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Earl Russell: In any civilised country, the prime responsibility of government must be to ensure that people live in peace with each other. Before developing that message further, I should like to offer apologies on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, who must leave us because she is to deliver a lecture. We will miss her contribution and wish her well with the lecture.
Keeping the peace is something that must at all times be the responsibility of government. Indeed, it is the reason why we have government. If we are to attempt to keep the peace in schools, we must demand a certain minimum degree of respect for every child in that school who is prepared to show such respect to the other children.
I think here of the experience of my children when they were at school in the United States. Because language in current use in the playground has a playground quality in all countries and towns, they had to be taught this principle: to use language with a degree of respect. For example, words such as "nigger" were words liable to provoke a breach of the peace. They had never heard the word before; they were surprised to discover that it had such innuendoes; but, when they did, they were ready to accept that.
Here, I come to the ambiguity in the word "promote". I beg the pardon of the noble Baroness, but that bewilders me; it has from the very beginning of our discussions on this subject and does so no less after her reading from the entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. There are two senses in that entry, which I regard as distinct. One is, in effect, teaching an equality of respect. Frankly, I see nothing wrong in that. If the noble Baroness does, I should be interested to know why. The other is teaching that it is a superior form of lifestyle.
Anyone who attempts to teach average teenagers that they ought not to take an interest in the opposite sex shows a degree of Utopianism that puts Sir Thomas More in the shade. That is about as complete a waste of time as one could imagine. So in one sense of the word "promote", such activity is useless; in the other, it is trivial.
Earl Russell: I know; I do not intend to discuss the amendment, merely the word "promotion". That appears in the side note to the amendment. Of all people, the noble and learned Lord is a person to whom I listen with the greatest respect on the meaning of words placed in legislation. His amendment uses the word "encourage"; the side note uses the word "promotion". Is the noble and learned Lord responsible for the side note as well as the amendment? If so, what meaning does he attach to the word "promotion"? That could influence me greatly.
As the noble Baroness has constantly said, we are concerned with children. But some children may be of homosexual inclination. Being a child of any minority inclination or description in any school playground is a dangerous occupation. We have had some tragic reminders of that during the past two weeks. So anything that does not encourage equal respect for all the children in the playground is capable of being dangerous.
If the noble Baroness had included in the amendment an attempt to prohibit in the playground or teaching the use of language that describes homosexuality as an abomination equally with what she is attempting to prohibit, that would have made a great deal of sense to me. That would have demonstrated the equality of respect that can be combined with the keeping of the peace. I have listened to her for quite a long time. I have not heard a single word from her that suggests that any such use of language by a teacher in class or in the playground
The original Section 28 also refers to a "pretended family lifestyle"I think I cite the words correctly. I remember the story of the single parent Member of Parliament who listened with her daughter to the broadcast of Michael Portillo's conference speech at a fringe meeting in 1993 which attacked single parents. The daughter turned to her mother and said, "But, Mum, we are a family, aren't we?". What should that MP have replied to her daughter? In my view, she should have taken her definition of a family from St Augustine. It is a definition of a state but, in my view, it fits the family equally well:
The advice from my party is that we have no sympathy with Amendment No. 221F. I have no argument with that except, like Section 28 itself, in the local authority matrix, which no longer applies to the conduct of sex education at all. So we have a curious case of "Matrix Reloaded". It is an artificial production. It is also a considerable attempt to fetter discretion.
When one is engaged in teaching, or in speaking in this place, if one responds to the mood of the moment one often says things that one did not know one was going to say a minute earlier. I was an example of that when I spoke to the first amendment we debated today; I did not know that I was going to open my mouth on it when I came in. That happens equally when I am teaching. If I were to be teaching under a set of guidelines as that proposed in the amendmentI shall bow to the Division Bell.
Earl Russell: I shall not detain the Committee for much longer, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that there is no proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to extend an equivalent code of practice to other subjects. I would welcome an explanation of why not. I would not much enjoy teaching history according to this sort of prescription about the need to obtain parental approval. In particular, I would not much enjoy doing it in Northern Ireland.
In that context, I think one has to consider that the power of parents cannot, any more than the power of government, be allowed to be totally arbitrary and unchecked. If one looks at the history of teenage homelessness over recent years, one sees far too many effects of the power of straight parents over gay children. It can become a form of oppression and should not be totally unchecked.
Finally, I ask the noble Baroness the question with which I began. Does she regard teaching an equal respect for homosexuality as promoting it? By that I do not mean teaching that it is absolutely all right. I am
Baroness Hanham: I have been slightly taken off my feet by this. I have listened very carefully to what my noble friend Lady Blatch has said. I have a great deal of sympathy with what she has promoted and put forward today. One of the most difficult aspects of education that anybody has to handle is sex education.
My memories of Clause 28 are that it was introduced for the very specific reason that some local authorities had decided not only to promote teaching on homosexuality but to promulgate it and put it on a higher plane than any of us would have expected. Whether or not that continues to be a problem because of Clause 28, I do not know. Whether it has been reduced by Clause 28 seems to me almost certain.
I remain most concerned about how education takes place against that background. There is a great level of tolerance these days towards the activities of adultspeople who have had an opportunity to decide what they want for themselves and know what is right for themselves. Nobody is interfering in that in any way.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked for a level playing field and, as I understand it, my noble friend's amendment would ensure precisely that. It is a level playing field for the sort of sex education that any parentany good parentwould want their children to be taught.
Some of the material that my noble friend has mentioned todaythe only material that we were allowed to see fleetinglywould have been found quite shocking by a lot of adults. It is the sort of material that you would expect to find on the top shelf in a bookshop, in a rather lurid magazine, not in the slates of a school. Whatever the outcome of this debate, it must ensure that, to some degree, parents have more than a passing interest in what their children are taught in this respect.