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 defend the hon. Lady's right to think that it is disgusting, but I do not defend her right, on behalf of a minority Government, to legislate to pretend that it does not exist. If the hon. Lady made an effort to inform herself, she would realise that these things are not encouraged or discouraged by teaching that they should be accepted—just as other things that she might not like are accepted. There is theft in society: she might not like it, and it might be uncivilised. Burglary, robbery and even murder exist in society. They are uncivilised, but we must teach people that those sorts of things happen and, more importantly, that all our fellow adults should be entitled to make their own choices, provided that they do not try to intrude on the lives and lifestyles of others. That is why the definitions in the clause are extremely dangerous.

Whatever our view about the morality of different sorts of sexual behaviour, and although there might be agreement in parts of the House about the immorality of certain sexual behaviour, we should allow local authorities as the agents of Government throughout Britain to teach that homosexuality is to be accepted. That is what this clause is about. Children, as they approach school-leaving age as young adults, should be taught about the risks in sexual relations and about the medical and other dangers. Those things should be taught as a regular and normal part of their curriculum. I shall give two examples, and I invite the Minister to say on what side of the line he comes down.

The Government use the words "safe sex" in their advertising campaigns. Does a leaflet promoting safe sex for homosexuals, perhaps from the Terrence Higgins Trust, which is funded by the Government, count as promoting homosexuality? If not, where is the dividing line? What about the funding of help lines, counselling lines or centres promoted by local authorities for lesbian women or gay men? Given that local authorities have a duty to all their electors, they must have a duty to gay men and lesbian women.

It is sad that we have to have this debate. If the Government had held to their principled position of less than a year ago, we would not need to have a debate such as this because the reactionary view propounded by some Conservative Back Benchers would be resisted just as it was resisted a year ago.

However, things have changed. The tragedy is that at the last minute in Committee the Government took a new position and are now advancing a piece of legislation that they admitted was defective and that is generally regarded as dangerous. That was why in Committee I expressly said on behalf of my party that we would not support the proposition. That is why I now confirm that the amendments that I and my hon. Friends have tabled are the minimum necessary to make this legislation acceptable. It is quite wrong for local authorities to promote homosexuality, but the clause goes miles too far and should be amended to make it in any way acceptable to the House and to the country.