Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Alli: My Lords, last week this House came to a consensus that was both principled and inclusive. In my view, it paved the way for the repeal of Section 28 by removing many of the hurdles, some legitimate, that had been in its path. I am sure that I speak for many noble Lords when I praise the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn who worked so hard to find a way for this House to come to a settlement. He cannot be in his place today but I thank him anyway.

Tonight we have a chance to build on that consensus, a chance to repeal Section 28, safe in the knowledge that there is now clear guidance on sex education and clarity about the responsibilities of head teachers, governors and parents in agreeing what is taught in our schools. We can be secure in the knowledge that marriage and family life are at the heart of sex education in schools. For, like the majority in this House, I believe that marriage and family life are a cornerstone of our society, but in saying that I do not intend to denigrate other people's relationships or my own. Society is about living with other people based on our common bonds and not negatively exploiting our differences.

I want to focus on our common bonds. I do not want to be painted by the opponents of the repeal as a champion of the gay rights movement. I do not want to be blamed for material that I find as offensive as do many other noble Lords and that should never find its way into the hands of our children. Instead I want to play my part in securing a consensus in this House. In my belief, that consensus is best served by building on last week's vote with the repeal of Section 28.

I have re-read the debates on this subject and I have found myself asking the question: what purpose does this piece of legislation actually serve now? Since the

24 Jul 2000 : Column 108

section was introduced 12 years ago, it has never been used against a single local authority. Noble Lords must question why a piece of legislation that sits on the statute book has never been used, particularly given the alleged mountain of material that others would have one believe is making its way into our schools.

So, it must have a symbolic power for those who believe that homosexuality is wrong, just as it does for those of us who believe that the rights and dignity of the individual should be protected. Tonight I want to examine and to refute the main arguments that underpin the case against repealing Section 28, which seem to break down into three broad categories: first, that without Section 28 our schools will be flooded with gay propaganda produced by local authorities; secondly, that without Section 28 one must be in favour of promoting homosexuality to children; and, thirdly, that homosexuals are sinners with whom we should have nothing to do.

First, let me deal with unsuitable sex education material. A number of speakers have highlighted publications produced by health authorities and trusts. At Second Reading and again today, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, expressed concerns about material from Avon, Camden & Islington, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. Much of that material was never intended for schools but, in any event, parents, head teachers and teachers have responsibility for what is in our schools and not the local authorities. Last week we agreed that the choice and responsibility for sex education policy, quite rightly, lie with schools themselves, with their head teachers, governors and parents. That is how it should be.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that that obligation does not rest with youth club leaders nor with people in children's homes?

7.15 p.m.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I accept much of that criticism. However, under the law, parents have the right to withdraw their children if they disapprove of sex education lessons in schools. This argument, especially the argument of the noble Baroness, really falls down when one considers that Section 28 does not apply to independent schools. No one has suggested that those schools have been flooded by gay propaganda.

The second broad argument is basically that if you want to repeal Section 28 you must be in favour of promoting homosexuality to children, otherwise why not leave it on the statute book? As the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, put it:

    "The repeal of Section 28 will remove the small amount of protection which it has provided for the past 11 years against the manipulation of even quite young children against their parents' wishes by a small but vociferous and determined minority".

But, I say again, under the new guidelines this cannot happen. The policy on sex education in schools is determined by head teachers, parents and governors and delivered by individual teachers. No Member of this House has alleged that any teacher has been

24 Jul 2000 : Column 109

promoting homosexuality. If they have been doing so, they should say so now. I am sure that the Minister of State for Education would investigate such claims.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, the reason that no teachers have been caught promoting homosexuality is precisely that Section 28 is on the statute book.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I do not accept that. To discuss is not to promote. When children ask questions about sexuality they need and deserve an honest answer, if only to prevent bullying in the playground. Sometimes knowledge is their only protection in an ugly world. No one suggests that knowledge of racism makes a person black and no one suggests that knowledge of anti-Semitism makes a person Jewish, so how can knowledge of homosexuality make a person a homosexual? That argument defies logic and evidence. Research shows that straight people cannot be "converted" into gay people. It is hard enough to teach children to read and write let alone to attempt to change their very nature.

The third main argument is that homosexuality is morally wrong; to quote the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, it is "unnatural". I know that these are honestly and deeply held opinions, but surely they are not a basis for our legislation.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford was right when he said:

    "Irrespective of the judgements we make about people's personal lifestyles and choices, the law has a duty to refer to all citizens with the respect required by their God-given dignity".

A noble part of the heritage of this House has been its willingness to scrutinise and improve legislation and to ask the questions that have not been raised in another place. We have fulfilled that task. Equally noble has been the ability of this House to reach conclusions that are consensual and inclusive. We have fulfilled that task too. There are procedures and guidelines in place to teach, to guide and to protect children. There is no longer a legal need for Section 28. It is a redundant piece of legislation.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I apologise for intervening. Does the noble Lord accept that the guidelines are wholly unenforceable? Does he accept that Section 403(1)(a) of the Education Act 1996, as amended, is wholly unenforceable to secure compliance? The noble Lord has referred twice to the guidelines.

Lord Alli: My Lords, I do not accept that at all. I hope when the Minister replies that he will certainly affirm that that is not the case.

This is a Bill about local authorities; it is not an education Bill. As every Member of the House knows, we have had that debate. Tonight we have real choices to make about what kind of House this is. Having achieved our aims, do we continue to wreck this legislation or, having concluded our constitutional duty, do we allow the repeal of Section 28 to proceed? We have agreed that marriage and family life are

24 Jul 2000 : Column 110

cornerstones of our society. Let us now put away the dogma. Our objectives have been achieved. Let us now extend to others the tolerance and understanding that we try to give to each other in this House. Let us now agree that the time for Section 28 is past. Let us remove from our statute book a piece of gesture politics. I ask your Lordships to vote for the repeal of Section 28, but if noble Lords cannot do so, I ask them to abstain.

Lord Moran: My Lords, I intend to be brief because I gave my views on this question on 7th February when we last debated the matter. I want to make just one point in relation to the essential issue on which we shall be voting tonight.

The marginal note on the Marshalled List of Commons Amendments on page 36 describes Amendment No. 378 as,

    "Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality".

Section 2A of the 1986 Act says,

    "A local authority shall not ... intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality".

We are not discussing services, which the Minister spoke of at some length; we are discussing the intentional promotion of homosexuality. When we come to vote tonight the issue will be whether or not we consider it right, appropriate and sensible for a local authority to promote homosexuality in its work. If we do, then it is right and reasonable that we vote for the government amendments. If we do not, then we should vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. That is the simple issue and nothing else stands up against it.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, it is a shame that the debate on a great issue for the people of our country should be divided politically; it should never have been allowed. This issue should have been freely discussed between responsible Members of this ancient House without the burden of a Whip on one's shoulder.

Having said that, perhaps I can share a bit of history with noble Lords. It was way back in 1954 when I was invited by the then Home Secretary--I was then chairman of the London County Council--to sit on the Wolfenden Committee, which was set up to consider and make recommendations on the law and practice relating to homosexual acts. At that stage people were liable to imprisonment, and indeed suffered imprisonment even though they were committing homosexual acts as between consenting adults in private.

I am the only surviving member of that committee and will not guess what our recommendation might have been today. All I know is that, against the injustices that such criminality resulted in, such as blackmail and the invasion of criminal law into the home, I and other members of that committee--there was only one dissentient--recommended that homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should no longer be a part of the criminal law but should be a matter of moral law. It was a long time before that victory was achieved by a provision being

24 Jul 2000 : Column 111

placed on the statute book. We reported in 1957. There was a Conservative government and a bit of a Labour government before the 10 years elapsed. We were unable to persuade politicians of all parties that the cancellation of that injustice should be registered on the statute book. In 1967--10 years later--it was achieved in the Sexual Offences Act.

That was followed by the gratitude of the homosexual community, who accepted that victory as being a victory for justice and decency. What happened afterwards was an awful pity. Some local authorities acted in a completely irresponsible way--I could use stronger words, but I will not--and a minority of the homosexual community decided (and I regret it) to be quite aggressive in regard to homosexuality itself. As I said, I shall not state the opinion of those who are no longer with us. But knowing of the discussions that we had, I believe that members of that Wolfenden Committee, who sat and deliberated for three years, would have discouraged that attitude. Whether or not they would have recommended that we deal with the issue by legislation and by direction to local authorities is another matter into which I shall not enter at this stage. It was dealt with by legislation and we have got that legislation.

The extraordinary thing is--this is why I talked of it being a shame to deal with this matter politically--that if I were to address every single Member of this House and ask the question, "Do you think local authorities ought to promote homosexuality?", I would receive the answer from all sides, "No, not promote". And if the amendment had been tabled for which I pleaded on a previous occasion, which said, after "prohibition promoting", "but local authorities should, in all their actions, preach tolerance towards others who are not quite as we are", such an amendment may well have been approved by this House. But, as a previous speaker said, the amendment in front of us makes it extremely difficult for those who feel as I do to vote, as I would always want to do if in conscience I could, for my own Government.

What are we asked to approve by way of a Commons amendment? Anyone referred to our statute book will not be referred to the Learning and Skills Act, as it will become, even if that is relevant--I believe it is. There is no reference to that. Generations to come will not know of your Lordships' speeches in this House, even if generations present know what we say in this House in this debate. They will see in the Bill, when it becomes an Act, the words,

    "Insert ... (Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition promoting homosexuality by teaching"--

we were told that teaching had nothing to do with this and never did have--

    "or by publishing material) ceases to have effect)".

You do not have to be skilled in the law; you can read this wording as an ordinary layman. Let us take the usual gentleman who inhabits the top of the Clapham bus. He is told here that all this business about prohibition on "promoting homosexuality" ceases to have effect. The amendment refers to

24 Jul 2000 : Column 112

"Repeal of prohibition" in the rubric, but puts nothing in its place. As I sit down, I repeat: what a shame that this was not a discussion instead of being a political debate. All that we can do is to make the best of things that we can, knowing that we are voting in honesty. I do not think that, in honesty, I can vote for what this amendment says; indeed, it says, "Look at me! I am saying that it is repealed; it is to have no effect--and that includes teaching". That cannot be right.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that it is a great pity that this is a political debate. As my colleagues on these Benches know, I thoroughly disapprove of the fact that there is a three-line Whip on a matter that should be discussed quite apart from political pressures. I agree with my noble friend Lord Russell that if the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is passed this evening, it will not be the end of the matter; but neither will it be the end of the matter if her amendment is defeated. The truth is that we have got ourselves into a situation where we are called upon to exercise our wisdom.

Surely it is possible to analyse the real problem. It is a problem that concerns a very small minority. It is not homosexuals; it is not heterosexuals: it is the zealots on either side, who are very difficult to deal with. If the Government were wise, they would look for a means to solve the problem which I believe is provided by the amendment tabled in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. I have attached my name to it because I thoroughly approve of it. Indeed, this amendment was tabled at a much earlier stage.

Let us look at the conceived or the perceived evil of Section 28, as far as concerns the homosexual community. Section 28 is the exclusive concern of the zealots of homosexuality. However, we all know that there are also zealots who advocate early sex and experimentation on a heterosexual basis. Therefore, why should we distinguish between the two? If we look at the proposed amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, we see that, instead of Section 28 being totally repealed, it is amended so as to include the words:

    "Subject to the general principle that the institution of marriage is to be supported, a local authority shall not encourage, or publish material intended to encourage, the adoption of any particular sexual life style".

Subsection (3) of the amendment goes on to state:

    "This section does not prohibit the provision for young persons of sex education or counselling services on sexual behaviour and associated health risks".

Therefore, it gets rid of the problem of the insult--as it is regarded--to the homosexual community. It applies the prohibition to both the heterosexual and the homosexual communities. If these words had been included in the original Section 28, it would have afforded all the protection for which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others, are looking. If that is the protection required, why on earth do not the Government take themselves, as well as everyone else, off the hook on this matter?

24 Jul 2000 : Column 113

We are dealing with a difficult subject. Here I disagree with my noble friend Lord Russell. It is not a question of youth against age. A few young people may be more anxious to promote homosexuality, but this is an area where the older generation can provide some wisdom and guidance. Surely that is what we are looking for in this regard. That is why I believe that this House should look most carefully at the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page