MPs back bill to scrap rules that let shipping firms fire gay seafarers

Posted On: 
20th January 2017

MPs have given their backing to a bill that would scrap rules that allow shipping firms to fire staff for homosexual activity.

Tory MP John Glen speaking in the Commons today
Credit: 
BBC Parliament

Tory MP John Glen, who introduced the one-line bill, said it would “astonish” the public to learn that such a provision was still on the statute book.

The second reading of the legislation went through without a vote on its second reading this afternoon after a lengthy debate in the Commons.

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Writing for PoliticsHome ahead of his speech in Parliament, Mr Glen said that repealing the sections of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was a “basic matter of justice”.

He also argued that his private member’s bill would provide reassurance to those who might be “alarmed or confused” to find such a law still existed.

Today's passing at Second Reading means the bill will proceed to the next legislative stage if further parliamentary time is found, but it is unlikely to reach the statute book without the Government taking up the cause.

It is the final step in a long legislative process, which began in 1957 with the landmark Wolfenden Report, which argued for the decriminalisation of homosexual conduct.

The 1994 legislation repealed a number of previously existing which criminalised homosexual activity, but still contained a clause allowing for a seafarer to be fired for “a homosexual act”.

“Nothing contained in this section shall prevent a homosexual act (with or without other acts or circumstances) from constituting a ground for dismissing a member of the crew of a United Kingdom merchant ship from his ship,” the Act reads.

Speaking in the Commons this morning, Mr Glen said:

“Many will be surprised, perhaps even astonished to learn that this anomaly still remains on the statue book.

“There is no place in our society today for employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the one provision applies to heterosexual individuals and another to homosexual individuals.”

'POWERFUL SIGNAL'

Fellow Tory MP Iain Stewart, a long-time campaigner on anti-gay discrimination, argued that the measure was "more than symbolic" and would send a “powerful signal”.

"It is another step on the journey to proper equality, another important step on breaking down those barriers, those injustices, those fears that afflict too many young people growing up," he said.

The legislation was also welcomed by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who told PoliticsHome:

“Given many years of gay law reform, it is surprising and shocking that this exemption from the equality laws remains on the statute books.

“Repeal is long overdue and most welcome. It is especially appropriate that it is happening this year, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Congratulations and thanks to John Glen MP.”