Local Government Bill [H.L.]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 6th December 1999.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 9:30 pm, 6th December 1999

My Lords, I sought to assure the House that as far as possible all of the amendments would be tabled in reasonable time for Committee stage. I note the noble Baroness's definition of "reasonable time". No doubt my noble friend the Government Chief Whip has also noted it. I cannot give an absolute assurance that every single amendment that we want to make to the Bill--my noble friend the Government Chief Whip never hears such remarks--will be tabled in that timescale. However, I shall do my best to meet the requirements of the noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have expressed concern.

It was important for us to take fully into account the report of the Joint Committee which was produced during the Summer Recess. We wanted to take account not only of the report of that committee but of local government and other interested parties before we drew up our response. In part that is the reason why the response has been somewhat later than noble Lords would have wished. I regret that the necessary amendments were not available at the time the first print of the Bill was produced.

We have also been asked whether all of the regulations stipulated under the Bill will be available in time for Committee stage. We are keen to ensure that the House has the opportunity to give adequate consideration to the amendments. As to those, the main substantive amendments will be to Parts II and III of the Bill. There may be some technical amendments to the other parts. There is one substantive issue related to allowances which falls outside those parts of the Bill. As far as concerns regulations, it would be unusual if all such measures under a Bill were produced before the Committee stage of the first House which considered it. Nevertheless, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that, as our response to the report of the Joint Committee indicates, the regulations concerned with executive functions, policy framework and petitions will be available in time for Committee stage. Others will be produced during the passage of the Bill, as is normal practice. I hope that that reassures the House that as far as possible we seek to accommodate noble Lords in providing as good a basis for consideration of this Bill as we can.

The other issue that I must address initially relates to the repeal of Section 2A--in other words, Section 28--by Clause 68 of the Bill. My comments on the contributions on this aspect of the Bill are perhaps made more in sorrow than in anger. I admit that there is a degree of anger also involved. I do not believe that in this respect there will be much of a meeting of minds. I respect the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, and others who were involved in the original introduction of Section 28. I am aware that she can quote anxieties. Nevertheless, I recall that at the time colleagues and friends in the gay community felt very strongly that hysteria about these issues was being whipped up. I believe that it was wrong for the government at that time to respond to that hysteria and it is wrong for noble Lords to seek to defend that position.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I believe it is completely ludicrous to suggest that this Government have slipped the repeal of Section 28 into this Bill. It has been Labour Party policy ever since it was introduced, and was referred to by the Labour Party spokesperson throughout the election and since, that we intend to take the opportunity to seek this repeal. The reality is that, whatever the words and perhaps the intention of Section 28, the effect not only on the gay community but the bringing up and education of our children has been very damaging. It causes confusion, as my noble friend Lady Massey said. That confusion seriously inhibits substantial numbers of teachers, as my noble friend Lady Gould said, from providing help and support for young people who are confused about their sexuality. They believe they are gay, they know they are gay, or they are being picked upon by others because they think that they are gay. It has inhibited a large number of teachers, governors and education authorities from providing the independent advice and guidance that those children need.

Those children and young people growing up in our society do not have to be taught homosexuality. Some will be gay. Some will know gay people within their own families and friends with whom they have close friendships and relationships. Hundreds of thousands of children in this country are growing up knowing people who are gay and wanting to know more about how they should respond to them. Their own parents, friends and siblings may well act in that capacity. Yet the section inhibits the way in which our authorities can deal with that situation.