Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th July 2000.

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Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 24th July 2000

My Lords, if the noble Baroness had waited just a moment, she would have heard my point, which is not a discriminatory one. When a cause is more popular among the young than the old, the proportion of opinions necessarily shifts over the decades, even if nobody changes their mind. According to the 1998 British social attitudes survey, almost two-thirds of people aged 65 and over thought that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were always wrong. That is compared with less than one-fifth of the people aged 18 to 24.

I claim no superiority for any age group over any other. But, in putting forward any law, one should consider its impact on the group that it is most likely to affect. In that group, the noble Baroness's horse is already stolen. The lock on the stable door is too late.

Before sitting down, I ask her to consider just a little whether there is any limit at all on the powers of a majority in a democracy. I do not necessarily claim that I speak for the majority. But that figure in relation to the over-65s may indicate why she believes as she does. I am not so sure.

I take two cases with which I hope the noble Baroness will agree. First, if the majority wants to stop somebody who believes it is right to write graffiti on other people's houses, that the majority is eminently entitled to do. But let us suppose that we had a majority--and in a couple of decades, we easily might--of people who disbelieve in and dislike religion. It would not be right for them to use the school system to teach people that religion is wrong, even if they had the majority behind them. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree with that proposition. If she does, she admits that there is a sliding scale from things the majority may do to things it must not do, with things it perhaps should not do in between.

The purpose of government by the majority is to secure consent. As soon as you set out to label a group of people inferior, you destroy the reasons why they should consent. That is unwise.