Tory MP shocked and disgusted by his own past comments on gay people

Victoria Bell
·3 min read
DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN - FEBRUARY 17: British Minister of State for International Development Desmond Swayne meets Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon (not seen) during his official visit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on February 17, 2016. (Photo by Tajikistan Presidency Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Sir Desmond Swayne said he put his 'original prejudice down to intellectual laziness'. (Tajikistan Presidency Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A senior Tory MP has admitted that comments he made 22 years ago describing the lifestyle of gay men as "gross and unnatural" are "quite shocking".

Sir Desmond Swayne, the MP for New Forest and a former private secretary to David Cameron, said he put his "original prejudice down to intellectual laziness".

He had opposed reducing the age of homosexual consent from 18 to 16, and supported the ban on promoting homosexuality in schools in the 1990s and 2000s.

In 1999, he said a move to match the age of consent would “serve to entrap a small number of young men in a lifestyle that is gross and unnatural, and who might otherwise have led a life that was not blighted in that way”.

Swayne's comments, which have resurfaced in parliamentary debate transcripts, or Hansard, were made about the repeal of Section 28, a law passed in 1988 which stopped councils and schools "promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality".

Conservative Party leader David Cameron (right) goes running this morning with Desmond Swayne MP before delivering his keynote speech to the Conservative Party conference this afternoon.
Sir Desmond Swayne was a senior aide to former PM David Cameron, right. (PA)

Writing a blog on his website, he said: "Speeches from Hansard that I made years ago in debates about the repeal of Section 28 and reducing the age of sexual consent have surfaced, in which my antediluvian prejudices are quite shocking, even to me.

"How could I have ever believed such things, let alone said them?

“I put my original prejudice down to intellectual laziness. I simply never challenged, or even thought about the views that I held."

Swayne, a practising Christian, later became an advocate for LGBT+ rights and voted in favour of gay marriage in 2013, despite the majority of the Conservative party voting against it.

"My transformation from extreme social conservative to libertarian deserves some explanation," he wrote, explaining that he had a “flash of enlightenment” in 2007 amid a high-profile case concerning Christian B&B owners who refused to accept a gay couple as guests.

Watch: Sir Desmond Swayne rejects calls to apologise for lockdown comments

"It prompted a huge lobbying campaign by certain elements of organised religion. I received hundreds of letters, most of them containing the same example: a Christian couple running a B&B would be required by regulation to accept as guests a gay couple, notwithstanding the offence to their deeply held religious beliefs.

"In a flash of enlightenment the question occurred to me, ‘what Gospel is it they could possibly have been reading?’

"How on earth could they imagine that, were our Lord the landlord, that he would have turned the quests away?"

Swayne said he then then put "time and effort into studying the scriptures, the result of which he put to use when the controversy arose when the Equal Marriage Bill was before Parliament".

Section 28 was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in the rest of the United Kingdom in 2003.

Swayne recently stoked controversy after a picture of him wearing blackface to a fancy dress party resurfaced.

He said he saw nothing offensive about his costume, as soul singer James Brown, and insisted there “is not a racist bone in my body” and that “people have lost their sense of proportion and sense of humour”.

He told the Daily Telegraph: “I am disappointed that people have lost a sense of proportion and a sense of humour and that the things you just can’t say and can’t do, even if they’re done for the best possible reasons.”

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