Skip to main content

Homosexual Reform

Volume 713: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1965

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.35 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to homosexuality.
The Bill I am asking the House for leave to introduce is one that would ensure that the penalty for a homosexual offence against a boy under 16 would have, as now, as the maximum penalty, life imprisonment. It is a Bill that would ensure that an indecent assault upon a boy would attract a penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. It would make a public act of indecency liable, as now, to a penalty of two years' imprisonment.

The Bill would increase the present penalty of two years' imprisonment for an act of gross indecency committed against a youth between 16 and 21 years to one of five years' imprisonment. It would protect military discipline by leaving untouched Section 66 of the Army Act, which provides punishment for disgraceful conduct of an unnatural kind. Further, the Bill, in accordance with the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee, would make premises used for homosexual practices a brothel, attracting the same penalties as fall now upon premises used for heterosexual lewdness.

It cannot possibly be in the minds of any except those who wilfully refuse to know our proceedings that the Bill would in any way mean that this House approves or condones homosexual practices, or will countenance any act of indecency against youngsters or any public display of homosexual conduct. No one suggests that this House approves of fornication, of adultery or lesbianism because we have not made these criminal offences. Nor would such tolerance be extended to homosexual activities by the Bill because, in so many particular circumstances, homosexuality would remain a crime attracting severe penalties.

But the Bill would mean that the stigma and burden of criminality would no longer be attached to acts committed in private between adults. No one knows how many in this country have the sad fate of being homosexuals. The most cautious estimate suggests that there are as many as there are people in the City of Leeds—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why Leeds?"] Because it has a suitable size of population. Perhaps I might assuage the feeling of the House by saying that the estimated total is a quarter of the population of Wales.

For any person who suffers this misfortune, there are, clearly, grievous burdens. Certainly, for most of them, it means that they are permanently denied the blessings of family life, the rearing of children and the gift of a mature love with a woman. As the law treats them as criminals, their alienation is intensified and, increasingly estranged, they retreat into a ghetto cut off from involvement in the community, and, feeling the hostility of society, too often understandably react by succumbing to anti-social attitudes.

Informed by compassion with their lot, it is not surprising that the Church Assembly, the Church of England Moral Welfare Council, the Roman Catholic Advisory Committee set up by the late Cardinal Griffin, the Methodist Conference and the Unitarians, with all the clinical experience that comes to them from their pastoral care, have all called for the Wolfenden Report to be implemented.

I suggest that it is time that the Churches' call was heeded. In Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Denmark and France the law is substantially the same as that recommended by the Wolfenden Committee and none of the dire consequences threatened by the opponents of change have resulted there.

The present law is unjust. Its retention leads to 100 men each year being convicted for private acts. Yet millions of such acts are taking place. By its nature, the law is random in its application. It is bad law, because it is unenforceable. It prescribes penalties that are senseless, for everyone knows that to send a homosexual to an overcrowded, hermetically sealed male prison is as useless as sending a rapist to Holloway Women's Prison.

It is a blackmailer's charter which no sympathetic administrative action can or has prevented. It is an invitation to hoodlums, as too many recent documented cases reveal, to steal from the homes of homosexuals with impunity. It is a law which the Lord Chancellor has rightly said does more harm to the public than good. Yet, in my view, by far the worst feature of the law is that the preoccupation with the punitive proceedings leads the community to avoid searching for the genesis of the homosexual condition and, by so doing, failing to take the preventive action which may save a little boy from the terrible fate of growing up to be a homosexual.

We know perhaps little enough of the actiology of homosexuality and how far it arises from endowment at birth. But what all the most recent research reveals is that the incidence is higher among those who are fatherless children—fatherless through death, through desertion, or, in effect, because of a shadowy, vague father shirking or unable to assume parental responsibility. I see my little son of eight years of age stretching out in search of his grown-up male identity. As is typical of all other boys, I suppose, I find him strutting round in my shoes and sometimes—heaven help him—putting on my hats.

But is it surprising that the boy without a father, lacking a male figure with whom he can identify, sometimes is left with the curse of a male body encasing a feminine soul? When research points to such causes as precipitating the ambiguity in the sexual rôle, who with compassion can demand that one disability in childhood must have added to it the stigma of criminality in adult life?

The view has been put forward by some who are convinced that the time for change has come that as matters stand and in the present state of the law far more is being said about homosexuality than need be. A prominent supporter of the Wolfenden Report, Earl Attlee, has said this vigorously, and it surely must be so. When the bishops declare that the present law is evil, and the Lord Chancellor and the overwhelming majority in another place vote for change, it is now quite inevitable that all those who consider that reform is needed must continue campaigning. The point of no return has come with the decision in the other House.

A criminal code which is opposed by so much informed opinion cannot be indefinitely sustained. Those of us who are possessed of the normality which makes us look with revulsion at homosexual conduct must surely want an end to this continuing public discussion, and we want an end to it as soon as possible. I hope that today the House will help to bring that about by showing no less wisdom and intelligent reforming zeal than that which was shown earlier this week in the House of Lords.

3.44 p.m.

:I am utterly opposed to the Motion and I hope that the House will reject it. It is said that silence gives consent. In this case it would be the consent of guilt and a cowardly silence. It is because I refuse to give consent to such a Bill that I cannot remain silent.

I regard this as a moral issue, and if I may say to my hon. Friends opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—to the whole House—

I will speak for myself. I believe that this proposal would offend the non-conformist conscience of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am stating my case, which I believe is not as dead as some hon. Members opposite hope. I intend to divide the House and to have every Member counted, whether he votes for or against the Motion.

The basic question is this: do we want to encourage sodomy? It is as simple as that.

By our practice, no intervention is allowed in our proceedings under this Standing Order.

This is not the Reichstag yet.

I am convinced that public opinion is completely against this proposal and that the vast majority of our people consider, rightly or wrongly, that sodomy is wrong, unnatural, degrading and disgusting; and I agree with them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Adultery."] We are not dealing with adultery. We are dealing with one thing at a time.

I put it to hon. Members on both sides that those who vote for this proposal ought, in fairness to their constituents, to say clearly in their election address when they next appeal to their constituents that this is what they advocate and agree with. I think that many hon. Members would get a shock as a result of that.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—and I know that he has many authorities behind him—says that the sodomites cannot help themselves, that sodomy is something for which they are not responsible and that they are the victims of heredity. I do not accept that. I do not believe that there is such a thing as the inevitability of wickedness. If that were so, this excuse of inevitability could be used to justify the Oxford students who are drug addicts, and those who are kleptomaniacs and habitual drunken thugs. The inevitability of wickedness could be used to excuse every crime in the calendar, and I do not accept it.

During recent years we have been shocked by cases involving security and affecting the nation. In most cases, like that of Burgess and Maclean, the men who have been traitors and spies to our country have been "homos", ready and ripe for blackmail. To increase this by making homosexuality public, by making it legal—[Interruption.] I wish that hon. Members would at least give me a hearing.

Order. There must be less noise. Hon. Members should remember the great privilege of being here and, therefore, allowed to listen to arguments with which they do not agree.

We listened patiently to the other view of the matter.

I feel that this horrible revolting practice is a great security risk, as experience has shown, and that, therefore, to legalise it would be against the public interest and public security.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Armed Forces would still reject this as disgraceful conduct under Section 66 of the Army Act and that this habit would not be condoned. It has been said by an authority:
"I do not think we ought to allow it to be suggested that these practices could possibly be condoned in the Services."
In what groups would it be condoned—among police officers, doctors or teachers, or among Members of Parliament? Of course not. If it is not condoned in those groups, where should it be condoned?

The hon. Gentleman said that the Wolfenden Report had the support of the bishops and clergy. All that I would say is that over the years Royal Commissions have often made unwise suggestions and that the bishops, over the centuries, have been guilty of being tragically wrong on more than one occasion.

This is an age of lawlessness, violence and crime. What we need is sterner discipline and not more licence. In recent years, sexual offences in this country have risen from 5,018 in 1938 to 20,518 at present. Crimes of violence against the person have risen from 2,721 to 20,083. This is a time when we want more discipline and not less. I am convinced that it would be wrong for the House to accept the Bill.

The gravest harm that the Bill could do to the country would be to send out from this House a message to our friends and allies abroad that somehow the character of the English people was going wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Really."] I am stating what I believe. That would not be true.

Since hon. Members will not listen to the reasons that I wish to give, may I quote what Lord Denning said seven or eight years ago, in the other place? If hon. Members will not listen to me, I beg them at least to listen to what the Master of the Rolls said:
"What is the proper function of the criminal law? What acts should be punished by the State? It is, indeed, upon the answers to those questions that the Committee make it clear that their solution to the problem depends."
Then he dealt with the question that the Liberal Party wanted to raise, and he continued:
"It is said that adultery and fornication are not criminal offences, so why should homosexuality be?"
This was the Master of the Rolls putting the question in the other House.
"The law answers that natural sin is different from unnatural vice. Natural sin is, of course, deplorable, but unnatural vice is worse; because, as the law says, it strikes at the integrity of the human race".
Then he asked the question:
"May I ask the question with which I started: Is this conduct so wrongful and so harmful that, in the opinion of Parliament, it should be publicly condemned and, in proper canes, punished?"
The Master of the Rolls gave his judgment and said:
"I would say that the answer is, Yes; the law should condemn this evil for the evil it is."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 4th December 1957; Vol. 206, cc. 806–811.]
On that, I beg the House to reject the Motion. Let those who are for it to go into the "Aye" Lobby and those who are against it to come with me into the "No" Lobby.

3.53 p.m.

What I want to say, Mr. Speaker, implies no criticism whatever of you as Speaker of the House. In a debate of this kind, it is well known that only one hon. Member can speak in opposition to such a Motion. I sought to catch your eye and I make no complaint that I did not catch it. It is entirely within your discretion to choose whomsoever you wish.

Division No. 138.]

AYES

3.55 p.m.

Abse, LeoDunnett, JackJopling, Michael
Agnew, Commander Sir PeterEdwards, Robert (Bilston)Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Albu. AustenEnglish, MichaelKerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Ennals, DavidKirk, Peter
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Ensor, DavidLee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)
Astor, JohnFletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Atkinson, NormanFletcher, Ted (Darlington)Lipton, Marcus
Bacon, Miss AliceFletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Balniel, LordFloud, BernardLongden, Gilbert
Barnett, JoelFoot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)Loughlin, Charles
Beamish, Col. Sir TuftonFoot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Loveys, Walter H.
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodFraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)Lubbock, Eric
Berkeley, HumphryFreeson, ReginaldMabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Bessell, PeterGilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)MacColl, James
Blaker, PeterGinsburg, DavidMacDermot, Niall
Blenkinsop, ArthurMcKay, Mrs. Margaret
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurGreenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony.Mackie, George V. (C'ness & S'land)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir EdwardGresham Cooke, RMackie, John (Enfield, E.)
Bray, Dr. JeremyGrimond, Rt. Hn. J.McLaren, Martin
Brinton, Sir TattonHamling, William (Woolwich, W.)McNair-Wilson, Patrick
Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)Hart, Mrs. JudithMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Hattersley, RoyMayhew, Christopher
Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.)Healey, Rt. Hn. DenisMellish, Robert
Carlisle, MarkHeffer, Eric S.Meyer, Sir Anthony
Carmichael, NeilHiggins, Terence L.Mikardo, Ian
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraHobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town.)Miller, Dr. M. S.
Chataway, ChristopherHolman, PercyMitchell, David
Conlan, BernardHoughton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMolloy, William
Crosland, AnthonyHowell, Denis (Small Heath)Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Murray, Albert
Cullen, Mrs. AliceHunt, John (Bromley)Newens, Stan
Dalyell, TamIrving, Sydney (Dartford)Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Davies, Harold (Leek)Jackson, ColinOgden, Eric
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryJay, Rt. Hn. DouglasOram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)
Delargy, HughJeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)Orme, Stanley
Dell, EdmundJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Doig, PeterJenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Palmer, Arthur
Driberg, TomJohnston, Russell (Inverness)Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S.E.)
Duffy, Dr. A. E. P.Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)Parkin, B. T.

May I, however, have a ruling for the sake of future guidance? May we have your assurance that you do not presume to choose the opposition speaker on the basis of the timing of letters which you receive in advance that certain hon. Members wish to oppose the introduction of a Bill?

The Standing Order provides that I may allow a short statement from an hon. Member who opposes any such Motion. What hon. Member I choose, I take it, is entirely a matter for the Chair. The reasons for the selection are never given. I do not think that it would be to the advantage of the House if they were. In the circumstances, without discourtesy, I decline to state any principle except the discretion of the Chair.

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

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 178.

Pavitt, LaurenceShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.)Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Powell, Rt. Hn. J. EnochSilkin, John (Deptford)Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Prentice, R. E.Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)Thornton, Ernest
Prior, J. M. L.Silverman, Julius (Aston)Thorpe, Jeremy
Probert, ArthurSkeffington, ArthurTilney, John (Wavertree)
Redhead, EdwardSlater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Rees, MerlynSnow, JulianWalters, Dennis
Reynolds, G. W.Speir, Sir RupertWigg, Rt. Hn. George
Richard, IvorSteel, David (Roxburgh)Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Ridley, Hn. NicholasWilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Robinson, Rt. Hn.K.(St. Pancras, N.)Stones, WilliamWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Rodgers, William (Stockton)Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)Studholme, Sir Henry
Rose, Paul B.Summerskill, Hn. Dr. ShirleyTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Rowland, ChristopherSwingler, StephenDr. David Kerr and
Shore, Peter (Stepney)Taverne, DickMr. Norman St. John-Stevas.

NOES

Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Harper, JosephO'Malley, Brian
Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)Onslow, Cranley
Baker, W. H. K.Harris, Reader (Heston)Orr-Ewing, Sir lan
Barlow, Sir JohnHarrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Oswald, Thomas
Baxter, WilliamHarvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.Harvle Anderson, MissPeart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Bence, CyrilHeald, Rt. Hn. Sir LionelPentland, Norman
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Heath, Rt. Hn. EdwardPercival, Ian
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)Henderson, Rt. Hn. ArthurPickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth
Berry, Hn. AnthonyHendry, ForbesPitt, Dame Edith
Binns, JohnHiley, JosephPrice, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Black, Sir CyrilHill, J. (Midlothian)Pym, Francis
Bossom, Hn. CliveHopkins, AlanRandall, Harry
Box, DonaldHordern, PeterRedmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.Hoy, JamesRidsdale, Julian
Brewis, JohnHunter, Adam (Dunfermline)Robertson, John (Palsley)
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.SirWalterHutchison, Michael ClarkRobson Brown, Sir William
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Hynd, H. (Accrington)Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Buchanan, RichardHynd, John (Attercliffe)Russell, Sir Ronald
Bullus, Sir EricIremonger, T. L.Scott-Hopkins, James
Chichester-Clark, R.Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)Jennings, J. C.Short,Rt.Hn.E.(N'c'tle-on-Tyne,C.)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth,W.)Johnson, James(K'ston-on-Hull,W.)Sinclair, Sir George
Cooke, RobertKaberry, Sir DonaldSlater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Cooper, A. E.Kelley, RichardSmall, William
Cooper-Key, Sir NeillKenyon, CliffordSmith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Cordle, JohnKerby, Capt. HenrySmyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John
Costain, A. P.Kershaw, AnthonyStainton, Keith
Courtney, Cdr. AnthonyKimball, MarcusStanley, Hn. Richard
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Kitson, TimothyStodart, Anthony
Curran, CharlesLagden, GodfreySummers, Sir Spencer
Dalkeith, Earl ofLawson, GeorgeTaylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)
Dance, JamesLeadbitter, TedTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Darling, GeorgeLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryTemple, John M.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, H.)Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon,S.)
Dempsey, JamesLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Tinn, James
Digby, Simon WingfieldLucas, Sir JocelynTurton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Dodds-Parker, DouglasMcAdden, Sir StephenTweedsmuir, Lady
Doughty, CharlesMacArthur, IanUrwin, T. W.
Drayton, G. B.McBride, NeilWalder, David (High Peak)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)McMaster, StanleyWard, Dame Irene
Errington, Sir ErieMacMillan, MalcolmWeatherill, Bernard
Eyre, ReginaldMaginnis, John E.Webster, David
Farr, JohnMahon, Simon (Bootle)Wilkins, W. A.
Foster, Sir JohnManuel, ArchieWilliams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)Mapp, CharlesWillis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Galpern, Sir MyerMarten, NeilWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Gammans, LadyMathew, RobertWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Glover, Sir DouglasMills, Peter (Torrington)Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)Woof, Robert
Goodhew, VictorMilne, Edward (Blyth)Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Gourlay, HarryMonro, HectorYounger, Hn. George
Gower, RaymondMorris, John (Aberavon)
Grant-Ferris, R.Murton, OscarTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)Neal, HaroldSir Charles Taylor and
Gurden, HaroldNicholson, Sir GodfreySir Cyril Osborne.
Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael