to Islam—at least as it has developed so far—but it has always been a proper option for Christian churches, and it is this that the churches in countries that have harsh penal laws against LGBTI citizens must be urged to see.
As a number of your Lordships mentioned, there is a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta. Some 40 members of the Commonwealth’s 53 countries still criminalise homosexuality: the laws are a hangover from the time of the British Empire. The Royal Commonwealth Society has written about these laws:
“This harsh legal situation is exacerbated by wider discriminatory social attitudes and in some cases violence”.
It states that the situation is now very,
“polarised between those in favour of improving LGBT rights and those who are more reluctant”.
So the November conference is not going to be easy.
Behind those wider discriminatory attitudes there is a strong religious influence because, as I mentioned, most of those Commonwealth countries still have a strong Christian presence and continuing influence. That has to be addressed. I know that the main focus of diplomatic work is Government to Government, but there are opportunities to relate to wider civic society.
My concern, of which I hope that the Government take account, is that all those involved in setting up diplomatic meetings or organising conferences recognise the key role that Christian leaders play in many of the countries which have the most conservative attitudes, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. If they are not to change their church teaching, they might be encouraged at least to acknowledge, and to help their churches to acknowledge, the validity of the civil sphere in its own right as safeguarding the rights and dignity of all human beings, whatever their sexuality.
I recognise that the main responsibility lies with the Christian churches here to help the churches in those countries to acknowledge the validity of this distinction, but I believe that our Government, through our normal diplomatic channels and intergovernmental agencies, also have opportunities to engage with wider civic society. Here, the Christian leaders, especially in the countries I mentioned, the Anglican archbishops and bishops, have an influential role. They themselves need to be decisively influenced to speak out for the human rights of LGBTI people.
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak very briefly on just two aspects of what has been an outstanding debate, moved brilliantly by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. First, I pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, when he referred to Northern Ireland. It is worth putting on record our admiration for the people of the Irish Republic who, with a majority of 62% in May, approved same-sex marriage in a referendum. It is deplorable that the conspiracy of intolerance and bigotry that unites unionists and Sinn Feiners alike in Northern Ireland prevents the same sort of progressive movement there. I think that would certainly be the view of those in this debate.
I also take up points made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, in relation to the church. I, too, read with great interest the comments attributed to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in today’s papers about effectively realising that the Anglican communion is probably two or possibly three different churches, and that an attempt to make them all look alike at subjects such as this is an impossible task. I hope that he succeeds in that and does not attempt to follow in the intolerance in parts of the Anglican communion, particularly in Africa, that we heard about from so many speakers, and that he concentrates on the liberal approach adopted in North America.
In the United Kingdom and Church of England, can we please adopt a sensible, non-hypocritical approach to same-sex relationships? We all know that there are very senior priests and probably bishops who are openly gay and yet unable to openly profess that because of the strange, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule that applies in the Church of England. The sooner the Church of England comes to terms with this and agrees that the exceptions it was granted when we passed the same-sex law should no longer apply to it, the sooner our own society will be more tolerant and a much happier place.
My Lords, like others, I thank my noble friend Lord Scriven for securing this debate and opening it so effectively. We heard some extremely powerful contributions, including the searingly brave personal account from my noble friend Lord Paddick.
I am very glad that we are discussing this subject immediately after our debate on the new sustainable development goals. Key to those goals is to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 while leaving no one behind. We know that those whose sexuality is not accepted in their home countries are particularly likely to be excluded, and in poverty, so those SDGs are absolutely relevant here.
In that debate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Sheffield made a very effective contribution. I note that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans was down to speak on the dairy industry debate that followed. So I wondered where the Bishops’ Bench was for this debate. I was very glad to hear the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who just spoke, because I noted that there was nobody sitting on the Bishops’ Bench, even just to listen. How could that be? I assume that the Church of England must surely move on from appointing women bishops to addressing this issue of human rights. I thought that that lay behind the moves quoted today made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury where he spoke of drawing together the communion and conversation across the whole Anglican communion. I wish them well, even if they are frayed at the edges— as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, put it.
As my noble friend Lord Scriven said, this is about human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, put it more strongly, calling it the greatest human rights issue of our time—and he is surely right. My noble friend Lord Scriven paid tribute to my colleague Lynne Featherstone and to me for our work in DfID, and I thank him. It was when my shortly to be noble friend Lynne Featherstone became a Minister in DfID that this subject went on to the agenda. It was Lynne, of course, who in the Home Office brought forward equal marriage. She tried to get a strategy on LGBT within DfID. Although one was agreed internally by the summer of last year, she could not get it published; it was regarded as politically too hot a topic to touch. When I took over from her in DfID in November last year, I sought to take this work further forward, and the strategy was published. I hope that by the time I left we had secured sufficient progress that this was an issue which could not slip back in to the shadows. Like the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I welcome cross-party support on this, but I would like to ask the Minister what DfID is now doing on this agenda. Like my noble friend Lord Scriven, I want to know which DfID Minister is now responsible for this.
I found that officials within DfID were extremely enthusiastic about this agenda. They recognised that development could not be effective if certain sections of the community were excluded. You can look at discrimination through the development lens. We know only too well that discrimination can lead to exclusion from education, healthcare, and economic activity. Aid must be impartial and not based on nationality, race, religion, political point of view, or sexuality. It must be based on need alone. When people are marginalised due to their sexuality, they are likely to be poor. So how do we tackle this? Ensuring that there is international protection of human rights is an important start, but we know that what we do must not expose individuals to even greater danger. So as my noble friend Lady Barker and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, pointed out, we need to work closely with those in countries where they face particular discrimination so that we can work out how best to support them. Supporting civil society is vital. Working through the corporate sector, to which Governments often listen closely, is also essential. My noble friend Lord Scriven and the noble Lord, Lord Black, referred to instances when that has been effective.
When I was in DfID, we sought to map what was happening and who was active in the countries in which DfID worked. We helped to get LGBTI rights on the agenda of the World Bank, which is becoming very supportive in ensuring that development is inclusive. We initiated research at the Institute for Development Studies at Sussex University on sexuality, poverty and law, as we sought to underpin and sustain action by the UK Government into the future. This is one of the first research programmes to look at these important issues. Given the World Bank’s economic remits, it was looking at the economic costs of homophobia, undertaking a study in India that highlighted the enormous cost of healthcare due to homophobia. It noted HIV disparity, depression, and suicide, three health issues that are particularly high among the LGBT population. It estimated that this cost India more than $700 million in 2012.
This debate is about human rights, but my noble friend Lady Barker is right that it is also worth emphasising to countries the economic benefits of change—what she calls smart economics—just as this has been a way in which gender equality has also sometimes been broached, with more positive results than might otherwise have been the case, in particular to make sure that it is included as part of development initiatives. As we have just debated the new sustainable development goals, we must insist that no one should be left behind. That commitment must now be harnessed to support and protect those who would otherwise be excluded because of their sexuality.
There have been some encouraging developments, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and others have noted. They include the incorporation of LGBTI issues in the draft World Bank safeguards and the reference to discrimination in the Commonwealth charter, which is a small step forward. As so many noble Lords have said, the Commonwealth has particularly pernicious laws. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is right that we should be emphasising that we have changed our laws and that those elsewhere are now totally outdated. Will the Minister tell me what further progress has been made in regard to Commonwealth countries? Will she update the House on progress on selecting a new Secretary-General and indicate whether she is optimistic that such an appointment will bring progress on this matter?
In DfID I found myself discussing with leading figures in the US Government how we could encourage Americans to dissuade some of their countryfolk, the religious fundamentalists to whom the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, referred, from packing planes flying to African countries to harden policies against LGBTI rights. The noble and right reverend Lord is absolutely right in this regard.
Like others here, I have met some amazingly brave campaigners who knew their lives were at risk, not only because of their sexual orientation but because of their campaigns. I heard some terrible stories. I was delighted that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on global LGBT rights was set up and to be at its first meeting to nominate my noble friend Lady Barker to be an officer of the group.
For me, some of the social and governmental challenges we face were summed up and crystallised when I was attending a meeting at an AU summit earlier this year. This meeting was on child marriage. It was not on LGBTI rights. The President of a particular African country—I can tell noble Lords who he was afterwards —in his concluding remarks, stated, “I oppose child marriage”. There was gentle applause. “But”, he said, in a total non sequitur, “I do not support same-sex marriage”. There was wild applause. That illustrated for me quite how high a mountain we have to climb, and this debate is part of a stage on the way. I thank my noble friend for bringing it forward.
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to stand here for the very first time—I hope not the last—in this extremely important debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Scriven—if I may call him that—for securing this important debate and ensuring that the debate will go on. I am humbled and inspired by the debate this afternoon, but equally I am depressed that in 2015 we have to have such a debate about individual human rights across the world. That is the depressing element. I welcome all the powerful contributions. In particular, I associate myself with the eloquent, powerful and personal contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for which I thank him deeply.
The evidence we have heard today should make us all feel not only uncomfortable but ashamed. The statistics on human rights abuses pile high. There are thousands of examples of disregard for someone’s humanity and of the denial of rights. Even the most fundamental basic right of the protection of the law is denied.
Behind all these examples and statistics are ordinary men and women, the sons and daughters of ordinary men and women, who are made extraordinary by society and religion’s obsession with their sexual orientation and gender identity. This persecution and victimisation blights us all. It is carried out in the names of those who look on, do nothing and say nothing. A man who did much and spoke out was the Ugandan activist David Kato, and he paid for that courage with his life. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and my noble friend Lord Collins paid tribute to the work done by activists in Uganda. Like them, this morning I was horrified to hear a religious man on the “Today” programme refusing to condemn the criminalisation of LGBTI people.
The discrimination that we see is often done with the excuse of religion, religious belief or culture—or, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, toxic culture—as if that is acceptable. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, eloquently pointed out, it is not. The protection and defence of religious belief is equally a fundamental human right, but not the right to impose that belief on another and, by so doing, diminish and remove another’s human rights.
The challenge of the worldwide Anglican communion has been referred to by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury as an impossible task but, if we are to progress the rights of individuals who often remain voiceless and invisible, impossible tasks must be undertaken and achieved. Have we learnt nothing from the cold, humiliating history of slavery and those who used culture, religion and market forces to defend it?
I believe that our ability to imagine separates us from other species. As a gay man, I must imagine, “What if that were me?”. What if I were born in one of those 78 countries that criminalise people because of who they choose to love consensually? What if I were born in any of the eight countries that have the death penalty for homosexuality or being transgender, or where I could simply be stoned to death or thrown from the roof of a building because of who I choose to love? What if that were me? What if it were any one of us? If it is not right for us, how dare we imagine that it should be right for another?
I believe that we are all connected by a sea of humanity, and we disregard that at our peril. The rights of one another are inextricably linked. We should remember that, too, when we look at men, women and children trudging across the world to achieve sanctuary, safety and human rights. Within those, I include LGBTI people. The treatment of LGBTI people at our borders must be humane, respectful and non-intrusive. I am deeply concerned, as has already been said in the debate, that the recommendations of the Vine report on this subject are yet to be in place. I share concerns, too, that there has been a perceived downgrading of the importance of human rights and LGBTI rights at the FCO. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, these should be at the heart of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The decision taken by the Foreign Secretary that our embassies shall not fly the LGBT rainbow flag during Pride days or marches is wrong. That simple act of solidarity is of huge significance to LGBT people, local NGOs and activists. It is a reminder to them they are not alone, and a reminder to their Governments and politicians, who often follow public opinion rather than lead it, that we are watching and we are with them. I do not say that from an academic point of view. I have been on those marches in places such as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania, where there was violence and where there were more people protecting us than were on the march. In those places and elsewhere, the role of our embassies and their visible support were instrumental in the marches being allowed to go ahead and the progress that steadily followed.
At times like that when you are on a march, taking for granted every single right that you have in your own country, you realise that our rights are not universal and that, contrary to the UN declaration and the European civil and political conventions, our rights do not travel with us. Diminished human rights and criminalisation overseas directly affect British citizens too. As other noble Lords have said, it is not just happening in far-flung places such as Singapore, India and Pakistan; it is happening here, in the European Union and on the streets of London. To give a simple example, when a same-sex married couple and their children merely go on holiday—when they are not even working—to certain EU countries, such as Italy, Poland, Romania or Lithuania, their marital rights and their legal rights over their children disappear immediately, the moment they set foot on the territory. If an employer wants to transfer you to, say, Russia, where Section 28 was evilly replicated, or Saudi Arabia, China, Bangladesh, Uganda or many other countries, your rights disappear and you are instantly criminalised.
Here, too, in the United Kingdom, homophobia and transphobia still exist on our streets and in our schools, where children should be informed and, most of all, protected, not bullied and humiliated. That is why we need to do much more at home. On homelessness, the Albert Kennedy Trust revealed that 24% of homeless youth in the UK are LGBT. LGBT sex education is deeply lacking, as revealed in the NAT study. Homophobia is rife. Trans children are in our midst, and they are diminished by the attacks on their human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Black, referred to conversion therapies, which we must outlaw, and at the earliest opportunity. Northern Ireland is a blight in its attitude to deny the right of same-sex couples the right to marriage.
However, we need to go forward. How do we turn real and deep concern into action that produces tangible benefits? First, as has been said by other noble Lords, DfID must indicate which Minister is now responsible for this particular portfolio. It must restate, along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, its public commitment to continue to work on these issues and to raise concerns and take action at the highest level, and should do so in concert with other countries, particularly the USA, whose threatened travel ban was extremely useful in curtailing some heavy anti-LGBT political activity in sub-Saharan Africa. I urge the Government to reconsider appointing a global LGBTI envoy. I will explain why—and it is not because I want the job.
In the course of discussions with the USA’s State Department special envoy, Randy Berry, it became clear to me that there would be added value in having such an envoy, not only as the Government’s highest representative when travelling overseas, but also in the co-ordination of domestic policy and policy coherence when acting externally. A global envoy would send a powerful signal and publicly reconnect the United Kingdom Government to these issues we have discussed, working across government departments such as the Home Office, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as raising the issue overseas. It would ensure that policy coherence and human rights were at the heart of everything we do.
Finally, we know that Governments cannot do it alone. We need to co-ordinate and work with progressives in religious organisations, local as well as international NGOs, and with a new dimension: global and multinational businesses. Businesses promoting their diversity principles in countries that are problematic for LGBTI people is extremely effective. In this respect, I urge the Government to work with Open for Business, a coalition of global companies—IBM, Google, American Express, MasterCard, Standard Chartered—which are making the case that inclusive, diverse societies are better for business and economic growth. Its excellent publication, The Economic and Business Case for Global LGBT Inclusion, is published today. These actions by business can be subtly placed diplomatically within the Treasury, and with Business Ministers in all their discussions.
We therefore have an opportunity to bring about a progressive global consensus that can harness the power of business to work with Governments, NGOs and other progressives to deliver real social progress and to help end the culture of persecution and discrimination faced by LGBTI people every single minute of every single day. I thank your Lordships.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, for tabling this important debate on upholding the rights of LGBTI people worldwide, and for the valuable and moving contributions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said, from around the House. I again welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, to the Front Bench. He is used to the limelight—this is a little harsher sometimes, but he still glows in it. I also welcome the establishment of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights. I am looking forward to working with it.
A lot of questions asked: what is the role of the FCO, at home and overseas? I shall try to explain it. There was a feeling from the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, that somehow we have resiled on our commitment to supporting LGBTI rights. That is absolutely not the case; it is core to what we do.
When I looked again at our work after the general election, I started with our manifesto, which makes it clear that we have a commitment to uphold and develop the strength of international human rights. That is what I sought to do. I looked at the way in which we framed our words about human rights, and I was concerned that they provided what looked like a priority list—and when one has a priority list, one can leave people out and have an order that offends. We have done both, quite unintentionally. In having priorities, it was not intended to say that someone at the top was better than someone at the bottom. It was intended to show our focus and how we feel passionate. If I were someone from the LGBTI community and looked at that list of priorities, I would struggle to see my place. I therefore asked our officials if they would reframe the way in which we presented our passion about human rights in a way that ensured everyone was reflected within it. We made sure that we included three things—democratic values, a rules-based international system and human rights for a stable world—so that everyone has a place.
The United Kingdom has been a leader in the United Nations for saying loudly that no goal can be considered met unless and until it is met for all groups in society. That underpins everything that we do. The death penalty, which has been mentioned, is wrong anyway. It is certainly wrong to criminalise interpersonal relationships, but the death penalty is wrong in principle and practice and we campaign worldwide against it.
I was asked about business and human rights, and was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, has just said. My noble friend Lord Black of Brentwood also raised the issue, as did the noble Lord, Lord Scriven. Certainly, that remains core to what the FCO does. Of course, Francis Maude—the noble Lord, Lord Maude—is half a Foreign Office Minister and half a BIS Minister in carrying forward the practical work on that issue. However, I drive it forward at the level of ensuring that it is built into the way in which we approach our work overall. The Government Equalities Office naturally holds the overall lead in government, but all departments have a duty to ensure that all groups in society are part of the consideration of how we should be fair to all. Therefore, the Foreign Office, far from resiling on our support for promoting the fair treatment of all, is trying to press it even further.
We wholeheartedly agree that human rights are universal and have to apply to all people. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raised the issue of the Bill of Rights. She asked whether our policy was going to undermine it. The answer is no. I can say to her that my noble friend Lord Faulks is engaged with his other colleagues in preparing a paper, which will go out to the country for consultation at some time this autumn—I know that definitions of autumn can vary, but I think I know what it means. When I have gone to United Nations meetings, and others around the world, I have always given an undertaking that this country is a compassionate country that believes in human rights. A Bill of Rights will not undermine that. It should reinforce and strengthen, not weaken, human rights.
It is clearly unacceptable that, around the world, people continue to be discriminated against and face violence simply because of who they love. As we have heard today, this happens too often and in too many places. We know that at least 175 million LGBTI people live in countries where they are persecuted and, indeed, prosecuted. The real global scale of the problem is probably much higher than that.
In this regard, I remain deeply concerned that 41 of the 53 members of the Commonwealth still criminalise homosexuality, and I am glad that this matter was raised by so many noble Lords today. We should recall that the Commonwealth charter states:
“We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.
So there is no excuse for members of the Commonwealth to persecute or prosecute those who are LGBTI. The Prime Minister has spoken out on LGBTI rights in the Commonwealth, and I can update the House further on that. Earlier this year, the Foreign Secretary wrote to the Commonwealth Secretary-General and raised the importance of implementing the aims and aspirations of the charter. My noble friend Hugo Swire—I beg your pardon; my right honourable friend, as he is still in the other place—the Minister of State with responsibility for the Commonwealth, has resolutely raised the issue in the past. I suspect that he shall do so again. The UK thinks that the Commonwealth should do more to promote the rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, who deserve the same rights as all other citizens.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, raised the interesting question about whether things will change and perhaps improve with the election of a new Secretary-General. I hope so. We argue that that process should be more transparent and should bring forward, shall we say, more openness than it has in the past. We will look to see how candidates emerge. It has to be the best person for the job, and I think the best person is somebody who will take forward a commitment to human rights in the Commonwealth and not let it stay stagnant, as it appears to be in some countries at the moment.
Our high commissions around the world continue to lobby at the highest level on LGBTI rights where same-sex relations are criminalised. They also fund projects and support local LGBTI civil society groups. The work and the commitment are there.
Furthermore, the abuses of human rights of those in other areas should be recorded. Some have referred to the horrors committed in ISIL-controlled territory, and the UK plays a leading role in a global coalition dedicated to dealing with that. That is why protecting the human rights of LGBTI people is a vital part of the British Government’s work at home and overseas.
Government co-ordination was called into question by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and one or two other noble Lords. I fully agree that co-ordination across FCO, DfID, the Home Office and, as others have rightly mentioned, DCLG is important, and the Government Equalities Office takes the lead on so many matters. We do work in co-ordination. That is why officials are in regular discussion, most recently on how the whole of Government could follow up on the recent visit of the United States LGBT special envoy. I shall refer to that in a moment, because I had the honour of meeting him. I also assure noble Lords that FCO officials are discussing with DfID officials how we can best support DfID’s refreshed approach to LGBTI matters and development overall.
This applies to LGB as well as T. I know that there are differences in the way that some Governments overseas refer to different groups. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, was absolutely right to refer to LGBTI, and I intend to continue to refer to that overall. I know that it offends some members of the LGB community and some transgender, but I think that he is right in his terminology for this debate today—it helps us.
I was asked also by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and there were comments elsewhere, about asylum. It is important to recognise that our policy on asylum is to look at the individual, not at a category. Our policy and guidance are very clear: we do not remove from this country individuals who have demonstrated a real risk of persecution on grounds of sexual orientation. It is clear that, in so many countries now, the activity of their Governments has made it even more obvious that somebody is at real risk of persecution. Other countries should bear in mind when they are passing legislation or encouraging anti-LGBTI activity that that is taken as prima facie evidence by us as to what a person would face if they were removed.
I was also asked more generally what we are doing around the world. Our embassies and high commissions work hard to tackle prejudice against LGBTI people. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, that they do so by challenging discriminatory laws through direct lobbying of Governments and by supporting civil society organisations on the ground. For example, we regularly raise our concerns about any legislation which would lead to persecution of, and discrimination against, LGBTI people. Belize was mentioned, but that has certainly happened not only in Belize but in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Uganda—to name just five instances where we press home our argument against such persecution. With regard to Uganda, we are supporting the police and Uganda Human Rights Commission to improve their response to cases involving vulnerable and marginalised persons, including members of the LGBTI community.
We believe that supporting local actors is the best way for us to achieve a sustained improvement overall. We support, therefore, Ugandan civil society in its work to protect the human rights of LGBTI persons. We continue to support in practical terms training, advocacy and legal cases related to the protection of LGBTI rights, and will continue to raise our concerns about any legislation which could lead to further persecution of, and discrimination against, LGBTI people. In Montenegro, the UK supported a project to improve prosecution of homophobic hate crimes—it is important, on the other side of the coin, not just to prevent persecution but to make sure that measures are in place to tackle those who carry out activities which are homophobic. In Russia, we are supporting LGBTI campaigners, and in the Caribbean we are funding a number of projects, including one that focuses on developing a digital database and online platform where members of the community can then get access to various services throughout the region. We have also funded a human rights workshop for the St Lucia police force.
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, that our public diplomacy forms an integral part of our approach to changing perceptions, securing equal rights for LGBTI persons and demonstrating solidarity with civil society activists. That includes Stonewall, the Kaleidoscope Trust and the Human Dignity Trust.
Staff from our embassies and high commissions regularly attend pride marches. My disappointment when I went to New York for the United Nations back in June was that, when I arrived, I was just too late to join our British ambassador to the UN on his march. I insisted that he then tweeted the photograph of him in a really good, strong T-shirt. It certainly played havoc with the road systems, too, but we got there in the end. We also stage events during Pride Week as well as on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. This year alone, our diplomats have hosted events in Skopje, Riga, Budapest, Zagreb, Kingston, Minsk, Singapore and Brasilia, to name but a few. This week, the British embassy in Belgrade is again supporting the pride parade on 20 September, in which FCO officials will take part. Many of our posts have conducted social media campaigns in a host of other countries, including Turkey, China and Vietnam.
I note what was said about Turkey. That was particularly used to draw attention to the issue of flying the rainbow flag. Perhaps it is appropriate at this moment if I interrupt that narrative to explain that the issue is not that we have anything against the rainbow flag; it is simply a matter that UK diplomatic missions around the world fly the union flag, national flag and the flags of the British Overseas Territories. We do not fly the Commonwealth flag either. We are a member of many organisations and associations such as NATO and we do not fly their flags. We do not fly other organisations’ flags. What we do is to reflect the whole nation.
Having reflected on the way that we represent human rights, let me say that the union flag represents the human rights of all. I recognise that when our ambassadors and high commissioners join in the pride marches, what they do—and I have seen what they do—is to drape the rainbow flag over the floats, including over the UK float. But flying the flag is a national matter for a state, and I am afraid that that is where we are. I do not want to dilute our commitment. That is the fact: quite a simple fact.
My Lords, it is one of those things where someone thought it was an excellent idea at the time without thinking through the consequences of what it does to the other flag being flown. When we fly the flag we look at the country and think, “What is that country doing?”. I am proud of what we are doing. If I want to wear a rainbow outfit on the right day, nothing will stop me doing that either, I can assure the noble Lord.
I shall return to the narrative. Our embassy in Hanoi in 2013 was the first local mission to use its website as a platform for an LGB&T—as it was then—activist blogger. I would also like to draw attention to our consular work, highlighting that some of our posts now offer same-sex marriages, with one such union prompting the Seychelles to reassert its commitment to decriminalise sex between same-sex couples, so things can change. Our embassy in Santo Domingo hosted the first same-sex marriage in the Caribbean on 30 December 2014.
I was asked about the special envoy and I was delighted to meet with Mr Berry last week. We agreed that there is already excellent co-ordination between the UK and the US and discussed what more we could do together. That will be a continuing discussion. I will be listening and learning. He has only just been appointed and we need to see how that develops. We agreed on the need to empower ambassadors to show leadership on LGBTI issues where and when they believe it to be most appropriate.
In the light of this, I have every confidence that we will continue our work overseas and show our strong commitment and vigour in protecting LGBTI rights around the world. That includes the United Nations in New York and the Human Rights Council, where in September last year we saw the passing of a second resolution on sexual orientation, supported this time by more states than ever before. This resolution, tabled by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay provides the international legal framework needed by LGBT activists to help challenge the views of states that undermine their legitimacy.
I assure noble Lords that we will continue to prevent silence on sexual orientation at the UN and elsewhere, not least because silence is an affront to those people who suffer discrimination and violence. It would weaken the UN’s credibility and ability to address a range of other contentious issues. As such I was delighted to see that, for the first time, the UN Security Council last month held an informal meeting on LGBTI rights in the context of ISIL. Again, this shows the UK at the forefront in strongly condemning the atrocities committed by ISIL.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for taking part in this debate, which has been thoughtful, informed and excellent. It has been powerful for a reason that many noble Lords will not know. In the Chamber watching and listening to us are some people I met on Tuesday who are either going through the asylum process or have been granted asylum. Probably for the first time ever they have seen a number of politicians, including someone from the church, who have articulated their human rights and have come together to try to defend their human rights in their country. The debate has been very powerful purely for that reason.
I was deeply moved by some of the interventions, particularly that of my noble friend Lord Paddick in terms of his personal experience and comparing that with what happens internationally. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for his intervention, and agree with what he had to say. This is the foremost human rights issue of our time and it needs to be systematically addressed by government. I thank the noble Lord for all the work he has done over his long career on championing human rights and LGBT rights. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. I know that he has a long history on these issues, having been one of the founders of Stonewall.
I welcome what the Minister said, but I want to raise two issues for further thought; I know that I cannot ask questions at this point. The first one is that three noble Lords asked her which Minister has been given the role in DfID, and I noticed the absence of any response. I know that she cannot answer me now, but perhaps she will write to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, my noble friend Lady Northover and me. The other issue that we may have to come back to on another day is the Minister’s reference to DfID’s refreshed approach. However, she did not say what that refreshed approach is. I am sure that it is a more robust one, but we look forward to hearing what it is. I also want to refer to an issue that was raised in an important point made by my noble friend Lady Barker—smart economics. We have to do more thinking both as a country and as a Government about how we use economic and business muscle to deal with these matters.
We had a mountain to climb in our own country. We have not quite reached the top, but we are getting close. However, many people around the world feel that they are at the bottom of the mountain and that they cannot tackle it and get to the top. The role of our Government and of our policy—not only through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but in DfID, the Home Office and other departments—is sometimes to provide the rope, sometimes to offer encouragement and mentoring, and the whole time to make sure that we are climbing that mountain with people across the world to ensure that their human rights are fundamentally enacted, so that they can love who they wish to love and live in the same way as us, in a free democracy with our freedoms intact.