Local Government Bill [H.L.]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:25 pm on 6th December 1999.

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Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 7:25 pm, 6th December 1999

My Lords, the House will be relieved about one thing: I have left my prepared notes at home. I want to say at the outset that I strongly agree with my noble friends Lady Young, Lady Seccombe and Lord Waddington. I am tempted to become involved in local government matters in regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. However, I shall leave that to my very able colleagues on the Front Bench.

One of the disappointments I have registered during the debate has been a lack of the support that we seek to oppose the repeal of Clause 28--from the Church (from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford) and from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. When considering the protection of young people, I expected the Church to be loud, clear and unequivocal in its support.

I have no doubt that the repeal of Section 28 has been slipped in as a distraction from what is otherwise an unpopular and anti-democratic Bill. It is also important to counter the comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, who is not in her place, that Section 28 was slipped in in another place. I do not regard amendments to any Bill as being slipped in, but as matters placed before Parliament for proper consideration. Parliament as a whole accepted the provision. My noble friend Lady Knight, who will speak later, cannot be considered guilty of slipping something in. She picked up a mood; she picked up on something that was happening, and was widespread, in local authorities and among local councillors across the country. I shall refer to certain local authorities during the course of my remarks.

There is a great deal of misinformation. We have been accused of peddling misinformation. But Section 28 does one thing unequivocally: it prohibits the promotion of homosexuality. Whatever noble Lords opposite and all those who support the repeal of Section 28 say, if the prohibition is repealed, we allow the promotion of homosexuality. It will free up local authorities, local councillors and all the vociferous and tenacious outside bodies that place people under enormous pressure to promote homosexuality.

I went to the Library to look up the word "promote" in case I was guilty of the accusation by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that there is a great deal of confusion about the word, and that our wonderful professional teaching staff are confused about what it means. If I promote myself, I am selling myself. If I promote a product, I am selling a product. If I promote an idea, I am selling an idea. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition as,

"to move forward, advance or raise to a position of honour, dignity or emolument, to raise to a higher grade, to prefer".

There is no confusion about the word "promotion". If you promote homosexuality, you are advocating it; you are saying something positive about it as a lifestyle.

I want to return to first principles. We are talking about children of school age to whom Section 28 is pertinent. There is copious literature about the activities being undertaken by local authorities and local councillors prior to the introduction of Section 28. I have with me for the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, a copy of Mirrors Around the Walls: Respecting Diversity which makes pretty awful reading. I read it from cover to cover in 1988 when it was produced and I have re-read it. All I can say about the London Borough of Haringey and many other London authorities that followed suit is that if at that time they had been as assiduous about educational standards as they were about promoting homosexuality they might have been more successful, and Mr Blair might not have been so preoccupied with the issue of raising school standards particularly in many inner city authorities.

The main plank of the argument of those who advocate the repeal of Section 28 is that somehow or other it will address the whole issue of bullying. Like my noble friends Lady Young, Lady Seccombe, Lord Waddington and no doubt Lady Knight, who is to speak later, I abhor bullying, whether it is because a child is too fat, too thin, is not clever, comes from an ethnic minority or is homosexual. Whatever the issue, it must be addressed by schools, parents and any of us who care passionately that people should not be discriminated against because of background, race or creed. Bullying is not an issue. Those who advocate the repeal of Section 28 because they believe that somehow bullying will be addressed and melt away are sadly mistaken. I suspect that there will be more vociferous promotion of homosexuality and the lives of many young children will be much more unhappy as a consequence.

My noble friend Lady Young made the very real point that as young people grow up many go through a period of great uncertainty about their sexuality. Those of us who care about young people--parents, friends, families and teachers--have a responsibility to help them through that stage. To advocate homosexuality, or even sexual activity, at any stage while young people are at school is wholly irresponsible. Certainly, to advocate homosexuality as a desired lifestyle is reprehensible.

The Government cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, they say that to promote the importance of marriage and the family is now orthodox Labour Party policy. We support that. We rather forced upon the Government the importance of recognising the family as the cornerstone of our communities. On the other hand, the Government want to remove Section 28 to permit LEAs and schools to promote homosexuality. For example, in another Bill the Government seek to make it a criminal offence for a 24 year-old male teacher to have a relationship with a 17 or 18 year-old pupil and at the same time they advocate the lowering of the age of consent to 16, which will encourage even more promiscuity and same sexuality activity among young school children. There is no consistency here.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said that what happened before Section 28 was introduced was a mirage. I have given one example of the reality of the situation. I have educational books produced at that time and comments made by councillors and policies put before committees of councils at that time. Much of that material will be used during the Committee stage of this Bill. It is said that the repeal will not allow the promotion of homosexuality. What else can the repeal mean if it does not mean that?

Peter Tatchell himself agreed that Section 28 had had an effect on the promotional activities of schools and LEAs. What better endorsement can one have of Section 28? The way in which health authorities exploit the promotion of homosexuality with our school children is of concern. As Section 28 does not bite on health authorities I hope that amendments will be tabled--if possible, I shall attach my name to them--to ensure that whatever the promotional activities of health authorities they do not impact on young people at school.

Apart from the moral aspect--I recognise that there are varying opinions on what constitutes the moral issues in sexual activities--I believe passionately that this is an issue of child protection, and on that there should be no difference between us. I care about the moral and spiritual dimension of education. Without it, education can be no more than an arid and clinical experience. It cannot be right to permit schools and local authorities to use time and precious resources to promote homosexuality or to publish material with that intention. Nor can it be right to teach that a homosexual partnership provides an equal, or even more desirable, family relationship. Are the Government saying that the repeal of Section 28 will resolve the bullying issue in schools? If so, as I thought, the Government are more interested in gestures than in genuine solutions. I shall support any amendment that opposes the Government's intention to repeal Section 28, and I hope fervently that it will be successful.