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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is, as usual, engaging, but he really cannot pluck words out of one's speech, join them all together and make something totally different out of them.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am bound to say that the way I joined them all together was a good deal more coherent. Indeed, as he stood there, the noble Earl was casting his mind back to his past experience--he and I are both approaching the prime of life--which I assumed must have something to do with the place where he was educated. I must say, had I a son and had

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I sent him to Winchester, I should have been inclined to look for some of the money back! I shall give way if the noble Earl wishes me to do so.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I should ask the noble Lord to give way only if I thought it was worth his giving way, but he has made such a fatuous argument that I shall not do so.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Earl normally does better than that.

This has been a good-humoured, good-natured debate. That is in a sense a tribute, because so many people in this House hold passionate views and have rightly expressed them with the conscientious concern that these issues require.

On a point of clarification, I hope I made it plain that I could see no moral difference between a man of, let us say, 50 using power, status, influence and prestige to seduce a girl of sixteen-and-a-half, as opposed to a similar man using the same tools, weapons and devices to seduce a boy of 16-plus. I remain adamant in that view.

The facts are these. If this measure is overthrown, it will be no defeat to us. It will be a victory of sorts. What sort? On what basis? And for how long? I simply repeat what the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said in another place on 28 July:


    "The new legislation [the present Bill] will be introduced first into this House [the Commons], to ensure that it has the benefit of the Parliament Act should that prove necessary".--[Official Report, Commons, 28/7/99; col.183.]

A number of your Lordships asked what the position would be, and I have repeated unambiguously what the Home Secretary said. A question was put as to whether I, junior to him, endorsed what he said about homosexual marriages, reduction of the age of consent and related matters. Of course I reiterate it. In fact, I was trying to say a good deal of it when I began earlier this afternoon. There are no proposals to reduce the age of consent from 16. The reason that I gave the example of Spain was to repudiate it. I would not be a party to any attempt to reduce the age to 12 because I think it is wrong as a matter of principle.

What I think is right as a matter of principle is that we should define where we are. My noble friends Lord Alli and Lord Stallard, for whom I have great regard, offered different views. The speech of my noble friend Lord Alli was notable because it was courageous, it was clear and, I believe, overwhelmingly persuasive and convincing. He described a view, honourably held. My noble friend Lord Stallard said that he and my noble friend Lord Alli lived in different worlds. They do not, and that is the point of principle that we need to address. It is the same world that we inhabit; it is the same legal system which we have erected over the generations; and it is the same legal system which, if imperfect, needs reform.

Perhaps I may offer a point of principle. Except on the most compelling basis, the state has no place and no proper business in the bedroom. It is idle, I believe, to

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try to say that young men of 16 are all different in their development and maturity from all young girls of 16. That is not my experience. I defy anyone to suggest that that is a position which can sensibly be held.

The fact is that we have failed those young people between the ages of 16 and 18 in not having a proper law to protect them. It is worth remembering that the girl who can give consent to sexual intercourse at the age of 16 has no present protection under our law. The consequence of the noble Baroness's amendment is to take away immediately the certain prospect that that protection would be given to young women between 16 and 18 and young men between 16 and 18. Your Lordships' choice is, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, put it, "Vote Young" or "Vote Williams", and I am sure that there is no difficulty in coming to the appropriately correct conclusion. That is the inevitable consequence of trying to destroy the Bill at this stage in these extremely unusual circumstances.

A number of questions were put about the Government's view with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights. Our advice is that we are most unlikely to succeed in the court. Since it is legal advice, it is not necessarily perfect, but I believe it to be correct advice. A question was asked about margin of appreciation. That did not succeed as a developed theme before the commission and it is unlikely to succeed before the court. In any event, when the Human Rights Act is fully implemented in this country, margin of appreciation as a concept will have little, if any, place.

I shall spend a moment or two on those organisations which support the thrust of the Bill. They are not polemicists; they are not paid advocates of any group dependent on ignoble motive. I take almost at random the NSPCC, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing. At least they are serious organisations with a considered, deep past and continuing interest in the welfare of those to whom we have been addressing ourselves this evening.

This is nothing to do with age but it may have to do with knowing. There is sometimes a deep cruelty about not knowing, and an even worse cruelty about not wanting to know. I always listen to all the speeches in this House because everyone has something of value to offer. But even when one listens to those for whom one has feelings of friendship, attachment and loyalty sometimes one wonders on what basis their views, pronouncements and sometimes prejudices are expressed. I listen and wonder as do many noble Lords because I have heard them say so this evening and on other occasions. Our children do not just listen and marvel; they hear and start to despair and condemn, and they are right.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rightly said that this was a child protection issue. It is. The second part of the Bill is wholly directed to the protection of those who have no present protection. If there is a shaking of heads in disagreement perhaps I may briefly describe the legal position. There is no criminal sanction against a teacher who has sexual intercourse

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with a girl of 16 plus. There are disciplinary sanctions that I believe are inadequate. That was why we listened carefully. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was gracious enough to say that we had had conversations. It was from her urgings in substantial part that we decided that the proposed original penalty was too low.

A number of questions were put as to the Government's response to amendments. It is the usual response that I have always made; namely, if there are amendments which genuinely improve the Bill consonant with the philosophical approach of the measure, of course I shall listen to them. But if they are designed to do nothing more than water down the Bill or alter the conclusions to which we have come we shall resist them.

The semaphore principle in approaching legislation is not always the best guide. What signal, for or against, will it give to the large number of persons mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and others, many of whom have parents who love them and have brothers and sisters who may be different but still care for them? Perhaps they approach the matter as many of us do. It is a matter of perfect indifference to me whether my friends are heterosexual, homosexual or entirely celibate. What matters to me is whether they are my friends. Some are boring and some amusing, but they are not boring or amusing because of their sexual orientation. Our true approach should be that some people's private business is exactly that. It is not my business or anyone else's.

I assert that this is a profound question of justice. We cannot dole out justice, equality or fairness in penny packets. To try to do so will pollute our system of justice and undermine the principles on which we hope to base that system. We, in this Bill, want to do the right thing. I have no doubt myself what is the right thing. I repeat that this is a free vote, and I offer my own opinion to anyone who wants to listen or not, as the case may be. I invite the House to give the Bill a Second Reading and to reject the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and in that way to do the right thing, not least because if the Bill is killed now quite a number of people will believe, with significant justification, that they are excluded, discriminated against and badly treated simply because of what they are, and that is wrong.

11.44 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, at this late hour I wish to start by thanking all those who have supported me in this long debate today. I agree very much that we have heard some wise and brave speeches from all parts of the House--speeches with which I agree and those with which I do not agree. I regret that I missed some speeches and I apologise to those whom I did not hear, but of course I shall read in Hansard tomorrow what they said.

It is too late tonight to comment on all the individual points that have been raised. However, I think that the House will understand that I should

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particularly like to thank my noble friend Lord Ferrers for his contribution. He always speaks from the heart and says what a lot of people really think; and he says it in a kind, sound and sensible way.

I thank also the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich whose help and advice to me over these past weeks has been valuable. I listened with great interest and appreciation to what he said this evening.

I wish to make three points in conclusion. First, I should like to answer a question posed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Of course, I entirely accept without any rancour whatever all the points he made about myself. He and I have often crossed swords on different issues. I greatly respect his sincerity and I think that he respects my sincerity too. He asked an important question, which the Minister also asked: what is the point of moving the Motion on the Order Paper? I shall try once again to explain my reasons.

Over many years I have taken a great interest in family policy, widely defined. I have argued on a number of Bills to try to support and uphold those principles which I also hold as a Christian but which I believe to be profoundly important for society. Sometimes I have been fortunate and I have carried your Lordships with me. At other times I have not been so fortunate and I have lost the argument and the debate. But I have been always consistent in what I have done. Noble Lords may not agree with my view, but I think that no one can say that I have been in any way inconsistent. I say this evening, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, that this Bill is not amendable because I do not agree with Clause 1. I do not regard using your Lordships' House for all kinds of technical and tactical reasons as the right way to deal with a very serious issue. It is not a game; it is a very serious matter. It is only right to say to the House straight out what I believe to be right and true; and if I think that the Bill is unamendable, it is more honest to take this course than to take another course.

I accept what the Minister said: that the Government will invoke the Parliament Act. Of course, that is their right. In your Lordships' House we can do only what we are constitutionally allowed to do. Our powers are limited. I accept all that. But because they are limited, it does not mean that they should not be used. I think that noble Lords are perfectly entitled to say what they think on this important matter of social policy. That is the answer to that question.

Secondly, I am sorry to have to say that we have heard endless repetition of matters which are not true. I will not rehearse again the question of the poll and the assertion that people cannot obtain medical advice. That is quite untrue; they can. I have in my brief here--I will not take up the time of the House--leaflets and pamphlets from local authorities showing and informing gay young men where they can receive help and advice. It does not help the debate constantly to repeat things which are not true.

Many of the arguments which we heard tonight about criminalising young people--there are real

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arguments about that--would apply to any age of consent, no matter what it was. They could be easily used were the age of consent to be lowered to less than 16. As regards human rights, I do not believe that there is any human right to commit buggery.

The last point I turn to relates to all the organisations which have come out in support of lowering the age of consent. I accept that it is very difficult to stand up in the face of all those people and say that you think they are wrong. I wish to take up a point made by my noble friend Lady Blatch. She wondered whether, when they took the view, it was put to the council members of every one of the organisations. Was it ever put to the thousands of volunteers from one end of the country to the other who work to support them, who raise the money for them and who enable them to do the work which they do? It would be interesting to hear their answer. The evidence I have heard so far is that that is not the case. As we heard from my noble friend Lady Blatch, the NSPCC had no idea that its name would appear in the advertisement in The Times. It is a casual way, to say the least, to conduct its business.

Leaving all that aside, the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, and others made the point--and perhaps I should apologise for my age now--that we are in a very different world. How right he is; we are in a very different world. One of the reasons why I am so concerned is that we are in a world in which we have never been before; in which we are actually witnessing the break-up of society. Now, 40 per cent. of marriages end in divorce; in some places, nearly 50 per cent. of live births are outside of marriage. We hear constant reference, which is true, to teenage pregnancies; and we have all the other evidence of an army of unhappy children whose parents have divorced and who are bewildered.

I believe that that is a tragedy. One of the reasons why I have spoken out on so many similar issues is that although we may not be able to do much about it, it seems to me that if we are in public life and we believe in principles we should stand up for them. I believe that the Bill is another small nail in the coffin of the upholding of family life and traditional beliefs. Your Lordships may call me a Victorian and somebody from the 19th century. I can assure the House that I have had plenty of unpleasant letters and have been called plenty of unpleasant things during the past month. I try to bear all these things with Christian fortitude, which is sometimes a difficult task. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, back in his place and I am reminded that these intellectuals put up these clever arguments. Was he--I can never quite recall--the Provost of King's or the Provost of Queen's?

Consistently over a number of Bills, I have worked very hard for those things which I believe to be right and to be true. The reason why I have stood up today to express the view that I have is that I believe that we will be helping young people in a very difficult

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world. We will unquestionably be supporting responsible parents who want all the help that the law can give and the support of people in public life. And I am quite sure that if it votes with me today the House of Lords will be reflecting much more clearly what the public at large want than another place did when it voted on the Second Reading.

I commend the amendment to the House.


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