Sexual Offences Act 1967 - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 18th July 2017.

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Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Conservative 2:37 pm, 18th July 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are planning to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, we have a whole programme of events during July to celebrate both Pride and the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. Ministers will be holding events with stakeholders throughout the month and departments will be flying the rainbow flag above their offices. We will also be releasing videos to celebrate the progress we have made over the past 50 years and demonstrate our support for Pride.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Conservative

I thank my noble friend for her Answer, which underlines the importance of this anniversary. Does she agree that although an immense amount has been achieved over the period of 50 years since 1967, there is more still to do, most notably, perhaps, the extension of same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, where, as opinion polls consistently show, widespread support exists for it? Perhaps it would be appropriate today also to salute the memory of the late Lord Arran, who campaigned so tenaciously from the Liberal Benches for his reform legislation, which completed its passage through this House on 21 July 1967. He had a second Bill on the protection of badgers, which did not pass. Asked why his first Bill succeeded and the second failed, he replied cheerily, and a little irreverently, “Well, you see there aren’t many badgers in the House of Lords”.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, there are not many badgers in the House of Lords but one might see the odd mouse. My noble friend makes a very valid point. Northern Ireland might peer south to southern Ireland, which has just elected its first gay Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, the son of an Indian Immigrant. That is progress indeed. I join my noble friend in paying tribute to the late Lord Arran. Civil partnerships have been legal in Northern Ireland since 2004, but we encourage it to introduce equal marriage. There are currently two challenges to bans on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, it is a devolved matter but we continue to encourage it.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour

My Lords, I join with the words of my noble ally Lord Lexden. In continuing the process of righting wrongs, will the Government exercise the power contained in Section 166 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 and, in so doing, add to the list of homosexual-related offences for which a living person can obtain disregards and pardons, most notably the grounds of solicitation by men and importuning and public order offences? That indeed would be a cause for great celebration.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, for the work that he did with me through the passage of that legislation. It was a very proud day indeed when the House of Lords made those things possible, although the other place may have received the accolades. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we need to look at other offences. However, it is also important that our consideration of them is robust as we do not want to create unintended consequences: that is, disregards for offences which would still be offences. There was a slight interruption with the general election although officials had started to engage with Stonewall. They have consulted the document that Professor Johnson kindly provided and they are again arranging meetings with Stonewall. I hope to update the noble Lord and the House in due course.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector)

My Lords, a “bona” question, if I may be so bold. Over the last 50 years, those who sought equality for LGBT and trans citizens—they are still waiting—often had to take their cases to the European courts, and those cases were fought vociferously by both Labour and Conservative Governments. Will the Minister say whether the rights and principles of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights will be incorporated into a British Bill of Rights, or will future campaigners for equality have to work without that level of international protection?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, what that looks like will be the subject of our consideration in exiting the EU. However, the UK is recognised as the global leader on LGBT rights, and we are very proud of that. We will continue to build on that which we have built up—the noble Baroness can have no doubts about that.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, the progress we have made in this country is a welcome result of the 1967 Act. But a sad legacy of the criminalisation of homosexuality is of course that it is still illegal in many Commonwealth countries. Will the Minister assure the House that when we come to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, not only will the FCO and DfID work together to include everyone by supporting movements for decriminalisation, but this will be a cross-Westminster effort to ensure that we push this well up the agenda?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord is right to raise that point. First, I commend the Church for the work it is doing—I know that the most reverend Primate and other prelates are already doing work on this and will continue to do it. However, as the noble Lord will know, the former Prime Minister raised this matter at the Malta CHOGM in 2015, and we are already well on with thinking about how, when we host that in 2018, we can build on the progress made in 2015. We have called on certain Commonwealth countries, of which there are quite a few, to review any laws they have which criminalise LGBT people.

Photo of Lord Patel of Bradford Lord Patel of Bradford Labour

While I echo the sentiments expressed about Commonwealth countries, can I bring the Minister back to the UK? Will she say what the Government are doing with respect to transgender people in our prisons, where there has been a serious spate of suicides because of the way they are treated?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

The noble Lord is right to raise that. Certainly, in immigration detention transgender people are recognised as people at risk, and putting them in detention is avoided wherever possible. It is absolutely right that everybody in prison is treated properly, and the Government continue to look at this.