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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he recall the words of his colleague, the Minister dealing with the Learning and Skills Bill? He told me in response to a question which I asked that what we did in the Learning and Skills Bill had no read-across whatever to Section 28 or Section 2A, in this debate and with regard to this Bill.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, precisely; because Section 28 did not apply to the powers of governors and teachers who will be carrying out the guidance under the Learning and Skills Bill. There is no direct read-across. My point is precisely that. It has always been wrong to say that Section 28 affected the way in which teachers, governors and head teachers provided sex education in schools. Section 28 relates to the role of local authorities.

Your Lordships may well have been misled into thinking that it applied to schools. Much of the propaganda on all sides has related to schools. In fact, Section 28 applied to the role of local authorities. Therefore, having dealt with it under the Learning and Skills Bill and clarified the situation in relation to the teaching of children, for whom there are understandable concerns in this House, we are left with the services provided by local authorities. The bulk of those services relate to adults.

Some Members of this House may not like my argument. Some may believe that any provision of services to the gay and lesbian members of our society is of itself wrong. We on the Government side do not accept that. We believe that those whose sexuality is different from the majority are citizens of this realm and are entitled to receive from the public authorities of this realm treatment equal to that given to those whose sexuality is more of the majority.

Local authorities provide a number of services to gay and lesbian people. They provide health and medical advice, social services, counselling services and so forth. It must be right and proper that local authorities should be able to continue to do so without running into the danger of being accused of promoting homosexuality under Section 2A or Section 28.

I have no doubt that we shall have a long, but I hope not too emotive, debate on the subject. The central question is whether in the 21st century we are prepared to accept that members of our society who happen to be gay and lesbian are entitled to services from their local authorities which they elect and to which they pay taxes.

The House of Lords must recognise that in another place a large majority of Members were in favour of the repeal of Section 2A or Section 28. Clearly, as always, the House must take very seriously an attempt to overturn that.

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But today the House has another, even greater, responsibility in considering how to deal with amendments which seek to overturn the Commons repeal. I remind your Lordships that this House has always seen itself as having, and constitutionally had, a special responsibility to protect the rights of minorities. If we retain Section 28, we shall be doing precisely the opposite.

When the Bill left the Lords, the Government did not feel able to assure the House of Commons that the Bill was compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. With all the legislation that has passed through this House, that was a serious and totally unprecedented move. We should not now be diverted to discussing the situation within schools. The guidance contained within the Learning and Skills Bill has protected and clarified the position in relation to children.

Primarily at issue now are the human rights of adult citizens. Of course I understand the concern in relation to the sex education of our children. It has been mentioned throughout the debates in this House and in the media and elsewhere. However, we resolved the issue of sex education last week. Before us now in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is an attempt to provide a means to deny human rights and equality to a group of our citizens. That is the issue before your Lordships today.

I have no doubt that the debate will range wide and that much extraneous material, in all senses, will be referred to. As with the Learning and Skills Bill and unlike previous debates on this issue, I hope that we shall have a calm and reasonable debate which deals with the facts rather than with misleading and prejudiced assertions. I believe that today the House has a heavy responsibility to protect minorities. Therefore, we should agree with the Commons amendment in order to restore the reputation of this House as a defender of all citizens, including a minority of citizens. I shall refer to the other government amendments shortly.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 377.--(Lord Whitty.)

6.45 p.m.


377ABaroness Young rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their amendment, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 377A and wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 378A, 388A, 389A, 474A, 474B and 482A, which are consequential.

In rising to speak this evening, I am conscious that we are going over well-trodden ground. In moving my amendment, perhaps I may start by saying that, when the House of Lords accepted it last February, it did so with a further amendment which added another safeguard against bullying.

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At this late stage I do not want to do more than touch on what I see as the salient points in this great debate. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that I shall deal with the facts of the situation because I believe that the facts of the situation speak for themselves. I hope that anyone who is minded to speak in support of the repeal of Section 28 has looked at the facts and has looked at the material being placed in front of children up and down the country, as we speak now, before deciding that it can be repealed with impunity.

First, Section 28 came about because parents were worried about what their children were being taught in schools--in some cases, in primary schools. They were equally concerned at the type of material that was being put in front of their children. The movers for Section 28 were parents and they remain at the centre of the debate. The response of the then government of the day was Section 28. Perhaps I may say that I have been most moved at the support that I have received for keeping Section 28 from all parts of your Lordships' House and from representatives of all the great religions: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs; the issue crosses them all.

What does Section 28 permit? It permits facts about homosexuality to be discussed in the classroom; it allows the counselling of pupils; it allows local authorities to provide services to homosexuals; and, importantly, under Section 2A(2) local authorities have a duty to promote public health. Therefore Section 28 cannot stop money going towards helping HIV patients or those who suffer from sexually transmitted diseases. Those are not my words; they come from the accompanying memorandum to the Local Government Act 1988.

As for bullying, I believe, as I am sure we all do, that all bullying is wrong, whatever the cause. By law, every school must have a policy on it under Section 61(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. We know that Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, has gone on record as saying that in the course of his many inspections he has not come across any evidence of bullying as a result of Section 28.

Therefore, what does Section 28 prevent? It prohibits local authorities from promoting--the verb is important--homosexuality over a range of services in schools, children's homes, youth groups, government training courses, in-service courses for teachers and publications. That, again, we know from the evidence of what is currently happening in local government today.

As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to it, since we last debated this matter we have passed the Learning and Skills Bill. The House carried amendments to that Bill last Tuesday and, although they are not as strong as I should have wished, I welcome them and the guidance that accompanies them. However, we must all remember that the guidance has no force of law. Section 28 does.

However, as my noble friend Lady Blatch has already pointed out, the amendments to the Learning and Skills Bill concern only sex education in schools.

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They will not protect children who are in youth groups, in children's homes or in any of the other circumstances that I have just enumerated. It is simply not true to say, as did the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that they have no effect. They do have an effect. Section 28 is important, and we need both that section and the Learning and Skills Bill amendments as carried. Section 28 has worked well in practice. As your Lordships can imagine, it is unusual for me to quote Peter Tatchell in a debate such as this. However, he has gone on record as saying that he knows of at least 36 cases of self-censorship by local authorities.

I know from our previous debates on this matter that some of your Lordships are greatly concerned about the issue of human rights. I have taken legal advice on that from Heather Swindells, QC, one of the leading experts on family law and the European convention. She has argued clearly that Section 28 is fully consistent with the convention. Should any noble Lord wish it, I should be happy to read in full what she said on that point, but I feel somehow that the House would prefer me simply to accept that her advice is quite clear.

Finally, we must ask ourselves what would happen if Section 28 were repealed, because that is what the debate is about tonight. First, of course, we know that repeal is deeply unpopular with the British public. During my long years in public life, I have never known an issue that has touched so many people so immediately and so deeply. I am not talking only about the 5,000 letters that I have received from consultants, doctors, social workers, teachers, parents, grandparents, young people and old people from one end of the United Kingdom to another. In Scotland, that very brave man, Mr Brian Souter, conducted a poll in which he attracted a million votes in support of keeping Section 28 in Scotland. I have not the slightest doubt that, were there to be a referendum in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it would show the same figures. The turnout in the referendum in Scotland was greater than that in the English local government elections or the European elections.

I am pleased to see that since the issue has come before our notice, Kent County Council has said that it will pass its own legislation should Section 28 be repealed. I understand that Surrey County Council may follow suit. Were the section to be repealed, I hope that other local authorities would do the same.

The truth is that, if Section 28 is repealed, there will be no safeguards to stop local authorities promoting homosexuality outside education, in youth groups, children's homes, social services, in-service training, courses for teachers and governors and other areas. Within education, the safeguards will apply only narrowly to sex education, not to any other subject in the curriculum. It will be perfectly legal for a local authority to promote homosexuality in English lessons. A book published by the Open University explains how. It is entitled Lesbian and Gay Issues in the English Classroom and sets out six lessons for us to follow. It will be legal to promote gay rights in citizenship lessons, which, I understand, are shortly to become compulsory.

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A book produced by Camden and Islington NHS trusts tells teachers how to get round the law on promoting homosexuality in other subjects, such as English and History. Parents have no right to withdraw their children from lessons in those other subjects. The Islington and Camden book says:

    "It is possible to include many of these issues"--

that is gay and lesbian issues--

    "within the national curriculum areas, which means that pupils would not be withdrawn by their parents. The requirement for a sex education curriculum resulting from the 1993 Education Act allows parents to only withdraw their children from any part of the school's agreed sex education curriculum".

So we know what they think about it.

The repeal of Section 28 would send out a clear message and a signal to local authorities to promote homosexuality. Almost within the past week we have seen one example of that in the material produced by Bristol City Council, which has worked closely with Avon health authority. The council has announced that it will step up funding for the project, which was so closely involved with producing the appalling material, which we had on exhibition in February, called Beyond a Phase, a teacher's handbook and video intended for children aged 13 and above. Many of your Lordships will have seen both in the exhibition that I held last February. On the video, one of the young people suggests that children should

    "try experimenting with other boys and girls and see who you feel most comfortable with".

What a message to put in front of children as young as 13. Those are facts, not something that I have invented. The material is available for anybody to see.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talked about the human rights of adults. I have argued consistently throughout the debate that what adults choose to do in private is a matter for them. It is certainly not a matter for me and not one on which I wish to comment. However, what we put in front of children is a matter for us all. I shall fight for the protection of children while I have breath in my body. It matters far too much. Those under 16 are children in law. They are being subjected to some appalling material. People do not need to take my word for that. They should look for themselves and make an individual judgment. One thing that I know for certain is that the overwhelming majority of parents do not want that kind of teaching in our schools. Neither do they want such material to be paid for by taxpayers and council tax payers--by us all.

I conclude with a final constitutional point. I am pleased to see the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, in her place. She has said on more than one occasion that the new House is more legitimate. We are perfectly entitled to take a view on this matter. I am certain that, were we to vote to keep Section 28, the House of Lords would be speaking once again for the overwhelming majority of the British people. I beg to move.

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Moved, That Amendment No. 377A, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 377, be agreed to.--(Baroness Young.)

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