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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I hope that future generations will look back on your Lordships' decision today as a moment when we achieved a proper balance. I include as an item in that balance the new guidance to which reference has been made--I refer to the amendment which noble Lords passed last week--which is a safeguard, as the Minister has said.

Speaking previously on behalf of my noble friends from these Benches, I have made our position clear. It was a manifesto commitment on our part to secure the repeal of Section 28. As I have made our position clear, I shall not attempt to cover the whole ground but merely to pick out a few points. The support on these Benches for the repeal of Section 28 is not support for the proselytization of homosexuality, nor is it a green light for corruption.

The term "promote" has led us into all kinds of difficulties. I believe that it is inapposite. It is simply not possible to promote homosexuality. I believe that my noble friend Lord Russell said that one might as well seek to promote left-handedness or some other inherent characteristic. Nor do I believe--I hope that this goes some way to answer the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman--that it is within the powers of local government to promote homosexuality, even were that to be possible. Local authorities are creatures of statute. Their powers are matters of statute. I do not believe that this is a power which they have.

Not only do I believe that the section is nonsense; I believe that it is dangerous nonsense. None of us supports bullying. I absolutely accept the points which have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others about their concern to protect the vulnerable. However, we have different evidence. We on these Benches, in particular my noble friend Lord Tope, have much evidence of homosexual bullying and the inability or refusal of teachers to intervene. Teachers are confused as to what they can or cannot do. Some of them may use the existence of the section as a reason or excuse not to intervene or assist. Much distress, misery and, indeed, tragedy have been caused.

I am aware of the real anxieties about some of the material that has been cited, some of which, as has been said, has been issued under the aegis of health

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authorities--which is irrelevant to the debate. However, for the good of young people, we must permit first-class information to be issued. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, rightly pointed to the fact that no prosecution has occurred under the section despite the length of time during which the material has existed.

I regard Section 28 as bad legislation. If it is not repealed today, what effect will that have? Reference has already been made to the certificate attached to the Bill. Will the Bill, when enacted, be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights? Will it contravene our own Human Rights Act which comes into force in October? Will the Minister confirm that the courts could therefore give a declaration of incompatibility and the Government would then be able to use a fast-track procedure to abolish the provision? It should be abolished. We regard it as offensive. It reinforces stigma. It does nothing to assist inclusiveness of society. It reinforces discrimination and we shall be delighted to see the back of it.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, like the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Hooson, I also regret that this is a political debate. However, there are two things that we cannot avoid. First, this amendment was added to the Local Government Bill by the Government; it was never intended to be included. Secondly, it constituted a Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge.

At the outset we were accused of concentrating on schools. I make no apology for concentrating on the education of our children in schools. The government Minister, and others who have supported him, have completely ignored youth clubs, play areas and children's homes, on all of which local authority spending can have an impact. If repeal goes ahead, local authorities will be free to fund the voluntary sector organisations which are determined to produce material of the kind we are discussing. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that much of the material that we are discussing is pertinent to schools. I have some of it with me. If noble Lords wish to see it, I should be only too willing to show it to them.

The guidance which was approved last week, which I predicted would be proposed in this debate as a substitute for repealing Section 28, is weak; it is very weak. The House refused to strengthen it.

It is also unenforceable, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, both in its aims and because one cannot legislate for children to learn. One can legislate for children to be taught, but not for what they learn.

I am delighted that a number of local authorities, led by Kent and Surrey, will put in place something equivalent to Section 28 if repeal goes ahead. This is not about making gay and lesbian people second class, as has been suggested; it is about making all of our children first class. The Minister said that we have a right to protect minority interests. I agree with that--but not at the expense of the majority, which includes all the children of our country.

The noble Lord, Lord Alli, was concerned about the role of teachers. I advise him that Section 28 does not prevent teachers discussing homosexuality; nor does it

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prevent teachers counselling, or referring children to other agencies for advice and counselling. Indeed, the statutory guidance that goes together with Section 28 positively encourages teachers to do just that.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that on this issue the Prime Minister was more substance and less spin. I am about to prove otherwise. In the leaked memo, the Prime Minister said:

    "It is bizarre that any Government I lead should be seen as anti-family".

The memo is very revealing on so much, but particularly relevant to this debate are the Prime Minister's comments on the family. He said:

    "We need two or three eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of their attitude to the family ... I should be personally associated with as much of this as possible".

In addition to seeking the repeal of Section 28, the Prime Minister heads a government who are actively considering allowing transsexuals to marry and to adopt children; who are considering using the Parliament Act to lower the age of consent for homosexuals to the age of 16; and who are generally relaxing the law as it relates to gays and lesbians and to people cruising on our public roads for sex.

It is not homophobic to care about the moral and spiritual education of our children; it is not homophobic to argue that the promotion of homosexuality to our children, in or out of the classroom, is not acceptable; it is not homophobic to promote marriage and to teach that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships and the most reliable framework for raising children; and it is not homophobic to prohibit local authorities using their funds--taxpayers' funds--either directly or indirectly through third parties, to allow materials or individuals to promote homosexuality as equal to marriage as a lifestyle.

Thousands of people--parents, grandparents, teachers, faith groups of all denominations--have written imploring Members of the House to oppose the repeal of Section 28. They know that local authority money is spent, either directly or through other organisations, to produce offensive materials, some of which have been circulated to school-age children, both in schools and in their play areas, in youth clubs and in children's homes. They, like I, find it objectionable.

My noble friend Lady Young has fought courageously, and I have been proud to stand with her, to support the vast majority of parents by opposing the Government on this issue. Should my noble friend Lady Young succeed with her amendment tonight it would represent a vote in favour of the majority of the people in the country, as well as a vindication of the patient and painstaking way in which my noble friend has fought to retain Section 28.

However, should the Government succeed in their Herculean and time-consuming attempts to repeal Section 28, the more militant gay and lesbian groups will dance for joy; so, too, will the Government's supporters. But tears will be shed by many parents,

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grandparents, Christians and other faith group members throughout this country. Our duty is to support them and it is for Parliament to protect our children.

8 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on one thing--and probably on only one thing: that the discussion of this very important Bill on the reform of local government has been--in this House at least--utterly dominated by consideration of this issue. Much of the public consciousness of the proceedings of this House over the past 12 or 18 months has likewise been dominated by our consideration of Section 28 and the way in which we approach homosexuality. That is to be regretted on both counts.

Nevertheless, one has to be realistic. This is a deeply symbolic issue to people on all sides of the argument. It has a symbolism which is way beyond its actual importance. It is a piece of legislation which is subject to different interpretations by different groups of people in different contexts--and it has never been used. For all those reasons, in any other context the House of Lords would undoubtedly conclude that this must be seriously bad law.

There is also the societal aspect. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, rightly said that there is an age-related differential attitude in society to this issue. It is unfortunate, but it is true. We live in a changing society. It is a changing society which I am afraid that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and many of her supporters refuse to accept or recognise. But it is the very society with which not only our children but our young adults, and many of our middle-aged adults, have to come to terms. It is that reality that we should be addressing in the House of Lords rather than some of the more symbolic issues that have been referred to today.

Much of the debate has still related to the position in schools. It is almost as if the Learning and Skills Bill and the guidance issued by the Secretary of State had never existed. Therefore, I shall need, once again, to refer to the Learning and Skills Bill and to the guidance given under it, which places the responsibility of sex and relationship education firmly on teachers and school governors and makes it clear that local authorities have no power in determining sex education in schools. It puts a requirement on schools that they should be statutorily obliged to have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State; for the first time, it requires that pupils should be taught about the nature and importance of marriage to family life and to the bringing up of children.

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