LGBT Rights: Brunei

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:03 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 5:03 pm, 10th April 2019

Of course all right-thinking people will condemn what has been introduced in Brunei in recent weeks. We would condemn the stoning of anybody, whether they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or whatever. It is a positively inhumane way of undertaking what they pretend is a form of justice.

However, we in the United Kingdom have a share of the blame for what has happened in the Commonwealth and around the world. The countries with some of the worst records on LGBT rights once owed their allegiance to the Crown here. Sometimes we exported the most draconian laws that any country has ever had on male homosexuality, in particular between 1922 and 1967.

Some people point the finger at religion. Sometimes that is right, but sometimes it is wrong. Interestingly, when the House of Commons tried to legislate to ban lesbianism in 1922 the best speech given in Parliament to strike the law down was from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that it was a pile of nonsense. He was quite right. When it came to the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country in 1967, Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the best proponents for a humane and sensible approach to those matters.

My hon. Friend Luke Pollard is right that it often feels as if we are taking steps backwards. We have taken so many strides forwards in this country in recent years, with civil partnerships, gay marriage and all the rest, that it is all too easy to forget that the most liberal city in the world in the last 150 years was probably Berlin in 1930. In 1934, Hitler killed all the gay Nazis, and went on to put thousands of people in concentration camps and kill them.

As my hon. Friend Ged Killen said earlier, we have to put our own house in order in Northern Ireland and the British Overseas Territories, as do so many countries with which we do business. It is ironic that the Sultan of Brunei owns the Dorchester, because that was where Victor Cazalet—a gay man who was a Member of this House in the 1930s, and director of the Dorchester—used to interview everybody for his almost entirely gay, queer or nearly queer searchlight battery in the second world war. I have also been to many dinners at the Dorchester that were hosted by Stonewall.

I am absolutely delighted that people—particularly young people—are taking action, because they want to see that the campaigns of yesteryear are not forgotten and because human rights are a seamless garment that have to be fought for by every single generation. In truth, the laws in Brunei will not stop anyone from being homosexual. They will not stop anybody from loving another person of the same gender. All that they will do is condemn them to a life of loneliness, sadness, lying and hypocrisy.