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Baroness Blatch: I totally accept what the Minister has just said. I hope that, when the noble Lord hears the tape of what was said today, it will prove to have been a slip of the tongue. I heard the noble Lord say that, if it had been effective,

I was going to say that, if that is the case, it says more about the Minister than it does about me and the intention behind my amendment.

I end where I started: my concern is the protection of children, so that they receive appropriate sex education. I shall carefully read what the Minister and other noble Lords have said. I shall do what I can to empower parents to make a judgment about sex education and its appropriateness, whether it is homosexual and/or heterosexual sex education.

What I have read in those documents, which are still being recommended by local authorities, is wholly unacceptable. I shall do all I can to fight to see that they do not survive in the education system.

Clause 121 agreed to.

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[Amendment No. 221F not moved.]

Lord Brightman moved Amendment No. 222:

    After Clause 121, insert the following new clause—

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

The noble and learned Lord said: I am conscious of the time and I shall be quite brief. The purpose of Amendment No. 222 is to satisfy both those who support the repeal of Section 28, and those who fear that the repeal of Section 28 would encourage the adoption of a homosexual lifestyle. I emphasise that I am not taking sides in any debate about homosexual lifestyles, I am trying only to satisfy both sides during the legislative process in which we are now engaged, to lay the matter at rest in this House and to avoid the kind of conflict which we have had between the two Houses on the previous occasion. I have no other purpose in mind.

The amendment is also worded to satisfy those who fear that the repeal of Section 28 might undermine the institution of marriage. The amendment which I have tabled begins with the words:

    "Subject to the general principle that the institution of marriage is to be supported".

Those words are taken verbatim from Section 1 of the Family Law Act 1996, which calls for,

    "regard to the following general principles—

    (a) that the institution of marriage is to be supported".

No objection can therefore properly be taken to the opening words of the amendment.

The amendment continues,

    "a local authority shall not encourage, or publish material intended to encourage, the adoption of any particular sexual lifestyle".

Homosexuality is not mentioned. The amendment therefore contains nothing which can be offensive to homosexuals.

At the same time, the wording of the amendment disposes of the fear of some that the bare repeal of Section 28, without any embellishment, might be interpreted as encouraging local authorities to promote homosexuality.

I submit that there are at least five reasons why the Government might feel able to accept this amendment: first, it does not change one word of the Bill; secondly, it cannot cause offence to anyone; thirdly, it removes the misgivings of those who may be fearful of the unintended consequences of removing Section 28; fourthly, it is supportive of the institution of marriage; and, fifthly, it avoids the possibility of a conflict between the two Houses in the middle of an extremely heavy legislative programme.

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I cannot expect the Government to accept this amendment at this stage. All I ask is that it may be examined with some sympathy and that the Minister may give me the privilege of meeting him between now and Report stage to discuss the implications of the amendment at greater length than I think is really appropriate at this hour today. If such a meeting could be held, I would welcome the presence of my noble friend Lord Northbourne, who has worked with me on this amendment.

I have two small points with which to end. First, I have not invited the Committee's attention to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause. It states:

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

I must also deal with the point put to me by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. If I have understood it correctly—and I may not have heard it right—he was inviting attention to the difference between the heading of my amendment, "Promotion of particular sexual lifestyles", and the content which refers to encouragement. If I have that right, I can answer it in two ways. First, I had the advantage during the interval while there was a Division to seek a little advice. I am told that the heading of a section is not a part of a Bill and is not debated.

Secondly, when I table an amendment, I always leave it to the Public Bill Office to write the amendment in. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne: I have put my name to this amendment and I should like to speak to it briefly. It is a great pleasure to listen to my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman and to the skill with which he explains exactly what he and I are trying to achieve.

Section 28 has generated a great deal of heat over the past few years—a great deal more heat than light, it has to be said. The amendment is intended as a compromise, as my noble and learned friend explained. I support it because I think that this endless debate on homosexuality is distracting our society from the really serious issue of what we believe sex is for and what part sex should play in relationships between adults if we want to have healthy and happy families and a happy and healthy society in the 21st century.

Until we have some consensus between adults on this issue, it is really almost pointless to try to discuss what we should be teaching our children. The amendment provides a formula which should be reasonably acceptable to all parties and should take the heat out of the argument. I therefore commend it to the Committee.

Earl Russell: Blessed are the peace-makers—but they take appalling risks. I congratulate the authors of the amendment on having taken those risks. I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, for his explanation of the words "promote" and "encourage", which taught me everything that I hoped to hear.

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I have two queries to put to the noble and learned Lord and I will be very heavily influenced by his answers. First, I look at subsections (1) and (2) of his proposed new clause. Does he accept, in effect, the provision of the 39 Articles that the Church shall not so expound one place of scripture that it shall be repugnant to another? Does he accept that the use of health education should not be taken to indicate a superiority of one way of life over another? It could otherwise be a very heavy postern gate through which a whole army could creep. I do not think he would wish that, any more than I do.

The other point I should like to ask him about is whether he would consider a slightly less monopolistic provision for marriage. I do not think I need in this company to say anything about my own attitude to marriage but having had—before cancer reduced their number—two sisters-in-law who chose to live as permanent partners, I cannot bring myself to subscribe to anything which says that marriage is automatically superior to any other long-term loving relationship.

I remember one occasion when my wife and I were entertained after a public lecture by a couple, both recently emerged from exceptionally unhappy first marriages. They were creeping their way towards a real commitment to each other. Over dinner, they fell into a discussion, encouraged by our mood of celebrating the silver anniversary of our engagement, and they discussed what would constitute a real commitment between them. After considering about a dozen possibilities, they decided that the moment of commitment would be when they ceased to have two separate subscriptions to their main historical journal and took out a single joint subscription.

I met that couple last week. They are still together and happier than they ever were. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in some of our philosophies.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Earl, Lord Russell, is right to see this as a peace-making attempt. Whether it entirely achieves that, I am not sure, nor am I convinced. The amendment seeks to place a broad duty on local authorities to prevent them—with the exception of supporting the principle of marriage—promoting any particular sexuality across any of their functions. I take particular note of the noble and learned Lord's provision which would ensure that this would not obstruct local authorities in their responsibilities for sex education and sexual health.

I have already covered in detail the fact that the main responsibilities now fall on schools and that we believe we have in place an adequate framework of protections when those responsibilities are properly exercised. I should also say that the spirit of this amendment with regard to sex education closely reflects that of the SRE guidance, which in paragraph 1.21 states that,

    "children should be taught about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children"—


    "that there are strong and mutually supportive relationships outside marriage".

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Also at paragraph 1.30, it states that,

    "teachers should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support. There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation".

I think that most noble Lords in the room could sign up to those two paragraphs and live happily with them. I hope we all could.

As regards the position of children and education, we feel that the amendment is unnecessary; but it is no less unnecessary in relation to other functions, and it could be harmful. The Bill builds on other measures introduced by the Government to give local authorities the powers and freedoms they need to be effective community leaders.

Local authorities know the role they are expected to fulfil. They should be acting responsibly. They should not be promoting any specific lifestyle choice, but they should be able to provide services that meet local needs and support all members of their communities. I say that with added feeling since I probably live closest to one of the largest gay communities in the UK. Kemptown is extremely well known for being that. It is part of the colourful nature of Brighton and Hove that makes it a very diverse and eclectic place.

We argue that local authorities should be able to provide those services to meet local needs. That includes the local needs of all members of our communities in an inclusive term. We think that the amendment could unnecessarily undermine their ability to do so. I would hope that for that reason—and I certainly respect the spirit in which the amendment has been moved and supported—that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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