|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I am a loyal, almost--but not quite--obsequious member of the Labour Party. I am pretty sure that I have voted for the Labour Party in this House more than anyone else in the history of the world. Certainly, I was pushing my way through the Lobby before the present Prime Minister was born. I am a loyal supporter, but when all is said and done, one cannot rely only on the instructions of a Whip where matters of conscience are involved. Although I shall not go into the details now, never before have we been asked to obey the Whip on a matter of conscience of this kind.
Leaving that aside, we all have to follow our own consciences. When in 1935 George Lansbury referred to his conscience at the Labour Party Conference, Ernie Bevin replied that, "I am not going to have George Lansbury hawking his conscience all around Europe". For that reason, it is not wise to bring up the matter of one's own conscience. Nevertheless, on this occasion I regret that I must do so.
I could never forgive myself if I voted for an amendment which appeared to put relationships outside marriage nearly on an equal footing with that of marriage. At any rate, those relationships will be given an official status which I believe would be quite deplorable. I shall not again offer the House my views on homosexuality. The House has heard them more than once. Last Wednesday, I visited a homosexual serving 15 years for buggery. Shortly, I shall have my hand on his shoulder when he is accepted into the Catholic Church. No one can call me a homophobe.
Leaving aside the matter of homosexuality, I shall look simply at the phrase in the Government's amendment about stable relationships. The amendment puts stable relationships outside marriage almost on the same footing as marriage. That would be a wicked thing to do. That is my personal view, not shared by everyone, but shared by some.
If I voted for the amendment as it stands without any further correction, I would be betraying myself. That may not matter very much, but I would also be betraying our children for generations to come. I would find that quite impossible.
Earl Russell: My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I do not find that this amendment gives me everything I want. If I had been a dictator--which, thank God, I am not--my guidelines would have been shaped much more along the lines of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson. But this amendment includes nothing with which I cannot live.
I recognise that I live in a democracy. I live in a diverse society, a society in which we must draft such matters so that they will be acceptable to a very wide variety of people. For me, the Government's amendment passes that test. I should like to congratulate the Government on their drafting and the right reverend Prelate and his Roman Catholic colleagues on demonstrating drafting skills that I do not think I have seen since the 39 Articles.
When this subject was last before noble Lords, I compared what the right reverend Prelate was doing with attempts being made in the 1540s to draft a formula for bringing together Roman Catholics and Protestants. Over the past 40 years, the division that has grown up among us on matters of sexual morals is as profound as that which grew up in the 16th century on matters of theology. I believe that they are as difficult to reconcile, and they are quite as much differences of principle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is a fair and generous person. I shall ask her to recognise--as I think she will--that moral principle is common to both sides in this argument. The noble Baroness speaks to her moral principles and I speak to mine. We are both doing our best according to our lights. I believe that the protection of children is common to both sides. I accept that the noble Baroness believes that she speaks in support of the protection of children. However, so do I. One of us is probably wrong. Which of us it is will be a matter, in the short term, for the House to decide.
Both of us enjoy a very substantial amount of support in the country as a whole. I am not entering into arguments about opinion polls, which are diverse. However, what I will say is that I believe that each of us enjoys the support of at least a blocking third, without which a policy cannot effectively be put into execution.
I know that there is the option of independent schools, to which, curiously, none of this applies. It is also a curiosity that 75 per cent of those who voted to retain Section 28 were from independent schools that were not at any time subject to the provision. However, for most us--and that includes almost everyone in a public service profession--independent schools are not open to us for purely financial reasons. If independent schools are not an option, and if we regard withdrawal from sex education classes as a very inadequate substitute, then we must have, if at all possible, some kind of modus vivendi that is acceptable to people on both sides of the argument.
In fact, we must have fudge. Now one might say of fudge what Churchill said of democracy; that is, that it is the worst system except for all the others. I learnt that as an historian as well as a politician by reading about this country tearing itself apart for 18 years in order to reach, at the end of it, a settlement which, with good will, it could perfectly well have had before all the trouble started. So fudge is a necessary confection.
There is nothing in the amendment with which I cannot live. I am not against marriage. I am proud to be married. I am ready to join with anyone in the praise of marriage. What I am against is monopoly. When I look at the phrase, "stable relationships", whose preservation is absolutely crucial to me, the first thing I think of is my two sisters-in-law, one of whom sadly is recently dead. They lived with men as partners without a ceremony of marriage. When one is married one learns to recognise members of the married trade union. Those two people belonged to it quite as completely as I can ever claim to do myself. Were I to go home and report to my wife that I had voted for an amendment which made her morally superior to her sisters, I do not believe that I would be engaged in the promotion of marriage.
Equally, I remember a divorced single parent with a daughter describing to me when she and her daughter were listening to Mr Michael Portillo's famous fringe meeting on single parents in 1993. Her daughter turned to her and said, "But mum, we are a family, aren't we?". I believe the answer to that question should have been yes.
If I look for a definition of a "family", I turn to St. Augustine's definition of "the state": "an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the object of their love". Does that include homosexuals? The government amendment says nothing on this one way or the other. I am perfectly content to accept that it does. If the noble Baroness, Lady Young, chooses to interpret it to say it does not, she is free to do that also. The right reverend Prelates will understand what I mean about the drafting of the 39 articles!
When we discussed in Committee on 7th February this question of the Local Government Bill, guidelines had not been produced. I said that I felt that Mr Blunkett was clearly doing his utmost, though I wondered whether when the guidelines appeared they would be worthy in a way that was acceptable to most parents, different faiths and the public as a whole. Unfortunately, my doubts proved right.
When the guidelines came out, extraordinarily we found that there was a reaction from two major teaching unions denouncing them and saying that teachers would ignore them. That was extremely unfortunate. It is a great shame that they have come out in some degree as defective. Unfortunately, the right reverend Prelate said nothing to us while he was having his consultations and, according to the press, the Chief Rabbi was not consulted, nor was the Muslim community. That was a great pity.
When I say that the government amendment is defective, I must add that I feel it contains some good aspects. It is probable that Mr Blunkett, who I believe is on the side of the angels, is responsible for most of what is good in it, particularly the emphasis on the importance of marriage. But there are three major defects that I see in the amendment: first, the reference to "stable relationships". The Christian Institute consultative QC confirmed that that phrase includes homosexual unions. Indeed, it would seem to me to include any union outside marriage. For example, necrophiliacs, transvestites and sado-masochists who have been living together for some years might argue that they are in stable relationships and may be surprised to find that they are regarded by the Government as forming,
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|