Prohibition on Promoting Homosexuality by Teaching or by Publishing Material

Part of Orders of the Day — Local Government Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 15th December 1987.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:30 pm, 15th December 1987

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me earlier that that express statement of view was confirmed by the Government during the early stages of the passage of the Bill in the other place.

On Third Reading in the other place, Baroness Hooper, speaking on behalf of the Government on 11 February 1987, said: My Lords, this gives me a convenient opportunity to remind the House of the Government's position on the Bill". At the end of her speech, she said: We do not therefore believe that the Bill is necessary or an appropriate method of dealing with this one small aspect of the problem". — [Official Report, House of Lords, 11 February 1987; Vol. 484, c. 708–9.] That is what two Ministers, from the relevant Department, said less than a year ago. They came out clearly against the Government's present position.

We are used to Government about-turns. In a short debate that we had barely an hour ago, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment told us that, a few months ago, he had sent out a letter expressly saying that the Government would not legislate to impose competitive tendering on parish and community councils. However, tonight the Government moved an amendment expressly to include parish and community councils. Therefore, we are used to U-turns and misrepresentation from that Department of the Environment.

I have dealt with the history of this matter and the Government's sordid role, and I shall now consider the issue of substance. In Committee I made it clear that the initial part of the clause that reads: Local authorities shall not—(a) promote homosexuality or publish material for the promotion of homosexuality had the support of the Liberal party. We believe that, using the dictionary definition — there is no other definition because the Government have not supplied one—that is a proper statement on what should be the role of local authorities. Members on both sides of the Committee accepted that there is a need to qualify that statement, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and I tabled amendment No. 32.

That amendment is intended to make it expressly clear that a local authority may undertake Sex Education in the course of which an awareness of different sexual orientations may be taught. It seeks not to undermine the initial part of the clause regarding the promotion of homosexuality, but to ensure that it is natural and, indeed, perfectly proper, for education to include education about different sexual orientations that are found in any community. Indeed, it would be irresponsible to do otherwise.

The unqualified assertions in the three subsections of the clause are extremely dangerous. They represent a possible vehicle for misinterpretation that would be to the grave detriment of a non-discriminatory society or local government. My colleagues and I have two major criticisms. The first is that the original Bill and the clause are almost irrelevant to most of Britain in the sense that they are based on a few localised examples of abuse or possible abuse. The second is that the clause is damaging in its width, and the provisions that the Government intend to introduce to deal with the problem are also damaging. They are damaging to individuals who may well need the benefit of education, counselling, support and the opportunity to meet and discuss with other people their own and others' sexual orientation. They are also damaging to our pluralist society.

In Committee the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) asked whether there had been any evidence or suggestion of a local authority promoting homosexuality in Wales. The Minister could give no example. To my knowledge, there is no evidence of any example in Scotland. If we are wrong, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to correct us. However, I note that the Minister is no longer present; that shows his interest and the clause's importance to Scotland. Obviously, he does not consider that this is a matter of importance, or he would be on the Front Bench. He sat through the Committee proceedings, so presumably he could have managed to survive the final proceedings in the Chamber.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne made an appalling speech when he moved the original amendment. He chose to give examples that were not truthful and, until I questioned him in Committee, he chose to imply that a certain publication had emanated from local authorities when, by his own admission, the specific publication of which he had spoken did not. That represents an unacceptable misrepresentation. It epitomises the way in which Conservative Members have sought to raise the spectre of local authorities, especially those supported by other political parties, campaigning for the mass transformation — if that is biologically and genetically possible — of the land into a cast of rampaging homosexuals. That was the implication of the hon. Gentleman's speech.