On Friday, I brought the Merchant Shipping (Homosexual Conduct) Bill to the House of Commons for its Second Reading.
The Bill is a simple, containing just one line, but completes the repeal of historic provisions which penalised homosexual activity. Sections 146(4) and 147(3) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act appear to allow for the dismissal of a seafarer on a merchant navy vessel for an act of homosexuality. No equivalent provision existed for heterosexual acts. The provision has long since been legally defunct – first by the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and most recently by the Equality Act 2010. Yet this anomaly still remains on the statute books. Repealing it would tidy up legislation, removing defunct provisions from the statute books. But there are two more important reasons.
The first is symbolic. These provisions are the last remaining historic legislation on our statute books which discriminate on grounds of homosexual orientation, in creating a provision that applies to homosexual individuals but not to heterosexual individuals. But when it comes to employment, in the merchant navy or anywhere else, what matters is your ability to do the job – not your gender, age, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. This Bill reaffirms this – as a basic matter of justice.
The second is reassurance. At the moment, somebody could be searching online and be alarmed or confused that an act apparently allows for dismissal from the merchant navy on grounds of homosexual conduct. Repealing these sections would prevent this.
The UK Chamber of Shipping, the industry body for the merchant navy, have welcomed the Bill, as has long-standing campaigner Peter Tatchell.
This Bill completes the process of repeal of historic provisions penalising homosexual activity that started with the Wolfenden Report in 1957, the landmark report that argued for the decriminalisation of homosexual conduct. Now is the time to be clear and give reassurance to that no discriminatory employment practices are permitted in the UK, in the merchant navy or elsewhere.
The Bill was passed on its Second Reading unopposed and will now go to the Committee Stage for further scrutiny.