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Baroness Blatch: I support warmly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who speaks for many people on all sides of the Committee. Also, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall; he has done the Committee a service tonight, mainly because the principal point behind the amendment is that we must not take executive or parliamentary action on this sensitive issue without deep thought.

This is an issue which has touched thousands of people throughout the country--parents, teachers, governors and others, including homosexuals. There was a moving article today in the Daily Mail, which has run an excellent campaign, saying that this provision will do no service to the interests of homosexuals. Therefore the principle of think first, know what we intend to replace the provision with before repealing it, is one that I support.

I have difficulty with the clause on two grounds. First, like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I am concerned about removing a provision and not replacing it with an active prohibition on promoting homosexuality in our schools and to young people outside the school gate, in youth clubs and in other voluntary groups. Secondly, there is a difference between guidance and guidelines. Guidance has statutory backing and force. A local authority and/or schools and colleges which are drafting policy must have, by law, regard to statutory guidelines. But they do not have to follow their advice. If they are challenged in court, it is not for the specific activity they undertook or the expenditure they made; they are only challenged procedurally--whether in drawing up their policy or in taking a specific action they had regard to the guidelines.

It is easy to circumvent that position. Any local authority can say, "Yes, we considered the guidelines. We had a discussion about them. But on balance we still did what we wanted to do". Therefore, if the Government insist on repealing Section 28, we must wait to find out what will fill the vacuum. We must insist that something goes into statute that prevents the positive promotion of homosexuality to our young people.

Baroness Ludford: I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, is seeking to be helpful. But I oppose this amendment and strongly support the straightforward repeal of Section 28, being unpersuaded of the need for further statutory guidance.

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As has been mentioned this evening, there are already strong legal safeguards in the Education Act 1996 against unsuitable teaching. It provides that all sex education must be given with,

    "due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".

It requires local authorities to have in place complaints systems so that parents can complain about unreasonable behaviour by the authority or governing body; and it gives reserve powers to the Secretary of State to act if LEAs or governors are acting unreasonably or are defaulting on their statutory duties. I do not understand why that does not provide a sufficient framework.

Section 28 produces an inhibiting effect on teachers, who believe that they must avoid teaching about homosexuality or intervening to stop homophobic bullying. A study was reported today by the London University Institute of Education which found,

    "an atmosphere of confusion and fear",

discouraging staff from intervening to stop homophobic abuse. Eighty-two per cent of teachers say that such abuse occurs and 62 per cent say that Section 28 makes it difficult to meet the needs of lesbian and gay pupils.

We will no doubt hear further from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but, if she will allow, in a press interview she gave last week she said,

    "I am quite certain I am speaking for the overwhelming majority of parents in this country who feel very strongly that they do not want their children taught about homosexuality in schools".

There is a big difference between being "taught" and "promoting" homosexuality. The retention of Section 28 gives a signal of not caring about the young people who think they may be gay; not caring about removing their isolation and fear; not caring about creating a climate of understanding and tolerance. Some people are parents of such young people.

This campaign to retain Section 28 rests on the assumption that it is possible to convert someone to being gay. I do not believe that; I believe that sexuality is innate: one day people discover or perhaps acknowledge it and there is nothing that they can do about it, even if they wanted to. I do not want promotion of any particular type of sexual behaviour, only of knowledge, commitment, love--I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton--and respect.

I can scarcely understand the fear that has been generated, this paranoia that there is a proselytising horde waiting to covert the approximately 90 per cent heterosexual majority. As a heterosexual married woman who does not feel that Section 28 threatens her marriage--indeed, I can assure Members of the Committee that that notion is laughable; there are many other pressures but not that one!--I will vote firmly, if given the chance, to repeal Section 28 tonight. I am glad that we will have the opportunity to do so. The opponents of repeal claim to be acting for moral

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reasons. I feel that I am too: in my case, the morality of equal respect, acceptance and tolerance and the right not to be frightened, bullied or intimidated.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Perhaps I may begin by apologising to my noble friend Lord Mishcon, who I see is no longer in his place, for not giving way. I hope that my contribution will make up for my inexperience in the task. I have had the privilege of discussing with my noble friend Lord Randall for some days the issues raised in his amendment. My noble friend is aware that I am very interested in these matters because, among other things, I am the chairman of the governors of a state school.

I preface my remarks, which I will confine largely to the issue of the amendment, by saying that I support all those noble Lords who have expressed the desire that our debate be rational and calm. In doing so, I humbly ask that we be watchful of remarks which suggest that, somehow, a floodgate is about to open. History is littered with the tactic of fear and distaste replacing coherent debate and tolerant behaviour.

We have guidelines in place in the state schools. They allow governing bodies to be clear about what they wish to teach. Those guidelines are very clear, but they are also flexible. They emphasise the strong relationship; they focus on the family; and they talk about good parenting as a basis for children. These are at the heart of the way in which we discuss these issues in schools. The flexibility is important because we need to recognise the situation in which children are growing up.

The family as we might define it is very different for some children. I speak not only as a parent but also as a step-parent who has brought up children who were the product of a divorce. Like many, I welcome the involvement of parents and also of business people in our school governing bodies. They bring good sense, a richness to debate and play an active part--that is certainly so in my school--in the work that we do on sex education.

Teachers and governors work together to produce a policy, which is available to all parents. They can take home and study a copy of it. At a full parents meeting we discuss not only what will be taught to children but also by whom and when. Parents are able to comment, express their concerns and have the policy changed. They can, of course, withdraw their children from the school. I welcome more guidance from the Secretary of State, but I believe that there is no need to delay the repeal of Section 28.

My final point in that respect comes from my experience as a mother and step-mother. I wish many things for the children that I have brought up, and among them are happiness and fulfilment, a pride in themselves but a tolerance and respect for others. I want them to grow up in a safe environment. I know that information is a powerful weapon to keep them safe. It helps them to understand who they are; how to take care of themselves; to understand and have respect for others; not to be taken in; and to recognise

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danger. I oppose the delay in the repealing of this section. Because of its ambiguity, I believe that it may prevent young people from getting the support and advice that they seek--advice and support which keeps those children, my children, safe.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In response to my noble friend Lord Randall of St Budeaux, perhaps I may refer back to what my noble friend Lord Whitty has already made clear in his contributions. We do not see that there is a consequential link between repeal of Section 2A of the 1986 Act and the safeguards that should and must exist around sex and relationships education in schools.

From my experience in talking to people, I should tell my noble friend Lord Mishcon that one reason why people have written expressing concern about the repeal of Section 28 is that they have been told repeatedly by normally well-informed presenters of programmes like "Today" that this section applies to schools. It does not. Section 28 was opposed honourably by many of my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Randall of St Budeaux, and other noble Lords, who were then Members of the other place, when it was introduced. However, even if it were true--and I have no evidence of it--that local authorities in those days were seeking to influence and control schools, legislation introduced since that time has made it impossible for them to do so. The responsibility rests, quite rightly, with governors; and that includes parent governors.

In response to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and, indeed, my noble friend Lady Ashton, I should point out that we are not dealing with a vacuum in terms of advice and guidance to those parents and governors who are currently charged with being responsible for this sensitive area of education for our children. Moral considerations and the value of family life underpin what is being done now. The fact is that Section 28 does not apply to schools and, therefore, we believe that it would be inappropriate to link it in the way suggested by this amendment.

So many people speaking in the debate in this Chamber have sought to imply that the opposite of being exhorted not to do something is "permission to do it". All my children went through the state education sector. I never even felt the need to exhort those professionals who were responsible for my children's development not to promote adultery, lust, sin or, indeed, any particular issue. I find it offensive that, according to some contributors to this debate, some professional teachers feel it necessary to do so. Quite frankly, I am shocked.

As my noble friend Lord Whitty said in response to the concerns raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, we shall think further about what is appropriate for primary legislation and about how the policy could be given greater coherence and, where appropriate, legal force. I know that my noble friend Lord Randall will give great consideration to

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the fact that we propose to take the matter away and reconsider it. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, said with great sensitivity, we are dealing with an area where the guidance must recognise children's own experiences. I agree with my noble friend Lord Randall. It is very difficult for a primary school teacher to deal with the issue of divorce. However, in my experience the probable reason that it emerged in discussion was the distress of another child in the same class.

Our children are growing up in a world where they come into contact with many situations that many older people would perhaps like them not to come into contact with at that age. Teachers have to deal with children's family experiences. I hope that my noble friend will feel confident in placing his trust in the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I know of the right reverend Prelate's enormous contribution to the quality of education in my home county of Lancashire. I know that he will bring sensitivity and knowledge to the discussions that the Government are holding. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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