I had not intended to speak, but decided to do so in the light of what I have heard today. Let me first say that I come from an Irish Catholic background, so I know from experience what cultural conservatism can be like. I know some of the terrible things that happened in the Irish Catholic culture, going back over many years—at its most obscene, the Magdalene laundries. But ultimately that changed because brave Catholics challenged their own culture. Ireland is now a tolerant country with a gay Prime Minister; that would have been thought unachievable and impossible in decades gone by.
With regards to what has been happening in Birmingham, I am the first to respect cultures, including cultural conservatism. I believe that there should be engagement without hesitation, but I do not accept what has been said today—that there has been no engagement by the head, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, with parents. I think there has been engagement, but I also think we need to distinguish between two things: on the one hand, there are those who feel uneasy; but on the other hand, there are there those who have been deliberately stirring this up.
This is not just happening in Birmingham. My hon. Friend Stephen Doughty referred to what is happening in Cardiff, and we are seeing a network develop in a number of cities around the country. To be frank, that network is absolutely wrong because, as a very good Muslim friend and constituent of mine said, “Jack, if we go down the path of dividing and demonising, or in any way suggesting that we would ever do that, our country and our city are a poorer country and city.” I never want to see the day when we in any way feed the view that there is something wrong about two men living together or two women living together.
I remember a man who came out to me in the old Transport and General Workers’ Union many years ago. He was desperate, in tears and afraid to speak out. But now Birmingham is the city of pride—pride with a small p and Pride with a big P. We have tens of thousands marching in Birmingham, celebrating our diversity: our rich cultural diversity, our rich ethnic diversity and our diversity in terms of sexual preference. Long may that always be the case.
I stress again that I absolutely understand that one has to engage, listen and explain, but if there are forces on the march the kind of which we thought were history in our country, we have to say, “No, you’re wrong.”