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Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may--

Lord Peston: I notice the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rising to her feet. It is customary for the Opposition Front Bench to speak at the end of the debate. I hope that she is not rising with any intention of trying to shorten the debate. We were promised by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General that those of us who had shown some restraint earlier--that includes me--would be allowed to speak. I am one of the few Peers who have sat through every word of the debate and have not yet spoken. I notice that other Peers feel that they can come and go out as they like. I hope that the noble Baroness is not remotely suggesting that the rest of us should not speak just because we are going to have a vote. My judgment is that she ought to wait until the rest of us have spoken and then she can reply, as she does very well, from the Opposition Front Bench. That is my point of order. It is not my speech.

Baroness Blatch: Would that I had that power. I have no power whatever to curtail the debate. I see that many noble Lords wish to speak. I believe that there has been a great misunderstanding--mostly because of the intervention of the Minister at the beginning of the afternoon and the intervention two-and-a-half hours later by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Some of us thought that we were having a universal debate on all of these issues and that we would then deal with those amendments by voting. A very long time went by before we were told to speak only to the amendments.

I do not intend to waste the time of the Committee in going back over a debate about which much has been said and on which there is not much new to be said. But it is not for me to curtail the debate. It will be a matter for the Committee itself.

Lord Peston: I thank the noble Baroness for that assurance. I may just be unduly cynical today because I suddenly see all kinds of people wandering in. I always look forward to the noble Baroness's speeches whenever she makes them.

Baroness Blatch: The very thought of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, being cynical is just so fanciful and I shall disappoint him because my speech will be very short.

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A circular issued by the department deals with the way in which schools would handle life under Section 28. What it says dispels some of the myths that have been given voice to around the Chamber today. It says:

    "Local authorities will not be prevented by this section from offering the full range of services to homosexuals, on the same basis as to all their inhabitants. So long as they are not setting out to promote homosexuality, they may, for example, include in their public libraries books and periodicals about homosexuality or written by homosexuals, and fund theatre and other arts events which may include homosexual themes"

As far as concerns the classroom, the circular goes on to say:

    "Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers. It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality".

To repeal Section 28 removes from the statute the protection for teachers, for parents and, most especially, for children from those in local authorities and some organisations funded by local authorities who have allowed, and indeed would allow again, materials and teaching to promote homosexuality to our young people. Those of us who oppose repeal of Section 28 cherish childhood and care about the moral framework within which children grow up and develop. We believe that they should be able to look to Parliament for protection against exploitation. That is why we shall stand four-square behind my noble friend Lady Young on this issue and will reject the amendment.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Quirk: Perhaps I may return to the amendment before the Committee which was introduced by the right reverend Prelate. I should like to ask a very simple and short question. It concerns the term "comprehensive" with respect to sex education. The right reverend Prelate has already alluded to his unease with this notion of "comprehensive". He referred to the forms of sexuality with which children are likely to come in contact in the course of their lives. Those would presumably include sado-masochism, bisexuality, paedophilia and even perhaps bestiality. Necrophilia has also been mentioned during this debate. Is it my understanding that the right reverend Prelate would want a sex education that was comprehensive plus or minus some or more of those things, but that the only form of sexuality that was to be forbidden was homosexuality? Sado-masochism would be taught about but not forbidden; homosexuality would be taught about but forbidden?

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: I tried to say what I meant by "comprehensive". It would be things that adults would be likely to encounter. We have still not reached a stage in this society when in the course of ordinary life we encounter bestiality. I hope we never do. The real point is that we should teach people about things that we do not necessarily promote or approve of. Section 28 as it stands forbids certain things but it does not allow teachers and others to teach young people what they need to know.

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Lord Quirk: I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I simply point out that the Brightman amendment, to which he alluded but to which he was not able to lend his support, specifically does, as it were, include all these other issues beyond homosexuality.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: The reason that I am opposed to the Brightman amendment is that it seeks to do contradictory things. On the one hand, it seeks to promote marriage; on the other, it seeks to say that no kind of sexual lifestyle should be promoted. I believe that those are two contradictory propositions.

Lord Rea: About two hours ago--it may be more--the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said that Section 28 is protective against diseases that might be spread by homosexuality. The British Medical Association has a very different view. It says that Section 28 has had a harmful effect on the health aspects of sex education as many teachers and governors still believe--mistakenly, as we know--that it is unlawful to discuss homosexuality in schools. Thus, many men become infected with HIV or Hepatitis B because they have never been informed of the essential facts regarding safer sex for gay men. Others take high risks with their lives due to their low self-esteem, which is often engendered by homophobic attitudes and bullying in schools, which are seldom adequately dealt with by the staff. The BMA therefore supports the repeal of the section as it restricts the discussion of homosexuality within schools and prevents adequate sexual health education being carried out.

Playing it safe, a survey of teachers' views commissioned by the Health Education Authority, found in 1997 that,

    "the existence of Section 28 was sending a clear signal that there may be something dangerous or wrong about addressing the needs of lesbian, gay or bisexual people".

From a personal point of view, I object particularly to Section 2A(b), which prohibits local authorities from promoting,

    "the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability"--

I emphasise the word "acceptability"--

    "of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".

That is particularly offensive to me. As I told the House in 1988 during the passage of the legislation containing Section 28, from the age of six I was brought up by my mother and her lesbian partner. That was not a "pretended" family; it was a very real family for me and my brother. We had a full and happy family life together. I was only sorry that I was sent to a boarding school and thus missed out on some of the socially and culturally rich--and sometimes hilariously funny--times that we all enjoyed together. It was a very happy period for us, although at that time the outer world was going through the painful spasm of World War II, followed by the austere but politically exciting post-war years.

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To suggest that such a mode of life should not be acceptable, in the words of Section 28, is to me ludicrous. My simple Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "acceptable" as,

    "welcome, pleasing or tolerable".

If people are happy in a long-term relationship, whatever their sexual orientation, and are contributing normally to society, surely we should welcome that. To enshrine in law that such a relationship is not welcome or even tolerable is not only draconian but incompatible with the free society in which we take pride.

The legislation was, and is, seriously flawed and should certainly be repealed. I shall vote against the noble Baroness's amendment, and I recommend that Members on all sides of the Committee do likewise.

Baroness Hamwee: As I said earlier, to inform is not to promote. I am quite clear about that. I am also clear that the aggressive pushing of homosexuality is wrong. Intelligent, caring support for children is necessary. That is the basis of our support for the repeal of Section 28.

Of course, parents, grandparents and many other people are concerned about proselytisation. I share that concern. I heard on the radio last week a comment that Section 28 should stay in order to prohibit encouraging 13 year-olds to experiment with homosexual activity. On hearing that, I thought that I must be very old-fashioned, because I do not believe that 13 year-olds should be encouraged to experiment with any sexual activity. That said, I do not believe that matters of personal development should be directly regulated by statute.

Earlier, the Minister used the term "sensitivity". There are sensitivities and nuances with which primary legislation is ill-equipped to deal. Personal conduct and culture may change over time, subtly, but sometimes quite fast. These are matters for guidance, which can be flexible and can be adjusted as time passes. It can enable, even require, teachers to distinguish between what is salacious or dangerous on the one hand and what provides support and information on the other. That is a long way from not having a benchmark or standards.

The term "promote" is causing us difficulty. What does it mean? Does it have any meaning in this context? I do not believe that it is possible to promote homosexuality. That is a different matter from saying that I support the promotion of homosexuality. The repeal of Section 28 is not some kind of green light for pornography and corruption. The repeal will leave the position neutral, and that is how it should be. "Neutrality" and "equality" seem to me to be the right terms--not "tolerance", which implies something so far away from the norm as to require tolerating.

Where do children get their information? Much of it comes from other children and from the media, including the Internet. Sometimes they obtain it from people from whom the educators have a responsibility to protect them. I know that the whole Committee condemns the abuse of vulnerable people, including

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children--abuse by homosexual and heterosexual abusers. I suspect that the latter is more widespread. Protection must mean dealing with questions, spoken and unspoken, and not avoiding discussion. It means counselling, and sometimes it means helping a child to discover his or her sexuality.

Can teachers fulfil that role now? Yes, they can as the law stands, but Section 28 has collected so much baggage of misunderstanding that too many teachers believe that they would open themselves and their schools to prosecution. So too many teachers do not feel able to answer the most basic questions, to assist children grappling with a parent's or sibling's or their own homosexuality, or to tackle homophobic bullying. There is distressing evidence of books, school work and clothing being ruined, and of children being damaged in much deeper ways. And we all know how easily young bullies can become young, and then not so young, thugs.

We value the teaching profession. We should not constrain those in it. After all, we want to see more education and not less. Sex education is a matter for school governors, not the LEA, and the Education Act 1996 deals with its provision. I and other speakers have referred to the Bill's provisions. The reference to having due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life seems clear enough. Even so, local authority employees, such as youth workers, also feel under very real constraint.

Repealing the section will give confidence to those who deal with children. It will not give one single additional power to local authorities. It will not give them the power to promote homosexuality.

The section also refers to a "pretended family relationship". That, too, is unhelpful. It fails to recognise the value of stable relationships which are not marriage. Families come in many shapes and sizes. When I was asked to sit on the board of a charity dealing with research into family matters, I said, "But I'm not married, and I don't have 2.4 children". "Oh", I was told, "everyone has some sort of family".

Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the symbolism of Section 28. The message that it gives is offensive. It reinforces stigma. It does nothing to assist the inclusiveness of our society, and it does much to reinforce discrimination. The repeal of Section 28 was in my party's manifesto at the last election. I am happy to support its repeal and must vote against the amendment if it is put to the vote. We on these Benches maintain our view that to inform is not to promote.

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