We’re Doing Something

EDINBURGH: People working for homosexual law reform in Scotland were astonished to read GN11’s Editorial which — while making very pertinent points on Age of Consent and the heavy task ahead for those who will be promoting sexual law reform in the UK — failed to take account of progress in Scotland in 1972.

The main work has been carried out by the Scottish Minorities Group (Law Reform subcommittee), and by some office-bearers of the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties, to which SMG is affiliated. The whole work was greatly assisted by a donation from an SMG member of £100. Without this vital cash, SMG would not have been able to get beyond the “talking shop” stage.

The moves began in May 1971 when I (the SMG Chairman) successfully guided through an SMG Motion to the SCCL Annual General Meeting, calling on SCCL to take a firm stand on remaining social and legal discrimination against homosexuals in Scotland. This motion was on similar lines to that adopted by the National Union of Students (Scottish Region) in March 1971. A much expanded version is before the NUS Margate Conference, November 1972, proposed by the University of Reading.

In December 1971, the SMG Annual General Meeting adopted Councillor Ian Christie’s motion which instructed the Executive Committee (a) to consult with the SCCL upon the introduction of parliamentary legislation to repeal the 1885 Act as far as it applies to Scotland in order to legalise homosexual acts between consenting adults, and (b) to conduct an energetic campaign to enrol public opinion in Scotland in favour of such law reform.

We got off to a brisk start in January when the SMG pamphlet “The Case For Homosexual Law Reform in Scotland” was circulated to all 71 MPs who represented a Scottish constituency, and to a fair cross-section of Members of the House of Lords who had spoken out in favour of law reform in the 1960’s. The pamphlet was accompanied by a covering letter signed by Peter Wellington, the then Chairman of SCCL. The response was disappointing. Those MPs who even bothered to reply said they’d oppose Law Reform, or said that they were “sympathetic” but didn’t think it was an urgent issue. Liverpool CHE got much the same response when they wrote to all MPs in their area in May 1972. Disappointed as we were, we followed up the letters with an insistent lobbying campaign in the Edinburgh Area. The results of our conversations were quite encouraging (for the first time MPs were face-to-face with homosexuals, and it wasn’t so easy to be evasive), and we gradually realised that our best chances of success lay in the introduction of a Bill in the House of Lords.

Meanwhile (June 1972) we had completed our analysis of the (English) 1967 Act. A summary of this appeared in GN3 (July 1972). The analysis procedure was carried out over a series of committee meetings. We sought the views of SMG members through SMG NEWS, and wrote to several people with a knowledge of Scots law. We also began to write to the major religious and social institutions calling on them to inform SMG of their attitudes towards homosexual law reform, and to support the SMG campaign. So far, the Society of Friends in Scotland (Quakers) has expressed clear support for the SMG proposals.

This was the grimmest period of our work. The task was difficult and often distasteful. The existing law is couched in highly pejorative and emotive terms. Reluctantly we realised that we couldn’t hope to “clean up” all the phrases. The idea of a sexual “offence” is retained in our final proposals, as is the distinction between “sodomy” (buggery in England and Wales) and other types of sexual “offences”. Our legalisation proposals are fixed at 18 absolutely, with strong defence safeguards for 16 and 17-year-olds. No less than 5 Acts (3 exclusively relating to Scotland) are repealed in part or amended, and this explains why we felt it necessary to promote a “Scotland only” Bill — we really doubt whether an English Act could successfully take into account the fundamentally different aspects of Scots law. We have sent a copy of the Bill to Gay News. The Bill will be formally published on 2nd December 1972, and copies can be obtained from Mike Coulson, 9 Moray Place, Edinburgh, 3 at a cost of 30p each, post free.

Although we have had one definite response from a Member of the House of Lords, who has agreed “as a last resort” to introduce our Bill, we are still in the process of sounding out other Members’ views. Our lobbying campaign continues (up-to-date details from our Annual Report for 1972, issued 1st December), and the Crown Agent has congratulated us on the draughtsmanship of the proposed Bill. His main criterion is whether or not reform proposals are enforceable, and our proposals are “thoroughly enforceable”.

We have come under much pressure — even attack — from many homosexuals, some “figureheads”, for pushing ahead with Scottish proposals. When people haven’t been questioning us on the need for law reform (why bother, we’re okay thanks, brigade) others have criticised us for being too timid. Most people seemed to forget that the Law Reform Committee was (and is) working within the terms of the SCCL and SMG Annual Meeting instructions. Within these terms, we maintain, we have made good and solid progress towards Homosexual Law Reform for Scotland.

Ian Dunn

ED: The editorial in GN11 was written deliberately with the hope that we would receive such a response as above. To date we have received no replies from Campaign for Homosexual Equality or Gay Liberation Front.

We do though, consider it a great pity that SMG have settled for eighteen as being the consenting age for male homosexuals, for as we said in our editorial – ‘The age (of consent) should and must be sixteen, as it is with girls – for to settle for anything else would be an admission on our part that homosexuality is something different and strange.’

Obsolete or Not

02-197206XX 3The Law Relating To Homosexual Acts In Scotland by Robert Thomson, Secretary, Scottish Council for Civil Liberties.

Most people in other parts of Britain do not realise that Scotland has a separate legal structure with many fundamental differences to that in England and Wales. Some Acts of Parliament do not apply to Scotland and many items of government policy need separate legislation: for example, going through Parliament at present is the Housing Finance (Scotland) Bill which seeks to increase local authority rents in Scotland as does the Housing Finance Bill in England and Wales. The chief law officer in Scotland is the Lord Advocate – at present Norman Wylie, QC, MP. He combines the duties of the Lord Chancellor, Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales. Through his Department, the Crown Office in Edinburgh, he controls prosecutions throughout Scotland by a system of Procurator Fiscals. The Fiscals are similar to District Attorneys in the United States.

“I asked the Crown Office about this and I was informed that efforts have been made to find when the last prosecution of two consenting adult males took place but nobody was able to remember a single one… and the fact is that they have never done so in living memory so far as I can ascertain.”

So said the Earl of Dundee on 13 June 1967 during a debate on the Sexual Offences Bill. His point was the main argument for not including Scotland in the provisions of the Sexual Offences Act 1967.

However. as late as 1970 when the Crown Office was approached directly on this matter, it transpired that their policy was much more illiberal than supposed. The c Crown Agent stated that those laws which related exclusively to male homosexual behaviour were enforced in so far as it was possible to do so but that since most homosexual acts were conducted in private and because of the Scots Law requirement of corroboration, prosecutions seldom, if ever, arose.

It would seem, therefore. that some duplicity and hypocrisy was practiced at the time the Sexual Offences Bill was going through Parliament. If some item of legislation is not being enforced, surely that is an argument for removing it from the Statute Book rather than for retaining it. Obsolete legislation bring the whole legal system into disrepute.

This type of hypocrisy exemplifies establishment attitudes in Scotland. Sex is not a “nice” subject. “Decent” people don’t discuss it or even admit it exists. This form of repression permeates Scotland, for example, regarding the licencing laws, places of entertainment and Sunday observance. The reasons for this altitude are complex but the historical role of the Church of Scotland is an important factor.

The facts, then, are that for practical purposes the law is not enforced though there would seem to have been some prosecutions of men for acts with younger men or boys, convictions are usually gained through voluntary confessions. However there are many convictions for acts of public indecency in toilets to which homosexuals are driven because of the lack of social meeting places.

The law (Section II Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885) remaining on the Statute Book encourages social discrimination of homosexuals, makes them feel insecure and open to blackmail and fosters prejudice. Scotland is a relatively small country with few large cities; because of the prevailing attitude, described above, any person admitting or being “found out” as gay, faces loss of job and social ostracism. This includes women who, though they don’t face let penalties, are in many ways worse off, certainly in the availability of solid meeting places.

In 1971 the following motion was passed at the Annual General Meeting of the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties:

“This AGM notes the continuing social and legal inequalities of the homosexual in Scotland and recommends to the Executive Committee and the Parliamentary Civil Liberties Group to press for sound legal reforms for an early removal of remaining discrimination.”

Together with the Scottish Minorities Group which is affiliated to the SCCL, it is campaigning for law reform. The Scottish Minorities Group was set up to look after the interests of sexual minorities in Scotland.

A memorandum prepared by SMG was sent to all Scottish MPs. In a covering letter the SCCL stated:

“We adopt as our basic principle the view that sexual activity of any description between consenting parties should not be subject to legal constraints, with exceptions only in the case of provisions necessary to protect the young and immature and to prevent public indecency. We also believe that social discrimination against minorities such as homosexuals is unjustifiable but it can only be eliminated when the law ceases to discriminate.”

Copies of the memorandum were also sent to social workers and other organisations. The press were informed but published little.

The response of Scottish MPs to the memorandum was disappointing. We received replies from a number of MPs who said they would actively oppose any attempt to change the law. The majority of other replies said “Yes, I agree with you but let sleeping dogs lie”. Those MPs who offered to help all thought it was hot the best time to try and introduce reform. Our most helpful replies were from several members of the House of Lords.

Frankly, it seems unlikely that we will get any constructive action from the present Parliament since the “hang ‘em and fog ‘em” brigade seem to be in the ascendancy. However, one of our lawyers has prepared a draft Bill which we hope to introduce into the House of Lords sometime this year to test Parliamentary and public reaction. In addition, members of the Law Reform Committee of SMG have been personally lobbying MPs and this line of attack seems very useful.

The SCCL has been involved mainly in the campaign for legal equality, SMG has been doing a first-class job in contacting and speaking to social workers, churches, university organisations, local councillors MPs and school teachers. This kind of face-to-face contact will do more than any law case, to dispel the public image of the homosexual as some effeminate sex pervert and lead to the realisation that they an ordinary decent citizens attracted to their own sex.

The SCCL

The SCCL is the Scottish arm of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL)

All the SCCL’s work is done by voluntary helpers; solicitors and advocates, trade unionists and academics, social workers and housewives. There is a Scottish sub-Committee of the Parliamentary Civil Liberties Group.

Members of the NCCL living in Scotland an automatically members of the SCCL. Membership is administered by the NCCL. The SCCL receives half the subscription fees of Scottish members.


SCOTTISH MINORITIES GROUP.

MEETINGS;
EDINBURGH, from 7.45pm to 9.00pm in the basement of 23 George Square. Check with Mike Coulson at 031-225 4395. Women’s Group at 7.30pm. Saturdays from 9.30pm to 12.30pm coffee/food/dance at the same address.

GLASGOW, meetings every Tuesday at 8.00pm an 8 Dunham Street, Glasgow C4. Women’s Group at 184 Swinton Road, at 8.00pm. Third Friday of every month at 214 Clyde Street (library of community house) invited speakers, from 8pm.

DUNDEE, every Friday at Dundee University Chaplaincy. Social. Details from 041-771 7600.

ABERDEEN, Weekly social meetings, Details from 041-771 7600.