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Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that welcome clarification. However, I am somewhat bewildered by her insistence that the Waterhouse report is a key document in this debate. First, paedophilia and homosexuality are two completely different things. In a previous debate on the subject, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, said that what most paedophiles are looking for are pretty boys of seven or eight, not pimply youths of 17. I understand that there is one case in the report involving someone of an age to be within the provisions of the Bill, but it is my understanding,
Baroness Young: My Lords, I am reluctant to interrupt the noble Earl once again. The Waterhouse report is of great relevance. It is far too large a report to go into great detail now, but one of the points made is that young boys are manipulated by older people and that is one of the reasons that they get into difficulties. I shall not elaborate now. But the report has real relevance to the Bill we are debating.
Earl Russell: My Lords, that is a point to which I shall return, if I may, in its proper place later. It is an argument we have been having since 1994, and I am sure that we shall debate it for a good deal longer.
I am afraid I have one more question to put to the noble Baroness. It is about the European Court of Human Rights. The noble Baroness must accept that there is at least a theoretical possibility that in the Sutherland case there will be a finding against the United Kingdom. I want to ask the noble Baroness--and in due course as the debates continue, the Conservative Front Bench will also have to answer the question--if there is such a finding against the United Kingdom would it be the view of the Conservative Party that this country should accept its international legal obligation entered into by a Conservative government and fortified now by all the panoply of a sovereign Act of Parliament? Before they answer, I hope that they will reflect that the European Court of Human Rights is not in any way an emanation of the European Union. It represents a much wider collection of countries.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am very happy to come to the Dispatch Box to answer that question directly. First, when in power, my government had a record of complying always with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and we would do so in future. Secondly, a decision has not yet been reached. Thirdly, we would still want to strengthen the abuse of trust clauses in the Bill, which are wholly unacceptable.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for a helpful answer. On the other hand, I was not so well satisfied by her allegations about the Government being obsessed with sex. It seems to me that what we are dealing with is not the Government's obsession with sex but the obsession of certain people on the Conservative Benches and in some other places with prohibition. These are matters that many of us would far rather treat as private. But when there is an insistence on what many of us see as an indefensible and unenforceable prohibition, that prohibition brings the matters within the public domain. So long as that prohibition is defended, it will not be possible to treat these matters as private.
Furthermore, I am not aware that there is anyone in my circle of friends or close acquaintances who does not support the Bill. One of the reasons why I believe that we are dealing with a profound division within the country is that each of us talk only to each other.
I shall not express the certainty voiced by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that public opinion is on my side. The opinion polls seem to me to be all over the place. When that is the case, I am tempted to draw the conclusion that many members of the public have not yet made up their minds. They are therefore unduly easily led either by the wording of the question or even by the tone of the interviewer. It is certainly clear, as was said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Lockwood, that there is a clear difference of age.
When I listen to my pupils discussing the subject, I hear the same voice that I heard and applauded from the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. I can believe that it is true of one exception, who happened to be an extremely able young man and happened to get a first. However, in numerical terms, he does not constitute a majority. I find it almost impossible to convince most of my students that there are any people, or were even in past centuries, who take the kind of attitudes which we have heard expressed today. They just do not know that people think like that.
There is opinion poll evidence. The Brook Advisory Centre commissioned from NOP, a perfectly reputable organisation, an opinion poll which found that 73 per cent of people in the 15 to 24 age group believed that the age of consent should be equal. When asked what that equal age of consent should be 70 per cent said that it should be 16 and only 4 per cent said that it should be lower than 16. No one mentioned any higher age.
If in Committee we should be offered an amendment to bring the age of consent to equality at 18, in my opinion that would be totally and utterly unenforceable. If an attempt were made to enforce it by draconian measures, we could end up imprisoning 25 per cent of the age group. If no attempt were made to enforce it in that way, it would introduce total contempt for the law.
I did not believe the Sun when it announced the death of the Conservative Party. At worst, it will not fall further than we did in 1945. But were the Conservative Party to adopt such a course, I should believe that it had voted its own extinction. The
We start from the fact that there is a profound division of opinion, and that is a division of moral principle. We have moral principles, too. They are not the same as everyone else's--they are not the same as those we have been hearing from that quarter of the House--but they are none the less moral and they are none the less principles.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I do not happen to be a Christian. I have no objection whatever to Christians within their own churches believing whatever they see fit to believe. What I do not concede is that they have any right to enforce their own private moral principles on the rest of us. We are a divided society. The law must recognise that fact and it is the duty of the law to keep the peace between people whose moral principles differ from each other.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked: why now? First, it is because those of us who believe that the existing law is morally wrong are a growing number. Secondly, it is because we have reached the point where homosexuals are no longer prepared to accept inequality. That is a stage which many groups have reached. The working class has reached it; women have reached it; racial minorities have reached it; and people with disabilities are beginning to reach it. If homosexuals reach it now and they speak their minds, they are saying something to which, as a good Whig, I have centuries of training encouraging me to respond.
I am concerned not only about morals; I am also concerned--and just as much as the noble Baroness, Lady Young--about the protection of children. I am concerned about the protection of children from useless and unnecessary fear. If the law does nothing else, it generates such fear in those who are subject to it. I also believe that as soon as one labels any group of people "unequal" one encourages them to be bullied. I speak with feeling; I have been in that situation. I was labelled "unequal" when I was at school in the United
Therefore, I do not believe that labelling people "unequal" and then saying that they should not be bullied is any good. The worst thing you can do for a child is to produce it out of a marriage entered into by one or two people of uncertain orientation and without vocation. That is the most immoral thing of all that you can do to a child.
People who have opposed the Bill are constantly afraid that teenagers may be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, put it, "corrupted". I find the word offensive because I do not believe that being homosexual is corrupt. My own morality says:
I took the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in one of the best speeches of the day, that we can still argue about "nature" or "nurture". However, whichever it is, in the words of the BMA,
I make one more point, and that is in relation to the reputation of this House. I love this House. It has a right to throw out the Bill if it wants. I hope that it will not exercise that right. This House is often right, but not always. It has often had the sense to back away on the really big confrontations. In 1832, for example, it backed away because Sir Robert Peel, with great wisdom, had recognised in private three years before the event and in public two years after it that reform could no longer be resisted. With great reluctance this House did the same in 1911.
It was a different matter in 1893 when we threw out the Irish Home Rule Bill, to which my noble friend has referred, by 419 votes to 41. If noble Lords look at the picture in the Bishops' Corridor, they will see a House that believed that it had done something rather clever. It had not. The trouble was that for centuries Englishmen who dealt with the Irish had been totally unwilling to concede their moral claims to equality. The Irish were treated as second-class citizens--a lower form of life to whom rights of equality did not
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