Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: I want to make two brief comments before I withdraw the amendment. My first point is addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, concerning the placing of this amendment at the top of the list. I am an innocent abroad in these matters and I had no power to decide where the amendment was placed. Therefore, I object totally to the remarks about "dirty tricks", and so on. I hope that those will be withdrawn. I began to table the amendment as early as last Tuesday but, for technical reasons, amendments had to be made to the amendment itself. That accounts in some measure for the delay.

Secondly, I should like to address the remarks made towards the end of the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the amendment not applying to schools. That is the reason why I tabled a similar amendment in the Learning and Skills Bill, which will be taken later this week.

With those brief remarks and with my thanks to everyone who has supported the amendment in what they have said and to those who have shown understanding, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Randall of St Budeaux moved Amendment No. 364C:

("(2) Subsection (1) above shall not come into force until guidelines produced by the Secretary of State on the teaching of sex education in maintained schools have been laid in draft before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: I should like to say a few words about what the amendment states. First, if Section 28 is repealed, it will not come into force until the guidelines proposed by the Government on the teaching of sex education in schools have been approved by this Parliament--that is both Houses. The aim of that is to encourage the Government to take steps to protect the interests of children when it comes to the teaching of sex education. This is an extremely complex issue. I believe that it is most important that we get it right; otherwise, we shall risk

7 Feb 2000 : Column 438

the interests of young children. I am convinced that every Member of the Committee will agree with me on that.

Perhaps I may also say that I appreciate the stance of my noble friend, Lord Whitty, which is to remain very open about the matter. It is very encouraging that the Government wish to respond to the deep concerns that exist. I would like to put forward a procedural amendment to the legislation. In other words, I want to make a case for Parliament to approve the way in which the guidelines are produced and to approve their contents.

I recall my early days in Parliament. The 1970s and 1980s were ghastly times when we had the promotion of homosexuality in our country. It was very high profile. I know that what happened caused great concern to the British public. However, at the same time we had the encouragement of the equality of homosexuals in society. I think that was good because it showed that the British people are tolerant. Although people snipe at that kind of statement, I believe that over the years there has been a change of direction. That is good.

Looking back, there was a lot of single-issue politics flying around. Some of it was good; some of it was nothing other than unscrupulous. Much of it became linked with the Labour Party, the so-called "Loony Left", and it hurt us very much. I am glad that that has now all gone. I think that the public did not have the confidence to elect us because of it. The consequences were quite important. The then government of the day introduced Section 28 in legislation. It was a very interventionist action for the government of the day. At the same time there was a feeling in the House that something had to be done. Subsequently we had Section 28. Now we have the argument that, really, it is not that effective. Listening to today's fascinating debate one can see that there is still confusion and a lot of muddle. I am part of the muddled group in this Chamber.

What is the position now? There has been good progress in relation to homosexual equality. There is a challenge to this House to make sure that we continue down the route of maintaining that tolerance. At the same time we have some people who want to change marriage. They want to replace it with ideas of, perhaps, "loving relationships". There is a situation where you have two men bringing up a little girl. Frankly, I do not know what the consequences will be for that little girl without the normal influence of a mother. If one sees the matter in terms of the interests of the children, I do not think that one will go very far wrong.

At the same time as the homosexual equality drift--and there is a lot of good in that--we still have the question of the promotion of homosexuality to children. It is happening now. It is a matter of serious concern. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was very interesting. He referred to CDs that had been prepared for circulation around the country. Exactly how they would have been used, I am not certain. It was said, certainly in the Sunday Times,

7 Feb 2000 : Column 439

that they had gone to something like 150 schools. That cannot be right. I know a number of colleagues on this side of the Chamber who were shocked by it.

However, the Government's line is to follow a highly interventionist policy. I am not sure that anything else can be done. The Government are now setting the guidelines that have been referred to. Also those guidelines will be operating very much in a decentralised school environment, with decisions being made at those schools and by the governors.

However, I ask myself how the powers of the schools balance with the views of the parents. That is a very difficult question. I believe it must be a matter of considerable debate to get the balance right. Otherwise fear will exist and we shall not have succeeded as a Parliament.

I respect the teaching profession. The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, who spoke about what is happening from a practical point of view was very interesting and enlightening. I give one example of a young boy, just five, who, over the last three or four weeks at school, has had four introductions to divorce. He came home from school, clinging on to his mother, saying "Mum and Dad, you are not going to get divorced, are you?" In the evening he called for his dad to come to his bedroom and kiss him good night. These signs show how difficult an issue this is; sometimes even the most professional teacher can get it wrong. That does not discourage me from my admiration for the teaching profession.

The Government are now considering the guidelines. I am glad that the Prime Minister is involved. I know him well; he is a decent man. I trust David Blunkett too. But if the Government get this wrong, I believe there will be a loss of confidence on the part of parents, and, more importantly, damage to the interests of children.

What is the way forward? First, we all need to recognise, including the Government, that we are dealing with a very complex issue. I feel sure that the sex education provided in, for example, Hull, which I know very well as I represented it for many years, would probably be very different from that provided in the south east where my main home now is. It may be affected by the socio-economic conditions and the skill level of teachers. We are dealing here with something that has inadequate definitions and with a set of guidelines which may become very complicated.

Secondly, the Government need to get the guidelines right. I referred to that earlier. It is easy to be flippant, but I believe that being flippant would be equivalent to being irresponsible. Before Section 28 is repealed, the Government's guidelines should be debated fully, and amended, in both Houses of Parliament. That is important. The reasons are not strong. It is not the same as having primary legislation. I believe, however, that the authority of Parliament would give the guidelines more prestige and that enforcement would be easier and probably more effective. Parliament would share responsibility with the Government and would have to take matters seriously. We need to

7 Feb 2000 : Column 440

remember that some of the more unscrupulous single-issue groups still exist--those which existed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They will maintain pressure. That adds to the complexity of it all.

For those reasons, I believe that the amendment I tabled to make sure that there is a full debate on the issue would be in the interests of the well-being of this country. Accordingly, I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Hooson: I make clear from these Benches that I am in a minority among my colleagues in having been uncertain about the right course to pursue. The more I have listened to this extremely interesting debate, the more I have appreciated how much there is to consider. It is one thing to have sex education; it is another to have the promotion of sexual behaviour, whether that is homosexual or heterosexual behaviour. There are many matters which must be considered.

I do not have the slightest doubt what the word "promote" means, but I looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary. Among the huge assortment of definitions or alternatives provided are: to move forward; to advance; to instigate; to further the growth or development; to progress or establish; to help forward. Those are only a few of the definitions given.

Section 28 was a bad provision to introduce. The word "promote" should not have been used and it should not have been discriminatory. If I am asked whether I have any objection to the provisions in Section 28, I would say that I do not think that there should be the promotion of homosexual activity, either among young children in schools or young people. Equally, as a parent and as a responsible citizen, I should not be in favour of the promotion of heterosexual activity either among children. A great mistake was made because people were concerned with a few zealots.

Throughout my professional life time, I have seen a great change in attitude towards homosexuality. I prosecuted and defended any number of homosexuals in my young days at the Bar. I saw some dreadful scenes of unhappiness and listened to some dreadful stories. I had to be persuaded that I had a black spot as regards my approach to homosexuals. I had to appreciate that there was a difficulty. My noble friend Lord Russell referred to the difference between someone who chooses a course of life and someone who is impelled, by forces which he cannot control, to another course of life.

As Queen's Counsel, when I was defending quite a distinguished man on a charge of murder, I was the first counsel successfully to raise the question and persuade a court that the defence of provocation was available to a homosexual. Looking at the Act, it had never occurred to people before that it could apply to a homosexual. I have become a little more enlightened as regards these matters but I realise that there are always zealots about. Those people will go over the top, given any kind of excuse.

7 Feb 2000 : Column 441

On the other hand, you cannot introduce such a divisive provision as Section 28 and get away with it. I have pondered a great deal because, as I say, taken literally, I should support it. But in the overall context, I discover that I cannot do so.

I agree entirely with the noble Lords, Lord St John of Fawsley and Lord Davies of Coity, when they say how disturbed they are that a three-line Whip has been imposed today. Of all the Bills to have come before us in recent times, the one least deserving the imposition of a three-line Whip is this one. If this Chamber is to fulfil a function which is different from that of the other Chamber, it must be able to have a frank debate and provide an honest view without regard to government Whips.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page