Homosexual acts in the merchant navy: repeals

Part of Merchant Shipping (Homosexual Conduct) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 8 February 2017.

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Photo of John Glen John Glen Conservative, Salisbury 9:30, 8 February 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan, for what I think is the first time. I thank hon. Members from both sides of the House for being here this morning.

The Bill is extremely straightforward, repealing provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that purported to allow for the dismissal of a seafarer from a merchant navy vessel on the ground of homosexual activity. The Bill does not make an effective legal change, as those provisions have been superseded by the Equality Act 2010. I do not want to repeat the extensive airing that the issues had on Second Reading a few weeks ago, but the Bill is still worth pursuing, for four reasons.

First, the Bill is symbolic: it completes the repeal of historical provisions that penalised homosexual activity. Secondly, it delivers on the commitment made during the passage of the Armed Forces Act 2016. Thirdly, it gives reassurance. At the moment, an individual could look up the 1994 Act online and be alarmed or confused by its apparent provisions in this area. Fourthly, the Bill tidies up legislation: it makes the status of the current law absolutely clear and removes defunct provisions.

Let me attend to the contents of the Bill. Clause 1 simply repeals sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the 1994 Act. My amendment addresses the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby on Second Reading, when he helpfully discussed commencement. He essentially argued that there did not need to be the customary two-month delay.

I am informed by parliamentary counsel that they default to a two-month commencement period unless there is some reason to consider a shorter or longer period. I have been advised that there will be no adverse consequence from an immediate commencement, hence the amendment. It amends clause 2 to set the date for commencement as the day on which the Bill is passed— that is, when it receives Royal Assent. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I hope that the amendment will strengthen the Bill’s symbolic function in showing our determination to settle this matter as quickly as possible.

Clause 2 deals with commencement, which I have just discussed, and the Bill’s extent, which is throughout the UK. I reassured the House on Second Reading that, as a maritime issue, the subject of the Bill is a reserved matter, so it does not require legislative consent motions from the devolved Administrations.

As I said, this is a very straightforward Bill, repealing defunct provisions of the 1994 Act. It will give reassurance that no discriminatory employment practices are allowed in law, in the merchant navy or elsewhere, and it will tidy up the statute book. I hope that my amendment will strengthen that signal in showing our determination to complete as soon as we can the repeal of historical provisions that penalised homosexual activity.