LGBT Rights in Uganda

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on securing this debate on a good day on which we have a little more time to discuss the issue than we might otherwise have expected. I want briefly to add my voice to those from all parties who have expressed concern about the actions of the Ugandan Parliament in passing this appalling and repressive legislation.

We are witnessing a tale of two worlds. In one world, we saw last weekend the joyful sight of same-sex couples in this country being able to enter into marriages for the first time thanks to a vote in this House of Commons that passed that legislation by a substantial majority, while similar legislation is being passed around the world-in France, in New Zealand and increasingly in the states of the United States of America-where a majority of the public is now in favour of such progressive legislation. In another, less admirable, world, not only have some countries retained repressive regimes towards homosexuals and other minorities but others are engaged in passing populist and discriminatory legislation of the kind we have seen in Uganda. This is not just evil homophobia that is making people's lives a misery and, in some cases, leading not only to the repression of gay people but to their deaths. It is state-sponsored homophobia, and that is what makes it so ugly.

I want to make two broad points. First, Uganda's decision followed hard on the heels of Nigeria's. The Nigerian President, having sat on a similar piece of legislation to Uganda's for some time, suddenly passed what is called-paradoxically, after we passed our Bill to enable same-sex marriage-the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, to which the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts referred. It not only prohibits same-sex marriages in Nigeria but outlaws any public expression of affection between gay people, with extraordinarily severe sentences. There is a maximum 10-year prison sentence for those who commit that offence. Imagine the chilling and repressive effect that that criminal legislation has on young gay people in Nigeria today.

My second point is that this legislation is being passed by Commonwealth countries, Nigeria and Uganda. Just over a year ago, those countries signed up to the Commonwealth charter. Article 2 of the charter takes a stand against discrimination and article 4 also prohibits legislation of this kind. From memory, I think it talks about "mutual understanding and respect". How can those countries sign up to the Commonwealth charter and so quickly pass legislation in flagrant breach of it? What does the Commonwealth stand for, and what is the point of its charter unless it is willing to take a stance and say that this is not acceptable?

It is very easy to be cowed in this place and the west by the view that, as the hon. Lady so eloquently put it, to condemn such legislation is to engage in a form of neo-colonialism and that it is not our place to lecture other countries about their morals and how they do things in their society. If we took that view, we would silence ourselves for ever as regards our ability to condemn human rights abuses that we consider completely unjustifiable. We have to take a stand in the west. Yes, it should be an intelligent and sensitive stand and we should be guided by courageous activists on the ground, such as Frank Mugisha, who tell us what will and what will not help, but we should not be cowed from speaking out about such legislation. If we are, that is the same as seeing a child being bullied on the street and saying that it is better to pass by and ignore the bullying because otherwise we might make the bullies worse and they might do it again. No, we have to take a stance and intervene.

The Government have rightly taken a stance and should continue to do so. The Commonwealth should take a stance and should continue to do so. Individual Members of Parliament should feel emboldened to stand up and look Members of Parliament in Uganda and Nigeria and now Ethiopia in the eye and say, "This is wrong. What you are doing is wrong." We are not neo-colonialists for standing up and saying it is wrong. We are subscribers to the universal declaration of human rights. We are subscribers to fundamental values that say that people shall not be discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, their sexual identity or their sexuality. We subscribe to these universal human values and everybody should adhere to those standards.

Chi Onwurah: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and important point, which was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), about the need for every one of us to be able to stand up for these values. Does he agree that just as many countries in Africa stood up and condemned apartheid in South Africa, and stood up and condemned the civil rights position and the Jim Crow laws in America in the '60s, it is for us also to stand up and condemn where we see that evil is happening in those countries?

Nick Herbert: I welcome the hon. Lady's intervention. She makes a powerful point. That must, of course, be right. In the same way that it was right to condemn those regimes and that evil, it is right to do so now.

The list of countries that continue to foster these repressive regimes is much longer than the list that has been read out this evening. There are still countries all around the world that have these regimes. We have not talked at all about Russia and the despicable link that President Putin made recently between homosexuality and paedophilia, and the way in which gay people in Russia are being brutalised while the authorities turn a blind eye. The Channel 4 "Dispatches" programme made a powerful documentary in February which showed quite horrific scenes of young people being physically assaulted by gangs on the streets and the police merely turning a blind eye.

Do not let us make the mistake of thinking that this is just Uganda, or just Nigeria, and a minority of countries. I regret that it is not. This is a tale of two worlds. This House of Commons knows which world we belong to and which side we belong to, and we should not be afraid to stand up and say, "Yes, we too made these mistakes. We too once had this kind of legislation." We had legislation in the not so distant past that was repressive of gay people, and we learnt from those mistakes. We admit that we got things wrong and we urge others to understand the fundamental importance of these universal human values and why it is wrong for them, too, to discriminate against minorities, including gay people.

Alexander BlackLGBT