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Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, like a number of other noble Lords, I have sat through the whole debate and found many of the arguments wide ranging. Some contributions have been more temperate and tolerant than others. Nevertheless, it has been a very good debate. As the House is aware, I have argued consistently that this is a matter of conscience. That was why as a matter of conscience I voted against the proposal to reduce the age of consent. That was widely acknowledged to be a matter of conscience and, quite correctly, there was a free vote. When we debated Section 28 recently I was critical of both the Government and the Opposition for imposing a three-line Whip because it was clear that the area of consideration was identical to the reduction in the age of consent. That obvious inconsistency was unacceptable to me, and again I voted in accordance with my conscience, which was in opposition to the Government's proposal to repeal Section 28.

This evening I shall again vote in accordance with my conscience, not someone else's conscience and certainly not the party's conscience. When we debated Section 28 on 7th February we knew that for some years events had overtaken the significance of its provisions. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which by Section 2A amended the Local Government Act 1986, became isolated and effectively moribund by the enactment of the Education Act 1993. The 1993 Act made the provision of personal and sexual education in schools the responsibility of school governors.

However, I recognise, as I believe do most noble Lords, that Section 28 was seen as having much greater significance than its legal status. When the Government proposed its repeal it became a kind of clarion call and the arguments became polarised on one question; namely, whether homosexuality should be promoted in schools. It is on that, and that alone, that I wish to focus my attention. I believe that if we are not careful we are in danger of drifting, perhaps quite inadvertently, into homophobia. This is not about relationships between consenting adults. We all know that homosexual relationships have been legal in this country for a considerable period. Whatever views one may take about that, unequivocally the issue here is the protection of children and young people who are at a vulnerable stage of their lives when they have not yet come to terms with their sexuality. None of us,

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however accidentally, must allow our feelings about homosexuality in general to cloud our judgment when addressing the specific issue of the protection of children and young people in our schools from the promotion of homosexuality.

Why do I stress this point? Like many other noble Lords, I have received an enormous mail bag about this debate. Many who have written have expressed genuine fears about the promotion of homosexuality in schools. I understand and support their concerns, but I would be less than honest if I ignored the fact that some of the correspondence expressed or reflected homophobic tendencies. Although my position is always to ensure that children are afforded the protection that they need, I worry about the danger of fuelling hysteria, which can only result in making a very difficult and sensitive situation even worse.

It is not my intention to repeat the terms of the Government's amendment to the Education Act 1996, which seeks to replace Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, because the details are before the House. However, I make two short points about the Government's amendment. First, I believe that the Government have changed their position since they were defeated in this House on 7th February. They have reconsidered the matter and produced an amendment which in legal terms--it will be in the appropriate piece of legislation--will afford greater protection to children and young children than Section 28. That amendment, coupled with the guidance notes which have the force of law, means that we have obtained from the Government what we sought. I firmly believe that the Government's proposals make it illegal to promote homosexuality in schools.

Secondly, I am aware that different people will place a different interpretation or construction on the Government's amendment. I believe in all conscience that what the Government have done in response to our decision of 7th February achieves the protection that I sought. I am not prepared to allow any political feelings or general views about homosexuality that I may have to cloud my thinking on this important question. I am solely focusing on the protection of children which initially I set out to achieve. I urge all noble Lords to do likewise.

I know that the term "stable relationships" has caused a considerable degree of concern. But from my reading of the amendment and the guidance notes the term has far more significance for unmarried heterosexual couples living together with children than for homosexual couples. We may have clear views about marriage on the one hand, and unmarried couples living together and bringing up children on the other. But whatever our views, we cannot apportion guilt to the children whose parents are unmarried; and we must never do anything that will lead them to feel guilty, because if we do so the blame is ours and not theirs. I believe that in their proposals the Government are dealing with this delicate situation correctly and sensitively.

I have had my say about the Government's original intention to repeal Section 28. I have expressed my concerns and I have voted according to my conscience.

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Now the Government have responded in a way that meets my concerns. Therefore, having now achieved what I believe the Government should have done in the first place, I shall support their amendment and shall no longer resist the repeal of Section 28 when the issue comes before us in the summer. It has always seemed sensible to me that when you have won you stop fighting. I commend that view to the House.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it has been a long debate and I hope the House will understand if I cannot respond to all the points raised. Were I to do so, I think that we should all be kept here for far too long, and much longer than most Members of your Lordships' House would want.

I should like to say at the outset how grateful I am to many of the speakers in the debate, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, for her wise remarks about stable relationships and the many forms that they can take as well as her equally wise observations about inappropriate materials in schools. I am also extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate and others who have supported the government amendment, including the Liberal Democrat Benches. In responding to the debate, I want to focus in particular on the amendments spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

Let me begin with Amendments Nos. 8 and 9. I have heard much today about what sort of messages we send to young people. I think that we should have a little humility and realise that we need to be very clear indeed about regulating other people's lives. These amendments aim to set into legislation a statement about the supremacy of marriage, and seek to wreck the consensus approach that the Government have reached with the enormous help of the Churches on this matter. They seek to send a negative signal to those in society who choose not to enter into marriage but nevertheless are in loving, caring, stable relationships.

I spoke earlier about the need for the government amendment to be inclusive and to reflect the whole of society around us. I regret to say that the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, seek to be exclusive. As such they give no reassurance to those in relationships other than marriage and will stigmatise children at school whose parents are not married. We must not go down the road of teaching children to criticise their parents' values and the structure of their families which may be different from those supported by some noble Lords. There is a large percentage of children in this country whose parents are not married. Nowadays almost 40 per cent of all children are born outside of marriage. The proposed amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, are simply unacceptable on that basis alone.

I repeat: there should be no doubt that the Government support the institution of marriage and that they believe that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships. We have set out a framework that is firmly stated in the government amendment and the guidance. In the real world there

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are many relationships outside marriage. The Government recognise that and their consultation document Supporting Families made it clear that in giving its support to marriage it does not mean trying to make people marry or criticising or penalising those who choose not to. It is not the role of Government to behave in that way. It also states that there are strong and mutually supportive families outside marriage. Regrettably, of course, some marriages are anything but stable: a legal document is no guarantee of stability and we cannot pretend otherwise.

In preparing young people for the opportunities and responsibilities of adult life--which is a clear objective of both the government amendment and the draft guidance--we must honestly reflect that the real world of adult life that young people are moving into may not be one of which everyone in your Lordships' House approves. The amendment and the guidance reflects a balance where we concentrate on young people's personal development and where each individual is valued regardless of his or her marital status. What matters in bringing up children is that they are within a stable and loving relationship: that they are loved, cared for and cherished. The Government's amendment represents a sensible approach that will allow sex and relationship education to be delivered covering family life and marriage while being sensitive to the wide range of circumstances of those children being taught today in our schools.

I turn now to the Amendment No. 13 tabled by the noble Baroness. It relates both to the promotion of sexual orientation and the use of materials. The first part of the amendment seeks to remove the reference in the government amendment to young people being given accurate information for the purposes of enabling them to understand difference and of preventing or removing prejudice. I find it quite staggering that Members of this House would consider removing from the face of legislation reference to teaching children about different groups in society and removing prejudice. The government amendment reflects the wider PSHE framework which is intended to teach young people to respect the differences between people, about the effects of stereotyping, prejudice and bullying, racism and discrimination. We live in a world of many different peoples and beliefs. If we are to prepare young people for adulthood they need to have an appreciation of others with views different from themselves. I am astonished that the noble Baroness seeks to remove this part of the Government's amendment.

Much concern has also been raised about the issue of promoting sexual orientation. Both the amendment tabled by the Government and the guidance are extremely firm in this area. It is the job of teachers and others to help young people learn to respect themselves and others and move with confidence from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. Teachers should be able to help young people understand themselves, and be able to deal honestly and openly with questions about sexuality. Much has been said throughout the

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course of all the debates on sex and relationship education and the repeal of Section 28 about the need to protect young people. We must not forget that sex and relationship education is for all young people in schools, including those who identify themselves as gay or lesbian. Their protection must not be forgotten and they are entitled to expect honesty, openness and support from their teachers and to receive their education free from bullying because of what they are. Talk of protection must seem very hollow to those who have suffered homophobic abuse at school.

There has also been much talk about converting or persuading young people into a particular sexual orientation. Even if it were possible to convert or persuade young people to a particular sexuality, our draft guidance makes it abundantly clear that sex and relationship education,

    "is not about the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity--this would be inappropriate teaching".

Amendment No. 13 also seeks to protect children from inappropriate teaching materials. Let me set out the Government's position on this. Major concerns have been voiced about the inappropriate use of materials. I understand those concerns. It has been one of the major planks of attack by those opposing the repeal of Section 28. I am afraid that we have seen a great deal of misinformation in the media and local authorities stand accused of wishing to send all manner of unsuitable material to schools.

We confuse this issue. Quite clearly, there may be explicit material produced by local authorities to help them fight the spread of disease. They have been successful in that respect in that the incidence of HIV/AIDS in this country is much lower than many previous forecasts. But that material is produced not for schools, but for a particular audience and for a particular purpose.

Much of the concern which has been expressed on some of the material that is available to schools is unfounded and there has been unfortunate scaremongering. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was indulging in such scaremongering when she commented on the use of the term "role play" in the guidance. She then linked that with all kinds of sexual behaviour with which she disapproves. I do not deny that there is reference to role play, but there is not reference to the context to which the noble Baroness referred in the draft guidance.

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