0111 PRAYED to the same God. The prayers of both could not be answered," I quote from Abraham Lincoln's most famous speech, his Second Inaugural, delivered after the victory of the North over the South in the American Civil War. The words were much in my mind throughout the memorable debate in the House of Lords on Monday last week. I have heard more eloquent speeches but in Over 50 years in the House I have not
attended or taken pail in a more impressive debate. It was initiated by Baroness Young, a former Conservative Leader of the House.
There are many good, articulate Christian speakers in the House today. There are 26 Bishops. There is David Sheppard. former Bishop of Liverpool, former England cricket captain and now a Labour Peer. There is David Alton, mentioned more than once in these columns. There is Lord Elton, active in the House and chairman of an inspiring prayer group. But I would say that, at the present time, Baroness Young is the most influential Christian speaker. She was once again leading a revolt against the determination of the Government to reduce the criminal age of homosexual conduct from 18 to 16. This time her amendment was, admittedly, something of a compromise in view of the Government's apparent determination to use the Parliament Art against any decision reached by the Lords. The intention remained clear. To reduce the homosexual age to 16 was a horrifying plan.
In the event her side — our side — defeated the Government yet again. But when I say that the debate was so impressive I have in mind that the most significant speakers were sharply divided. Baroness Young's amendment was supported on the order paper by a former Law Lord and two Labour Peers (mercifully we were not whipped on this occasion). The top lawyers were divided. The top doctors were divided. The bishops were divided in the Division Lobby. In the debate one of them supported the Government, the other opposed them. The Bishop of Birmingham argued that if the criminal age were
reduced to 16, boys of 16 and 17 would be more likely to come for helpful advice. The Bishop of Chelmsford, making his maiden speech, mentioned his five adult children and the concern of many in his diocese. He had always been an opponent of the Bill, but saw Lady Young's amendment as a way forward.
I myself was fortunate to "get in" immediately after Lady Young when full attention was more likely to be available. I made three points. One, that homosexual leanings are no more sinful than, for example, schizophrenia, another sad handicap; two, homosexual conduct is sinful by Christian standards, like fornication and adultery; three, girls who are seduced at 16 or 17 have a reasonable chance of recovery. Boys may well be ruined for life.
I was flattered next morning to see a large cartoon in The Times of someone said to be myself, and generally speaking by the amount of attention I aroused. But I was disturbed to find that some readers drew the conclusion from the truncated report that I made no distinction between homosexual leanings and homosexual conduct. I got a pained letter from the father of two schizophrenic boys who seemed to feel that I had treated schizophrenia as itself sinful. 1 sent an abject apology, although to be honest I blame the newspapers rather than myself. Whatever the final outcome, this was the House of Lords at its best —justifying my claim that it is the best debating chamber in the world.
S1MILAR THOUGHTS Came into my mind this week while reading the powerful new book by Lord Shore on European policy. Here, as in the case of homosexualism, the issues have overrun Party divisions.
Since the war I would say that two Conservative Prime Ministers, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath, have tried to lead Britain into closer association with Europe. One Conservative Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher, and the present Conservative Leader William Hague, have done exactly the opposite. No Labour Prime Minister before Tony Blair will be remembered one way or the other. It seems to be assumed, however, that the present Prime Minister is much more pro-European than circumstances make it possible for him to reveal himself. George Brown was immensely influential in Harold Wilson's Cabinet in bringing us to apply for European membership. So was Roy Jenkins, dedicated from that day to this to the European cause, though for nearly 20 years now a Liberal or the equivalent. Lord Shore will probably go down to history as a passionate Eurosceptic and certainly he has maintained that attitude for many years in two Cabinets and as an Opposition leader, now on the ex-Ministerial bench in the House of Lords, where I have the great pleasure of sitting next to him on most days. But as Abraham Lincoln would have understood better than anyone, he and Roy Jenkins have been animated by the same kind of idealism. They have simply reached different conclusions.
Imvsm.r MIGHT be accused of having pursued a somewhat equivocal course over the years, a back slider from positions once confidently assumed. I began, I suppose, as a patriotic British Conservative. Somewhere, somehow Ireland caught me and I knew that my future was wrapped up with hers. When in 1947 I became Minister for Germany my hero President de Valera said that because of my Irish background I would understand better than others the cause of broken and defeated Germany. Maybe so. But in those far off years the dream of European unity was intertwined with that of bringing Germany back into the comity of nations.
In 1950, by this time Minister of Civil Aviation, I called again on Dr Adenaur, then German Chancellor. He begged me to persuade the Prime Minister Clem Attlee and the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin to join France and Germany in the newly-formed Coal and Steel Pact. The suggestion was treated with disdain in London. A high-up Treasury official summed up the British attitude in a memorandum, which said that to tie ourselves to Europe would tie ourselves to a corpse. Well there have been many ups and downs in the British attitude since then and it is now the Labour Government which is more European in sentiment than the Tories.
But in the end I remain perched on the fence. It is not only sitting next to Peter Shore that makes me draw back from any step that would interfere with our basic independence. Clem Attlee was a great and early champion of World Government and I still cherish that ideal. Those who have been most concerned with Europe believe that we should exert more influence by throwing in our lot more completely with that continent, but at the moment I can look Peter Shore in the face and can only hope that my dear friend Sir Nicko Henderson does not read what I have written here.