Homosexual acts in the merchant navy: repeals

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

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:30 am, 8th February 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Salisbury on introducing the Bill. I am delighted that it has cross-party support. I have very little to add although, in the accustomed manner, that will not stop me saying it anyway.

We very much support repealing those provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that suggest it would be lawful to dismiss a seafarer for homosexual activity. This is a very short Bill. Clause 1 would omit from the 1994 Act sections 146(4) and 147(3):

“(homosexual acts as grounds for dismissal from the crew of merchant ships).”

Clause 2, as we have just heard, is being amended. It would have required the Act to come into force at the end of two months, but we support the amendment.

The Bill’s brevity does not in any way undermine its importance; short Bills can be quite significant, as we are discovering at the moment. There is little to amend and I hope it will be agreed that it is relatively straightforward. We are all keen that the Bill should be passed, and speedily. It is clear that the provisions that the Bill seeks to repeal have no place in a modern society based on sexual equality and inclusion. Although other countries appear to be going backwards at the moment, it is good that we continue to go forwards.

The provisions to be repealed are now legally null and void in any case, superseded as they were by the Equality Act 2010 and related regulations. Dismissing a member of a merchant ship’s crew on account of homosexual activity would be discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, contrary to part 5 of the 2010 Act.

As we discussed on Second Reading, section 14(3) of the Armed Forces Act 2016 already repealed the parts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act that related to the armed forces but left in place the aspects concerning merchant ships. The Government said they would decouple the two issues and would soon act to repeal those sections concerning merchant ships.

The Bill will tidy up existing legislation and remove discriminatory language from the statute books. It is an important, albeit symbolic, gesture, so let us get it done.