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It seems to me that the issue which now arises is whether we should get rid of Section 28 or whether it should be replaced by something else. Attractive amendments have been tabled. Some of those we can appreciate fully now and some we shall appreciate more fully as the debate develops. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was right to suggest to us at the start that we should debate the general background to the amendments before dealing with the serious business of deciding whether or not to vote on them thereafter.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, is right. We cannot really consider whether we get rid of Section 28 before we know what the guidelines are to contain. We cannot yet consider whether we should amend Section 28, replace it with something or leave a blank and get rid of it without any amendment. All those matters are in the melting pot. We have just begun this very serious debate. At this time I feel that the Government are right in their approach. We are feeling our way towards what I hope will be a sensible consensus.
Lord Hylton: I have considerable sympathy with the intentions of the noble Lord who moved the amendment. Nevertheless, I suggest that the proposal is not wide enough because it clearly does not cover young people in youth clubs or, indeed, children in the care of local authorities. That is why I am looking forward to our reaching the amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman.
Lord Elton: It is generally accepted on the other side of the Chamber and among many on this side that Section 28 has its weaknesses. But nobody has yet convinced me that a satisfactory alternative has been found.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, suggested that the abolition of Clause 28 should not come into effect until it is replaced by suitable guidelines. But if we accept that, we accept that it is
This is a very difficult subject on which to make a very short speech, which is what I intend to do, so bear with me. First, I do not wish to be put in the position of someone who is thought to be rabidly hostile to gay people. I am not. I have good friends, real friends, who are homosexual. That does not mean that I believe that their chosen path, in preference to another, should be put to people who are undecided as to their future. I believe that the same applies to heterosexual activity.
We live in a society in which unconventional sexual behaviour of every sort is becoming more and more acceptable to the greater and greater damage of our young people. The value of love is suffering. We have started to speak as though there is no distinction between sexual activity and a loving relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the greatest friendships that have existed have been celibate friendships between people of the same sex, be they men or women. Those types of friendships are not wrong or dishonourable, but glorious.
The legislation and morality are concerned with the physical expression of such friendships. As human beings are biological as well as spiritual creatures, physical behaviour affects emotional and spiritual relationships. That is why any sexual activity outside marriage is a diminution of the possible happiness of the individual. If individuals are of a homosexual disposition, matters are made more difficult for them because they cannot attain what many of us believe is the greatest happiness available. They should not be punished for that. They should be supported in their difficulty.
However, individuals should not be faced with this problem before a certain age. My difficulty with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is that it takes no account of how that can be avoided in any forum other than schools, and in particular schools at that. We need to rethink, carefully and broadly, the legislation to see how we can protect young people of all sexual dispositions from becoming the subject of recruitment by promoters of any particular sexual orientation before they are of a proper age to make the decision for themselves.
That has to be done against the fascinating and illuminating background put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow. She showed your Lordships the horrific difficulties that the changes that have taken place in our society since I was a school child--indeed since I was a school teacher--have placed on school teachers who have the responsibility of guiding young people. I am not convinced that guidelines for teachers alone will be enough. We need a society that brings about a continuum throughout all activities. It is no good teaching one thing in schools and another thing in boys' clubs or girls' clubs or, better still, mixed clubs. The matter has to be considered as a whole. One set of guidelines on its own is not good, nor is an unmatching set of guidelines in different areas of legislation.
I am not satisfied, nor do I believe that it is possible, that the right solution to this matter can be produced, cut and dried, before the Bill is put on the statute book. We are faced with a similar position to that of the reform of the House of Lords. We are being asked to abolish one thing before being told what will replace it. We should not make the same mistake twice. The only way to get round this difficulty is not to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, which is a marginal improvement, but to await the amendment of my noble friend and keep matters where they are until we have decided where we want to be.
To some people that may be offensive because they read into it a message which is not intended to be there. It should be possible to support this course of action without being painted as someone who is hysterical or bigoted or can see no merit in someone's closest friends because they happen to be homosexual. I hope that your Lordships will realise that what is offered is not an emotional or bigoted course, but a reasonable one: to wait for the right solution rather than to rush into the wrong one.
The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: It has been suggested that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has been "a little Jesuitical". We learnt from a former and, in my book, esteemed Prime Minister that,
Lord Mishcon: My mind goes back, as I had the liberty of telling the House recently, to the days, 45 years ago, when I served on the Wolfenden Committee. I cannot help but reflect how opinion has moved over the years. The committee recommended--I was happy to associate myself humbly with the recommendation--that homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal act. My experience on that committee was quite extraordinary. Professors appeared before us asking to be called by an initial rather than their name. They told us how they had been blackmailed in academic circles as a result of being homosexual. Others who came before us described how their lives had been ruined by the gossip that had gone around in their neighbourhood.
The recommendation was correct. As I look back, it seems extraordinary that it took us years to persuade Members of Parliament to pass a law in accordance with our recommendation. Those of us who tried to see that legislation took the place of our recommendation were told by Members of Parliament, "We daren't go with you to legislate on this matter as tremendous numbers of our constituents will be up in arms". Those who held marginal seats said, "We shall no longer be Members of Parliament after the next election if we follow the line of your recommendation". Members of Parliament were wrong then.
With deep regret, I believe that those Members of Parliament who feel that there should be a straight- forward repeal of Section 28 without anything to take its place misunderstand the mood of our people. I do not believe that they want a straightforward repeal of Section 28 without something very substantial put in its place.
Lord Mishcon: I have not as much experience as the noble Earl, but I have known of many cases affecting human rights that were settled by majority vote. Quite honestly, I see no other way of coming to a parliamentary decision.
As I was saying, the mood of the people is misunderstood by those--I do not include my noble friend Lord Whitty in this category--who merely say, "Repeal Section 28 and put nothing in its place to protect our young people". That is not the public view. It may be said that I have no right to analyse the public view any more than anybody else. But like other Members of the Committee, I have received so many letters over the past few months that I begin to think of myself as important. And those letters have all been one way: "Of course we understand; of course we are tolerant; of course we appreciate that there but for the grace of God go I; but please protect our young people". These are dangerous enough days. Television produces comedy shows late at night--in my view the producers should be ashamed of themselves--consisting of sexual behaviour and so forth without ascribing any dignity to it whatever.
No Member of the Committee made a speech criticising homosexuality. We are all trying to understand and all are conscious of human rights. But I hope that on Report the Government will bring forward an amendment to Section 28 to correct the situation.
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