Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, my noble friend raised a variety of points in his supplementary question. I have said that we want progress at the conference, but there is no doubt that some procedural issues--and I am sure that my noble friend knows them in greater detail than I--must be resolved. However, it is true that the UK is concerned about the prospects for the review conference. We are looking for the conference to result in a balanced review which takes account of the positive steps which both we and other nuclear weapon states have taken over the past five years and which also sets a realistic agenda for the next five years.

My noble friend raised the question of the Prime Minister going to the conference. The British delegation will be led by my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Peter Hain. That is the normal representation at such review conferences. The one exception was in 1995 when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, attended. That was a special conference and it has been the one exception. Therefore, the UK delegation will be led at the usual level.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that the principal question is not whether we make progress at the review conference but whether we can run fast enough to stay in the same place? Is there not a profound mistrust among the non-nuclear powers that the nuclear powers are not taking their obligations under the treaty seriously? How do the Government propose to persuade them that we do not all share the philosophy of the American Senate?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, perhaps my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell will forgive me if I do not take up his last rather provocative sentence. The UK has done more than most to carry out the NPT agenda. We shall make that clear, but the non-nuclear weapon states recognise that. Since the end of the cold war we have reduced the number of our operationally available warheads by 50 per cent. Most recently, we did so in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review when we announced a reduction of one third in the previously planned number of warheads. The UK has maintained its remaining forces at reduced readiness.

28 Feb 2000 : Column 325

I could go on, but I shall make one further point to demonstrate how far the United Kingdom has gone along that road. We have been completely transparent about our military stock of nuclear material, declaring that portion of it which is no longer needed for defence purposes and arranging to place that surplus material under EURATOM safeguards and to make it liable to inspection by the IAEA. We have an excellent record that the non-nuclear weapon states must recognise.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we recognise that the Government have done a good deal to reduce the British nuclear deterrent. However, beyond the procedural issues in the conference, does the Minister not accept that the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, about the commitment of many within the United States Senate and Administration to pursuing theatre missile defence is the largest single issue hanging over the future of the nuclear non-proliferation review conference? Can she assure us that the Government are making firm representations to the United States about the dangers which the pursuit of theatre missile defence would mean for the non-proliferation regime?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the United Kingdom has made very clear to its allies in the United States what it feels about this issue. We have stated from this Dispatch Box that we shall continue to make our position very clear.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, to what extent is the Minister concerned that the failure to agree a work programme at last year's summit conference on disarmament risks undermining the credibility of the conference on disarmament as a whole? What action do the Government intend to take at the conference's 2000 session to prevent a repeat of the deadlock, particularly given the words of the outgoing president of the conference, Ambassador Leslie Luck of Australia, that the conference could not credibly remain idle for another year?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, that is exactly the problem which faces us all as we come up to the review conference in New York. The Government have been active in speaking to both nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states. The chair of the forthcoming conference is Algeria and we shall be in close contact with all parties concerned. It is of vital importance to us and to everyone that the conference is a success. We are doing everything politically and diplomatically to try to ensure that it will be.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, an article in last month's Spectator suggested that we might share our deterrent with France; indeed, that we might create a Euro-bond. Will my noble friend the Minister explode that myth?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am not sure that that is the correct verb to use on this topic! However, I am grateful to my noble friend for asking

28 Feb 2000 : Column 326

that question because it gives me an opportunity to say that it is not true. We have warmly welcomed the growing co-operation on defence issues between the UK and France, but the UK nuclear forces remain operationally independent and under the Government's full control at all times. There are no plans to change that.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Amos will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on Mozambique.

Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (Amendment of Rules) Bill

Read a third time, and passed.

Local Government Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Promotion of well-being]:

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 18, at beginning insert ("subject to section (Discrimination in the provision of facilities or services) of this Act and to sections 2A and 2B of the Local Government Act 1986,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to speak to my amendment to Clause 2. I am advised that, in order to render it intelligent within the evolving framework of amendments to the Bill, I have to speak to Amendment No. 81, which is a prohibition of positive discrimination as to the provision of services and facilities not generally available on public expenditure for the benefit of any group of persons. I must speak also to Amendment No. 82, which relates to the prohibition of explicit sexual material unless approved by the board of governors if made available in any maintained school.

The first purpose of the amendment to Clause 2 is to avoid conflict on the Bill as it stands between Clause 2 and the amendment moved in Committee by my noble friend Lady Young, which is now reflected in Clause 82, which restores Section 2(a) of the 1986 Act as amended to include bullying.

The other purpose is to pave the way for Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 by removing putative conflict with Clause 2. Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 are free standing. They have been accepted by the Table as complementary to Section 2A(1)(a) of the 1986 Act which stands unamended; that is, the prohibition of the promotion of homosexuality or the publication of material to that end. Albeit complementary, these amendments adopt a new, non-discriminatory approach which prohibits positive discrimination in favour of any group of persons of

28 Feb 2000 : Column 327

whatever sexual orientation or none. It introduces the new prohibition in any maintained school of explicit sexual material of the type which your Lordships have seen in the exhibition, if not approved by the board of governors on which parents now sit.

Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 are not concerned directly with Section 2A(1)(b) in relation to the prohibition of teaching the acceptability of homosexual pretended family relationships. Section 2A(1)(b) stands unamended. However, with this evolving framework, Amendment No. 86 to Schedule 1, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reflects an amendment which was moved at Committee stage by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. That will be supported in due course as complementary to the amendments to which I am speaking. That will also be the case when, at the Committee stage of the Learning and Skills Bill, Amendment No. 235, moved by the right reverend Prelate to amend Section 403 of the Education Act 1996, is again moved at Report stage, which I gather will be on 14th March.

As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will remember, it was accepted at Committee stage of this Bill that, if an amendment such as Amendment No. 86 to the first schedule were carried into the Bill, there would need to be consequential amendments to Clause 2. However, that has not been carried in the form of the amendment to which I speak. When my noble friend Lady Young moved her amendment, which is now reflected in Clause 82, a vacuum had been created by the Bill as it then stood by Clause 62, by the abolition of Section 2A of the 1986 Act and Section 28 of the 1988 Act by Schedule 5. Clause 2 could afford no acceptable safeguard or control.

Many noble Lords, including myself, had our reservations. However, we went into the Lobby to hold the fort--and we were right to do so--until some acceptable resolution was proposed in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights and which did not engender resentment and confusion. However, but for the stalwart initiative of my noble friend, whom I am so glad to see in her place, and the support of this House, there would have been no time for reflection, no breathing space, no new approach and no hope of compromise. The vote of this Chamber was one of commonsense, signal service rendered by this House to Parliament and the people. However, now we have that breathing space; now we can enter the gateway of compromise.

A new approach--perhaps I may express it as a kind of "concordat" between Church and state--was inspired by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who speaks as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education on behalf of the churches. I suppose I must declare an interest as one of his wayward flock. It is plain from the Waterhouse report that in these depths of evil depravity no distinction whatever may be drawn between the heterosexual and the homosexual abuser. Based on any European Convention on Human Rights approach, under our domestic law homosexuals are

28 Feb 2000 : Column 328

entitled to respect for their private life, freedom of expression and equality of treatment, not only in the Army but generally.

In 1998 the ECHR was not part of our domestic law. It is not understood today how any overtly discriminatory provision against homosexuals or the promotion of homosexuality with punitive sanctions against a local authority under Section 28(2)(a) or (b) could be enforced in our courts. Section 28, which, as I understand it, was not opposed in another place, was designed to deal with the wholly unacceptable activities of certain urban local authorities regarding the promotion of homosexuality. Albeit not so well drafted, none the less it served its purpose for approximately 12 years. It has now served that purpose and it should be replaced by new concepts, such as the concordat as implemented by Article 86 to the first Schedule. That concordat sets up an overview and scrutiny committee where the local authority is the local education authority as regards educational functions and as regards the provision of sex education in adopting the principles of family life. There should be no physical or verbal abuse with regard to sexual orientation and no encouragement of sexual activity, as proposed by the right reverend Prelate in Amendment No. 235 of the Learning and Skills Bill.

Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 retain punitive sanctions against the local authority and are in implementation of the concept of the right reverend Prelate that sex education is a matter for governors and head teachers who have parental right of withdrawal. As the first purpose of this amendment is to remove the conflict between Clauses 2 and 82 as regards implementation, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will remember that anticipatory objection was taken on Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 150 and 152 of this Bill to that effect. It is the conflict between the mandatory provision under Clause 28 with all the panoply of the law, and the massive delegation of absolute discretion under Clause 2 to do anything considered likely to improve social well-being in the area, which might well bring us back to the dreadful situation as it was before Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

Furthermore, under Clause 2 as it stands, whatever the local authority does, "to improve social well-being", that exercise of discretion would not be subject to the jurisdiction of force under judicial review save in a wholly exceptional circumstance.

I refer to the amendment tabled by my noble friend, now Clause 82. Clause 2 was compatible with Clause 62 of the Bill when drafted. However, because of the repeal of Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 and Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, Clause 2 is not compatible with the Bill as amended by my noble friend by Clause 82 nor with either of the amendments to which I speak, nor with amendments tabled which reflect the concordat.

The second purpose is to avoid conflict between Clause 2 and Amendments Nos. 81 and 82. Amendment No. 81 prohibits positive discrimination in favour of any group of persons, whether homosexual, heterosexual or of whatever interest or

28 Feb 2000 : Column 329

inclination as regards exclusive provision for the benefit of facilities and services not generally available on the expenditure of public funds by local authorities. It is a general prohibition and not directed against any group of whatever sexual orientation. As such it would conform with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Amendment No. 82 is concerned with sexually-explicit material of the type your Lordships have seen on exhibition. A prohibition is imposed upon the local authority against making such material available for children in any maintained school without the consent and approval of the board of governors. As your Lordships know, parents now sit on such boards. It is suggested that this is an appropriate and sufficient method of seeking to protect the children. That prohibition on the local authority is in general terms. It is not directed against any group of whatever sexual disposition. Neither the prohibition nor the method of control suggested would be contrary to the convention. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page