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Earl Russell: My Lords, I beg the pardon of the noble Baroness for being out of the Chamber for a moment. Am I right in understanding that she is raising the item from Berkshire Health Authority reported in this morning's paper?
Earl Russell: My Lords, in that case she might be interested to know that that material was not distributed to pupils. It is part of an HIV prevention document and was distributed only to head teachers and personal health and safety advisers.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we will have to agree to differ on that. I was speaking to someone in Berkshire only this morning and I know that many heads have been appalled by the letter that they received on behalf of their children.
There are so many mixed messages here. The Government express concern over the education and health of the nation's children, and yet this Bill represents a serious health risk to young people. There is also an inconsistency; even--dare I say?--a misleading message coming from the Prime Minister and Mr Donald Dewar, First Minister in Scotland, when they claim that sexuality role-playing by children in school does not happen and will not happen under this Government.
First, it does happen. On page 16, paragraph 4.4 of the Government's guidelines, which are out for consultation, it specifically advocates role-playing as a way of dealing with sex and sexuality in schools. The teaching book which is used in the Avon area sets out detailed lesson plans, including lists of characters to which I referred in a previous debate, representing every form of sexuality including some pretty deviant ones.
Government Ministers have been extremely critical of the media, and of the effective campaign that has raged in Scotland, which opposed these proposals and the repeal of Clause 28. Well, I thank God that we still live in a country where the voice of the people can be given expression without fear or favour of the government of the day--any government of the day.
There is another dimension to this Bill which should be explored. I recently asked a Written Question about the effect of the Human Rights Act where there is a ban on homosexual and heterosexual activity in boarding schools. For example, would the human rights of two
As I have said, the abuse of trust clauses in this Bill are feeble and are deeply flawed. First, there are many other categories of people who are in a position of trust but who are not included in the Bill and the Government appear reluctant to accept amendments. In fact, this Bill had only cursory debate in another place and I hope that that will not be the case in this House. Secondly, what is the position, for example, of a teacher or youth worker who has sex with another 16 year-old from a neighbouring school or youth club for whom they are not directly in a position of trust?
One only has to read the Waterhouse Report, Lost in Care, about the child abuse scandal in Wales to know that the abuse of trust clauses are wholly inadequate to protect vulnerable young people. No account is being taken by government of the particular vulnerabilities of 16 to 18 year-olds in care--a point highlighted in the report with great poignancy when referring to the unbelievably cruel abuse of "Child B".
Much of the abuse suffered by the children in the Waterhouse Report was committed by people who were not in a position of trust as defined in the Bill. Does not that concern the Government? My noble friend Lady Young will deal with that point in detail. Meanwhile, I must appeal to the Minister that if this Bill is not to be abandoned, as I believe it should, then the abuse of trust clauses must be strengthened.
If equality is the issue, then the age of 16 is highly debatable, not simply because many of us believe it is far too young, but because other ages can be considered; for example, 17 in Ireland or 18 as is the case now. One can level upwards as well as level downwards. I put the Minister on notice that he will hear more on that at Committee and Report stages.
I was fascinated to see that, although Scotland now has a Parliament and this is a devolved matter, the Bill includes Scotland as well as Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Can the Minister say why that is? Has the Scottish Assembly waived its right to consider and determine the matter? If so, was it formally agreed in the Parliament by all of its Members and when? Do the people of Scotland who have expressed serious concerns over the repeal of Section 28 know that there is a probability that the Westminster Government will use the Parliament Act to impose these measures on Scotland as well as on England, Wales and Northern Ireland? I believe members of the public in Scotland will be as appalled as some of us are that, on a matter of conscience, the Government intend to invoke the Parliament Act. I would have thought that the Ayr by-election just might have given Mr Blair second thoughts, especially given the second thoughts he has had over the devolution process in Scotland and Wales.
Bullying is another very real issue. But bullying of young people should not be used to defend this Bill. As has been said on many occasions, bullying is an issue which must be addressed by schools, just as respect for tolerance of others is fundamental to a civilised society and must be taught by parents and teachers and supported by the community.
In bringing forward this Bill, the Government have taken no account of the delicate stage of development of pubescent teenagers. Little account has been taken of public opinion on this issue. The Bill provides little or no protection for the most vulnerable children. Their health and well-being will be put at greater risk by these proposals. The Government have been too ready to listen to and take heed of the more vociferous campaigning gay and lesbian groups. "Children's rights" have given way to "gay rights".
In the name of equality, men will now be allowed to commit buggery on girls as young as 16. How can that be defended? And predatory men will now be able to claim that their victim consented. And if they are to be convicted, it will be up to the victims to prove that they did not consent. In this regard the Government would do well to read and to learn from the report on the child abuse scandal in Wales.
Childhood should be nurtured and cherished, not corrupted and damaged by persons who are not in the position of trust, as in the case of "Child B" in Wales--a situation that would be permissible under this Bill.
Those who share the view of my noble friend Lady Young and myself will spare no energy in the coming weeks in pressing amendments to persuade the Government that this is, above all, about the protection of children. This House has a duty, if it so decides, to ask the Government to think again, and I hope that it will.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill : My Lords, in his masterly study of the struggle between the House of Lords and Asquith's Government, my noble friend, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, recalled how, in 1886, the prospect of Irish Home Rule threw the great mass of Liberal peers into the arms of the Conservative majority and how, seven years later, Gladstone's second attempt at Irish Home Rule was defeated in this House by 419 to 41 votes. By their disregard of the authority of the elected chamber on Irish Home Rule, as well as in voting down the "people's Budget" in 1909, the House demonstrated the aptness of Lloyd George's quip that this House was not the watchdog of the constitution; it was "Mr Balfour's poodle". It was, of course, the obstinate refusal by the House of Lords to accept the supremacy of the democratically elected House that led to the Parliament Acts.
The present House is no more democratic now than it was in 1911. Despite the creation of many new Lords by new Labour, the present House remains both undemocratic and politically unbalanced. It wholly lacks democratic legitimacy. Because none of us has been elected by the people, we have no right to claim to be a legislative chamber, representative of the
This time it is not the prospect of Irish Home Rule which tempts the opponents of this Bill to obstruct its passage in the face of the wishes of the great majority of members of the other place, expressed in a free vote. What drives the opponents of this second Bill is the continuing fear and moral disapproval among the older generation, so strongly represented in this House, of consenting sexual activity between adult homosexual men.
This time the opponents of the Bill will not obstruct a Second Reading, so as to allow the Government to invoke the Parliament Acts immediately. Their tactics will be to use their temporary majority in the House to wreck the Bill slowly and then to play parliamentary ping-pong with the other place. We on these Benches will support the Government in defeating these tactics, however much parliamentary time it may take.
Equalisation of the age of the age of consent was in my party's manifesto at the last general election and our support for the Government is in accordance with the manifesto that we put before the people.
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