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Lord Randall of St Budeaux: The debate, certainly from my point of view, has been extremely worthwhile. If we have what I think we have--namely, the opportunity to debate the mechanism that we employ, whether as regards schools or more broadly--we shall have got somewhere. I thank the Minister for her comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 365:


(" . In section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material), at the end of subsection (2) there is inserted--
"; or
(b) prevent the headteacher or governing body of a maintained school, or a teacher employed by a maintained school, from taking steps to prevent any form of bullying".").

The noble Baroness said: At this late hour I do not intend to speak at length. We have heard the views of many in this Chamber and I do not want to repeat points that have already been made. However, I begin by answering the charges of the noble Lord, Lord Alli. It is sad that he should think that anyone in this Chamber would teach people to hate anyone. I have never taken that view and certainly not as regards any collective group of people. I like the noble Lord, Lord Alli. Therefore I do not quite understand what that argument is about. It would be an absolute tragedy were it to be thought that anyone who might support my point of view therefore hated a whole lot of people. That is not the case and nor do I agree that it is right in any circumstances to teach children to hate in the way that has been described.

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I listened to the debate with great care. In putting my point of view I should not like it to be thought that I stood alone, or simply had the support of some of my own political colleagues, glad as I am to have their support. I have had support from all parts of the Chamber. I listened closely once again to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who speaks so well, and to the wise words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield. I hope I am correct in asserting that he said that Section 28 is a benchmark. I believe that is the right context in which to place this whole discussion.

Furthermore, I have had the support of the Muslim community. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, is present. I am sure that many of us received a moving letter from the leader of the Muslim community and have heard what that community had to say. The letter states,

    "We believe that the repeal of Section 28 would expose our young children, even from a very tender age, to immoral values and practices. It will also undermine the institution of the family and damage the fabric of our society. Any teaching in schools which presents homosexual practices as equivalent to marriage, or in a morally neutral way, is profoundly offensive and totally unacceptable".

That seems to me a clear statement. After all, as we live in a diverse society, we should listen to what all sections of it have to say.

We should take account of what the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, has to say. He states,

    "There is a real danger that the abolition of Section 28 will lead to the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as morally equivalent to marriage. Not only will this confuse many young people whose sexual identities are still fluid, it will frustrate any attempt to educate children in the importance of marriage as the basis of a stable and caring society".

We have heard what Cardinal Winning has said with such effect in Scotland, speaking out for the Roman Catholic Church. We have heard what the Bishop of Liverpool and others have said. Like so many Members of the Committee, I have received a vast amount of correspondence--some 2,000 letters--from teachers, doctors and parents. That suggests that a wide spectrum of society is concerned about the abolition of Section 28. It is for the Government to say why they believe that they are right and why they believe that those whose lives are spent dealing with moral issues are wrong. The onus is on the Government in that regard. It is important to represent the views of many sections of our society.

I was disturbed by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson. It appeared to me that she was saying that because children today live in a moral vacuum they should remain in one.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Young: Well, what are you going to say? You must say something definite to children, but we are not giving them a definite message about anything. When children ask questions, I believe that one should give a clear answer.

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As I have already indicated, Section 28 has been effective. However, it does not stop the discussion of homosexuality in schools. It does not prevent teachers from counselling. It does not prevent teachers from discussing the matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, referred to guidance from the Royal College of Nursing. In my opinion any school nurse who has a case of bullying brought to her attention has a duty to report that to the head of the school. After all, a nurse is a professional too, and she should report such a matter to a head. The idea that that matter cannot be dealt with if there is something clearly amiss in a school seems to me quite extraordinary.

I have been the chairman of an education committee. I have even been an education Minister. I have been a governor of maintained schools and of independent schools. I care very much about education. At the beginning of my remarks I said that I speak for children. Too much of the debate this afternoon has concerned not children but adults. In a free society how adults behave is a matter for them. However, what we tell our children is a matter that concerns all of us. It is a responsibility. Children are growing up in a difficult world--here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson--which is also difficult for parents and teachers. I believe that not to have any benchmarks or milestones would send out quite the wrong signal. It would send out a signal that one of the last benchmarks has now gone and Parliament no longer cares. I believe that it is the duty of this Chamber to speak up for the people of this country, for responsible parents and for responsible teachers, and keep Section 28. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 365, Amendment No. 365ZA:

    Line 8, at end insert ("; or

(c) prevent the provision of a comprehensive and ethically-based curriculum on sex education".").

The right reverend Prelate said: It has been said today that we are a legislative body. That is true. It is also true that we are a reflective and deliberative body, and I hope, particularly at Committee stage, that what we are doing is as much reflective and deliberative as it is legislative.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, told us that laws and morals are distinct, but also that they are connected. None the less, the law has a declarative function; it must embody and affirm that which is regarded as normative in any human society. The Government's claim that they wish to promote marriage and a stable family as the basic building block of society must find an echo not only in their policies but also in their legislative programmes. The Government are well aware--we have heard it repeated by Ministers today--that a stable, publicly committed heterosexual relationship (in other words, marriage) is vital for the nurture of the family, the so-called basic building block of society. Any weakening of the bonds of marriage and of family will have

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disastrous consequences for society as a whole. Some of the scenarios in classrooms that we have heard about give evidence of that.

It has often been pointed out--most latterly by Francis Fukuyama in his book The Great Disruption--that the depletion of a society's "social capital"--that is to say, honesty, compassion, avoidance of crime, neighbourliness, and so on--is directly linked to the disintegration of the family.

If the Government are serious about promoting marriage and the family, they cannot at the same time say that they would not encourage "the adoption of any particular sexual life-style". I have seen that in government documents. A heterosexual lifestyle within a permanent relationship is highly desirable, not to say necessary, not only for the continuance of society but for its flourishing. It is for this reason that I could not support the original Amendment No. 366--now happily withdrawn--tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and other noble Lords. For similar reasons I still cannot support Amendment No. 366A because of the basic contradiction--

Lord Brightman: My amendment has not been withdrawn.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon. I thought Amendment No. 366 had been withdrawn and that Amendment No. 366A had been tabled. In any case, I cannot support Amendment No. 366A either.

Lord Brightman: Amendment No. 366 has been withdrawn. The right reverend Prelate is right.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: Perhaps I may continue. At the same time I cannot support Section 28 as it stands either. It is true that it is highly dangerous to promote a sexual lifestyle, whether in the school or the youth club, which is not the norm among impressionable youngsters, whose sexuality may not be settled and who may easily be misled into an inappropriate lifestyle. It is not as simple as being right-handed or left-handed--how people come about their sexuality is immensely more complex than that--and we should be very careful about giving people identities in terms of sexual behaviour.

Such promotion becomes doubly dangerous if it is carried out by those who are in a position of authority, such as teachers or youth leaders. It is true also that in any authentic family in such situations there is at the centre the difference--and therefore the complementarity--of a relationship between a man and a woman which is necessary for the birth and the bringing up of children. I have experience of many different cultures. Families may be structured in many different ways, but the relationship of difference and complementarity is always at the heart of a family.

There may of course be other human groupings--of friends, of people with a common background or interests and of those who support one another

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because of perceived hostility or bias in wider society. Such associations may be beneficial to those who belong to them and, indeed, to society as a whole. This does not, however, turn such associations into "family". Section 28 is right, therefore, in providing that homosexuality should not be promoted as "a pretended family relationship".

As it stands, Section 28 allows for appropriate health education but says nothing about homophobic bullying in schools. I welcome wholeheartedly, therefore, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, which will encourage head teachers and governing bodies to curb such bullying in schools.

The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman--I hope I am right in this--has the merit of recognising that we need effective sex education in our schools. Although I cannot support his amendment as a whole, I support this part of it.

I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn received such praise in the House for his amendment. As we know by now, the amendment is about promoting marriage and family--that is good--but it does not say what should not be promoted. Since his amendment is a substitution for Section 28 and for Section 2A there--it is as important for us to know what is not being promoted as what is being promoted. I look forward to further discussions about that.

While homosexuality should not be promoted in schools--we have had various discussions of what "to promote" means--pupils still need to be taught about it. We should be clear about that. If they are to be properly prepared for adult life, they need to know the different forms of sexual behaviour they may encounter. Such teaching, however, as with all sex and relationships education, must be in the context of a comprehensive and ethically based curriculum on sex education. Such a curriculum would recognise that individual and social flourishing is profoundly related to stable marriages and families. It would place the need for teaching about these matters firmly at the centre, while also recognising that in the contemporary world pupils will need to know what other kinds of behaviour and relationships there are.

Obviously the question will arise of what is meant by "comprehensive"; I have no doubt that some noble Lord will ask me that. As I have said in the press, it must include all that people are likely to encounter in adult life, without necessarily promoting or approving of such things. I may be asked what is meant by "ethical". That is an old chestnut. What was meant by "ethical" when the Government said that they had an ethical foreign policy? I hope they still do have one, but sometimes one wonders. The statement of values produced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is another example of ethically based education policy. So we have some guidance about what "ethical" might mean in this context.

One widely accepted description of "ethics" would be to say that it is a persons and principles-based way of thinking and behaving for the sake of individual and social flourishing. It is not the view of the majority or even of a minority, but it is based on the flourishing of individual persons and of society as a whole.

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The purpose of my amendment is to bring together the best of Section 28--which I believe needs to be retained in the absence of anything else--the best of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the best of all that has been said today. I propose, therefore, that Section 28 is retained at least until a better provision is proposed and that the provision proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, against bullying is added to it, together with my proposal regarding the provision of appropriate sex education. If our social capital is not to be further reduced, we need desperately to promote the family. It is there that people learn the values that sustain them in the wider community. It is there that we may interact with others in a way that leads to sexual maturity. It is there that we find the role models necessary for our all-round development.

The family needs not only to be promoted, but to be supported--a word that has not been heard much today. Whether that happens through tax relief or income support, nurseries or after-school clubs, justice in our courts or assistance at home, strong families will in turn be the source of support for the lonely, the ill, the aged and the bereaved. There are, of course, other ways of living which may also be supported, but the family remains the norm for basic social organisation and well-being. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: I have listened carefully to the debate and I appreciate the attempts to clarify the issue under discussion. However, I wish to draw attention to some of the more unfortunate side effects of Section 28, such as the advantage taken by some of the more sensationalist media to stir up hysteria, bigotry and salacious propaganda. We are surely not fooled into believing that they really care about the issues. That is what happens when negative permission is given for bad behaviour. Section 28, however unwittingly, gives permission for bad behaviour and prevents those who wish to educate young people responsibly from doing their job adequately. It provides what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has called in one of his wise and sensitive articles,

    "an illicit veneer of respectability",

under which potential violence and persecution hide.

The amendments, however well-intentioned they may be, do not remove the problem. The problem is that the words "promote a homosexual lifestyle" and "pretended family relationship" are unclear and confusing. Law which is unclear and confusing should go. I know that Members of the Committee on different Benches have deep concerns for young people. So do I. I am a parent, a school governor and a former teacher. It is sad when concern about young people is manipulated and confusion encouraged.

As has already been said, part of the confusion is that Section 28 does not apply to schools, although some parents, teachers and young people believe that it does. In England and Wales school governors are responsible for schools. There are several parents on

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governing bodies, which are required to have policies on, and report to parents about, sex education. In addition, recent curriculum handbooks, which were sent to every maintained primary and secondary school last year, contained strong guidance on personal, social and health education, supporting responsible behaviour, positive relationships, marriage and keeping healthy. The Education Act 1996, as several Members of the Committee have mentioned, is already strong on morality. Schools are bound by inspections and by Education Acts. Religious bodies will issue their own guidance shortly, I understand. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, stated, health is part of the discussion. Medical organisations are seriously worried that after early successful campaigns in this country to combat HIV infection, the present generation of young people is not receiving sufficient education about safer sex.

There appears to be concern about the flood of unsavoury materials which may reach young people if Section 28 is repealed. But parents, teachers and school governors are gatekeepers to young people, as the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, said. Curriculum guidance shapes ethos and what is taught. Surely we are not denying the integrity and common sense of those responsible adults. In a survey, parents said that they wanted Section 28 repealed by a majority of two to one. Parents have long said that they want their children to receive sex education. Young people complain about inadequate information on sexuality and inadequate discussion on relationships. Of course, schools need values that should positively influence young people, but one set of values need not exclude the consideration of other values. Young people may discuss a whole range of values in order to formulate their own value system. One particular value system may be supported by home, school or faith.

Discussing homosexuality does not exclude promoting marriage. Marriage for me has been a fulfilling way of life. I have been married to the same person for over 30 years--so I am more of a novice than the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It may not be the ideal state for everyone. Some marriages, sadly, have brought misery and confusion to couples and children. Perhaps the new guidance for schools will encourage young people to develop relationship skills which are surely the basis of sound marriage and parenting, not the institution itself. Relationship skills are also the basis of sexuality, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said; a sexuality which is satisfying and non-exploitative in whatever form it comes. Some people whom I know find homosexuality repulsive. That is their prerogative. But surely it is better to have a loving relationship with a same-sex partner than a miserable heterosexual relationship. In agreement with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, I believe that sexuality is about love, mutual respect and support and not merely sexual acts, which are private in any case.

Young people have common sense too, as well as discrimination. I remember reading the infamous Jenny lives with Eric and Martin with my children when

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they were young. They said, "This is really boring--we'd rather have Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain". None of them has grown up to be a gay parent, despite their mother's corrupting influence. The point of that anecdote is that children take on board what is relevant and meaningful to them. They cannot be made to be homosexual or heterosexual. A book or video cannot alter nature, even if it were to get into a school. Moreover, school governors and parents have to approve materials that enter schools.

The sensible thing to say to a young person confused about his sexual orientation is, "Don't have indiscriminate sex. Be sure what you feel". It should not be, "Because you think you might be gay, you are invalid and rather peculiar". That is what Section 28 perpetrates. It indirectly and insidiously inculcates prejudice and then stands back while it is acted out. I, too, have received letters, including some from three organisations for parents of gay teenagers. They are seriously concerned about the health and welfare of their children. I have received letters from medical organisations, children's organisations, teaching organisations and religious organisations which want Section 28 to go. I have received also two letters of filth and bigotry. I received one this morning which made disgraceful reference to David Blunkett's disability. It continues:

    "God curses Gays and sodomists

and all those that so promote Death is their end and reward so perhaps you should take note". Nice poetry. Last week, I believe that I was investigated by the office of a noble Lord. Today I am in the Daily Mail. It may be that that is a coincidence. I shall clarify the matter with the noble Lord involved.

Young people need validation and support, whatever their sexual orientation. In a report published by a gay teenagers' group, one boy says that he was called "poof, gay, black bastard" in school. It is interesting how intolerance overlaps and begets other intolerance. Another was advised to take cold showers and think about girls. I am not sure how that connects. Another was asked whether he was dropped on his head as a baby. That is hardly enlightened and supportive education.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the retention of Section 28 gives permission for people to interpret it, whatever the original intention was, as a licence to exclude one section of society, to insult and denigrate others and as a barrier to sexual health education; more than that, to intimidate and incite hatred. It opens other kinds of flood gates.

When I was first involved in the Section 28 debate, I was threatened both verbally and physically. One evening two nasty looking thugs with equally nasty looking dogs arrived at my office and said, "Listen, poof lover. Keep your mouth shut or you'll have these dogs after you". If that can happen to a middle-aged, middle class woman, what else is going on which I know your Lordships would find abhorrent?

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The Committee's decision will send signals about the kind of society that we want to encourage. It is about much more than Section 28 or the promotion of homosexuality. It is about value tolerance and what philosophers call "the considerate way of life". I remember, in the midst of press hysteria, a leader column in the Independent saying:

    "Morality has nothing to do with sexual preference and everything to do with how we treat each other".

I hope that the Committee will not be seen to give permission by inference for ignorance, hysteria and bigotry to prevail, and informed discussion denied, through allowing ambiguity in the law to remain. I support the repeal of Section 28. I cannot accept the amendments.

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