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Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill [H.L.]

8.25 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 2 [Interpretation]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 2, line 18, at end insert ("male").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall, for the convenience of the House, speak also to Amendment No. 2 which is consequential. So far as concerns the English language, Acts of Parliament ought to set the highest possible standards. Those responsible for drafting statutes should resist siren voices urging them to lower standards whether for populist or any other reasons. The word "homosexuality" derives from a Greek word meaning same and not from the Latin word meaning man. For anyone who doubts that fact, perhaps they should consider the Italian translation, which is omosessualita, not uomosessualita, as would be the case if the word had anything to do with man or with "male".

To say without a prefix simply, homosexual or lesbian is, therefore, a tautology and the equivalent of saying "human beings or women" which, as I said last time, is considerably insulting to women. As a matter of fact, to incorporate the word "lesbian" itself in an Act of Parliament is cutting it a little fine as the word also means an inhabitant of the isle of Lesbos--whether they be homosexual or heterosexual. Indeed, in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary in the Library of the House which was published in 1973 that is the first definition given. However, I am prepared to give the noble Baroness and her friends the benefit of the doubt in that respect.

In Committee the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who I am sorry is not present in the Chamber this evening--I somehow assumed that he certainly would be--maintained that Acts of Parliament dealing with sexual matters should be framed in the language understood by the under 25s--presumably the sort of under 25s who wear baseball caps back to front. If that were taken to its logical conclusion, the possessive "its" in all such Bills would be spelt with an apostrophe, all punctuation marks other than commas would be eliminated, "fortuitous" would be used when "fortunate" was meant, "infer" would be employed when "imply" was intended, and so on. However, in reality, the young people about whom the noble Earl was concerned rarely, if ever, consult Acts of Parliament. They get their information

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elsewhere. Acts of Parliament are meant essentially for lawyers and, therefore, they need to be written in totally unambiguous English.

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, whom we shall all miss, was a stickler for correct drafting and the proper use of English. As a tribute to Lord Airedale, perhaps the sponsors of the Bill might consider accepting the amendment: otherwise I shall have to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I am a little confused about the reasons given by the noble Lord for his amendment. When listening to the noble Lord on Second Reading, I thought that he was against the inclusion of the word "lesbian". I believed that he was against the inclusion of that word because he took the view that the word "homosexual" includes, as it were, the word "lesbian" regarding single-sex relations of both men and women. However, that is not what his amendment says. Indeed, the word "lesbian" is to be kept in.

The reason given by the noble Lord for what he seeks to do is that the word "homosexual" is rooted in the Greek. That, of course, follows the view that if you want to know what a word means then you go back to the first people who used it. A word has roots that never change. Yet if one opens any good edition of the works of Shakespeare at any page one finds that at least 10 of the words on that page need to be described in the footnotes because they no longer mean what they meant when Shakespeare used them. Words do not have roots; words have uses, and uses change.

One can consult a dictionary. A dictionary freezes the use of a word at the time when the dictionary was published, or at the time when the word was researched when it was entered in the dictionary. The noble Lord is right in a sense about the word "homosexual". The Oxford English Dictionary expresses well the word's tell-tale ambiguity. The dictionary states that "homosexual" means:


    "A sexual propensity for one's own sex".
It does not specify which sex, or both, or either. It states:


    "A sexual propensity for one's own sex".
When the word was used in 1897 there was a great deal of ambiguity about what "homosexual" meant as a word. I am sure that many Members of the House know that when it was first decided that homosexuality should be made a criminal offence the government wanted to make it clear that that applied to both sexes. However, the Queen said she could not imagine that it applied to women; therefore it does not apply to women in the sense that, in the law, it is not a criminal offence as regards women. Therefore "homosexual" is an ambiguous word which can mean different things.

I believe those women who wanted to campaign for sexual orientation to be made more accepted--and for it not to be discriminated against--felt that they wanted to make it quite clear that they were talking about themselves. Therefore they introduced the word "lesbian". If the noble Lord was really consistent he would either remove "lesbian" or he would include "gay". I am sure that many people outside this House

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will refer to this Bill as a Bill to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians. Those are the phrases in the vernacular. "Homosexual" is a word in the dictionary; it is ambiguous in the dictionary. I do not know why the noble Lord has tabled the amendment and how it is supposed to clarify anything. I think I understand why the noble Lord has not included the word "gay" because of course that makes my point again that one cannot refer back to ancient usage. One cannot refer back to old dictionary definitions because the dictionary states--I cannot find a dictionary that states anything better than this--that "gay" means,


    "full of or disposed to joy".
I suggest that that is not what it means in the vernacular. In the Bill we must have words which reflect the vernacular. I think that the words in this Bill reflect that rather well.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, the noble Lord tabled similar amendments at the Committee stage of the Bill. I said then that I was not happy about them. I make no secret of the fact that I should like my Bill to pass unamended this evening. I have sympathy with the desire of the noble Lord to ensure respect for the English language. As I said, he made similar points at an earlier stage in the Bill. However, I also believe--as does my noble friend Lord McCarthy--that legislation should be worded in such a way as to be comprehensible, particularly to those who are likely to be affected by it. I know that that is sometimes difficult because the language also has to be capable of interpretation in court, but language itself--as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said--is not set in tablets of stone. It is constantly changing and evolving. Words now appear in the English dictionary that were not there at all some 20 or 30 years ago or, if they were, they now bear a different meaning.

The wording used in the Bill is comprehensible to the people who are most likely to be affected by it and who look to it to provide them with some sort of legal protection against what they feel is unjustified discrimination. The Bill has been drafted for me by lawyers working for the Stonewall Group of which I am a member. It is a parliamentary group dedicated to the removal of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. We have set out in the Bill precisely what we mean by that term. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will not press his amendment this evening. I take it that the mere fact he has tabled amendments to my Bill means that he has no quarrel with the main thrust of it; otherwise it would not be worth tabling amendments at all. I assure him, however, that those most likely to be affected by this Bill prefer the wording unamended. I hope that that will cause him not to press the amendments this evening.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I thank both speakers who have contributed so far to the debate. I must say I am surprised that the Government have not said what their views are because, after all, they are probably the ultimate guardians of the English language, as they are in charge of a Bill when it is finally on its way to the statute book.

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I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, was not present at the Committee stage. He was obviously busy. However, I am more sorry that he has not taken the trouble to read the Committee stage proceedings because, if he had, he would understand why I am moving the amendment. He is absolutely right. At Second Reading I said that I preferred the elimination of the word "lesbian". However, being a fair minded and reasonable person I always try to compromise and I thought that I would try to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, half way and include "lesbian", although I do not entirely like it. However, it is certainly not as ambiguous as leaving the wording in the Bill as it stands.

I hope, and suppose, that the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, was joking when he suggested including the word "gay" in the Bill. I suppose that is the path down which we are descending. I have to say to him that millions of people throughout the English speaking world resent very much the perversion of that word. I could not care less what consenting adults do in the privacy of their houses provided that--as our Edwardian forebears used to say--they do not do it in the street and frighten the horses. But I object to them messing about with the English language and putting pressure to bear upon well-meaning sponsors of the Bill--I accept that the noble Baroness is extremely well meaning--to go along with over-rigid and dogmatic views. Although it probably will not do any good I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Clause 6 [Equal Pay Act 1970]:


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