Commonwealth Summit 2018 - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:20 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour 7:20 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on initiating this debate and his eloquent introduction. I refer your Lordships to my register of interests, in particular as an officer of the All-Party Group on Global LGBT Rights.

I wish to record my thanks to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, who has placed human rights at the forefront of her tenure and presided over a culture shift so that LGBTI rights are no longer an afterthought to be discussed in the shadows.

I also want to thank and recognise the extraordinary work of the Maltese Government, who hosted CHOGM meetings in Valetta, for their inclusive and positive outcomes, not least in the people’s forum which for the first time explicitly listed LGBTI issues in its agenda and discussions. The work of civil society, LGBTI activists, the Commonwealth Equality Network and others has ensured that LGBTI issues are once again on the agenda and must be maintained in the forums and summit here in Windsor and London in 2018.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Theresa May, who in her speech to the PinkNews Awards gave a commitment to undo the negative legacy of colonialism and, as she stated on Commonwealth Day, to reaffirm the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

As others have said, the Commonwealth is a family of nations, but for us LGBTI people it is not a family where we are treated equally or with dignity. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, in 36 of the 52 states of the Commonwealth homosexuality is criminalised and same-sex relationships are banned. Although this was imposed by Great Britain during its colonial past, these countries cling desperately to this colonial heritage and are increasingly defending it and advocating further repression, often citing culture or religious belief as an excuse. All too often, organised religions and religious leaders condone such repression or acquiesce with their silence. This is unacceptable and it is shameful. As an atheist I will always defend religion and belief, but never the right to impose them upon another, especially when such imposition diminishes the rights of another human being.

The discrimination meted out against LGBTI people attacks not only their liberties and freedoms and that of their families but their health and the health of others. One startling example in a report prepared for the Human Dignity Trust is that the HIV infection rate among men who have sex with men in the English-speaking region of the Caribbean is one in four, whereas in the non-English speaking region it is one in 15. The difference is that the former criminalise homosexuality, except the Bahamas, and the latter do not.

This trend echoes across countries where they criminalise and repress. People are driven away from health support, prevention and cure and pushed underground. Recently in Tanzania, we have seen the arrest, detention and misrepresentation of a group of people solely on the basis that they wanted to legally challenge the Tanzanian Government’s restrictions on access to HIV clinics. I express the deep concern of the All-Party Group on Global LGBT Rights as well as my own about the ongoing actions against these people.

There are human rights, health and economic consequences arising from inequality and discrimination against LGBTI people. The positive case for equality is made by the organisation Open for Business, working with global corporations. The case is made also in the five standards of conduct which was recently published by the United Nations Human Rights Office in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights and Business to support the business community in tackling discrimination against LGBTI people The Commonwealth should work closely with the UN and the European Union on this issue and recognise the economic benefits that flow when equality flourishes.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government propose to ensure that LGBTI discrimination is addressed within the forums, as there is connectivity between all four as well as a need to address the multiplicity of discrimination. There is a pressing and urgent moral case to end the discrimination faced by LGBTI people and the UK Government can place this at the centre of the summit and the forums of CHOGM in 2018. The Government should lead by example and apologise to the Commonwealth countries for these negative laws which we imposed on them. They should explain that we wish to work with the Commonwealth and the UN to lead in the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide. Further, they should work to end the discrimination that blights and destroys the lives of bi, transsexual and intersex people.

The task is not too great. It is not neo-colonialism. It is the decent and just thing to do—and, as a country, we should have the courage and the guts to do it.