Far too long. I tried to push forward some of these issues. The Foreign Office can play an important role around the world in tackling abuse in countries as diverse as Iran and Russia. I say to my Australian colleagues, “For heaven’s sake, just get your act together.” They should join the company of nations that have changed. If Argentina can have gay marriage, if Spain—so dominated, historically, by Catholicism—can have gay marriage, why on earth cannot Australia, the country of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”?
We are debating today one of the worst periods in our history. In the 1870s and 1880s a series of scurrilous and horrible newspapers whipped up deliberate hysteria around homosexuality. It led to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, a serious piece of legislation that tried to tackle the problem of under-age women being abused in the prostitution trade. Henry Labouchere introduced a clause that I want to read out so that people realise how pernicious the legislation was. It stated:
“Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with an other male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.”
It could not have been made more wide reaching:
“in public or private commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure”.
Any court would be able to interpret the legislation as it felt fit. The final line about “hard labour” is, famously, partly what ended up killing Oscar Wilde. The legislation led to thousands of people being sent to prison and doing hard labour.
There was a campaign in the 1920s to try to rid the country of this “scourge”. A young lad from the Rhondda, a railway porter called Thomas, was caught by the police outside the Tivoli theatre, and they tried to do him for gross indecency. He was sent to prison for three months and did hard labour. The only evidence that they had to advance was that he had his mother’s powderpuff in his pocket, but he was sent to prison for three months. I am so proud that the MP for Rhondda West at the time, a miner called William John, gave evidence on behalf of the young man, but the court did not listen.
We find the same things all over again in the 1950s. David Maxwell Fyfe, the then Home Secretary, was wonderful as one of the inquisitors at Nuremberg and in helping to draft the European convention on human rights, but he was shockingly homophobic and forced the Home Office and the police to run a campaign to rid this country of the “scourge”, as he put it, of homosexuality. One of the terrible ironies for him was that two of the first people trapped were Conservative Members of Parliament.
I listened to what the Minister said, but there is a real problem about trying to force people to go through another process. For someone now in their 70s or 80s, the conviction might have been like a brand on them for their entire life. It might have caused terrible problems in their family life. It might have meant that they were never able to do the job that they wanted to do, such as a teacher not being able to go back to teaching. Friends and relatives might have shunned them. It might have made them feel terribly ashamed. Why on earth would they want to write to the Home Secretary, asking, “Please may I be pardoned?” Why on earth would they want to go through that process all over again? Why on earth would they want someone to analyse whether they were guilty of something way back when?
The Minister made a good argument about our working together, but the way to work together is to agree to the Bill. We can then go into Committee and if things need to be put right, let us put them right. The hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) said that this Bill is not watertight. I say to him: let us make it watertight. The place to do that is in Committee, rather than by turning our back today.
Several hon. Members referred to the fact this might be called the Turing Bill, but I do not want to call it that; I want to call it the Cartland, Macnamara, Muirhead, Bernays, Cazalet Bill. At the start of the 1930s, many MPs and politicians in this country, most of them Conservative—there were not many Labour MPs in the early 1930s—were convinced that Germany was a good country, because it had very liberal attitudes towards homosexuality. Berlin in the early 1930s was one of the best places for a gay man to live—we can think of Christopher Isherwood, “Cabaret” and all the rest of it. One of those MPs was Jack Macnamara, who was elected for Chelmsford in 1935; another was Robert Bernays, a Liberal who had been elected in 1931; and a third was Ronald Cartland, who was elected for Birmingham King’s Norton. They changed their minds when they saw what was happening to homosexuals in 1930s Germany. Originally, they had thought that the Versailles treaty was unfair to Germany and it should be overturned, and that Germany should be able to remilitarise the Rhineland and to change its future. In 1936 Jack Macnamara visited the Rhineland, expressly to support its remilitarisation. When he was there he “accidentally”—that was his word—visited a concentration camp: Dachau, which was the only one that existed at the time. The people who were in Dachau were the politically unwanted—a lot of Jews and some homosexuals. He saw the violence that was being perpetrated against them, and when he came back to this country he and others became the most vociferous campaigners against appeasement in this House.
Robert Bernays, Jack Macnamara, Anthony Muirhead, a junior Minister, Victor Cazalet, Philip Sassoon, Harold Nicolson and Ronald Tree were gay or bisexual, and they campaigned vociferously in this Chamber and around. They campaigned against Jew-baiting. Jack Macnamara made a speech in here about Jew-baiting and was spat at that evening when he went to the Carlton club—he never went back. Ronald Cartland, the younger brother of Barbara Cartland, was probably the most courageous in the Munich debates, saying that it was terrible that we should capitulate and appease Hitler.
What did the then Government do? What did Neville Chamberlain’s cronies do? They called these men the “glamour boys”. They got newspapers to ring them up and ask why they were still not married and why they were bachelors. They had these men’s telephones tapped and had them followed, and when these MPs made speeches, they threatened them with deselection—and yet they persisted. It is my very strong belief that had it not been for those gay and bisexual men, we would never have faced down Hitler and we would not enjoy today the freedoms that we do.
I mention some of those names because of their shields up here in the Chamber. Jack Macnamara desperately wanted to fight in the second world war, because he said, “I’ve argued for this war, I should fight.” Although Macnamara he had been in the Army before he came into the House, Churchill wanted him to serve in some capacity on the home front, and not overseas. Jack Macnamara got his mother to write to Churchill, month after month after month, until eventually he was given a posting in the Adriatic and he saw service. He was killed when the Germans bombarded him and his troops in Italy.
Ronald Cartland was disabled and failed his first medical test, but he managed to persuade somebody to perform another one and he was drafted. He was sent to France in early 1940. He and his troops were holding the fort at Cassel, in the triangle between Calais and Dunkirk, and he was one of the last people out of the fort. They kept on for four more days than they should have done for their own protection, so that thousands more British troops could escape from Dunkirk and Calais. As they left Cassel, it was one of the very few times when the commanding officer in the British armed forces actually said, “Every man for himself.” He was killed on the route back to Dunkirk.
Anthony Muirhead, whose shield is just above us, committed suicide just after the war had started. It is often said that he did so because he was not able to fight, but I suspect it was actually because the newspapers were pursing him about his private life.
Robert Bernays, the Liberal MP for Bristol North, was killed in a plane crash over the Adriatic, again in military service.
Victor Cazalet, the MP for Chippenham, died in an air crash. He had become a close friend of the free Poles and died in the air crash along with General Sikorski.
We, as a country, owe not only those people, but so many other men, since the Labouchere amendment, something that feels like an apology—something that really says, “I am sorry we got this wrong. You were brave, courageous men. We got it wrong. You were right. We owe you a debt of gratitude.” [Applause.]