Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: It is not true to say that Section 28 was unnecessary. It was originally devised as a Private Member's Bill of the late Lord Halsbury's, to prevent a very serious wrong, which was that certain London councils--Tottenham was one, and I think Brent was another--were teaching children that it was better to be homosexual than heterosexual. When parents protested, they were subjected to abuse and even considerable violence. So it is quite untrue to say that the clause was unnecessary at the time. I might just mention that some councils would merrily spend large

7 Feb 2000 : Column 462

sums of council tax payers money on gay jamborees, raves and so forth, while cutting down on essential services, which they say they cannot afford. It applies not only to schools but to local authorities. It is quite untrue to say that the fact that no cases have come before the courts as a result of the section shows that it is unnecessary: it merely indicates how well it works.

To say that guidelines, or a code of practice, will do just as well is nonsense. Guidelines and codes of practice, unless given force by legislation, have no force in law and can be disregarded with impunity, and often are. What may be useful are guidelines as to what may or may not be done by teachers under Section 28, or possibly under a future substitute for Section 28. It is quite untrue to say that the section prevents teachers giving advice to worried children about problems of sexuality, as anyone who has read the clause knows perfectly well. It is quite untrue to say that it prevents teachers dealing with the bullying of homosexuals in the playground, as anyone who has read the clause will also know perfectly well. If a person does not try to understand, it is because he cannot be bothered or because he has private reasons for failing to do so.

There are a great many misconceptions regarding what is and is not permissible under Section 28. A good number have been fostered by ignorance, but many may have been fostered by interested parties. Neither the late Lord Halsbury, who was so much loved and respected on all sides of the House, nor any of those who were involved in his Private Member's Bill or in supporting its second incarnation as Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill were, or are, homophobes. The vast majority of that huge majority of people who do not wish to see Section 28 repealed are not only not homophobic but are infinitely more tolerant of people of different sexual orientation than homosexuals are of them, as a MORI poll carried out in the Daily Mail found.

The fact is that the opponents of Section 28 have a very weak case, and that is why they use so many dubious arguments to support it. Like other Members of the Committee, I have received a great many letters from anxious parents and grandparents imploring me to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Many of those letters came from Scotland. I have been obliged to write to say that nothing we do here will directly help them since it is a devolved matter. But feeling is running very high across the whole country. I cannot think why the Government want to do something which will be so unpopular with so many people, including many sensible and responsible homosexuals. I refer noble Lords to an article by Jason Henderson in today's Daily Mail. The Government must be daft.

I emphasise to all Members of the Committee, in particular my fellow Cross-Benchers, that the majority of people in this country look to this House to save Section 28 for them so that their children and grandchildren can grow up without being subjected at a very young age to the kind of indoctrination described in Bankrolling Gay Proselytism which Section 28 prevents. I hope that we shall not let them down.

7 Feb 2000 : Column 463

7.30 p.m.

Lord Ahmed: I shall be brief. I intended to make a long speech but many points have already been made by other Members of the Committee. I deal with just two matters. Since November last year I have been part of Channel 4's "Hate Commission" which is investigating "hate crime" based on racism and homophobia. We have completed our report. The documentary is being edited this week and will be televised in March 2000. I was asked to visit Manchester and meet the gay community, which I did, and study a report produced by the National Advisory Group Policing Lesbian and Gay Communities. Together with the author of the report, Ian Wilmott, I visited Gay Village in Manchester city centre and met various individuals, male and female. My aim was to see the scale of violence perpetrated against gay people because of their sexual orientation.

I was shocked by the scale of violence against the gay community and recommended various measures to ensure that violence against gay men and women should not be tolerated. My initial thoughts were that it was only through education that we could fight prejudice. However, having examined promotional material produced by some health authorities, I am convinced that some local authorities will interpret the repeal of Section 28 as a ticket to promote homosexuality.

The Committee has already heard of the concerns of the Muslim community. The Muslim community is totally opposed to the repeal of Section 28. I have informed the noble Baroness, Lady Young, of my intentions in this matter. Having heard earlier contributions to the debate, and the response of the Minister to the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I do not wish to press the amendment to a Division at this stage. However, I reserve my right to do so at Third Reading if the proposals offered by the Government do not meet the concerns that I have expressed.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that the onus was upon the Government to justify the repeal of Section 28. Leaving aside words like "onus", I should like to explain one very good reason for repealing Section 28 which has not yet been dealt with. Therefore, I hope that what I say is new and not merely repetitious. I make my observations in the presence of the Attorney-General, who will, I am sure, interrupt me if he disagrees with my analysis of why Section 28 conflicts with the European Convention on Human Rights and why the amendment, if agreed to, will lead to enormous legal uncertainty when the Human Rights Act comes into force in October. In what I am about to say I shall deal with that and nothing else.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, indicated, one limb of Section 28 forbids local authorities from promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as what it calls "a pretended family relationship". Under that vague and ambiguous language, if a local authority encourages a teacher in a maintained school to tell her sixth-form

7 Feb 2000 : Column 464

pupils that a homosexual relationship may constitute a real and not a pretended family relationship, that may be treated as promoting the teaching of "the acceptability of homosexuality" according to the wording of Section 28, irrespective of the authority's or the teacher's intentions to promote honest and accurate information and discussion in the classroom. That limb of Section 28 in effect requires local authorities to ensure that teachers treat all homosexual family relationships as pretended and not as real family relationships, including relationships in which a homosexual couple raise a child, say, of a divorced husband or wife. A teacher who disobeys that limb and puts her local authority in breach of Section 28 may jeopardise her career.

To that extent, in my view Section 28 promotes false and inaccurate teaching, for in truth, as this House pointed out recently in Fitzpatrick v. Sterling Housing Association--I hear someone say "a dreadful case", but it is the law of the land as laid down by the Law Lords--a homosexual relationship may involve a real rather than a pretended family relationship. In the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead,

    "Where sexual partners are involved, whether heterosexual or homosexual, there is scope for the intimate mutual love and affection and long term commitment that typically characterise the relationship of husband and wife".

In other words, contrary to the first limb of Section 28, English law recognises that a homosexual relationship is capable of being a real family relationship, for example for the purpose of inheriting tenancy rights. Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. Homosexuality is not to be equated with bestiality or necrophilia, if that was the burden of his remarks.

Lord Quirk: I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I did not say anything to equate them. I was simply teasing out from the right reverend Prelate what would be covered by his comprehensive sex education.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I misunderstood the noble Lord's remarks.

Lord Waddington: Before the noble Lord continues, does he realise that he disturbs us rather than assuages our fears when he refers to a case in which the courts redefined the meaning of "family". If at any specific juncture the word "family" can be given an entirely different meaning from that which ordinary people imagine it to mean, it makes us consider with some concern an amendment containing the word "family". That is the point to which we should surely address our minds. We need to know what "family" will mean in the future before we leap to support an amendment which refers to the family.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page