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 John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport) 9:30 am, 8th February 2017

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. Like you, during my time in the House I have heard many hon. Members and Ministers begin their speeches by saying, “I will be brief.” The difference today is that I mean it: I will be extraordinarily brief.

I have to do only the following: to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury on bringing the matter to the attention of the House and to reassure the Committee that I will not be using the beautifully crafted but arid speech prepared for me by my civil servants, because I do not need to add much to what was said on Second Reading and previously.

It is a curious thing that in our age we tend to measure virtue in mechanistic terms—both curious and undesirable, I think. Men and women are driven by feeling, and what arises from feeling. So, in taking the Bill forward, let us not speak in mechanistic terms. Let us not speak drily about legal consistency and procedural certainty.

Let us delve a little deeper just for a moment. The Bill is about being fairer, kinder, more reasonable and more generous. If those are more testing virtues and more difficult to think about this morning, then so be it: we should consider them for all legislation—particularly the kind that we have before us, which involves people’s feelings, sentiments and privacy. Men and women are complicated and fascinating because of their complexity. We should at all turns, at every opportunity, try to remember those enduring values of reasonableness, kindness, fairness and generosity. In that spirit and for that purpose, I welcome the Bill.

I will say one more thing if I may. It is also common in our age to speak of transparency and openness. Let us also this morning, just briefly, make a case for privacy. The Bill would reinforce the privacy of people who simply seek to go about their lives in the way that they choose.