My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)
moved Amendment No. 364B:
Page 41, line 25, leave out ("ceases to have effect") and insert ("is amended as follows.
(2) For the sidenote substitute "Principles relating to sex education".
(3) For subsections (1) to (3) substitute--
"(1) The local education authority shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where sex education is given to any registered pupils at a maintained school, it is given having regard to the following principles--
(a) that marriage should be promoted as the fundamental building block of society and of family life and as the proper context for the nurture of children, and
(b) that pupils are entitled to develop without being subjected to--
(i) any physical or verbal abuse about sexual orientation, or
(ii) the encouragement of sexual activity."
(4) In subsection (4)--
(a) for "(1)(b)" substitute "(1)";
(b) for the words from "means" to the end substitute "has the meaning assigned by section 20(7) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.".").
I beg to move this amendment at the beginning of what I expect to be a keenly argued debate on Clause 68. I do so because, whatever the rights and wrongs of Section 28, of which we shall no doubt hear much this afternoon, there is a very real concern about the effect that its repeal will have on schools. It is feared that they will be free to promote homosexuality. On the other hand, there is a real desire to have a sound, generally accepted basis for sex and relationships education.
Most of the comments that I have managed to read--and my postbag has been large--have been concerned with the effect that the repeal of Section 28 will have on schools. As chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, I move my amendment after detailed consultations with the chairman and officers of the Catholic Education Service. I am glad to have the support in principle of the leading article in last week's edition of the Catholic weekly, The Tablet.
My amendment is intended to put an end to the present confusion, which was trotted out even on Saturday morning on the radio by the presenter of "Yesterday in Parliament", and to make life easier for those charged with delivering SRE; namely, the teachers in our schools. Clearly, there is much confusion about the legal standing of Section 28 so far as concerns schools. It was passed in 1988 to prevent local authorities promoting homosexuality. In those days, local authorities had a direct responsibility for the curriculum in most maintained schools, other than church aided schools. Therefore, Section 28 achieved what those who wish to retain it, rightly, in my view, desired. However, education legislation has moved on and has changed the position of the LEAs with regard to schools. One of my difficulties this afternoon is having to deal with what is primarily an education responsibility in the context of this Bill, which is concerned with local government.
Since 1988 the national curriculum for schools has been introduced and education Acts passed which have placed what we are concerned about firmly in the hands of the governing bodies of the schools. In a situation in which parental choice largely decides which schools flourish--at least numerically in pupil numbers--it seems hard to conceive of school governors pursuing a policy which promotes homosexuality. However, I hope that they will take every step to prevent bullying based on sexual orientation. In other words, whatever happens to Section 28, the desire of the vast majority--the so-called "silent majority"--of parents and, indeed, of society at large for SRE to be based on heterosexual marriage as the norm will not be met. The confusion will remain.
However, I am well aware and, indeed, fully share the concern of those in this House and outside who say that, irrespective of the legal position under which our schools now operate, the Government's desire and intention to repeal Section 28 will send out signs and signals. As a Christian leader I believe that signs and signals are most important. The signs and signals in this case are that homosexual relationships have parity with heterosexual relationships and marriage, as understood and practised for generations as the Christian tradition has understood that.
Some believe--and I believe that the Government must listen to this for it is a widespread concern--that if Section 28 is repealed then all safeguards go and "anything goes", as they say. My amendment seeks to prevent just that and to put an end to uncertainty in the classroom and, it is hoped, to remove some of the fears which exist as to future developments. In his reply to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the comments of the Chief Inspector of Schools last Thursday (Hansard, col. 348), the Minister reminded the House that plans by the Department for Education and Employment are well advanced to issue guidance to schools to replace circular 5/94. The Churches have been and are actively involved in that consultation. As part of that process, last week the Catholic Education Service and the Church of England Board of Education issued a list of things they would expect in such guidance, including as point 3:
"Traditional marriage should be promoted as the fundamental building block of society and of family life and as the proper context for the nurture of children".
Our correspondence with the Secretary of State--this is reinforced by statements in the media over the weekend--leads me to believe that our concerns representing those millions of parents and teachers are now being heard. The Secretary of State, David Blunkett, has made it clear that young people should be taught about the nature and importance of marriage. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority reached agreement on shared values in our society, which included the importance of marriage. The PSHE framework, which has been published, for the first time refers to the importance of marriage. That has been widely welcomed in the country. I understand that Ofsted will inspect PSHE and SRE provision. Those are steps that I greatly welcome.
However, as I have been forcefully reminded again and again, the guidance has still to be produced, agreed and published. Trusting soul though one would expect me to be, sitting on these Benches, I am not that trusting. I am not prepared to leave things absolutely to chance, to see Section 28 repealed with no guarantees as to what will emerge, or to leave a continuing vacuum of confusion for the schools and their teachers to face. Hence, the effect of my amendment will be that LEAs, as much as it lies within their power, can promote marriage as the fundamental building block of society and family life and for the nurture of the nation's children.
I have tabled a similar amendment in what I believe to be a more proper place--namely, the Learning and Skills Bill--which will impose on governing bodies and head teachers of all schools the duties imposed on local authorities by this amendment. Together, they ensure the provision of sex education of the kind that I believe the vast majority of British people will welcome.
Nevertheless, I have been accused that by tabling my amendment I have let down the silent majority. I believe that the reverse is the case and that my amendment will give statutory force to what will be the principle underlying the guidance circular. That is what is required. I am asking for similar treatment in England to that given by the Scottish Parliament; namely, the undertaking by the First Minister in Scotland that the,
"package of safeguards and its proposals for revising guidelines", will be published before the final vote is taken.
Finally, although all schools are already required to have a policy to deal with bullying, I do not want my amendment to be seen as in any way supporting bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation. I know enough about bullying on grounds of religious faith and practice to realise how serious that is, hence my proposed subsection (3)(b)(i). My proposed subsection (3)(b)(ii) seeks to prevent the act of promotion of heterosexual or homosexual activity among children and young people. That has caused great anxiety to parents, teachers, youth workers and social workers.
Much more could be said in support of this amendment, but I believe that, together with my proposed amendment to the Learning and Skills Bill, this amendment will have a far more positive and far-reaching effect in our schools than the negative and ineffective section it seeks to replace.
In view of the fact that we face a rather difficult afternoon, it may be for the convenience to the House if I give at an early stage an indication of how the Government intend to respond in this debate to the proposals of the right reverend Prelate under this amendment, and perhaps reflect slightly forward into other debates we shall have this afternoon.
First, I thank the right reverend Prelate for raising these issues and indeed other noble Lords who have tabled amendments and who are genuinely trying to find a way out of what would otherwise be a very difficult situation. Also, I thank the right reverend Prelate for the manner in which he has proposed this first amendment. I would hope that the rational and unemotive tone--but nevertheless profound concern--with which he has expressed the amendment can be reflected throughout the rest of the afternoon.
I also agree with much of the substance of what the right reverend Prelate has said, and indeed with much of the substance of his amendment. Hitherto, we have taken the view, and still do, that one of the most important things, in order to remove the emotion from this debate, is to remove Section 28, which his amendment would achieve, and to provide a more balanced way of approaching sex education in schools. We have taken the general view that these are delicate, difficult and sensitive issues and therefore are best dealt with by guidance rather than trying to encapsulate all these matters on the face of the Bill.
As the right reverend Prelate said, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is currently engaged in very detailed discussions with the Churches and other faiths on this issue. However, I realise that that guidance may not be quite sufficient to reassure people. Therefore I would hope that the right reverend Prelate and others who support his amendment would recognise that some further discussions are needed on this. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education stands ready to talk to the right reverend Prelate and other colleagues to take this further and to see what should be the balance between primary legislation and guidance in order to reassure people.
The central problem is that most of the concerns expressed relate to schools, whereas Section 28 does not really apply to schools. We are here debating this in a local government Bill context, whereas most of the issues relate to education. The issue of the repeal of Section 28 ought, logically, to be separate from the safeguards that are in place to ensure that children receive appropriate sex and relationships education in schools. Unfortunately they have become enmeshed in the whole of this debate. Therefore I sympathise fully with much of what the right reverend Prelate has said. I also have some sympathy with parts of other amendments which are tabled--particularly the amendment much later on in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and others. As I say, I am very grateful that these dimensions are on the agenda today, rather than being dealt with in the kind of polarised argument which has been foreseen in the press. I would therefore hope that, rather than press this amendment today, the right reverend Prelate will accept that we need to discuss this further. We hope that in those discussions before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament, we shall have reached an understanding as to what is appropriate for primary legislation and what is appropriate for guidance and perhaps secondary legislation.
I reserve the right to reply at the end of this debate if other issues have been raised, but I thought it would be helpful to the House to see the way in which the Government are approaching not only this amendment, but the other amendments tabled today.
Perhaps I may quote from the speech made by the Prime Minister on 19th January. He was explaining the Government's position on this issue. He said it was,
"not because we believe it right to promote homosexuality but because we believe it is right for school teachers and others to be able to explain to children properly the facts of life".--[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/00; col. 840.]
There, it seemed to me, spoke not only a wise Prime Minister, but a wise and caring parent who understands that the country teems, as the right reverend Prelate has said, with caring parents who greatly fear what may happen when clever, determined, committed and indeed well-resourced pressure groups take advantage of the obvious inference that, if something is declared to be no longer forbidden, it is by the same token plainly permitted.
This would put us in a worse position than before the section in question--worded ill-advisedly, in my view--was introduced in 1988. It was written in to forbid something which, so far as I was aware at that time, no one seriously believed was permissible; namely, the active promotion of homosexuality by publicly-funded bodies.
The Prime Minister says specifically that Her Majesty's Government do not want the promotion of homosexuality. And fortunately he is at one not only with those caring parents I mentioned, but with the homosexual organisation Stonewall itself. I was reassured this weekend to read its document dated February 2000, which is pretty recent, on this matter. I quote from page 2:
"Indoctrination, whether it be political, religious or sexual, has no place in maintained schools ... No lesbian or gay man is advocating the promotion of homosexuality".
And thus, the document notes, and again I quote:
"a prohibition on indoctrination is not in itself wrong".
So it should not be difficult to find a wide consensus around the right reverend Prelate's amendment, if indeed not one of the other amendments before us today which, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has indicated, seek to avoid the inference--which those I have quoted agree should be avoided--that it would henceforth be permissible to promote homosexuality. We can surely satisfy the millions who already feel threatened, indeed betrayed, by some of the measure and proposals from Her Majesty's Government in the past couple of years.
Threatened, betrayed and indeed mystified. The health of the entire population, and of children in particular, is receiving welcome attention by government--as witness the forthcoming Food Standards Agency, the increased restriction on tobacco advertising, the work of the so-called drugs czar, and action to protect us all from CJD, salmonella and GM foods.
Of course, in a free society we should all be free to take risks with any activity that is legal, from smoking to bunjee jumping. Smoking is a good example, because with smoking no one is left in any doubt as to what is dangerous and why, and as to what are the risks.
So it is a puzzle to me, and I think to many outside this House, that issues of sexual health and sexual education are seriously neglected. One only has to contemplate our remarkable figures, a European record in this particular sport at least, on teenage, and indeed pre-teenage, pregnancies to feel that there is something grievously amiss with our health education and perhaps to wonder why our sex education has become so solidly fixated upon AIDS. AIDS is a terrible threat in all conscience, but one which needs to be put in the context of a broader, more balanced and more fundamental tackling of sex education.
So I should have liked the right reverend Prelate's amendment to make some allusion to sexual health in this connection.
I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on a most useful contribution to this debate and on changing the whole atmosphere of the debate--something which very few people can achieve. I congratulate him also on a Jesuitical manoeuvre by which he seems to have come at the head of the agenda from some place which was originally much lower down. But, in view of his contribution, I believe that I can say that in this case the ends have justified the means. I thank also the Minister for the positive and constructive reply which he has given to the right reverend Prelate and which perhaps opens the way forward for the majority in this House.
I am extremely sad to see that a Whip has been imposed on this matter in this Chamber. If this Chamber is to mean anything, it must be free to discuss matters without the pressure of Whips and political parties. We do not want to turn ourselves into another version of the other place. I expressed that view to our Chief Whip about a week or so ago and I look forward to receiving a reply. Perhaps he was foolish enough to commit it to the post.
All discussion on this matter has been bedevilled by a confusion between the concepts of law and morals. Morals and law are connected but they are distinct. That is a view I put forward in my book Law and Morals, published in 1968 and therefore out of print. However, I remind the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that he described it in a review as a "small masterpiece". I have no objection to the noun!
Before I look at the detail of the right reverend Prelate's amendment, perhaps I may make plain my own position on this issue. It has been the consistent position of the universal Christian Church that all sexual acts outside marriage are wrong. There is no difference in that regard between heterosexual and homosexual acts. I subscribe to that tradition and it certainly rules out such fantasies as homosexual marriages in church.
It may seem harsh but that is the teaching of the Church. It is difficult because not everybody can, or desires to, live a celibate life. But those problems are best dealt with in the secrecy of the confessional or in private counselling and not in the glare of the public forum. I hope that whatever the result of this debate, it will not hinder those who are working in that field in bringing comfort to those who are in difficulty.
When one turns to the law, the position is quite different. There is no single Christian position on the law. There is no single Catholic position on the law. My noble friend the Duke of Norfolk has spoken out on that matter. He takes a mechanistic view of the natural law which I certainly do not share. To venture even higher, there is another, his eminence Cardinal Winning of Glasgow, who has spoken out in an unappetising way with which I certainly, as a Catholic, do not agree. I regret very much that the moderate voice of Cardinal Hume is no longer to be heard to guide us in these perplexing and difficult problems.
But there are two principles with regard to the law. First, we must recognise that the law can have only a limited effect, which is what the right reverend Prelate's amendment achieves. Certainly, it must have precision and clarity of language. On both those tests, Clause 28 fails and even the right reverend Prelate's amendment causes some doubts. Therefore, I very much welcome the thought of conversations going on between interested parties to achieve a more precise form of language. After all, what on earth does the phrase "building block" mean?
But there is all the difference between the teaching in a school of perverse sexual actions on an amoral basis and seeking in a school to help those who experience what is common enough in adolescence and at other ages; namely, a strong attraction to members of the same sex.
Those people need understanding and help and they need to be counselled. But what is important in any relationship is love and friendship, much more than sex. That is what teachers can do and that is what they are inhibited from doing by the present law. The evidence for that is overwhelming.
Therefore, I believe that this matter is not ideally regulated by law. It should be left to guidelines by local authorities, ministers, Churches and teachers. When I was Minister of State for Education, I had the heavy responsibility of dealing with the moral discipline of teachers. It was an extremely heavy burden indeed. There were not many cases but one felt the weight of the responsibility on one's shoulders. But it was extraordinarily rare that such cases arose. The vast majority of teachers are responsible, ethical men and women. They do not abuse their position, either personally or intellectually. Their concern is that all the children committed to their care shall have the right to a full and free development.
The Government are quite right to seek to get rid of this legislation in that respect. It is totally unnecessary. The right reverend Prelate has given us a lead which I certainly would be prepared to follow. My noble friend Lady Young has done so much to promote the cause of religion in this House. I supported her very strongly when she sought to insert into the education Bill a measure which provided that education should be mainly Christian. In the light of the right reverend Prelate's amendment, perhaps my noble friend Lady Young will agree to withdraw her amendment. Indeed, we might then be getting somewhere. Of course, I do not want to promote homosexuality in schools, or indeed anywhere else, but I want to promote tolerance, understanding and help for the young people concerned, just as I have consistently sought to support racial and religious equality and opportunity throughout my political life.
After 30 years, it is unusual to be quoted as having praised noble Lords opposite. The noble Lord referred to my having praised his book. It is a small masterpiece. Undoubtedly, the noble Lord is one of the most gifted speakers in this House. Today, I am afraid that I have to say something about him that was said by the grandfather of the present noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--another famous Conservative Cabinet Minister--that he is "too clever by half". If noble Lords really believe in the cause that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, believes in--I had hoped that she would speak first--they will not go along with that.
My reaction to homosexuals is simple enough, and I speak as one who has promoted "homosexualism", if you like, among the gay lobby. Forty years ago, when I promoted the Wolfenden report--no one else would touch it--the late Lord Boothby referred to me as the unpaid leader of the homosexual lobby. That report was in favour of homosexuals not being prosecuted if they were over the age of 21.
Nevertheless, as the noble Lord has just said, homosexuality is against Christian rules, as is any sex outside marriage. Homosexuality can have terrible, tragic results. Whatever else it does, it deprives people of the supreme joy of marriage and children. Helping a young person to become a homosexual means that he will never be married and never have children. That is a terrible burden to inflict on a child, although it is no worse than the behaviour of a heterosexual man who has five mistresses. I do not say that one is worse than the other. They are both against the rules. They are both sinful.
I turn to sexual leanings. We cannot condemn people for their leanings, although leanings can be resisted. I know a young man who has terrible leanings towards girls between the ages of six and 14. He resists them. We have to ask our homosexual friends to resist their leanings.
Next I turn to homosexual behaviour. Any homosexual activity is criminal. Wherever the line is drawn--21, 18 or 16--some homosexual activity is criminal and at that point we must remember that these people are human beings. I speak with little confidence. Recently, in visiting prisons, I have made two much valued and good friends, one serving 10 years for attempted buggery and the other serving 15 years for buggery. One is a Doctor of Divinity and a Doctor of Psychology; the other is taking three degrees. When one of them shortly becomes a Roman Catholic I am honoured to think that I shall have my hand on his shoulder. So I am no enemy of homosexuals. However, when they break the Christian rules they have to be penalised.
Will the measure, suggested by the right reverend Prelate, or anybody else, make it any more likely that young people with homosexual leanings will be homosexuals for life? In the end, one cannot be sure about any such matter, but I shall support the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She is not infallible, any more than anybody else, but I shall back her.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for what he said. He, above all, is a man of great principle. He has stood by his principles in every debate in which I have heard him speak.
However, I refer to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I agree with him. This debate should be without emotion. One of the great difficulties about so long-running a debate is that those of us who hold to a different view are regarded as being completely intolerant, if not something worse. I have been called a number of names. In politics one expects,
"to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune", and I do not complain. However, the noble Lord should understand the true meaning of "tolerance": being able to listen and appreciate points of view which are different from those that other people hold. That does not alter the fact that one can be friends with people with whom one disagrees. We would all be helped by not misusing the word "tolerance" so that we can discuss the matter rationally, as I hope we shall.
Before I turn to the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, it may be helpful to remind the Committee why Section 28 was ever introduced. Section 28 applies to local authorities; it does not apply directly to schools or to teachers. Back in 1988 local authorities--not schools--were spending large sums of money promoting homosexuality. Furthermore, local authorities were seeking to require schools to promote homosexuality and some of us have seen some of the appalling material given out to children at that time. Section 28 protected schools from an overbearing local authority.
Section 28 was introduced only after the failure of two other measures. The first was Section 46 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, requiring LEAs to take reasonable steps to secure that sex education has,
"due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".
That has since been consolidated into Section 403 of the Education Act 1996.
The second provision was Department of Education circular 11/87, paragraph 22, which advised that,
"there is no place in any school in any circumstances for teaching which advocates homosexual behaviour or presents it as the norm".
Because of the failure of those two pieces of legislation, Section 28 was enacted. It has been effective in stopping local authorities promoting homosexuality in schools. It is only right to set that out.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. Perhaps I can ask her a question of which I have given her notice. If I should say, with the knowledge of the local authority, to a school audience that I believe that homosexuals are entitled to equal legal, civil and moral respect, would that be a breach of Section 28 or not? I would also value the advice of the Minister together with that of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General whom I see sitting beside him.
I am sure that I am not qualified to give a legal opinion on almost any subject. My answer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is that we are not talking about adults. How adults conduct themselves in a free society is a matter for adults. This debate concerns children--children in schools. It concerns children who, in my opinion, ought not to be treated as if they were adults. Adults are in a position to make an informed choice about alternative lifestyles about which children cannot possibly have the experience to judge. That is my answer to the question.
I apologise to the noble Baroness for intervening; this is a clear and serious point. The issue for many of us--I agree totally with what the noble Baroness said--is whether it applies to heterosexual as well as homosexual activities.
I shall try and give an equally clear answer to the noble Lord. I have said publicly on many occasions that, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I believe that marriage is best; that marriage is the right way to live.
The right reverend Prelate did not say this, but I believe also that there is no moral equivalence between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. As a teacher and a parent I feel that we need to set in front of children an ideal by which they should live. They may not live up to it; I do not live up to ideals either. But I have an idea of how I ought to live. That is what we should strive for. That is what we should put in front of children. To say to children that there are alternatives in life which are equally valid is not right. One needs to be careful what one says to vulnerable children growing up uncertain of the way. What one says to adults and what adults do is a completely different matter and the two points should not be confused.
Perhaps I may comment in some detail on Amendment No. 364B. As I indicated, I believe that marriage is the best way to live. I am entirely in support of including marriage in any guidelines and putting those at the centre of any policy. If the Government are considering guidelines, I hope that they will do that. I have yet to hear any Minister, except Mr Blunkett, say that. Other Ministers seem to say something different. It will be interesting to know the Government's view.
A genuine difficulty that I have with the amendment is that the main part of it encourages local education authorities to promote marriage, but does not prevent them promoting homosexual relationships. As we know, in law a prohibition is always much stronger and clearer than a positive duty. It constitutes a clear threshold which we must not cross. It is easier to see when a threshold has been crossed than to see when a positive duty has not been fulfilled.
I do not believe for one moment that the overwhelming majority of governors or teachers will do any of the things set out in the new subsection (3)(b) of the amendment. But its other weakness is that it covers only schools; it does not cover youth organisations or the many activities of local authorities where people would still be free to promote homosexuality. Furthermore, one cannot be sure that some would not promote it in some circumstances.
The reason for the complication is that a positive duty is not exclusive. To be exclusive, the duty would have to be drafted in such a tight way that few would find it acceptable; that is to say, by saying that marriage was the only context for raising children. There are of course a number of drafting difficulties. The word "fundamental" is not defined. Marriage may be,
"the fundamental building block of society", but it does not follow from the wording that it is the only building block. Marriage may be fundamental in the sense of being primary, but homosexual couples could also be a secondary or alternative building block; nor is the word "family" defined. However, I do not argue the case on those points because drafting issues can be corrected. But I cannot support the amendment as it stands because it does not meet the case.
I wish to say something about bullying, which will undoubtedly be central to the debate. The amendment makes reference to it. I take the view that bullying is always wrong, whatever the cause. I do not believe that there is a single teacher who would not do all that he or she could to stop it. But it is difficult to stop. The Education Act lays down clearly that there is a duty on governors and head teachers to prevent it. It is an absolute duty and if teachers breach it, they may be disciplined. So there is no doubt where their duty lies.
It is difficult to see where the law could be tightened up on the subject of bullying. It says,
"The head teacher shall determine measures (which may include the making of rules and provision for enforcing them) to be taken with a view to [among other things] encouraging good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils".
That means, in particular, preventing all forms of bullying among pupils. The law could not be firmer or clearer on that matter. So we are all agreed upon it.
I hoped that when the Chief Inspector of Schools made his statement to the Sunday Telegraph one week ago, it would have been welcomed by this Chamber as a reassurance as to what is happening in schools. I confess to having been appalled by the derogatory remarks made last Thursday in Question Time about one of the most distinguished men in education today; a man who was originally employed by the Conservative government; one who is clearly regarded as being so good as to be re-employed by Mr Blunkett; and one who has probably done more than almost anybody else to raise standards in schools. He said, on the basis of inspections of thousands of schools in this country,
"I do not see that teachers are constrained in teaching with these issues [bullying]. The fact that they are not allowed to promote homosexuality does not prevent them from delivering effective teaching on these issues. Furthermore, my own experience is that there is no evidence that Section 28 has had a negative influence on teachers' ability to deal with homophobic bullying. No head teacher has raised with me, in all the many school visits that I have made, Section 28 as a cause of concern".
He is a man who has probably had more experience of visiting schools than anybody else in the country and he makes an unequivocal statement. I stand by what he says. I have no reason to suppose that it is not true.
I may come back to this debate at a later stage, because it may be more helpful to speak to all the amendments at the same time. Though I entirely respect what the right reverend Prelate said in relation to marriage, for the reasons that I have given I shall be unable to support him should he press his amendment to a Division.
Section 28 needs repealing. It is a clumsy piece of legislation; it is not clear and it is not precise. No local authority has ever been charged with being in breach of it and no court has ever defined how it should apply. It is a totally unworkable piece of legislation, but it has been damaging in effect. As the right reverend Prelate said, sometimes symbols have a greater detrimental effect than reality. If Section 28 is retained, it will be in direct conflict with such important measures as citizenship education in schools, the eradication of social exclusion and the implementation of a public health policy, and therefore it needs to be removed.
I turn to the amendment. Like my noble friend the Minister, I believe that the words of the right reverend Prelate reflect many of the issues and concerns that we need to deal with in both guidance and legislation. As my noble friend said, it is crucial that the discussions and the consultations should continue. I am sure that we can then reach common ground, which must ultimately be achieved so that the provision of sexual education is not neglected. That is what most parents want; and that is what most young people want. In a recent Channel 4 poll, conducted on 3rd February, 70 per cent of 15 to 24 year-olds thought that Section 28 should be repealed. It is those young people's lives that we are discussing and it is those young people to whom we should be listening.
It is unfortunate that what should have been a mature debate about a civilised society, recognising diversity and determining ways of eradicating discrimination, has, in some quarters, been conducted in a tone of hysteria that itself promotes homophobic views and encourages prejudices and harassments. The debate so far has generated more heat than light, at a time when light was what was required. What also appears to be clear from some of the press reports over the weekend is the fact that there are some people who do not want to see that light--who want to keep a restraint on local government, who ignore the need for equality and democracy, who have no desire to achieve equality of treatment for all young people and who do not want clarity for teachers and parents over what can and cannot be discussed. It is that clarity that we must have: the confusion has to be removed. I believe that the amendment brings us nearer to establishing the principles upon which that clarity can be achieved.
It is important for us to have guidance that applies to governors, head teachers, social workers and youth workers. It should not be principally directed at schools. We must have guidance that is understandable and workable and which is detailed and sensitive to the needs of all; guidance which can be built into legislation, not in detail but by placing a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to produce guidance on sex and relationships education in schools and which will assist school governors in the work that they have to do, taking into account local circumstances. I give way to the noble Lord.
I am grateful. The noble Baroness talks about guidance. However, call it codes of practice, rules, or what you will, it has absolutely no legal efficacy unless it is triggered by a clause in primary legislation. We have not seen the draft and have not heard about any clause to give it any legal efficacy. Until we know where we are going, I think that we had better go a little quietly on rules or guidance. I wonder whether the noble Baroness agrees.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. It is important for us to have discussion on the principles that we want to see in that guidance. I want to talk about those principles. I also said that, within legislation, there should be a statutory duty placed on the Secretary of State to produce guidance on sex and relationships education. I shall now describe what I believe those principles ought to be. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, highlighted, there has to be an understanding in the guidance that indoctrination, whether political, religious or sexual, has no place in maintained state schools.
All young people should be taught from an early age to understand differences and the importance of trust and respect for all, regardless of their sexuality, race, colour or religion. They also need to be taught the importance and the nature of marriage, of parenting and of stable relationships--principles that are already laid down in the new "Healthy Schools" initiative and not, as the noble Baroness suggested, never mentioned anywhere. It is equally important that included in the guidance are the values of delaying sexual activity and the dangers inherent in promiscuity and risk-taking behaviour. All young people should be given accurate information on sexual relationships, regardless of their sexuality, if they are to make sensible and informed decisions about their future.
Similarly, young people should be made aware of the teachings of religious faiths on the questions around sexuality. I believe that such a firm ethical framework would be more reassuring for parents, teachers and pupils than four lines in a piece of legislation. It would give teachers and relevant local authority staff the authority to advise and to offer information and support to all young people and so enable them to address specific incidents of homophobic bullying by making it absolutely clear, as the amendment does, that all pupils have the right to develop without being subject to physical or verbal abuse because of their sexual orientation.
In conclusion, Section 28 as it stands legitimises discrimination against one section of society. It asserts that gay men and lesbians are second-class people and that their relationships are pretended. There would, rightly, be outrage if the law were to define any other section of the community in this way. For more than a decade it has been an affront to the basic human rights of a section of the population. That also applies to children, because they have rights as well as adults. To me, and to many others, Section 28 is an iniquitous piece of legislation that needs removing from the statute book. In the 21st century all sections of society are entitled to equal treatment. That can be achieved by well-produced, inclusive guidance and safeguards that can be implemented by being built into legislation. I believe that the principles behind this amendment move us some way towards achieving that aim. I hope that the discussion can continue.
I thank the noble and learned Lord. Like other speakers, I should like to pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I shall largely confine my remarks at this stage to supporting the discussions he advocated. However, like other Members of the Committee, I reserve the right to come back as the debate widens.
To put it at its lowest, I regard Section 28 as being unhelpful. It is a symbolic provision, which I find very offensive and one which I believe has done nothing to heal rifts in our society. It is an unhelpful provision, not least because the term "promote" is so difficult to interpret; indeed, "to inform" is not "to promote". I do not advocate the promotion of homosexuality; I do not advocate the promotion of sexual experience by young children in any fashion.
As the right reverend Prelate said, we need to explore the place of primary legislation in these issues. For example, what is the responsibility of local education authorities and what is the responsibility of schools? Whatever the outcome of our discussions today, I hope that teachers will feel that they end the day with more support than they currently believe they have.
The relationship with other existing legislation is a matter that needs more consideration than we are able to give it this afternoon. I mention only the section in the 1996 Act which says that where sexual education is given it should be given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and to the value of family life. That says a lot to me, but I am not sure by how much it should be bettered or expanded in primary legislation. Like others, I prefer to see guidelines and guidance--provisions which can acknowledge the sensitivities of the subject. Just to take one aspect of this difficult issue, there are many kinds of family. I do not think that anyone has yet mentioned single-parent families. They constitute a group who find themselves lumped together with others in an unhelpful fashion, as I have said previously.
If we are to rely on guidance, like the right reverend Prelate, I would prefer to see it and not accept it "sight unseen". The suggestion of the right reverend Prelate is a useful, helpful and constructive way forward. I may return to the issue. I know that some of my noble friends have feelings at least as strong as mine. However, I exercise self-discipline in the hope that that of itself will take the discussion forward.
A number of us have been working for many days to try to devise a reasonable solution to this contentious problem. We have tabled successive amendments in good time so that noble Lords should have a proper opportunity to consider them. We have sought to improve them over time.
It is unfortunate that the right reverend Prelate, without a word to any of us so far as I know, should have introduced a revised amendment at the very last moment. It was printed first thing this morning and none of us has had time to consider it properly. It is ingeniously worded so as to be listed before those already tabled. This has given rise to a suspicion that it is perhaps a ploy to divide and frustrate those who have sought to preserve the prohibition on the promotion of homosexuality and that it is, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, said, a Jesuitical manoeuvre. I hope that suspicion is unfounded.
It is in itself not a bad amendment, although I think it less good than ours. For example, I believe that it covers only schools whereas ours covers all local authority responsibilities. The attitude of the Church of England, reportedly involved in behind-the-scenes discussions with Ministers, seems somewhat equivocal on this whole issue. It contrasts sharply with the attitude of the Muslim Council of Britain, which says:
"Any teaching in schools which presents homosexual practice as equivalent to marriage or in a morally neutral way is deeply offensive to Muslims ... We believe that the repeal of Section 28 profoundly undermines the institution of the family and will damage the fabric of our society".
The marginal note on Clause 68 of the printed Bill describes it as,
"Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality".
Clearly, if you disagree with the prohibition of such promotion, you consider it allowable and acceptable. Anyone therefore who votes in favour of Clause 68 and leaves it unamended must logically favour the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. There is no getting away from that. Whatever the Government may say or do, their initiative will inevitably be seen by the public as indicating that they favour the promotion of homosexuality.
We now see many concessions to the homosexual lobby: the renewed effort to reduce the age of consent to 16; the failure to ask, like some other European countries, for a derogation from the acceptance of homosexuality in the Armed Forces; and even, next Saturday, a "gay day" at the Dome, which has caused at least one school to cancel its planned visit. I find it hard to believe that most of the Government's supporters, in this House and elsewhere, really want the Government to promote homosexuality.
I am sure that the Government must have been surprised by the strength of public reaction to their proposal, first in Scotland and now in England and Wales, and in the stand taken by so many religious leaders. It must be a powerful cause that persuades the Chief Rabbi and the Muslim Council of Britain to take the same line.
For me, far and away the most important aspect of this question is the need to safeguard children. Protecting the innocent, young and vulnerable is, as I see it, a fundamental duty of our Parliament. We have all been appalled by the numerous cases of abuse of children in care in north Wales and elsewhere. Not all abuse is carried out by homosexuals but a good deal of it is--by paedophiles who target defenceless children. Those who distribute the disgusting publications and videos, some examples of which Peers have been able to see and which are financed by taxpayers and ratepayers, are similarly targeting the young.
How can we put things right? The Government say that they will introduce new guidelines for schools. This is welcome. Mr Blunkett is clearly doing his utmost, for which we should all be grateful. But guidelines do not have the force of law and are no substitute for what is in an Act of Parliament. Stonewall has proposed that there should be statutory guidance for schools. On the face of it that seems reasonable, but I have doubts about whether guidelines produced by the present Government, sympathetic as they are to the homosexual lobby, would be worded in a way that was acceptable to most parents, different faiths and the public as a whole. And even statutory guidelines would, I think, be weaker than a section of an Act of Parliament.
Section 28 is far from perfect. It has been argued that it is ineffective because there have been no prosecutions under it. However, I quote just one of the scores of letters I have received. It is from a Liberal Democrat, no less, a former director of education who is now a registered inspector of schools and has long experience of inner-city schools. He states:
"Section 28 greatly strengthens the hand of officers. If they have a proposal before them from a Council committee which clearly promotes homosexuality then if reason and common sense fail the officer can appeal to Section 28. Councillors know that officers cannot be made to act against the legal advice they have received".
His letter continues:
"Section 28 puts a very reasonable brake on a situation which, but for the law, could get out of control. Section 28 has in no way inhibited responsible sex education in schools. The argument that Section 28 has been responsible for encouraging bullying in schools is simply ridiculous. Every teacher has a basic professional duty to tackle the problem of bullying however it is caused. In my entire professional career I have never encountered a single case of pupils being bullied because they are homosexual. Sadly I cannot say the same about bullying on other grounds."
The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is simple and has been widely supported. I had the privilege of working with the noble Baroness against the previous government's misconceived move to banish fault from divorce and make it easier under the Family Law Bill, as it then was. Now she is leading the campaign to preserve Section 28. It used to be said of some men that they were good people to go tiger shooting with. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is a good person to go campaigning with.
The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, to which I have added my name, is an alternative approach, which some may prefer. It has the merits of including a reference to the need to support marriage, which is, I think, most important. It does not specifically mention homosexuality. It would cover all forms of perversion, and not merely homosexuality. It offers an opportunity to put matters right if the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, should fail.
Although most of its substance is acceptable, in the light of what I have said I shall not support the amendment of the right reverend Prelate, not least because for this Chamber to go on record, even by implication, as approving the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities would be deplorable and would damage our standing with the public. We should be failing the parents of children throughout the country. I shall vote for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and if that fails I hope that the Committee will support our amendment.
It was not so long ago that I spoke in this Chamber opposing the reduction in the age of consent. The view that I take on the issue before us today is the same as I took then; that is, to protect the interests of young people and children and to do nothing whatever to increase the level of risk to which they are exposed, even if that risk is small and acknowledging that there will be no effect on the vast majority whether Section 28 is in place or not.
My one regret is that whereas on the question on the age of consent the Government allowed a free vote, on this issue they have not. That regret applies equally in respect of the party opposite whose action--despite it having "Whipped" in a way that coincides with how I shall vote--I believe to be wrong. I say that because I believe this to be a question of conscience, a moral issue and not a political one.
I know that there are those who claim that this is a political issue. They are entitled to that view. However, I do not share it. It came as a great surprise to me when the Government--whom I unequivocally support, and for whom I did as much as I could to bring to power--decided, very late on, to apply a three-line Whip, probably, in part at least, influenced by the fact that the Conservative Party had already taken the decision to apply a three-line Whip.
It is not my intention to repeat the arguments I advanced previously, important as I feel they are. I want to draw the attention of the Committee, very briefly, to a few points which I feel are directly relevant to Section 28.
Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 states that where sex education is given it should be,
"in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".
I agree with that--I believe that the vast majority of people agree with that--and nothing in Section 28 cuts across that approach.
I understand that the proposed new guidance will clearly set out that children should be taught about the importance and nature of marriage and family life in bringing up children. I welcome that. But, again, nothing in Section 28 prevents that. One would have thought that it reinforces it. I also understand that the guidance will stress that marriage and the family are the key building blocks of the community and of society; it will also make clear that it is not the job of teachers to promote a particular sexual orientation, that teachers will not be promoting homosexual relationships. Finally, the guidance will ensure that teachers are in a position to offer information and support to all young people as they develop into adults and to address incidents of homophobic bullying. I agree with all of that--but I cannot see the justification for repealing Section 28 in the process.
I feel that, whether or not we like it, we cannot ignore the perception that the British people have of the issue and of what they understand Section 28 reflects. The British people that we represent see the issue as this: those who seek the repeal of Section 28 support the promotion of homosexuality, whereas those who oppose the repeal of Section 28 are against the promotion of homosexuality. Of course we know that, as in most things, the issue is not as simple and as clear-cut as that--but I believe that that is the perception of most people. I fear that to ignore that perception can work only to the disadvantage of the Government, of whom I want to see in power for at least--
Since the question of the beliefs and perceptions of the public has arisen, does the noble Lord think that the role of this House is to follow public opinion or to lead, educate and inform it?
I certainly do not believe that it is necessary to follow public opinion in all cases, but I believe that it would be unwise to ignore it. I do not think that we hold a monopoly in terms of people's knowledge and feelings on issues of morality and conscience.
Because most people believe that protection is afforded by Section 28, its removal can only damage respect for the Labour Government. The message being sent out by proposing the repeal of Section 28 can only be a negative one for the Government. That I do not want to see. Like most noble Lords--many of whom are my noble friends--I have received an enormous mailbag on this issue, much of it from those we consider to be pillars of our society--teachers, headmasters, clergy, solicitors, and one letter from a director of education, to whom reference has already been made. These people are not considered to be cranks. They are rational, stable people with legitimate fears and concerns--and they plead with us to leave Section 28 as it is.
But the letters are not only from those to whom I have referred; they come also from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They all utter the same cry: "Do nothing to put our youngsters at further risk. Take no action that may ultimately confuse children before they become aware of their sexuality".
We are told that the repeal of Section 28 will not lead to the promotion of homosexuality. If that is so, why remove it? Section 28 is there only to prevent the promotion of homosexuality in our schools.
The arguments in support of the repeal of Section 28 do not seem to me to address the fears of most people--including me--that once the provision is removed, the possibility of increasing risk for young people and children will be greater, even though that risk will affect only a small minority.
Finally, if the removal of Section 28 is as straightforward and uncomplicated as is sometimes claimed, why is there a need for guidance notes? Further, why propose a change in the legislation before finalising those guidance notes?
Over the long 18 years that I have played a part in helping to make the Labour Party electable--despite many of its warts and sometimes misconceived and misguided policy decisions--I knew and I still know that the basic values and principles of the Labour Government are right. The compassionate belief in people, which is the hallmark of a Labour Government, reflects my profound feeling. But in this I think they are wrong. I have not so far voted against a Labour Government--but in this matter I shall vote for Amendment No. 365.
We have a certain amount of time available to us. Shall we begin with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, followed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, followed by the Cross Benches?
I shall try to be very brief. I should very much have liked today to have supported the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn--not least because I live in his diocese. I greatly respect his judgment and I know him to be a wise, compassionate and sensible man. However, if one judges his amendment by its capacity to stop the circulation by local authorities of the pernicious material that we have seen recently--and which was on display in Committee Room 3A on two days last week and is again on display today--and by its capacity to stop local authorities targeting children with material which suggests that the homosexual lifestyle is quite acceptable, the amendment will be entirely ineffective, not least of course because the amendment deals with local education authorities and Section 28 puts a prohibition on local authorities.
Some have argued, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, today, that, because there have been no prosecutions, Section 28 has been ineffective. That is not the view of the homosexual rights campaigner, Mr Peter Tatchell, who said in an article a couple of years ago that he had identified at least 35 instances of self-censorship by local authorities which had been afraid of prosecution under Section 28. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, quoted from a letter from a Mr Derek Esp, formerly the director of education for Lincolnshire and Liberal Democrat vice-chairman of Somerset education committee. He could not have put the matter more clearly. He said:
"Section 28 came about because some local authorities were using their powers to encourage schools to promote homosexuality. Since ... Section 28 was introduced this problem has greatly diminished. Section 28 greatly strengthens the hands of (local government) officers. If they have a proposal before them from a Council Committee which clearly promotes homosexuality, then if reason and common sense fail the officer can appeal to Section 28".
As he has been quoted several times, in the interests of clarity I should point out, first, that Mr Derek Esp, while he is a Liberal Democrat, is not vice-chairman of the education authority in Somerset; and, secondly, that in their guidance the officers of his own authority currently say that educational services have sometimes been unclear as to what they can offer to young people because of the Local Government Act 1988, Section 28. So although Mr Esp may express an individual view, he is not speaking for his authority.
I am not greatly concerned about the particular posts held by Mr Derek Esp. What he said was plain common sense and, therefore, I was not surprised when he said it.
The amendment of the right reverend Prelate will not stop the dissemination of the offensive material we have seen. It will not be as effective as Section 28 in deterring local authorities from disseminating that material. I do not see how that can be denied. For instance, there will be nothing to prevent local authorities from producing material directed at children and placing it in children's sections of libraries. Such material may tell them that sodomy is all right if people are born that way and that while marriage is the fundamental building block of society, it may not be right for them and that they may prefer a homosexual relationship. There will be nothing whatever to prevent a local authority from emulating the Avon health authority by publishing material encouraging young children,
"to experiment with boys and girls to see who [they] feel comfortable with".
There will be nothing to prevent a local authority from emulating the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority and publishing, for the benefit of children, a guide to the etiquette of cruising and cottaging. For that matter, I must say with the greatest respect to the right reverend Prelate that there will be nothing to prevent a local authority from giving different meanings to the words "marriage" and "family" from the ones understood by the great majority of people. After all, government spokesmen have often asserted that the word "family" must be redefined to meet changing social conditions.
I ask, with respect, that we address the real issue. The real issue is that we have a duty to ensure that young boys, who are often confused about sexual matters and may go through a phase, often transitory, of being attracted to other males, are not made the target of homosexual propaganda. It is quite wrong that such boys should be told--here I use the words of a lady who wrote to me--that,
"any sexual choice is equal to the next, like buying a brand of footwear".
It is quite wrong that they should be taught--whether in a formal sex education class or outside; perhaps in a library book--that a homosexual relationship is equally as valid and normal as a heterosexual one and that sodomy is perfectly acceptable behaviour. There are two obvious reasons why that is wrong, which have already been mentioned by one or two Members of the Committee. First, such teaching runs entirely counter to the teaching of all the main religions in the world and contradicts the belief of the great majority of people who can see from their own knowledge of anatomy and biology that sodomy is an unnatural act. Secondly, to teach young people that a homosexual relationship is as normal and valid as a heterosexual one is to conceal from them the appalling health risks involved in homosexual behaviour in general and sodomy in particular.
Of course it is wrong to be intolerant of homosexuals as individuals. That must be said because, as my noble friend Lady Young mentioned, the word "intolerance" is so often wrongly used. But it is surely right to be intolerant of those prepared to make the target of propaganda children who are far too young to appreciate the implications of a decision to involve themselves in homosexual behaviour. Some of the material now being circulated is quite appalling. How on earth can it be right to teach children to,
"experiment with boys and girls to see who you feel most comfortable with"?
That advice, contained in a video funded by the Avon health authority, is an argument not for repealing Section 28 but for extending its scope. It would certainly not be banned as a result of the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. How can it be right for the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority to fund a guide to the etiquette of cruising and cottaging; that is, actually to encourage promiscuous sex? I believed that health authorities were in the business of promoting health, not disease.
Last month, Mr Blunkett announced that new guidelines would be produced by the department as a substitute for Section 28. However, not only can guidance be ignored, but the wording hinted at would not have begun to tackle the mischief. I gather that although it would rule out proselytising in favour of homosexual behaviour, it would not be the vehicle for the deliberate promotion of any sexual orientation. Of course, that means that far from teachers being under a duty to point out that a homosexual lifestyle is not morally equivalent to marriage, they would be required, while paying lip service to the importance of marriage, to play their part in the Government's campaign to undermine its special status.
Some arguments have been advanced in support of the repeal of Section 28, not least by the Prime Minister himself, which do not hold water for a moment. I am not going to go over the business of bullying and the argument that Section 28 prevents people from teaching the facts of life. To say so runs entirely contrary to the guidance published by the department in its own circular. Mr Esp says from his experience that,
"The argument that Section 28 has been responsible for encouraging bullying in schools is simply ridiculous. Every teacher has a basic professional duty to tackle the problem of bullying however it is caused. In my entire professional career I have never encountered a single case of pupils being bullied because they are homosexual".
Has the noble Lord received the guidance from the Royal College of Nursing which gives clear examples of school nurses who, under the present law, find themselves greatly at a disadvantage in trying to help pupils to deal with bullying and other problems?
I assure the noble Baroness that the argument that Section 28 has stopped teachers from dealing with bullying was completely exploded by research commissioned by Stonewall itself. There were hundreds of respondents to its survey, but not a single one identified Section 28 as a factor in bullying.
Finally, more and more aggressive demands are coming from the gay community--demands for gay marriage and the rights of gay people to adopt children. Far from the gay community being an oppressed minority, there is what a gay writer recently described as "a gay triumphalism" in public life. Anyone who dares question attacks by the gay community on conventional morality is accused of ugly prejudice or worse. A statement was attributed to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, in the press today. I must tell him that the moral bullies are on the other side of the argument. I therefore congratulate my noble friend on her leadership in the matter and on her courage. When the time comes, I shall certainly support her amendment.
Before the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, sits down, will he agree with me that the video that he quoted--which is often quoted--is not in fact a video for schools? It is a training video for professionals who may or may not, if they wish, buy it. It is not for children.
When I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, I am reminded of a remark by Sidney Smith:
"I wish I were as certain of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything".
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for replying with her regular honesty and courtesy to my intervention. I am extremely grateful. She is an honourable opponent and one with whom I am happy to engage in debate. Her answer, as I understood it, was that she really was not sure. It is an honourable answer. I believe that it is correct. It goes a long way towards making my point.
I am most grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. I was making the point that how adults behave in a free society is a matter for adults but that what happens to children in school is a different matter. There is a responsibility on adults, who in school stand in loco parentis, as to what they say to children and what they proselytise.
I thank the noble Baroness for that clarification. I had noted the point in her original remarks. But my original example posited the case in which I had said these things while speaking in a school. That was my intention. These are things I would be perfectly happy to say in a school, and I would defend myself to the noble Baroness inside this Chamber or outside.
I feel a good deal of sympathy with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who has made a serious effort to be helpful to the Committee. He is probably feeling rather like Cardinal Pole, who attempted to produce a formula on justification acceptable both to Catholics and Protestants and found it damned instantly and simultaneously by Luther and the Pope. I am very sorry to add to that process, but there is one thing I regret seeing in the right reverend Prelate's amendment. I refer to the continuation of this troublesome word "promote". I have read the debate that took place when Clause 28 was first before the House. It was six weeks before I took my seat. My noble friend Lord Falkland remarked that,
"it is just not possible (and I dare say we shall argue the point) to understand what is meant by the word 'promote'".--[Official Report, 1/2/88; col. 867.]
That was truly a prophetic remark. I understand that the doctrine of Pepper v. Hart applies in this case. I have looked at what the Minister had to say. He said, at col. 890:
"But we think that 'promote' has a clear meaning. If one promotes something, one is deliberately doing something to give what is promoted a more favourable treatment, a more favourable status from wider acceptance, than other things or than that thing hitherto".
What the status of "that thing hitherto" was depends upon whom we are listening too. If we listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, we get a different status from that we get from listening to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. Which of those a court should take as the status hitherto is a wide open question.
I have two points to make about promoting--one specifically in relation to marriage and the other in relation to Section 28. In relation to marriage, I yield to none in my praise for the institution. I have myself been married only for 37 years, which in the marriage stakes in this House makes me a veritable novice. But I may say, as one of the junior Members of your Lordships' House, that I am not yet old enough to have done any better. I hope to be given time. I hope the right reverend Prelate will respect my intention in saying that I agree with Saint Augustine that the corruption of the best is the worst. Just because I think marriage is such a good thing, I think it is a bad thing for anyone to enter into it for anything other than a genuine calling to enter into that state.
When I was an undergraduate, some of us occasionally used to ask older people, "Should I marry so-and-so or not?" The answer we almost always received was, "When in doubt, don't." When we start talking about promoting marriage, we are encouraging the idea that being married is more respectable than any other state; even possibly that advancement may fall from it. That may well encourage people to enter into the state of marriage who have no genuine calling to that state. That can lead only to unhappiness. In the whole of this unhappy story, there are few, if any, people for whom I feel more sympathy than Mrs Tom Driberg, who entered into marriage, I understand, in the genuine belief that she was entering into a normal marriage. If the promotion of marriage leads to something like that, we ought to approach it with a certain caution.
As to promotion of homosexuality, that causes confusion, as I think was indicated mostly clearly in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, because it lumps together two things which in his view are very, very similar--so much so that they can be conflated--but in mine are as different as light from darkness. What started the argument was the belief that people are going about trying to recruit people to a particular way of sexual behaviour. I do not think that any Member of the Committee would defend that. What some people might wish to add to it is the argument that people should not be going about recruiting for a heterosexual lifestyle either. We have here a real difference in assumptions about physiology as well as about morals. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, used the word "prefer" in relation to a homosexual lifestyle. I am not particularly comfortable with the word "lifestyle". I agree with my California colleague who said that academics are not rich enough to afford a lifestyle. But in any case it implies choice.
Choice is precisely what I see as a doubtful concept. The way I see it, whether one is homosexual or heterosexual is much more akin to whether one is right-handed or left-handed than to whether one is Liberal, Labour or Conservative. One is a matter of choice; the other is something about which one may be in doubt for some time. My eldest son was in doubt for three or four years as to whether he was right-handed or left-handed. He did not choose to be left-handed. I left him to work out by using his hands, to borrow the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, with which he felt most comfortable. I believe that I did right. If I had pushed him into using one with which he was not comfortable, even if it had been, as I believe being right-handed is, something to which the world is much more adjusted and therefore is much easier for people, I do not think that I would have done a good thing. If promotion means going about trying to convert people to homosexuality, that is useless. The vast majority of teenagers are more attached to the opposite sex than to anything else on earth. If I should go about trying to convert them to doing otherwise and got away with a raspberry, I would be lucky.
The other meaning is something quite different. If that is the meaning of the clause, I think it is useless. But I would say of it, as the lower House sometimes says of us, that either the clause is useless or else it is pernicious. If one believes, as I do, that most people do not have a choice about their sexual orientation, one must believe that, whatever is their sexual orientation, they should make as good a job of living that way as they possibly can. If one is to do that, one must be entitled to the respect of being an equal citizen--equal before the law and equal in moral esteem. If one is to be denied that, one finds that life is very difficult indeed. Precisely what annoys most homosexuals about the section is that they see it as being a badge of inequality. Frankly, if they had listened to today's debate, I do not think that they would be particularly likely to change their minds.
People may, as has happened to me, have pupils come to them and say that they are homosexual and who seek advice on whether to admit it, come out, and live honestly according to their conscience. Simply as one human being to another, I want to be able to tell them that I do not think that there is anything morally wrong in their being what they are, that they should make the best of it and hold their heads high. If there is any possibility--as there clearly is--that Section 28 might in some circumstances criminalise me for giving that advice, it may be selfish of me, but I naturally view that prospect with a certain misgiving.
On 3rd December last year I addressed a school sixth form on the history of Liberalism. I made it very clear that I was not wearing my academic hat. At the end of the meeting, one of the boys asked me what I thought was Paddy Ashdown's chief legacy to the party. Having said something about Bosnia with which I shall not detain the Committee, I said that one of his great contributions was fixing this party in its commitment to legal and moral equality for homosexuals. I did not mention "moral" because I do not believe it to be a matter for politicians. It occurred to me afterwards to wonder whether I had offended against the intention of Section 28. I could not have done so literally: I was speaking in an independent school. But if the motive is, as we are told, the protection of children, why should children in independent schools be thought not to be in need of protection when other children are? It does not make very much sense to me.
Secondly, I had not told those at the school what I intended to say, but they might have thought, if they invited me, that I might be liable to say some such thing. So far as I can see, it is a wide open question whether, if I had done that in a maintained school with the knowledge of the local authority, I should have infringed Section 28. I take exception to the idea of being criminalised for stating the manifesto policy of my party. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General will advise the Minister on this matter by the end of the debate. I gave him notice of this question a good many weeks ago. Until a case comes to court, there is doubt as to what might happen.
I even heard, a few days ago, of someone leaving a maintained comprehensive school six years ago who had taught Shakespeare at A-level and had been told that it was impossible to discuss any question of a homosexual relationship in regard to any of Shakespeare's work. How the Sonnets can be discussed without that question being considered is beyond me. That teacher was told that Section 28 prohibited such discussion. I agree that there have been no prosecutions, but the provision has spread a great deal of alarm and despondency--and to no useful purpose.
Unlike most members of the Committee, I have the advantage of having taught sex education. For some years I was a religious education teacher in a comprehensive school and sex education was part of the syllabus. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to describe a typical class of 30 pupils who are 13 to 14 years old. In that mixed class, there will be between three and nine pupils who are seriously questioning their sexual orientation. There will be 12 who will already have had sexual encounters of one kind or another. About half will still be living with both their natural parents. Of the remaining pupils, some will be living with a parent who is in a second or third marriage; some parents will have a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend; some pupils will be living with a single parent; and some may be living with a homosexual couple. It is likely that one of the girls in the class will already have had an abortion, and that there will have been one incident of sexual abuse by an adult family member.
To describe a typical lesson, as you enter the classroom, open on the teacher's desk in front of you will be an extremely obscene pornographic picture, with the class sitting with some amusement to see how you are going to react and they will ask what you think of it. There will then be the most unruly and obnoxious child imaginable who, with an air of complete innocence which in other circumstances would win a Bafta award, will mention an anatomical term and ask you to explain what it means.
Sex education is not done in a vacuum. It takes place in a classroom where, I suggest, children have already had more experience of practices of various kinds of sexuality--from television, from pornographic material including that on the Internet, and from sniggering in the classroom--than many of us have had in the whole of our lives. It is those children who must be helped. We are dealing our children short if all that we are telling them is that if they do not live up to the absolute ideal of Christian marriage, they, their parents or the people whom they trust are therefore condemned absolutely. There must be clearer guidelines within our education system. We are failing pupils if we do not allow them to ask questions. If questions are asked, it is up to the teacher to do his or her best to answer them honestly and with integrity.
It is the case that there are some teachers who, because of Section 28, fear the answer that they might give. Some teachers' unions have advised teachers who have asked for guidance to avoid any kind of discussion about homosexuality in the classroom. There are gifted homosexual teachers and there are celibate teachers without commitment who are vulnerable and who have been blackmailed because of the stance that they have sometimes taken in allowing questions to be addressed within that setting.
Local education authorities are not the only ones to provide the material that gets into the hands of children. There needs to be proper material for use by teachers. I suggest that there needs to be better education in teacher training establishments to enable teachers to handle this kind of material in the proper way. A teacher needs freedom without fear. Of course, there needs to be restraint, and any teacher worth his or her salt understands that. Most educational establishments can be trusted to know when there is abuse of a system.
We must be sensitive to the family patterns in which people are brought up. Relationships and sexuality need to be informed by a proper exploration of moral values on all kinds of relationships and every kind of sexuality. That needs to apply across the board in terms of relationships. Tolerance and respect for diversity is also an expression of the moral values that need to be taught in our schools. Section 28 has been used to legitimise prejudice and to frighten teachers into inaction when proper discussion would have been appropriate.
Perhaps I may say a word about bullying. I agree with all that has been said in this debate. Any school worth its salt can deal with bullying, and should be doing so. It is foolish to pretend that it does not exist. But I am much more concerned, not with the hurt that one pupil can cause to another by bullying, but with the hurt that a pupil can do to himself or herself by the undermining of self-esteem and self-respect. Everyone who has sexual feelings that sometimes frighten him or her needs to have a place where such feelings can be safely explored and considered, and where every child has a right to respect for his or her feeling at the time. Even if they do not go on to consider that as a life choice, they need to have help.
Perhaps I may refer to my experience as a school governor. It is the responsibility of school governors to outline the sex education policies of a school and, presumably, to check that they are followed throughout the school. Most governors would have an indication, particularly now that parents are part of school governing bodies, of what is happening in the classrooms of the school.
I turn to the Local Government Bill, which is what the Committee is discussing this afternoon. Members of the Committee will have received, as I have, information to the effect that local authorities have interpreted the ability to provide information, money or materials in various ways. The Local Government Bill contains appropriate provisions for the setting of standards, with safeguards and committees to oversee them. I believe that there is no need for Section 28 and we should trust our teachers, governing bodies and local authorities, all of whom are as capable as we are of judging moral values. We should let them get on with it. I ask whether, if Section 28 is retained, we can answer in the affirmative the question relating to the Convention on Human Rights that we are required to answer when any Bill passes through this House.
I believe that it is the turn of the Labour Benches. I suggest that my noble friend Lord Alli speaks next, followed by the right reverend Prelate.
I reserve my right to come back later in the debate. In the past 12 months, three times this House has asked "Why?" and three times the Bishops' Benches have prayed for victims and their families. Three times the noble Baroness has enjoined us to thank the emergency services. We ask why one man should plant a bomb containing six-inch nails designed to maim and kill in the middle of the Afro-Caribbean community. Why should he plant another bomb in the middle of the Bengali community of Brick Lane and a third in the middle of the gay community of Soho? How can such evil exist in our fellow citizens? We should reflect carefully on those questions, because some of the answers that we seek lie somewhere in the debate tonight.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness that this is a debate about morality. For me, it is about the morality of hate. I believe that hate exists because we teach our children to hate and divide them by the use of moral codes. When one tells a child that marriage is the only form of relationship that is acceptable, what conclusion will it draw about other forms of relationships when its concept of reality is restricted to right and wrong? What judgment about equality can that child be expected to make? I should like to read an extract from a letter written by a 15 year-old who has first-hand knowledge of what that judgment means:
"I am very depressed, and very alone ... I used to be a perfect pupil getting high credit marks, but because of the bullying my marks have fallen. I can't tell anyone I wish I was dead--just to have some peace. I am so tired--tired of living and tired of this so-called 'life'. Because of the stress I can hardly eat and I have started taking lots of painkillers ... Nobody knows I am gay--I have no-one to turn to and have no support from anyone. My life has been nothing but a bad headache ... Some say we are all free people but we must question: are we really free? Is it so wrong being gay?"
I do not believe that any child should have to suffer that level of indignity. The repeal of Section 28 is a true test of our moral courage. If we teach our children that gay, black, Asian or Jewish young men and women are moral outsiders, how can we expect them to grow up without prejudice and hate? This debate is about a small number of people whose belief is so strong that they want all of us to abide by their moral codes, and they will use any method to make us do it. It is an unrepresentative and narrow view of how religion should govern our lives. That view relies on those people deciding who are the good and bad people and their belief that sex outside marriage, the wearing of condoms to protect against AIDS and divorce and remarriage are bad. That is a complex set of rules and not everyone can live up to it.
What do these people do in our name or in the name of protecting children? They find the weakest section of society that no one wants to protect and set a moral army against it. They accuse teachers of wanting to seduce children into homosexuality and use the most precious bond between a parent and child--love--to instil fear; and they use our education system to spread inequality and intolerance throughout the land. I say to my friends and colleagues that to begin a speech with kind words such as, "I am not prejudiced", or, "I accept the rights of gay people but", or, "I will do anything to stop the bullying of gay young men and women", and then to oppose the repeal of Section 28, cannot remove the responsibility for the legacy of hate.
We are the guardians of the minority and are representative of no-one. We are charged with upholding our country's tradition to fight to protect the freedom of our citizens. I love this country because it fights injustice. I am proud of the flag which flies above this House because it is a symbol of freedom. We have a moral responsibility to fight hate and the crimes that flow from it. If one wants to know how to answer the questions asked after those bombings, one must have moral courage and not teach children to hate. I am glad that the Government Front Bench has decided to consider the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate. It is better to take people with us than to seek to divide. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and allow the Government, along with the right reverend Prelate, to consider what can be brought forward.
As a fairly new Member of this House, I speak with some reticence. One or two observations have been made about marriage. I begin by reminding the Committee that the law of our country is very clear as to what marriage is. Marriage is a giving relationship between one man and one woman who so consent for life, and exclusively so. That is the doctrine of marriage as embedded in the law of our country. If there were any proposals to change it these Benches would be even fuller than they are today.
Perhaps the issue before us is not quite as important as some Members of the Committee have made it out to be. We should lower the temperature a little in debating this matter. I suggest that the issue is not primarily about lesbian and gay relationships but the quality of government, especially local government, in the context of this Bill. When one starts to address that matter some very important moral questions arise in relation to the practice of law-making and the character and content of our law. One aspect of this House that has impressed me since I joined it is its capacity to rise above sectional matters in the interests of the quality of the law of our country. We are primarily a law-making body. We are not here to ensure the re-election of a Labour Government. We are here to legislate for our people and to ensure that that legislation is of a quality worthy of the rule of law in our country. That is the most important moral principle at stake.
It is easy to see how, occasionally, governments, parliaments and local authorities yield to the interests of lobby groups. The temptation is then before us to legislate for those interests. But the law needs to be dispassionate and detached. It must apply equally to all of us; and it must be applied with great care.
One of the problems is that Section 28 draws the law of our country into a sexual dispute. It is vital that the law is equitable in its reference to citizens. Irrespective of the judgments we make about people's personal lifestyles and choices, the law has a duty to refer to all citizens with the respect required by their God-given dignity. The law has a special duty to protect those who are vulnerable from any form of discrimination. We need carefully to consider that moral principle when we legislate at any level.
The law should resist the temptation, however justified some of us may believe it, to use language about people in terms which those people find difficult to accept. It is important that the law is not one group telling another group how its relationship is viewed. Section 28 does that. It has been badly drafted. It is not one of the best pieces of legislation on the statute book. It is difficult to remove Section 28 from the statute book without giving the wrong messages to the community.
Having heard the quality and range of the debate today, I believe that my good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has done us a great service. He sought to ensure that legislators such as ourselves, in local government, or school governors are reminded of their dispassionate duty to uphold the values of the fabric of our society involving our personal and domestic relationships. The drafting of the amendment may not be right. There is time to sort that out. The amendment offers a provision which draws all sections of the community together. That is the provision's strength and value.
That seems a proper role for the Church to perform in this Chamber. We should be helped greatly if the Government were to describe expeditiously their intentions. People are right to say that these matters should not enter the statute book until the Government have made clear their intentions. There is time to do that. I encourage the Committee to support my colleague today. The amendment preserves the dispassionate integrity of the law and offers a way to move forward together on these matters.
I wonder whether it would be possible to think for a moment about the debate, some of which has been enormously interesting. We have heard of the experiences of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson. I am glad to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity--it is not for the first time, although I have not always agreed with him--who says that he will vote for the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Young when it is moved.
We know that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has strong views on these issues. I was sorry to hear him say that children are taught to hate and to have prejudices. With the greatest respect, I do not think that that is right in most cases. It is a matter about which people feel very strongly, and one on which I have received the biggest postbag that I have ever had on any issue. People are worried.
Perhaps we may remind ourselves of the issue: the repeal of Section 28. What does Section 28 say? It states:
"A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality".
"A local authority shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
I find it hard to understand why people disagree with that. There is a world of difference between what the law says and the difficulties that people encounter, whether in schools, families, the Church, or elsewhere. The noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, said that guidance and guidelines are important. Guidelines may be important but they are only guidelines; they are not the law. The law makes it perfectly clear that one should not promote homosexuality. I find that a perfectly reasonable provision in an Act of Parliament.
I agree with my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley that all sorts of people have all sorts of complications; and those should be considered in private, with their parents or teachers--in his case, the confessional. I dare say he goes there often--and has good reason to do so! It is not right to say, "Because people want to do this, therefore it must be natural and good". In an article in a newspaper, Tom Kemp asked,
"'What about adultery, paedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality?'... Are they all natural and good ... because there are people who want to practise them? No, human sexuality cannot be divorced from morality, and it would be wrong for teachers to suggest to their pupils that it can be".
Until about 10 years ago I had never heard of the word "homophobic". If you do not like something you are given a really nasty name like homophobic. That is not particularly helpful. It is not only what people are taught in their schools: they absorb by a process of osmosis. As noble Lords will recall from their schooldays--and if I remember correctly--osmosis occurs when two liquids are separated by a barrier and the contents of one move over into the contents of the other without anyone interfering. That is very much so as regards schools. Some people think that I went to Eton--I do not know whether that is a compliment or an insult--but I did not. I went to a school at Winchester. Every Saturday evening we went to chapel. We sang Psalm 122,
"I was glad when they said unto me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord". It was most moving and remained in everyone's memory.
I had the privilege of being a Minister in the Home Office when it produced a new common format passport to deal with the Common Market. When I was asked whether I would like one of the early numbers, I said, "Yes, 007 please". I was told that I could not have it because the Foreign Secretary already had it. So I chose 122, which was for psalm 122. That was what I absorbed, I like to think among other things, during my time at school.
It is not just what the law says, it is the way it is implemented and inculcated into people--
I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. He spoke of the importance of what people absorb--the osmosis. Is it not the case that if a law provides that homosexuality cannot be promoted--we have discussed the meaning of "promotion"--young people will absorb from it the fact there is a section of people in society about whom they, adults, parents and social workers cannot talk and who are different? Do they not absorb the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said, difference can eventually lead to hate?
I am afraid that I totally disagree with the noble Baroness. It does not mean to say that if something is not promoted it cannot be discussed. It does not mean to say that people cannot be counselled about it and that it cannot be explained. But it should not be promoted. That is the issue that we are discussing as regards the section and I hope that the Committee will feel that it is not appropriate to remove it.
I bring to the debate not only the fact that I am a new Member, but also the fact that I have two young daughters in state schools. I share the concerns of many about their education and I have a knowledge of my own education. There is a sensitive and real feeling about the issue in the world at large.
That was brought home to me some 14 years ago when I was General Secretary of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists and my union announced on its notice-board that the gay and lesbian groups would be able to have a contact address. We were inundated with accusations that we were promoting a homosexual lifestyle and received a considerable postbag from people who were most upset.
Ten years ago I decided that we should do something about that because we had a problem with gay members who found difficulties at work. I wrote a piece for my journal, which I reproduced yesterday to remind myself, entitled, "Discrimination and prejudice". In that article, I explained my upbringing as a working-class Catholic boy in Lancashire, going to a Catholic school and reaching the age of almost 20 before I knew that homosexuality existed. I also pointed out that my parents reminded me that notices stating "No Catholics or Irish need apply" were posted outside factories in Lancashire as late as the 1920s. I went on to say that for that reason I believed that without promoting a gay lifestyle we should give our gay and lesbian members the opportunity to have their problems dealt with at work sympathetically. With that, I dispatched the journal to 100,000 members and we did not have too much of a problem. There was one of two reasons for that; either my words of wisdom were satisfying or, more likely, no one read it.
However, some months later, one of my branch secretaries from the Ministry of Defence in the west of Scotland came into headquarters and said to me, "Bill, that article you wrote in the Bulletin has caused a furore. We have had threats of resignation and threats of motions of censure. People are very upset. Most of all, they are upset because they supported you and nominated you for General Secretary". I said, "Come on, they can't be that homophobic, even in the Ministry of Defence". "Oh", he said, "it's not just that, Bill, they didn't know you were a Catholic".
The message is that ignorance is an ally of discrimination. I believe that I am a caring parent--it is for your Lordships' to judge whether I am wise; I know that as regards moral values my wife and I can educate our daughters at home. However, I cannot say the same for every child in their classes. I should like a teacher sensibly and sensitively to deal with a difficult situation. I can see nothing in Section 28 that has improved that situation.
With due respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and amendments to be debated, I believe that the right reverend Prelate's proposals for guidelines is the most sensitive way of dealing with the issue. I should not be able to support any of the amendments because I believe that there are better ways. I am sure that no Member of the Committee intends to give the impression of homophobia, but, if not homophobia, a lack of understanding has come across in some of today's speeches.
As some Members of the Committee may have observed, I have taken the opportunity to speak to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that there is another amendment and suggest that some of the contributions we have heard were more appropriate to that. I do not want to shut anyone out and of course it is not a matter for me but for the House. However, perhaps I may suggest that we hear a contribution from the Conservative Front Bench, followed by a contribution from my noble friend the Minister and then the right reverend Prelate making whatever remarks he thinks appropriate. Then at least the noble Baroness's amendment can be fully discussed. Of course, all Members who want to speak to this amendment will, with a certain amount of discreet tailoring and amendment, be able to speak to her amendment. Is that acceptable to the House?
On that point, the noble and learned Lord has assumed that we shall continue to debate the subject if the amendment is pressed and carried. It would therefore be most helpful to know the right reverend Prelate's intention. His speech left us in doubt about what he proposes to do with his amendment at the end of the debate.
Were we not encouraged to discuss more than one amendment? The Minister who spoke earlier referred to the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, as being an amendment also to consider. I should have thought that at this stage it would be as well broadly to discuss all the amendments because I understand that the Government Front Bench are encouraging not a vote today but reflection.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. A number of us believe that the intervention of the noble and learned Lord, who is always helpful, has come rather late in the day. I understand that almost all speakers have spoken wider than Amendment No. 364B. I thought that that would be helpful because if we are allowed to continue in that vein it would be possible when we discuss Amendment No. 365 to say that we have had the debate and that we are talking only about the distinctions between one amendment and another.
I think that the noble Baroness is right, I was a little late intervening, but that was because so many of your Lordships wanted to speak and it seemed premature and discourteous to raise the question. However, I said that I had spoken privately to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in an endeavour to be helpful. As always, I am in your Lordships' hands, but some of the speeches have not remained focused on this amendment. It seemed to me that if the noble Baroness had gone to some trouble--which she plainly has, whether one agrees with her views or not--she ought to have the opportunity to have a debate on her amendment. But it is a matter entirely for your Lordships and I do not know whether the noble Baroness has a view.
The noble and learned Lord and I had a brief conversation. I told him that I thought that perhaps for the convenience of the Committee we could begin to draw the debate on the right reverend Prelate's amendment towards a conclusion and go on to call a number of other amendments. I thought that I would speak briefly to my amendment and cover some of the points that I should like to have made but have not, and then answer some of the very important points that have been raised. If the Committee were agreeable, that seems to be a helpful way to proceed. I should certainly be agreeable to it.
Perhaps I may intervene briefly. I am still feeling a little lost on this matter. I wish to make only one speech, which is an all-purpose statement that I shall be able to make to almost any amendment. I assumed that we were behaving properly and debating the amendment tabled in the name of the right reverend Prelate. If the right reverend Prelate is proposing to divide the Committee, I shall make my speech to his amendment. However, if he is not going to divide the Committee, I should prefer to wait for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, at which point I shall be able to be really nasty.
I am enormously grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and I believe that we have broadened discussion on this subject in a sensitive way. However, it would be wrong of me to divide the Committee. I listened carefully to the Minister's words at the beginning of our deliberations and I firmly believe that it is right that consultation should continue with the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and not be curtailed at this point. That is an important part of what needs to be done here and I think that it would be insensitive of me to divide the Committee at this point. For that reason, it is not my intention to do so.
Before the right reverend Prelate sits down, I should like to put a small point to him about his amendment. Clearly the right reverend Prelate intends to consider the matter further and he may well return to it at a later stage. However, I am concerned about subsection (1)(b)(i) because it seems to me only sensible and right to end the sentence in the subsection at,
"any physical or verbal abuse".
I do not understand why the subsection goes on to mention "sexual orientation". I believe that the right reverend Prelate would agree with me that there are many other reasons connected with sex education on which this kind of physical or verbal abuse could be perpetrated.
I did refer more widely to bullying in my opening speech. However, the noble Baroness has reminded me that I should have explained this point in more detail--I am still a novice. It is my intention to return to this subject at Report stage if the matter is not followed through in a way I or those who have been advising me think appropriate or desirable. This issue may certainly be reconsidered at that stage.
We have now had clarification from the right reverend Prelate and we have heard the contribution that the noble Baroness wished to make. However, I am not sure what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, now has in mind. However, I invite the Committee to hear the Front Bench contributions and to listen to any concluding remarks from the right reverend Prelate. Then we could move on to the important amendments that still remain to be discussed. I wonder whether that meets with the approval of noble Lords.
I am in some difficulty because I had been led to believe that we were to speak in more general terms to these amendments. For that reason, I will now confine my comments to the amendment of the right reverend Prelate.
We have had the advantage of meeting earlier today and I am only sorry that the right reverend Prelate was not able to say that. I believe it is important that the Committee knows what discussions have taken place and the fact that the right reverend Prelate has worked fairly closely with the Government on his amendment and has now made it clear that those discussions are to continue. However, it is important to examine the amendment and to point out, for the purposes of those continuing discussions, some of its restrictions. First, as has already been mentioned, it applies only to local education authorities, not to schools, teachers or to the classroom itself. Local education authorities are not responsible for what goes on in the classroom other than by exhortation.
Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, pointed out in an excellent speech, the amendment conflicts with Section 403 of the Education Act 1996. That legislation puts responsibility on governors and teachers, the local education authority, the governing body and the headteacher to,
"take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where sex education is given to any registered pupils at a maintained school, it is given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".
The point just made by my noble friend stressed that there is a particular issue over the definition of "family" in the amendment of the right reverend Prelate in sub-paragraph (1)(a) where it states,
"that marriage should be promoted as the fundamental building block".
The point has already been made that there is a particular issue here about the definition of "family". Furthermore, in sub-paragraph (1)(b) it states,
"that pupils are entitled to develop without being subjected to--
(i) any physical or verbal abuse about sexual orientation".
That will leave an enormous confusion in the minds of teachers, who may well find that they encounter very poor behaviour on the part of children that is wholly unacceptable both to a teacher and under the sex education policy of the school. Where a teacher remonstrates with a pupil about this, that would become an illegal action on the part of a teacher. It is important to note that when the words,
"any physical or verbal abuse", are laid down in statute, it will mean that any mild remonstration on the part of anyone dealing with children in a classroom situation could present problems. For those reasons, there are a number of issues concerning the technical acceptability of this amendment.
I must tell noble Lords that, at the end of the day, Clause 28 on the statute book prevents and prohibits the promotion of homosexuality. As I understand it, if that disappears then it becomes a permissible activity. Therefore no amount of guidance or amendment along the lines suggested by the right reverend Prelate will prevent the flow of materials and advice that we know is waiting to flood into the lives of our young people.
I apologise if my initial remarks misled the Committee into thinking that we were holding a general debate. However, in practice that is what has happened, but it is now necessary to move on to the other amendments. Therefore my present remarks will be directed specifically to the amendment of the right reverend Prelate.
I believe that some very wise remarks have been made in the course of the debate. I should like in particular to draw the attention of the Committee to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, and to those of the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley. We should bear their words in mind as we proceed with these issues.
The original drafting of Section 28 was an extremely rapid event which did not go through the normal wise and considered process of parliamentary counsel, but rather was a response to a fear--I accept that it was a genuine fear--among politicians. It was not drafted in the usual way for legislation both in this House and in another place. Its continuing effects have led to ambiguity and worse: it has led to fear among teachers and social workers of what they might be accused of, were they to proceed with normal advice to some of their pupils, and indeed to adults.
The wording proposed by the right reverend Prelate is an enormous improvement on Section 28 and therefore I should say that in many ways the Government sympathise with much of what the right reverend Prelate is attempting to achieve here. For example, we agree wholeheartedly that children should be taught about the importance of marriage, of family life and of bringing up children and that it is not the job of teachers to promote a particular sexual orientation. Sex and relationships education should be carried out within a social and moral context and taught in a caring situation that stresses self-esteem, mutual respect, responsibility and the importance of family life. The crude wording of Section 28 cuts right across that.
However, it is also the responsibility of teachers to deal with the real world. As the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, pointed out, in the real world many children will already have faced moral dilemmas and pressures--along with the concerns and queries those problems raise--in their own family lives through their siblings, their parents, their friends, neighbours and colleagues. Those questions must be answered and be dealt with by teachers, social workers and youth workers. At present, the shadow of Section 28 prevents them doing so.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he aware of a survey carried out by Stonewall of a large number of teachers who were asked what inhibiting factors prevented them from dealing effectively with bullying? Not one of them invoked Section 28. They invoked lack of policy, inexperienced staff, governor disapproval, parental disapproval, pupil disapproval, teacher disapproval and other staff disapproval, but no one said that Section 28 was an inhibiting factor.
That same Stonewall study indicates clearly that teachers do not have adequate guidance because of the existence of Section 28. That same study shows that nearly half of teachers have experienced homophobic bullying in their schools and do not have the means to deal with it. That same study indicates that there is a serious failure to tackle homophobic bullying in our schools. We should be dealing with that.
I agree with the noble Earl in that respect. Whatever one's lifestyle (if I may use that term), it is a matter of civil rights. It is not a matter of discrimination and should not be a matter for the law. However, I believe that we shall return to that issue in the debate on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
The problem relating to this amendment is that people believe that there will be a vacuum if we remove Section 28. There is not a vacuum at present due to Section 403 of the Education Act 1996, to which the noble Baroness and other noble Lords have referred. That requires that, where sex education is given, teachers and schools must take all reasonable steps to ensure that it is given in a manner which encourages pupils to have regard to moral considerations and to the values of family life. That is the duty of the governing body in which parents play a full part and from which, indeed, if parents do not agree with the form of sex education conducted in their schools, they have the right to withdraw. Therefore, there is already provision in education legislation for that vacuum to be filled. We are now in the process of revising that guidance.
Again, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He is using specific arguments and it is important that they should be properly countered, if possible. In a document entitled School Sex Education: Why, What and How? A Guide for Teachers--therefore, it was a teaching document--the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, produced a matrix whereby schools could deal with sex education outside the national curriculum right across all subjects--biology, English, health education, history, home economics, geography, religious education, tutorial time, languages, physical education, social studies, etc--to get round the right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education because they cannot withdraw them from those subjects.
That simply proves the point that sex education and the whole approach to sex needs to be placed in a broader context. However, parents have that right where there is a specific sex education session, as the noble Baroness well knows. Of course, it is important that schools do not see sex, sex education and health education connected with sex as being entirely isolated from the rest of life. That is part of the problem with Section 28. We must put it in a social and behavioural context and not leave it "ghetto-ised" in an area where discrimination and the detrimental effect of attitudes towards particular groups of pupils and, indeed, adults will develop.
As I was about to say, we are in the process of revising that guidance. The right reverend Prelate kindly referred to the discussions which he has already held with my colleague Ministers on those revisions. That discussion will continue. As I indicated earlier, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is happy to become involved in that process with the representatives of the churches and of other faiths and with others who are concerned with sex education. We have indicated that we shall consult further on this matter and that, among other things, we shall consult on whether the spirit of the right reverend Prelate's amendment is best dealt with in primary legislation or guidance, or in a balance of the two. If we accept the spirit of much of what he says, we are therefore prepared to see whether the guidance can be given greater coherence and greater force in whatever area we proceed.
I make one other point at this stage. At the beginning of the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that this issue deals with children and not adults. Of course, the powers of local authorities deal not just with children but with other social services. Much of the material which has been used, I believe erroneously as background to the debate, is in fact directed at adults. Some noble Lords may feel that some of it is appropriate; others may consider that it is of great benefit to the advice and counselling services which I believe local authorities should be providing to the gay community and to those who feel that they have some doubts about their sexuality.
Were we to maintain Section 28 in its present form, the issue would be not only its indirect effect on children--and it is indirect because Section 28 does not deal with that--but its effect on adults and social services, on youth workers for the older group, and on local authority services as a whole. That is where I believe that the point of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, comes in. If we define something which is legal in a way which allows local authorities to discriminate against a particular group, that is an infringement of the civil rights of that group and an infringement of the egalitarian and fair provision of local authority services to that group. Therefore, we enter a wider debate. I believed that I should put down that marker now because the matter is not simply about children; it is about society as a whole. We should recognise that society as a whole includes the gay community, whether or not we approve of its behaviour, and it includes a lot of people who depart from the ideal of marriage.
The law in this area has an obligation to treat adults equally and to treat children fairly so that they understand the complicated world into which they are moving. I believe that the way forward will be to engage in wider discussions on this issue, to decide whether we can put a form of words on the statute book which will be appropriate and whether we can agree on the basis of guidance. I hope that we shall be able to reach a consensus later during the progress of this Bill. Therefore, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for indicating that he is prepared to withdraw his amendment at this stage. I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has not indicated similarly that she will withdraw at this stage. We shall now proceed to the other amendments.
I want to make two brief comments before I withdraw the amendment. My first point is addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, concerning the placing of this amendment at the top of the list. I am an innocent abroad in these matters and I had no power to decide where the amendment was placed. Therefore, I object totally to the remarks about "dirty tricks", and so on. I hope that those will be withdrawn. I began to table the amendment as early as last Tuesday but, for technical reasons, amendments had to be made to the amendment itself. That accounts in some measure for the delay.
Secondly, I should like to address the remarks made towards the end of the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the amendment not applying to schools. That is the reason why I tabled a similar amendment in the Learning and Skills Bill, which will be taken later this week.
With those brief remarks and with my thanks to everyone who has supported the amendment in what they have said and to those who have shown understanding, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 364C:
Page 41, line 26, at end insert--
("(2) Subsection (1) above shall not come into force until guidelines produced by the Secretary of State on the teaching of sex education in maintained schools have been laid in draft before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.").
I should like to say a few words about what the amendment states. First, if Section 28 is repealed, it will not come into force until the guidelines proposed by the Government on the teaching of sex education in schools have been approved by this Parliament--that is both Houses. The aim of that is to encourage the Government to take steps to protect the interests of children when it comes to the teaching of sex education. This is an extremely complex issue. I believe that it is most important that we get it right; otherwise, we shall risk the interests of young children. I am convinced that every Member of the Committee will agree with me on that.
Perhaps I may also say that I appreciate the stance of my noble friend, Lord Whitty, which is to remain very open about the matter. It is very encouraging that the Government wish to respond to the deep concerns that exist. I would like to put forward a procedural amendment to the legislation. In other words, I want to make a case for Parliament to approve the way in which the guidelines are produced and to approve their contents.
I recall my early days in Parliament. The 1970s and 1980s were ghastly times when we had the promotion of homosexuality in our country. It was very high profile. I know that what happened caused great concern to the British public. However, at the same time we had the encouragement of the equality of homosexuals in society. I think that was good because it showed that the British people are tolerant. Although people snipe at that kind of statement, I believe that over the years there has been a change of direction. That is good.
Looking back, there was a lot of single-issue politics flying around. Some of it was good; some of it was nothing other than unscrupulous. Much of it became linked with the Labour Party, the so-called "Loony Left", and it hurt us very much. I am glad that that has now all gone. I think that the public did not have the confidence to elect us because of it. The consequences were quite important. The then government of the day introduced Section 28 in legislation. It was a very interventionist action for the government of the day. At the same time there was a feeling in the House that something had to be done. Subsequently we had Section 28. Now we have the argument that, really, it is not that effective. Listening to today's fascinating debate one can see that there is still confusion and a lot of muddle. I am part of the muddled group in this Chamber.
What is the position now? There has been good progress in relation to homosexual equality. There is a challenge to this House to make sure that we continue down the route of maintaining that tolerance. At the same time we have some people who want to change marriage. They want to replace it with ideas of, perhaps, "loving relationships". There is a situation where you have two men bringing up a little girl. Frankly, I do not know what the consequences will be for that little girl without the normal influence of a mother. If one sees the matter in terms of the interests of the children, I do not think that one will go very far wrong.
At the same time as the homosexual equality drift--and there is a lot of good in that--we still have the question of the promotion of homosexuality to children. It is happening now. It is a matter of serious concern. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was very interesting. He referred to CDs that had been prepared for circulation around the country. Exactly how they would have been used, I am not certain. It was said, certainly in the Sunday Times, that they had gone to something like 150 schools. That cannot be right. I know a number of colleagues on this side of the Chamber who were shocked by it.
However, the Government's line is to follow a highly interventionist policy. I am not sure that anything else can be done. The Government are now setting the guidelines that have been referred to. Also those guidelines will be operating very much in a decentralised school environment, with decisions being made at those schools and by the governors.
However, I ask myself how the powers of the schools balance with the views of the parents. That is a very difficult question. I believe it must be a matter of considerable debate to get the balance right. Otherwise fear will exist and we shall not have succeeded as a Parliament.
I respect the teaching profession. The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, who spoke about what is happening from a practical point of view was very interesting and enlightening. I give one example of a young boy, just five, who, over the last three or four weeks at school, has had four introductions to divorce. He came home from school, clinging on to his mother, saying "Mum and Dad, you are not going to get divorced, are you?" In the evening he called for his dad to come to his bedroom and kiss him good night. These signs show how difficult an issue this is; sometimes even the most professional teacher can get it wrong. That does not discourage me from my admiration for the teaching profession.
The Government are now considering the guidelines. I am glad that the Prime Minister is involved. I know him well; he is a decent man. I trust David Blunkett too. But if the Government get this wrong, I believe there will be a loss of confidence on the part of parents, and, more importantly, damage to the interests of children.
What is the way forward? First, we all need to recognise, including the Government, that we are dealing with a very complex issue. I feel sure that the sex education provided in, for example, Hull, which I know very well as I represented it for many years, would probably be very different from that provided in the south east where my main home now is. It may be affected by the socio-economic conditions and the skill level of teachers. We are dealing here with something that has inadequate definitions and with a set of guidelines which may become very complicated.
Secondly, the Government need to get the guidelines right. I referred to that earlier. It is easy to be flippant, but I believe that being flippant would be equivalent to being irresponsible. Before Section 28 is repealed, the Government's guidelines should be debated fully, and amended, in both Houses of Parliament. That is important. The reasons are not strong. It is not the same as having primary legislation. I believe, however, that the authority of Parliament would give the guidelines more prestige and that enforcement would be easier and probably more effective. Parliament would share responsibility with the Government and would have to take matters seriously. We need to remember that some of the more unscrupulous single-issue groups still exist--those which existed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They will maintain pressure. That adds to the complexity of it all.
For those reasons, I believe that the amendment I tabled to make sure that there is a full debate on the issue would be in the interests of the well-being of this country. Accordingly, I beg to move.
I make clear from these Benches that I am in a minority among my colleagues in having been uncertain about the right course to pursue. The more I have listened to this extremely interesting debate, the more I have appreciated how much there is to consider. It is one thing to have sex education; it is another to have the promotion of sexual behaviour, whether that is homosexual or heterosexual behaviour. There are many matters which must be considered.
I do not have the slightest doubt what the word "promote" means, but I looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary. Among the huge assortment of definitions or alternatives provided are: to move forward; to advance; to instigate; to further the growth or development; to progress or establish; to help forward. Those are only a few of the definitions given.
Section 28 was a bad provision to introduce. The word "promote" should not have been used and it should not have been discriminatory. If I am asked whether I have any objection to the provisions in Section 28, I would say that I do not think that there should be the promotion of homosexual activity, either among young children in schools or young people. Equally, as a parent and as a responsible citizen, I should not be in favour of the promotion of heterosexual activity either among children. A great mistake was made because people were concerned with a few zealots.
Throughout my professional life time, I have seen a great change in attitude towards homosexuality. I prosecuted and defended any number of homosexuals in my young days at the Bar. I saw some dreadful scenes of unhappiness and listened to some dreadful stories. I had to be persuaded that I had a black spot as regards my approach to homosexuals. I had to appreciate that there was a difficulty. My noble friend Lord Russell referred to the difference between someone who chooses a course of life and someone who is impelled, by forces which he cannot control, to another course of life.
As Queen's Counsel, when I was defending quite a distinguished man on a charge of murder, I was the first counsel successfully to raise the question and persuade a court that the defence of provocation was available to a homosexual. Looking at the Act, it had never occurred to people before that it could apply to a homosexual. I have become a little more enlightened as regards these matters but I realise that there are always zealots about. Those people will go over the top, given any kind of excuse.
On the other hand, you cannot introduce such a divisive provision as Section 28 and get away with it. I have pondered a great deal because, as I say, taken literally, I should support it. But in the overall context, I discover that I cannot do so.
I agree entirely with the noble Lords, Lord St John of Fawsley and Lord Davies of Coity, when they say how disturbed they are that a three-line Whip has been imposed today. Of all the Bills to have come before us in recent times, the one least deserving the imposition of a three-line Whip is this one. If this Chamber is to fulfil a function which is different from that of the other Chamber, it must be able to have a frank debate and provide an honest view without regard to government Whips.
Over the years I have been here, the noble Lord could have fooled me.
It seems to me that the issue which now arises is whether we should get rid of Section 28 or whether it should be replaced by something else. Attractive amendments have been tabled. Some of those we can appreciate fully now and some we shall appreciate more fully as the debate develops. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was right to suggest to us at the start that we should debate the general background to the amendments before dealing with the serious business of deciding whether or not to vote on them thereafter.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, is right. We cannot really consider whether we get rid of Section 28 before we know what the guidelines are to contain. We cannot yet consider whether we should amend Section 28, replace it with something or leave a blank and get rid of it without any amendment. All those matters are in the melting pot. We have just begun this very serious debate. At this time I feel that the Government are right in their approach. We are feeling our way towards what I hope will be a sensible consensus.
I have considerable sympathy with the intentions of the noble Lord who moved the amendment. Nevertheless, I suggest that the proposal is not wide enough because it clearly does not cover young people in youth clubs or, indeed, children in the care of local authorities. That is why I am looking forward to our reaching the amendment in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman.
It is generally accepted on the other side of the Chamber and among many on this side that Section 28 has its weaknesses. But nobody has yet convinced me that a satisfactory alternative has been found.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, suggested that the abolition of Clause 28 should not come into effect until it is replaced by suitable guidelines. But if we accept that, we accept that it is guidelines only, and guidelines which apply only to teaching in schools, and guidelines which apply only to teaching in maintained schools which are affected.
This is a very difficult subject on which to make a very short speech, which is what I intend to do, so bear with me. First, I do not wish to be put in the position of someone who is thought to be rabidly hostile to gay people. I am not. I have good friends, real friends, who are homosexual. That does not mean that I believe that their chosen path, in preference to another, should be put to people who are undecided as to their future. I believe that the same applies to heterosexual activity.
We live in a society in which unconventional sexual behaviour of every sort is becoming more and more acceptable to the greater and greater damage of our young people. The value of love is suffering. We have started to speak as though there is no distinction between sexual activity and a loving relationship. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the greatest friendships that have existed have been celibate friendships between people of the same sex, be they men or women. Those types of friendships are not wrong or dishonourable, but glorious.
The legislation and morality are concerned with the physical expression of such friendships. As human beings are biological as well as spiritual creatures, physical behaviour affects emotional and spiritual relationships. That is why any sexual activity outside marriage is a diminution of the possible happiness of the individual. If individuals are of a homosexual disposition, matters are made more difficult for them because they cannot attain what many of us believe is the greatest happiness available. They should not be punished for that. They should be supported in their difficulty.
However, individuals should not be faced with this problem before a certain age. My difficulty with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is that it takes no account of how that can be avoided in any forum other than schools, and in particular schools at that. We need to rethink, carefully and broadly, the legislation to see how we can protect young people of all sexual dispositions from becoming the subject of recruitment by promoters of any particular sexual orientation before they are of a proper age to make the decision for themselves.
That has to be done against the fascinating and illuminating background put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow. She showed your Lordships the horrific difficulties that the changes that have taken place in our society since I was a school child--indeed since I was a school teacher--have placed on school teachers who have the responsibility of guiding young people. I am not convinced that guidelines for teachers alone will be enough. We need a society that brings about a continuum throughout all activities. It is no good teaching one thing in schools and another thing in boys' clubs or girls' clubs or, better still, mixed clubs. The matter has to be considered as a whole. One set of guidelines on its own is not good, nor is an unmatching set of guidelines in different areas of legislation.
I am not satisfied, nor do I believe that it is possible, that the right solution to this matter can be produced, cut and dried, before the Bill is put on the statute book. We are faced with a similar position to that of the reform of the House of Lords. We are being asked to abolish one thing before being told what will replace it. We should not make the same mistake twice. The only way to get round this difficulty is not to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, which is a marginal improvement, but to await the amendment of my noble friend and keep matters where they are until we have decided where we want to be.
To some people that may be offensive because they read into it a message which is not intended to be there. It should be possible to support this course of action without being painted as someone who is hysterical or bigoted or can see no merit in someone's closest friends because they happen to be homosexual. I hope that your Lordships will realise that what is offered is not an emotional or bigoted course, but a reasonable one: to wait for the right solution rather than to rush into the wrong one.
It has been suggested that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has been "a little Jesuitical". We learnt from a former and, in my book, esteemed Prime Minister that,
"A week is a long time in politics".
It seems to me that it could be an even longer time until we have an agreed framework that is better than the situation that Section 28 preserves. For that reason I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Elton. In my own diocese we are familiar with the scenario that the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, placed before us. In terms of realpolitik, I am not prepared to give up in Section 28 what I would describe as a stabilising landmark. Many teachers in my patch, with whom I have talked at length, find that section to be a stabilising benchmark. I am not prepared to give it up while the future is unknown. For that reason I strongly support the spirit as well as the content of what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said.
My mind goes back, as I had the liberty of telling the House recently, to the days, 45 years ago, when I served on the Wolfenden Committee. I cannot help but reflect how opinion has moved over the years. The committee recommended--I was happy to associate myself humbly with the recommendation--that homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal act. My experience on that committee was quite extraordinary. Professors appeared before us asking to be called by an initial rather than their name. They told us how they had been blackmailed in academic circles as a result of being homosexual. Others who came before us described how their lives had been ruined by the gossip that had gone around in their neighbourhood.
The recommendation was correct. As I look back, it seems extraordinary that it took us years to persuade Members of Parliament to pass a law in accordance with our recommendation. Those of us who tried to see that legislation took the place of our recommendation were told by Members of Parliament, "We daren't go with you to legislate on this matter as tremendous numbers of our constituents will be up in arms". Those who held marginal seats said, "We shall no longer be Members of Parliament after the next election if we follow the line of your recommendation". Members of Parliament were wrong then.
With deep regret, I believe that those Members of Parliament who feel that there should be a straight- forward repeal of Section 28 without anything to take its place misunderstand the mood of our people. I do not believe that they want a straightforward repeal of Section 28 without something very substantial put in its place.
I have not as much experience as the noble Earl, but I have known of many cases affecting human rights that were settled by majority vote. Quite honestly, I see no other way of coming to a parliamentary decision.
As I was saying, the mood of the people is misunderstood by those--I do not include my noble friend Lord Whitty in this category--who merely say, "Repeal Section 28 and put nothing in its place to protect our young people". That is not the public view. It may be said that I have no right to analyse the public view any more than anybody else. But like other Members of the Committee, I have received so many letters over the past few months that I begin to think of myself as important. And those letters have all been one way: "Of course we understand; of course we are tolerant; of course we appreciate that there but for the grace of God go I; but please protect our young people". These are dangerous enough days. Television produces comedy shows late at night--in my view the producers should be ashamed of themselves--consisting of sexual behaviour and so forth without ascribing any dignity to it whatever.
I come to this conclusion. We must not leave our legislation on the basis that those who look up the Local Government Act see the new Section 68 standing alone:
"Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality".
One can imagine ordinary members of the public reading that section and taking for granted that Parliament decided no longer to oppose the promotion of homosexuality. I turn to my noble friend on the Front Bench, who spoke so wisely and in such understanding terms, and say that we must get this right. I do not share the view that we must wait for debate after debate before we can come up with something sensible to carry out the majority view, if the noble Earl will forgive me. Consultation has already taken place. Let us hope that a clause comes before us on the Government's initiative echoing the views expressed in this debate and those which will be expressed in consultation afterward.
No Member of the Committee made a speech criticising homosexuality. We are all trying to understand and all are conscious of human rights. But I hope that on Report the Government will bring forward an amendment to Section 28 to correct the situation.
I support warmly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who speaks for many people on all sides of the Committee. Also, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall; he has done the Committee a service tonight, mainly because the principal point behind the amendment is that we must not take executive or parliamentary action on this sensitive issue without deep thought.
This is an issue which has touched thousands of people throughout the country--parents, teachers, governors and others, including homosexuals. There was a moving article today in the Daily Mail, which has run an excellent campaign, saying that this provision will do no service to the interests of homosexuals. Therefore the principle of think first, know what we intend to replace the provision with before repealing it, is one that I support.
I have difficulty with the clause on two grounds. First, like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, I am concerned about removing a provision and not replacing it with an active prohibition on promoting homosexuality in our schools and to young people outside the school gate, in youth clubs and in other voluntary groups. Secondly, there is a difference between guidance and guidelines. Guidance has statutory backing and force. A local authority and/or schools and colleges which are drafting policy must have, by law, regard to statutory guidelines. But they do not have to follow their advice. If they are challenged in court, it is not for the specific activity they undertook or the expenditure they made; they are only challenged procedurally--whether in drawing up their policy or in taking a specific action they had regard to the guidelines.
It is easy to circumvent that position. Any local authority can say, "Yes, we considered the guidelines. We had a discussion about them. But on balance we still did what we wanted to do". Therefore, if the Government insist on repealing Section 28, we must wait to find out what will fill the vacuum. We must insist that something goes into statute that prevents the positive promotion of homosexuality to our young people.
I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St Budeaux, is seeking to be helpful. But I oppose this amendment and strongly support the straightforward repeal of Section 28, being unpersuaded of the need for further statutory guidance.
As has been mentioned this evening, there are already strong legal safeguards in the Education Act 1996 against unsuitable teaching. It provides that all sex education must be given with,
"due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".
It requires local authorities to have in place complaints systems so that parents can complain about unreasonable behaviour by the authority or governing body; and it gives reserve powers to the Secretary of State to act if LEAs or governors are acting unreasonably or are defaulting on their statutory duties. I do not understand why that does not provide a sufficient framework.
Section 28 produces an inhibiting effect on teachers, who believe that they must avoid teaching about homosexuality or intervening to stop homophobic bullying. A study was reported today by the London University Institute of Education which found,
"an atmosphere of confusion and fear", discouraging staff from intervening to stop homophobic abuse. Eighty-two per cent of teachers say that such abuse occurs and 62 per cent say that Section 28 makes it difficult to meet the needs of lesbian and gay pupils.
We will no doubt hear further from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, but, if she will allow, in a press interview she gave last week she said,
"I am quite certain I am speaking for the overwhelming majority of parents in this country who feel very strongly that they do not want their children taught about homosexuality in schools".
There is a big difference between being "taught" and "promoting" homosexuality. The retention of Section 28 gives a signal of not caring about the young people who think they may be gay; not caring about removing their isolation and fear; not caring about creating a climate of understanding and tolerance. Some people are parents of such young people.
This campaign to retain Section 28 rests on the assumption that it is possible to convert someone to being gay. I do not believe that; I believe that sexuality is innate: one day people discover or perhaps acknowledge it and there is nothing that they can do about it, even if they wanted to. I do not want promotion of any particular type of sexual behaviour, only of knowledge, commitment, love--I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton--and respect.
I can scarcely understand the fear that has been generated, this paranoia that there is a proselytising horde waiting to covert the approximately 90 per cent heterosexual majority. As a heterosexual married woman who does not feel that Section 28 threatens her marriage--indeed, I can assure Members of the Committee that that notion is laughable; there are many other pressures but not that one!--I will vote firmly, if given the chance, to repeal Section 28 tonight. I am glad that we will have the opportunity to do so. The opponents of repeal claim to be acting for moral reasons. I feel that I am too: in my case, the morality of equal respect, acceptance and tolerance and the right not to be frightened, bullied or intimidated.
Perhaps I may begin by apologising to my noble friend Lord Mishcon, who I see is no longer in his place, for not giving way. I hope that my contribution will make up for my inexperience in the task. I have had the privilege of discussing with my noble friend Lord Randall for some days the issues raised in his amendment. My noble friend is aware that I am very interested in these matters because, among other things, I am the chairman of the governors of a state school.
I preface my remarks, which I will confine largely to the issue of the amendment, by saying that I support all those noble Lords who have expressed the desire that our debate be rational and calm. In doing so, I humbly ask that we be watchful of remarks which suggest that, somehow, a floodgate is about to open. History is littered with the tactic of fear and distaste replacing coherent debate and tolerant behaviour.
We have guidelines in place in the state schools. They allow governing bodies to be clear about what they wish to teach. Those guidelines are very clear, but they are also flexible. They emphasise the strong relationship; they focus on the family; and they talk about good parenting as a basis for children. These are at the heart of the way in which we discuss these issues in schools. The flexibility is important because we need to recognise the situation in which children are growing up.
The family as we might define it is very different for some children. I speak not only as a parent but also as a step-parent who has brought up children who were the product of a divorce. Like many, I welcome the involvement of parents and also of business people in our school governing bodies. They bring good sense, a richness to debate and play an active part--that is certainly so in my school--in the work that we do on sex education.
Teachers and governors work together to produce a policy, which is available to all parents. They can take home and study a copy of it. At a full parents meeting we discuss not only what will be taught to children but also by whom and when. Parents are able to comment, express their concerns and have the policy changed. They can, of course, withdraw their children from the school. I welcome more guidance from the Secretary of State, but I believe that there is no need to delay the repeal of Section 28.
My final point in that respect comes from my experience as a mother and step-mother. I wish many things for the children that I have brought up, and among them are happiness and fulfilment, a pride in themselves but a tolerance and respect for others. I want them to grow up in a safe environment. I know that information is a powerful weapon to keep them safe. It helps them to understand who they are; how to take care of themselves; to understand and have respect for others; not to be taken in; and to recognise danger. I oppose the delay in the repealing of this section. Because of its ambiguity, I believe that it may prevent young people from getting the support and advice that they seek--advice and support which keeps those children, my children, safe.
In response to my noble friend Lord Randall of St Budeaux, perhaps I may refer back to what my noble friend Lord Whitty has already made clear in his contributions. We do not see that there is a consequential link between repeal of Section 2A of the 1986 Act and the safeguards that should and must exist around sex and relationships education in schools.
From my experience in talking to people, I should tell my noble friend Lord Mishcon that one reason why people have written expressing concern about the repeal of Section 28 is that they have been told repeatedly by normally well-informed presenters of programmes like "Today" that this section applies to schools. It does not. Section 28 was opposed honourably by many of my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Randall of St Budeaux, and other noble Lords, who were then Members of the other place, when it was introduced. However, even if it were true--and I have no evidence of it--that local authorities in those days were seeking to influence and control schools, legislation introduced since that time has made it impossible for them to do so. The responsibility rests, quite rightly, with governors; and that includes parent governors.
In response to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and, indeed, my noble friend Lady Ashton, I should point out that we are not dealing with a vacuum in terms of advice and guidance to those parents and governors who are currently charged with being responsible for this sensitive area of education for our children. Moral considerations and the value of family life underpin what is being done now. The fact is that Section 28 does not apply to schools and, therefore, we believe that it would be inappropriate to link it in the way suggested by this amendment.
So many people speaking in the debate in this Chamber have sought to imply that the opposite of being exhorted not to do something is "permission to do it". All my children went through the state education sector. I never even felt the need to exhort those professionals who were responsible for my children's development not to promote adultery, lust, sin or, indeed, any particular issue. I find it offensive that, according to some contributors to this debate, some professional teachers feel it necessary to do so. Quite frankly, I am shocked.
As my noble friend Lord Whitty said in response to the concerns raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, we shall think further about what is appropriate for primary legislation and about how the policy could be given greater coherence and, where appropriate, legal force. I know that my noble friend Lord Randall will give great consideration to the fact that we propose to take the matter away and reconsider it. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, said with great sensitivity, we are dealing with an area where the guidance must recognise children's own experiences. I agree with my noble friend Lord Randall. It is very difficult for a primary school teacher to deal with the issue of divorce. However, in my experience the probable reason that it emerged in discussion was the distress of another child in the same class.
Our children are growing up in a world where they come into contact with many situations that many older people would perhaps like them not to come into contact with at that age. Teachers have to deal with children's family experiences. I hope that my noble friend will feel confident in placing his trust in the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I know of the right reverend Prelate's enormous contribution to the quality of education in my home county of Lancashire. I know that he will bring sensitivity and knowledge to the discussions that the Government are holding. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The debate, certainly from my point of view, has been extremely worthwhile. If we have what I think we have--namely, the opportunity to debate the mechanism that we employ, whether as regards schools or more broadly--we shall have got somewhere. I thank the Minister for her comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 365:
Leave out Clause 68 and insert the following new Clause--
(" . In section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material), at the end of subsection (2) there is inserted--
(b) prevent the headteacher or governing body of a maintained school, or a teacher employed by a maintained school, from taking steps to prevent any form of bullying".").
At this late hour I do not intend to speak at length. We have heard the views of many in this Chamber and I do not want to repeat points that have already been made. However, I begin by answering the charges of the noble Lord, Lord Alli. It is sad that he should think that anyone in this Chamber would teach people to hate anyone. I have never taken that view and certainly not as regards any collective group of people. I like the noble Lord, Lord Alli. Therefore I do not quite understand what that argument is about. It would be an absolute tragedy were it to be thought that anyone who might support my point of view therefore hated a whole lot of people. That is not the case and nor do I agree that it is right in any circumstances to teach children to hate in the way that has been described.
I listened to the debate with great care. In putting my point of view I should not like it to be thought that I stood alone, or simply had the support of some of my own political colleagues, glad as I am to have their support. I have had support from all parts of the Chamber. I listened closely once again to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who speaks so well, and to the wise words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield. I hope I am correct in asserting that he said that Section 28 is a benchmark. I believe that is the right context in which to place this whole discussion.
Furthermore, I have had the support of the Muslim community. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, is present. I am sure that many of us received a moving letter from the leader of the Muslim community and have heard what that community had to say. The letter states,
"We believe that the repeal of Section 28 would expose our young children, even from a very tender age, to immoral values and practices. It will also undermine the institution of the family and damage the fabric of our society. Any teaching in schools which presents homosexual practices as equivalent to marriage, or in a morally neutral way, is profoundly offensive and totally unacceptable".
That seems to me a clear statement. After all, as we live in a diverse society, we should listen to what all sections of it have to say.
We should take account of what the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, has to say. He states,
"There is a real danger that the abolition of Section 28 will lead to the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as morally equivalent to marriage. Not only will this confuse many young people whose sexual identities are still fluid, it will frustrate any attempt to educate children in the importance of marriage as the basis of a stable and caring society".
We have heard what Cardinal Winning has said with such effect in Scotland, speaking out for the Roman Catholic Church. We have heard what the Bishop of Liverpool and others have said. Like so many Members of the Committee, I have received a vast amount of correspondence--some 2,000 letters--from teachers, doctors and parents. That suggests that a wide spectrum of society is concerned about the abolition of Section 28. It is for the Government to say why they believe that they are right and why they believe that those whose lives are spent dealing with moral issues are wrong. The onus is on the Government in that regard. It is important to represent the views of many sections of our society.
I was disturbed by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson. It appeared to me that she was saying that because children today live in a moral vacuum they should remain in one.
Well, what are you going to say? You must say something definite to children, but we are not giving them a definite message about anything. When children ask questions, I believe that one should give a clear answer.
As I have already indicated, Section 28 has been effective. However, it does not stop the discussion of homosexuality in schools. It does not prevent teachers from counselling. It does not prevent teachers from discussing the matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, referred to guidance from the Royal College of Nursing. In my opinion any school nurse who has a case of bullying brought to her attention has a duty to report that to the head of the school. After all, a nurse is a professional too, and she should report such a matter to a head. The idea that that matter cannot be dealt with if there is something clearly amiss in a school seems to me quite extraordinary.
I have been the chairman of an education committee. I have even been an education Minister. I have been a governor of maintained schools and of independent schools. I care very much about education. At the beginning of my remarks I said that I speak for children. Too much of the debate this afternoon has concerned not children but adults. In a free society how adults behave is a matter for them. However, what we tell our children is a matter that concerns all of us. It is a responsibility. Children are growing up in a difficult world--here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson--which is also difficult for parents and teachers. I believe that not to have any benchmarks or milestones would send out quite the wrong signal. It would send out a signal that one of the last benchmarks has now gone and Parliament no longer cares. I believe that it is the duty of this Chamber to speak up for the people of this country, for responsible parents and for responsible teachers, and keep Section 28. I beg to move.
It has been said today that we are a legislative body. That is true. It is also true that we are a reflective and deliberative body, and I hope, particularly at Committee stage, that what we are doing is as much reflective and deliberative as it is legislative.
The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, told us that laws and morals are distinct, but also that they are connected. None the less, the law has a declarative function; it must embody and affirm that which is regarded as normative in any human society. The Government's claim that they wish to promote marriage and a stable family as the basic building block of society must find an echo not only in their policies but also in their legislative programmes. The Government are well aware--we have heard it repeated by Ministers today--that a stable, publicly committed heterosexual relationship (in other words, marriage) is vital for the nurture of the family, the so-called basic building block of society. Any weakening of the bonds of marriage and of family will have disastrous consequences for society as a whole. Some of the scenarios in classrooms that we have heard about give evidence of that.
It has often been pointed out--most latterly by Francis Fukuyama in his book The Great Disruption--that the depletion of a society's "social capital"--that is to say, honesty, compassion, avoidance of crime, neighbourliness, and so on--is directly linked to the disintegration of the family.
If the Government are serious about promoting marriage and the family, they cannot at the same time say that they would not encourage "the adoption of any particular sexual life-style". I have seen that in government documents. A heterosexual lifestyle within a permanent relationship is highly desirable, not to say necessary, not only for the continuance of society but for its flourishing. It is for this reason that I could not support the original Amendment No. 366--now happily withdrawn--tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and other noble Lords. For similar reasons I still cannot support Amendment No. 366A because of the basic contradiction--
Perhaps I may continue. At the same time I cannot support Section 28 as it stands either. It is true that it is highly dangerous to promote a sexual lifestyle, whether in the school or the youth club, which is not the norm among impressionable youngsters, whose sexuality may not be settled and who may easily be misled into an inappropriate lifestyle. It is not as simple as being right-handed or left-handed--how people come about their sexuality is immensely more complex than that--and we should be very careful about giving people identities in terms of sexual behaviour.
Such promotion becomes doubly dangerous if it is carried out by those who are in a position of authority, such as teachers or youth leaders. It is true also that in any authentic family in such situations there is at the centre the difference--and therefore the complementarity--of a relationship between a man and a woman which is necessary for the birth and the bringing up of children. I have experience of many different cultures. Families may be structured in many different ways, but the relationship of difference and complementarity is always at the heart of a family.
There may of course be other human groupings--of friends, of people with a common background or interests and of those who support one another because of perceived hostility or bias in wider society. Such associations may be beneficial to those who belong to them and, indeed, to society as a whole. This does not, however, turn such associations into "family". Section 28 is right, therefore, in providing that homosexuality should not be promoted as "a pretended family relationship".
As it stands, Section 28 allows for appropriate health education but says nothing about homophobic bullying in schools. I welcome wholeheartedly, therefore, the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, which will encourage head teachers and governing bodies to curb such bullying in schools.
The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman--I hope I am right in this--has the merit of recognising that we need effective sex education in our schools. Although I cannot support his amendment as a whole, I support this part of it.
I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn received such praise in the House for his amendment. As we know by now, the amendment is about promoting marriage and family--that is good--but it does not say what should not be promoted. Since his amendment is a substitution for Section 28 and for Section 2A there--it is as important for us to know what is not being promoted as what is being promoted. I look forward to further discussions about that.
While homosexuality should not be promoted in schools--we have had various discussions of what "to promote" means--pupils still need to be taught about it. We should be clear about that. If they are to be properly prepared for adult life, they need to know the different forms of sexual behaviour they may encounter. Such teaching, however, as with all sex and relationships education, must be in the context of a comprehensive and ethically based curriculum on sex education. Such a curriculum would recognise that individual and social flourishing is profoundly related to stable marriages and families. It would place the need for teaching about these matters firmly at the centre, while also recognising that in the contemporary world pupils will need to know what other kinds of behaviour and relationships there are.
Obviously the question will arise of what is meant by "comprehensive"; I have no doubt that some noble Lord will ask me that. As I have said in the press, it must include all that people are likely to encounter in adult life, without necessarily promoting or approving of such things. I may be asked what is meant by "ethical". That is an old chestnut. What was meant by "ethical" when the Government said that they had an ethical foreign policy? I hope they still do have one, but sometimes one wonders. The statement of values produced by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is another example of ethically based education policy. So we have some guidance about what "ethical" might mean in this context.
One widely accepted description of "ethics" would be to say that it is a persons and principles-based way of thinking and behaving for the sake of individual and social flourishing. It is not the view of the majority or even of a minority, but it is based on the flourishing of individual persons and of society as a whole.
The purpose of my amendment is to bring together the best of Section 28--which I believe needs to be retained in the absence of anything else--the best of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the best of all that has been said today. I propose, therefore, that Section 28 is retained at least until a better provision is proposed and that the provision proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, against bullying is added to it, together with my proposal regarding the provision of appropriate sex education. If our social capital is not to be further reduced, we need desperately to promote the family. It is there that people learn the values that sustain them in the wider community. It is there that we may interact with others in a way that leads to sexual maturity. It is there that we find the role models necessary for our all-round development.
The family needs not only to be promoted, but to be supported--a word that has not been heard much today. Whether that happens through tax relief or income support, nurseries or after-school clubs, justice in our courts or assistance at home, strong families will in turn be the source of support for the lonely, the ill, the aged and the bereaved. There are, of course, other ways of living which may also be supported, but the family remains the norm for basic social organisation and well-being. I beg to move.
I have listened carefully to the debate and I appreciate the attempts to clarify the issue under discussion. However, I wish to draw attention to some of the more unfortunate side effects of Section 28, such as the advantage taken by some of the more sensationalist media to stir up hysteria, bigotry and salacious propaganda. We are surely not fooled into believing that they really care about the issues. That is what happens when negative permission is given for bad behaviour. Section 28, however unwittingly, gives permission for bad behaviour and prevents those who wish to educate young people responsibly from doing their job adequately. It provides what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has called in one of his wise and sensitive articles,
"an illicit veneer of respectability", under which potential violence and persecution hide.
The amendments, however well-intentioned they may be, do not remove the problem. The problem is that the words "promote a homosexual lifestyle" and "pretended family relationship" are unclear and confusing. Law which is unclear and confusing should go. I know that Members of the Committee on different Benches have deep concerns for young people. So do I. I am a parent, a school governor and a former teacher. It is sad when concern about young people is manipulated and confusion encouraged.
As has already been said, part of the confusion is that Section 28 does not apply to schools, although some parents, teachers and young people believe that it does. In England and Wales school governors are responsible for schools. There are several parents on governing bodies, which are required to have policies on, and report to parents about, sex education. In addition, recent curriculum handbooks, which were sent to every maintained primary and secondary school last year, contained strong guidance on personal, social and health education, supporting responsible behaviour, positive relationships, marriage and keeping healthy. The Education Act 1996, as several Members of the Committee have mentioned, is already strong on morality. Schools are bound by inspections and by Education Acts. Religious bodies will issue their own guidance shortly, I understand. As the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, stated, health is part of the discussion. Medical organisations are seriously worried that after early successful campaigns in this country to combat HIV infection, the present generation of young people is not receiving sufficient education about safer sex.
There appears to be concern about the flood of unsavoury materials which may reach young people if Section 28 is repealed. But parents, teachers and school governors are gatekeepers to young people, as the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, said. Curriculum guidance shapes ethos and what is taught. Surely we are not denying the integrity and common sense of those responsible adults. In a survey, parents said that they wanted Section 28 repealed by a majority of two to one. Parents have long said that they want their children to receive sex education. Young people complain about inadequate information on sexuality and inadequate discussion on relationships. Of course, schools need values that should positively influence young people, but one set of values need not exclude the consideration of other values. Young people may discuss a whole range of values in order to formulate their own value system. One particular value system may be supported by home, school or faith.
Discussing homosexuality does not exclude promoting marriage. Marriage for me has been a fulfilling way of life. I have been married to the same person for over 30 years--so I am more of a novice than the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It may not be the ideal state for everyone. Some marriages, sadly, have brought misery and confusion to couples and children. Perhaps the new guidance for schools will encourage young people to develop relationship skills which are surely the basis of sound marriage and parenting, not the institution itself. Relationship skills are also the basis of sexuality, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said; a sexuality which is satisfying and non-exploitative in whatever form it comes. Some people whom I know find homosexuality repulsive. That is their prerogative. But surely it is better to have a loving relationship with a same-sex partner than a miserable heterosexual relationship. In agreement with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, I believe that sexuality is about love, mutual respect and support and not merely sexual acts, which are private in any case.
Young people have common sense too, as well as discrimination. I remember reading the infamous Jenny lives with Eric and Martin with my children when they were young. They said, "This is really boring--we'd rather have Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain". None of them has grown up to be a gay parent, despite their mother's corrupting influence. The point of that anecdote is that children take on board what is relevant and meaningful to them. They cannot be made to be homosexual or heterosexual. A book or video cannot alter nature, even if it were to get into a school. Moreover, school governors and parents have to approve materials that enter schools.
The sensible thing to say to a young person confused about his sexual orientation is, "Don't have indiscriminate sex. Be sure what you feel". It should not be, "Because you think you might be gay, you are invalid and rather peculiar". That is what Section 28 perpetrates. It indirectly and insidiously inculcates prejudice and then stands back while it is acted out. I, too, have received letters, including some from three organisations for parents of gay teenagers. They are seriously concerned about the health and welfare of their children. I have received letters from medical organisations, children's organisations, teaching organisations and religious organisations which want Section 28 to go. I have received also two letters of filth and bigotry. I received one this morning which made disgraceful reference to David Blunkett's disability. It continues:
"God curses Gays and sodomists and all those that so promote Death is their end and reward so perhaps you should take note". Nice poetry. Last week, I believe that I was investigated by the office of a noble Lord. Today I am in the Daily Mail. It may be that that is a coincidence. I shall clarify the matter with the noble Lord involved.
Young people need validation and support, whatever their sexual orientation. In a report published by a gay teenagers' group, one boy says that he was called "poof, gay, black bastard" in school. It is interesting how intolerance overlaps and begets other intolerance. Another was advised to take cold showers and think about girls. I am not sure how that connects. Another was asked whether he was dropped on his head as a baby. That is hardly enlightened and supportive education.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the retention of Section 28 gives permission for people to interpret it, whatever the original intention was, as a licence to exclude one section of society, to insult and denigrate others and as a barrier to sexual health education; more than that, to intimidate and incite hatred. It opens other kinds of flood gates.
When I was first involved in the Section 28 debate, I was threatened both verbally and physically. One evening two nasty looking thugs with equally nasty looking dogs arrived at my office and said, "Listen, poof lover. Keep your mouth shut or you'll have these dogs after you". If that can happen to a middle-aged, middle class woman, what else is going on which I know your Lordships would find abhorrent?
The Committee's decision will send signals about the kind of society that we want to encourage. It is about much more than Section 28 or the promotion of homosexuality. It is about value tolerance and what philosophers call "the considerate way of life". I remember, in the midst of press hysteria, a leader column in the Independent saying:
"Morality has nothing to do with sexual preference and everything to do with how we treat each other".
I hope that the Committee will not be seen to give permission by inference for ignorance, hysteria and bigotry to prevail, and informed discussion denied, through allowing ambiguity in the law to remain. I support the repeal of Section 28. I cannot accept the amendments.
I notice the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rising to her feet. It is customary for the Opposition Front Bench to speak at the end of the debate. I hope that she is not rising with any intention of trying to shorten the debate. We were promised by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General that those of us who had shown some restraint earlier--that includes me--would be allowed to speak. I am one of the few Peers who have sat through every word of the debate and have not yet spoken. I notice that other Peers feel that they can come and go out as they like. I hope that the noble Baroness is not remotely suggesting that the rest of us should not speak just because we are going to have a vote. My judgment is that she ought to wait until the rest of us have spoken and then she can reply, as she does very well, from the Opposition Front Bench. That is my point of order. It is not my speech.
Would that I had that power. I have no power whatever to curtail the debate. I see that many noble Lords wish to speak. I believe that there has been a great misunderstanding--mostly because of the intervention of the Minister at the beginning of the afternoon and the intervention two-and-a-half hours later by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Some of us thought that we were having a universal debate on all of these issues and that we would then deal with those amendments by voting. A very long time went by before we were told to speak only to the amendments.
I do not intend to waste the time of the Committee in going back over a debate about which much has been said and on which there is not much new to be said. But it is not for me to curtail the debate. It will be a matter for the Committee itself.
I thank the noble Baroness for that assurance. I may just be unduly cynical today because I suddenly see all kinds of people wandering in. I always look forward to the noble Baroness's speeches whenever she makes them.
The very thought of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, being cynical is just so fanciful and I shall disappoint him because my speech will be very short.
A circular issued by the department deals with the way in which schools would handle life under Section 28. What it says dispels some of the myths that have been given voice to around the Chamber today. It says:
"Local authorities will not be prevented by this section from offering the full range of services to homosexuals, on the same basis as to all their inhabitants. So long as they are not setting out to promote homosexuality, they may, for example, include in their public libraries books and periodicals about homosexuality or written by homosexuals, and fund theatre and other arts events which may include homosexual themes"
As far as concerns the classroom, the circular goes on to say:
"Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers. It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality".
To repeal Section 28 removes from the statute the protection for teachers, for parents and, most especially, for children from those in local authorities and some organisations funded by local authorities who have allowed, and indeed would allow again, materials and teaching to promote homosexuality to our young people. Those of us who oppose repeal of Section 28 cherish childhood and care about the moral framework within which children grow up and develop. We believe that they should be able to look to Parliament for protection against exploitation. That is why we shall stand four-square behind my noble friend Lady Young on this issue and will reject the amendment.
Perhaps I may return to the amendment before the Committee which was introduced by the right reverend Prelate. I should like to ask a very simple and short question. It concerns the term "comprehensive" with respect to sex education. The right reverend Prelate has already alluded to his unease with this notion of "comprehensive". He referred to the forms of sexuality with which children are likely to come in contact in the course of their lives. Those would presumably include sado-masochism, bisexuality, paedophilia and even perhaps bestiality. Necrophilia has also been mentioned during this debate. Is it my understanding that the right reverend Prelate would want a sex education that was comprehensive plus or minus some or more of those things, but that the only form of sexuality that was to be forbidden was homosexuality? Sado-masochism would be taught about but not forbidden; homosexuality would be taught about but forbidden?
I tried to say what I meant by "comprehensive". It would be things that adults would be likely to encounter. We have still not reached a stage in this society when in the course of ordinary life we encounter bestiality. I hope we never do. The real point is that we should teach people about things that we do not necessarily promote or approve of. Section 28 as it stands forbids certain things but it does not allow teachers and others to teach young people what they need to know.
The reason that I am opposed to the Brightman amendment is that it seeks to do contradictory things. On the one hand, it seeks to promote marriage; on the other, it seeks to say that no kind of sexual lifestyle should be promoted. I believe that those are two contradictory propositions.
About two hours ago--it may be more--the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said that Section 28 is protective against diseases that might be spread by homosexuality. The British Medical Association has a very different view. It says that Section 28 has had a harmful effect on the health aspects of sex education as many teachers and governors still believe--mistakenly, as we know--that it is unlawful to discuss homosexuality in schools. Thus, many men become infected with HIV or Hepatitis B because they have never been informed of the essential facts regarding safer sex for gay men. Others take high risks with their lives due to their low self-esteem, which is often engendered by homophobic attitudes and bullying in schools, which are seldom adequately dealt with by the staff. The BMA therefore supports the repeal of the section as it restricts the discussion of homosexuality within schools and prevents adequate sexual health education being carried out.
Playing it safe, a survey of teachers' views commissioned by the Health Education Authority, found in 1997 that,
"the existence of Section 28 was sending a clear signal that there may be something dangerous or wrong about addressing the needs of lesbian, gay or bisexual people".
From a personal point of view, I object particularly to Section 2A(b), which prohibits local authorities from promoting,
"the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability"--
I emphasise the word "acceptability"--
"of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
That is particularly offensive to me. As I told the House in 1988 during the passage of the legislation containing Section 28, from the age of six I was brought up by my mother and her lesbian partner. That was not a "pretended" family; it was a very real family for me and my brother. We had a full and happy family life together. I was only sorry that I was sent to a boarding school and thus missed out on some of the socially and culturally rich--and sometimes hilariously funny--times that we all enjoyed together. It was a very happy period for us, although at that time the outer world was going through the painful spasm of World War II, followed by the austere but politically exciting post-war years.
To suggest that such a mode of life should not be acceptable, in the words of Section 28, is to me ludicrous. My simple Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "acceptable" as,
"welcome, pleasing or tolerable".
If people are happy in a long-term relationship, whatever their sexual orientation, and are contributing normally to society, surely we should welcome that. To enshrine in law that such a relationship is not welcome or even tolerable is not only draconian but incompatible with the free society in which we take pride.
The legislation was, and is, seriously flawed and should certainly be repealed. I shall vote against the noble Baroness's amendment, and I recommend that Members on all sides of the Committee do likewise.
As I said earlier, to inform is not to promote. I am quite clear about that. I am also clear that the aggressive pushing of homosexuality is wrong. Intelligent, caring support for children is necessary. That is the basis of our support for the repeal of Section 28.
Of course, parents, grandparents and many other people are concerned about proselytisation. I share that concern. I heard on the radio last week a comment that Section 28 should stay in order to prohibit encouraging 13 year-olds to experiment with homosexual activity. On hearing that, I thought that I must be very old-fashioned, because I do not believe that 13 year-olds should be encouraged to experiment with any sexual activity. That said, I do not believe that matters of personal development should be directly regulated by statute.
Earlier, the Minister used the term "sensitivity". There are sensitivities and nuances with which primary legislation is ill-equipped to deal. Personal conduct and culture may change over time, subtly, but sometimes quite fast. These are matters for guidance, which can be flexible and can be adjusted as time passes. It can enable, even require, teachers to distinguish between what is salacious or dangerous on the one hand and what provides support and information on the other. That is a long way from not having a benchmark or standards.
The term "promote" is causing us difficulty. What does it mean? Does it have any meaning in this context? I do not believe that it is possible to promote homosexuality. That is a different matter from saying that I support the promotion of homosexuality. The repeal of Section 28 is not some kind of green light for pornography and corruption. The repeal will leave the position neutral, and that is how it should be. "Neutrality" and "equality" seem to me to be the right terms--not "tolerance", which implies something so far away from the norm as to require tolerating.
Where do children get their information? Much of it comes from other children and from the media, including the Internet. Sometimes they obtain it from people from whom the educators have a responsibility to protect them. I know that the whole Committee condemns the abuse of vulnerable people, including children--abuse by homosexual and heterosexual abusers. I suspect that the latter is more widespread. Protection must mean dealing with questions, spoken and unspoken, and not avoiding discussion. It means counselling, and sometimes it means helping a child to discover his or her sexuality.
Can teachers fulfil that role now? Yes, they can as the law stands, but Section 28 has collected so much baggage of misunderstanding that too many teachers believe that they would open themselves and their schools to prosecution. So too many teachers do not feel able to answer the most basic questions, to assist children grappling with a parent's or sibling's or their own homosexuality, or to tackle homophobic bullying. There is distressing evidence of books, school work and clothing being ruined, and of children being damaged in much deeper ways. And we all know how easily young bullies can become young, and then not so young, thugs.
We value the teaching profession. We should not constrain those in it. After all, we want to see more education and not less. Sex education is a matter for school governors, not the LEA, and the Education Act 1996 deals with its provision. I and other speakers have referred to the Bill's provisions. The reference to having due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life seems clear enough. Even so, local authority employees, such as youth workers, also feel under very real constraint.
Repealing the section will give confidence to those who deal with children. It will not give one single additional power to local authorities. It will not give them the power to promote homosexuality.
The section also refers to a "pretended family relationship". That, too, is unhelpful. It fails to recognise the value of stable relationships which are not marriage. Families come in many shapes and sizes. When I was asked to sit on the board of a charity dealing with research into family matters, I said, "But I'm not married, and I don't have 2.4 children". "Oh", I was told, "everyone has some sort of family".
Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the symbolism of Section 28. The message that it gives is offensive. It reinforces stigma. It does nothing to assist the inclusiveness of our society, and it does much to reinforce discrimination. The repeal of Section 28 was in my party's manifesto at the last election. I am happy to support its repeal and must vote against the amendment if it is put to the vote. We on these Benches maintain our view that to inform is not to promote.
It is not true to say that Section 28 was unnecessary. It was originally devised as a Private Member's Bill of the late Lord Halsbury's, to prevent a very serious wrong, which was that certain London councils--Tottenham was one, and I think Brent was another--were teaching children that it was better to be homosexual than heterosexual. When parents protested, they were subjected to abuse and even considerable violence. So it is quite untrue to say that the clause was unnecessary at the time. I might just mention that some councils would merrily spend large sums of council tax payers money on gay jamborees, raves and so forth, while cutting down on essential services, which they say they cannot afford. It applies not only to schools but to local authorities. It is quite untrue to say that the fact that no cases have come before the courts as a result of the section shows that it is unnecessary: it merely indicates how well it works.
To say that guidelines, or a code of practice, will do just as well is nonsense. Guidelines and codes of practice, unless given force by legislation, have no force in law and can be disregarded with impunity, and often are. What may be useful are guidelines as to what may or may not be done by teachers under Section 28, or possibly under a future substitute for Section 28. It is quite untrue to say that the section prevents teachers giving advice to worried children about problems of sexuality, as anyone who has read the clause knows perfectly well. It is quite untrue to say that it prevents teachers dealing with the bullying of homosexuals in the playground, as anyone who has read the clause will also know perfectly well. If a person does not try to understand, it is because he cannot be bothered or because he has private reasons for failing to do so.
There are a great many misconceptions regarding what is and is not permissible under Section 28. A good number have been fostered by ignorance, but many may have been fostered by interested parties. Neither the late Lord Halsbury, who was so much loved and respected on all sides of the House, nor any of those who were involved in his Private Member's Bill or in supporting its second incarnation as Clause 28 of the Local Government Bill were, or are, homophobes. The vast majority of that huge majority of people who do not wish to see Section 28 repealed are not only not homophobic but are infinitely more tolerant of people of different sexual orientation than homosexuals are of them, as a MORI poll carried out in the Daily Mail found.
The fact is that the opponents of Section 28 have a very weak case, and that is why they use so many dubious arguments to support it. Like other Members of the Committee, I have received a great many letters from anxious parents and grandparents imploring me to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Many of those letters came from Scotland. I have been obliged to write to say that nothing we do here will directly help them since it is a devolved matter. But feeling is running very high across the whole country. I cannot think why the Government want to do something which will be so unpopular with so many people, including many sensible and responsible homosexuals. I refer noble Lords to an article by Jason Henderson in today's Daily Mail. The Government must be daft.
I emphasise to all Members of the Committee, in particular my fellow Cross-Benchers, that the majority of people in this country look to this House to save Section 28 for them so that their children and grandchildren can grow up without being subjected at a very young age to the kind of indoctrination described in Bankrolling Gay Proselytism which Section 28 prevents. I hope that we shall not let them down.
I shall be brief. I intended to make a long speech but many points have already been made by other Members of the Committee. I deal with just two matters. Since November last year I have been part of Channel 4's "Hate Commission" which is investigating "hate crime" based on racism and homophobia. We have completed our report. The documentary is being edited this week and will be televised in March 2000. I was asked to visit Manchester and meet the gay community, which I did, and study a report produced by the National Advisory Group Policing Lesbian and Gay Communities. Together with the author of the report, Ian Wilmott, I visited Gay Village in Manchester city centre and met various individuals, male and female. My aim was to see the scale of violence perpetrated against gay people because of their sexual orientation.
I was shocked by the scale of violence against the gay community and recommended various measures to ensure that violence against gay men and women should not be tolerated. My initial thoughts were that it was only through education that we could fight prejudice. However, having examined promotional material produced by some health authorities, I am convinced that some local authorities will interpret the repeal of Section 28 as a ticket to promote homosexuality.
The Committee has already heard of the concerns of the Muslim community. The Muslim community is totally opposed to the repeal of Section 28. I have informed the noble Baroness, Lady Young, of my intentions in this matter. Having heard earlier contributions to the debate, and the response of the Minister to the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, I do not wish to press the amendment to a Division at this stage. However, I reserve my right to do so at Third Reading if the proposals offered by the Government do not meet the concerns that I have expressed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that the onus was upon the Government to justify the repeal of Section 28. Leaving aside words like "onus", I should like to explain one very good reason for repealing Section 28 which has not yet been dealt with. Therefore, I hope that what I say is new and not merely repetitious. I make my observations in the presence of the Attorney-General, who will, I am sure, interrupt me if he disagrees with my analysis of why Section 28 conflicts with the European Convention on Human Rights and why the amendment, if agreed to, will lead to enormous legal uncertainty when the Human Rights Act comes into force in October. In what I am about to say I shall deal with that and nothing else.
As the noble Lord, Lord Rea, indicated, one limb of Section 28 forbids local authorities from promoting the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as what it calls "a pretended family relationship". Under that vague and ambiguous language, if a local authority encourages a teacher in a maintained school to tell her sixth-form pupils that a homosexual relationship may constitute a real and not a pretended family relationship, that may be treated as promoting the teaching of "the acceptability of homosexuality" according to the wording of Section 28, irrespective of the authority's or the teacher's intentions to promote honest and accurate information and discussion in the classroom. That limb of Section 28 in effect requires local authorities to ensure that teachers treat all homosexual family relationships as pretended and not as real family relationships, including relationships in which a homosexual couple raise a child, say, of a divorced husband or wife. A teacher who disobeys that limb and puts her local authority in breach of Section 28 may jeopardise her career.
To that extent, in my view Section 28 promotes false and inaccurate teaching, for in truth, as this House pointed out recently in Fitzpatrick v. Sterling Housing Association--I hear someone say "a dreadful case", but it is the law of the land as laid down by the Law Lords--a homosexual relationship may involve a real rather than a pretended family relationship. In the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead,
"Where sexual partners are involved, whether heterosexual or homosexual, there is scope for the intimate mutual love and affection and long term commitment that typically characterise the relationship of husband and wife".
In other words, contrary to the first limb of Section 28, English law recognises that a homosexual relationship is capable of being a real family relationship, for example for the purpose of inheriting tenancy rights. Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. Homosexuality is not to be equated with bestiality or necrophilia, if that was the burden of his remarks.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I did not say anything to equate them. I was simply teasing out from the right reverend Prelate what would be covered by his comprehensive sex education.
Before the noble Lord continues, does he realise that he disturbs us rather than assuages our fears when he refers to a case in which the courts redefined the meaning of "family". If at any specific juncture the word "family" can be given an entirely different meaning from that which ordinary people imagine it to mean, it makes us consider with some concern an amendment containing the word "family". That is the point to which we should surely address our minds. We need to know what "family" will mean in the future before we leap to support an amendment which refers to the family.
Nothing I say will assuage the noble Lord's fears. I am not attempting to address his fears but to explain what I understand the law to be and the implications for the amendment.
The European Court of Human Rights has similarly decided--no doubt it will increase the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington--on 21st December 1999, in the case of Sagueiro da Silva v. Portugal, that a refusal by the Portuguese courts in divorce proceedings to grant custody of his child to the father rather than the mother, solely on the ground that the father was living in a homosexual relationship amounted to unjustifiable discrimination in the enjoyment of the father's right to respect for his family life. It found that the Portuguese Court of Appeal had broken Article 14 read with Article 8 of the convention. That decision, too, is inconsistent with one of the assumptions upon which Section 28 is based.
Section 28 forbids local authorities from allowing their teachers to describe homosexual relationships as capable of constituting real family relationships, whereas English courts, the highest court in the land, and the European Court have recognised that homosexual relationships, based on mutual love, affection and long-term commitment, like heterosexual relationships, are capable of being real family relationships.
Section 28 is a piece of clumsy state censorship and illiberal social engineering. It constitutes an unnecessary and disproportionate interference with the rights of teachers to communicate information and ideas to their pupils and of their pupils' rights and interests. Were a case to be brought after October, once the Human Rights Act is in force, complaining of the unnecessarily chilling effects of Section 28, in my view our courts would decide either that this limb of Section 28 cannot be read to be compatible with the right to free expression and other rights, or it would be interpreted so narrowly as to defeat the objective of the promoters of the amendment and of Section 28.
If I am right about that, even if the Chamber decided, in keeping with the arguments of the noble Baroness, to keep Section 28 on the statute book, it would be a pyrrhic victory because I think that the courts would come to the rescue using the convention strongly. But that is no reason to keep it on the statute book; it is one of the reasons for repealing it.
The other limb of Section 28 authorises interferences with free speech and discriminates against homosexuals with no objective or reasonable justification. It forbids local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality. It does not forbid them from intentionally promoting heterosexuality, as many noble Lords have said, nor from publishing material with the intention of promoting heterosexuality. It treats homosexuality as a serious social evil to be uniquely singled out, even though homosexual sexual activity between consenting adults is not unlawful, and even though homosexuals are as capable as heterosexuals of sharing their lives, of caring and love, of commitment and support, and even though a person's sexual orientation may be genetically determined.
Section 28 promotes a climate of intolerance among the public and a sense of shame and fear among homosexuals whose sexual preferences may be conditioned by their genetic inheritance as well as by their family and social environment.
It is legitimate to forbid the promotion by local authorities of any form of human sexuality, whether in the classroom or more generally. But I suggest that it is not the business of the state to promote any form of sexuality as distinct from providing educational guidance to young people--for example about the importance of marriage for family life and child rearing, parental responsibility, the virtues of a loving and caring relationship, the health risks of unprotected sexual activity, and so on. As many noble Lords have said, and as the Government have indicated, that guidance can be given in suitable statutory form, whether in the form of a code of practice or otherwise.
I believe that our courts would find that the prohibitions in Section 28 are not carefully tailored to the wholly legitimate aim of protecting children and young people from harmful and immoral influences. That aim can be met readily by less restrictive means which do not involve compelling local authorities to publish only the kind of literature of which the supporters of the amendment approve.
I would be happier if my children were heterosexual rather than homosexual because they would have an easier life. But I would not regard a homosexual child or grandchild as in any way morally inferior to a heterosexual child. That was well expressed by Peter Preston in his interesting article in the Guardian, he having identical twins, both girls, one gay and one not.
I was astonished and pleased to hear the right honourable Michael Portillo, MP, say on the "Today" programme last week that the issue is not about tolerance but equality. I agree with him, but I would add that it is not only about equality but also diversity and free speech.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon--I think that he is in his place--reminded me of something said by a great American judge about the spirit of liberty. The judge said that the spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right. The vice of Section 28 is that its promoters were absolutely sure that they were right and that everyone else had to follow their opinions. The present statutory prohibitions are based upon a religious or moral certainty that homosexuality is a major social evil to be combated by means of a ban imposed by primary legislation. That is the passionate and completely sincere belief of the supporters of the amendment. But it should not be allowed to stand as the statutory command as to what all local authorities must do, or refrain from doing, in conformity with those sincere and passionate beliefs. That is why I oppose the amendment. I very much hope that at the end of the debate the noble Baroness will feel able to avoid dividing the Committee and instead will enable the Government to introduce more appropriate measures but using proportionate means.
At this time of night, brevity is golden and your Lordships will notice that I have no sheaf of notes. We have sat through four-and-a-half hours of debate on homosexuality and I have become increasingly bemused by the fact that none of us knows why some people are homosexual and some are heterosexual. It is a great mystery. However, many speakers have assumed that there is a totally clear-cut distinction; that you are necessarily either homosexual or heterosexual, as though you were either left handed or right handed. That is a totally false analogy. Some people are ambidextrous, just as some are bisexual.
There is almost nothing in a human being which is either totally innate or totally culturally conditioned. We are an extraordinary mixture of some things which are given in our inheritance--no one knows whether there is a hereditary component in homosexuality and, although some people claim that there is, it is a disputed claim--the culture in which we are brought up and the personal history of each of us. Even our faces are not given by our genetic inheritance. To a limited extent, our faces are what we make them through our lives, which is a horrifying thought.
Given that flexibility, there is a strong case for saying that it is not just a question of nature which cannot be altered. Human beings are always altering nature; it is what being human is about. We need a culture in which people can discover themselves and can be helped towards discovering what most people through most of history have regarded as the most satisfying form of life; namely, marriage and having children. But that is not to say that one simply writes off some people who are at one end of the spectrum who know that they are homosexual, have known it for a long time and see no prospect of change.
In human up-bringing there is an important space in which people can be helped in one direction or another by their cultural environment, by what they are taught, by the people they mix with. We want a culture that is compassionate, which recognises real differences--and I am not being in the least anti-homosexual--which is supportive, which helps people through their difficulties as they are growing up but which is also clear about where the greatest happiness within the experience of human kind is to be found. Therefore, there is necessarily a bias in one direction without in any way denigrating those who cannot move in that direction as second-class citizens.
It is clear from the debate that we do not yet know how to frame legislation or even guidance which will encourage that kind of society. I therefore believe that the right thing to do is to vote tactically, which in practice will mean voting for the noble Baroness's amendment, so that the issue is kept in front of this House and the Government until we have the better way of trying to express what we are really getting at.
I thank the noble and learned Lord, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I have sat throughout the debate and have not left my seat and, with the Committee's permission, I want to add a few words. First and foremost, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in his opening remarks drew your Lordships' attention to the fact that Section 28 refers only to a certain part of today's debate. Its effect on the ability to control, if I may use that word, is extremely limiting. I am slightly confused as to how much Section 28 has the effect people believe. However, having listened to the debate today I am even more convinced that Section 28 must be left on the statute book. I have held that opinion for some time, but it was reinforced when I, like other noble Lords, received the Local Government Association briefing on the debate. The paper dedicates a considerable amount of time to describing why Section 28 is irrelevant in the classroom. However, it goes on to ask:
"Is it fair to place the duty on authorities not to intentionally promote homosexuality?".
I can only assume that that implies that in its opinion it is fair to do so. And the one advantage that my noble friend Lady Young has when she rightly puts forward her strong views is that we have the experience of knowing what these local authorities will do if Section 28 is repealed. We have heard many speeches tonight telling us that it is necessary to repeal Section 28, but, as my noble friend said most strongly, if we change it we are in for all kinds of difficulties, many of which we have witnessed already.
The Local Government Association brief goes on to state that the discretion of local authorities to act and to choose on behalf of local communities should be constrained only by an overriding national interest or because of a significant risk of harm. Well, if protecting our young people from a lifestyle which in many cases can harm them, particularly mentally, is not of national importance, I do not know what is. Of course I believe that it is right to allow adults to choose which lifestyle they want to adopt and I reject any accusations of homophobia--if my noble friend Lord Ferrers will allow me to use that term. But I do not accept the statement made by Stonewall and referred to by a number of Members today. It stated in its briefing that it did not accept the premise that anyone can make anybody lesbian or gay. In other words, we are what we are.
In the long run, that may be true, but as a parent--and I know that I speak for most parents in this country when I say this--I know that teenagers are deeply impressionable and can go through periods of same-sex attraction. It can certainly be influenced by others. I have seen it, as I am sure have most noble Lords, and judging by the letters I have received, most ordinary parents in this country have seen it, too. There is no doubt in my mind that that can lead to confusion and a great sense of guilt and regret later. Therefore, I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to prevent such cases occurring.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn said in his opening remarks that it is all about signs and signals. I agree entirely and I believe that it is incumbent on this House to show the right signs and signals and to vote with my noble friend tonight.
Before I sit down, perhaps I may make one more comment. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I find it tiresome to be told that there is no point in debating issues in this House because any decision will be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights. If that is the case then what is the point of us debating this issue? We have a perfect right to debate the matter and I find it restrictive and offensive--
I am grateful to the noble Earl. I certainly did not intend to be restrictive or offensive. However, it is useful for those who have the responsibility of making the law to know the background against which they do so. I hope that I can inform the Committee that I would prefer to see a committee that could do that job for us. However, since there is no such committee, I took it upon myself. I mentioned the matter only to inform the Committee and certainly not to curtail any debate.
I understand what the noble Lord is saying. However, I have heard him make the same kind of comment on a number of occasions. I simply wish to make the point that I believe it to be restrictive.
I do not agree with the comments of the noble Lord, but I agree that it is a very serious matter and something that we should all bear in mind.
This has been a rather queer debate. The Opposition Front Benches felt that they ought to speak before the Back-Benches, which is unusual in your Lordships' House. However, most of the speeches that were relevant to the important amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, were made on other amendments. That is why some of us are having considerable difficulty in getting our minds around what we should be talking about.
I hope that I have good enough credentials to allow me to take part in the debate. I have been married to the same person for over 40 years. Perhaps my credentials are not as good as those of some noble Lords who are so keen on marriage that they go through the process two, three, four or five times. Furthermore, partly in response to the noble Earl, Lord Peel--putting this as delicately as I can--I have always preferred the company of women to that of men. I have never been attracted to people of the same sex, but since one of the questions that I wanted to ask is, "What is this all about?", I think that the noble Earl may have put his finger on it. Perhaps it is all about some noble Lords resisting attraction to people of the same sex and thus regarding themselves as having escaped from that kind of problem in the past; I do not know.
I must also reveal that I am as prejudiced as anyone else. In my younger days I was as bigoted an anti-Catholic as you could imagine. Admittedly I had never in my life met a Catholic and my bigotry was based on pure ignorance. I believe that I know about prejudice and what to do about it: you learn to get rid of it. It is called growing up. Perhaps I may also say that another of my prejudices was a similar bigotry against the hereditary peerage. Robespierre had nothing in comparison to the views I held, although I had never met a hereditary Peer. I did not realise that they were human beings like the rest of us. Again, experience does teach us that we must get rid of our prejudices.
Many in the Committee feel that the central issue here seems to be one of morality. However, if I ask myself about the alleged moral decline of our country, especially when considering the enormous divorce rate, I cannot see how, on any logical or empirical grounds, that can be blamed on homosexuals. A fortiori, the problem of the rise in single mothers could be blamed on many people but it cannot be blamed on homosexuals. Equally, the great rise in crimes of violence has no connection whatever with homosexuals. What I do believe underlines much of the decline in morality is the great advertising industry, what we see on the television and the rise of modern consumerism, particularly when it takes the form of, "I want everything and I want it now". Those problems seem to me to be more deeply connected to the decline of morality in our country.
For those who single out homosexuals, I put this question to them: why single out homosexuals? Of course, all--including the noble Baroness, Lady Young--will put their hands on their hearts and say, "We are not prejudiced". Indeed, those people are outraged at the suggestion that they might be prejudiced. But I must repeat the question: why focus on sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular to blame for our moral decline? I have not heard a single response to explain the obsession held by many people on this point.
I promised to be extremely nasty to three or four noble Lords and so I shall now do so. I shall start with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Lichfield. He referred to Section 28 as a bench-mark that he wishes to keep. The right reverend Prelate ought to know that some of us regard Section 28 as evil. I use that word quite literally. The reason why I am appalled by his intervention is that he wishes to retain a bench-mark that a great many people regard as evil.
Perhaps I may intervene. I made the point that I am not prepared to give up something when we do not know where we are going. It is not the bench-mark as such; it is because we are moving to another position that has yet to be spelt out.
I shall repeat to the right reverend Prelate that I am appalled, in particular because some of us do know where we are going. We also know where those who support Section 28 want to go. It is the path of prejudice that they wish to follow.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that when listening to his contribution I was reminded of the writings of the American author, Randall Jarrell. Some years ago he stated that homosexuals have replaced Jews in those famous, "Some of my best friends are..." remarks. Nothing appals me more than someone who starts an argument by saying that.
Perhaps the saying does not resonate with the noble Lord, but "Some of my best friends are..." connects up with some of the worst prejudice in our society. In my judgment--I promised to be nasty--the noble Lord should not have made that remark. If I were a homosexual, I would deeply resent it because of its resonances.
I think that the noble Lord should simply remember that, given the contexts in which that phrase has been used, he should perhaps use another phrase.
I should now like to finish my nasty remarks. I was taken aback by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her attack on my noble friend Lord Alli. He referred to hatred and to his experiences of hatred and he was quite right. Whether referring to black people, brown people or, in this case, homosexuals, those groups are subject to hatred. I do not know what kind of letters the noble Baroness received on this subject, but I know that those I have received have been so appalling that I could not bear to keep them in my room. They went straight through the shredder. I have rarely seen anything as extreme as the remarks made against homosexuals in the correspondence sent to me. For all I know the letters received by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, were nicely balanced and moderate. However, mine were not. They referred to "these appalling people" who are, "a threat to our society" and who, "have got to be stopped". I have received letters saying that homosexuals ought to be killed and so forth.
I should like to point out to those who say that the views of the people out there are paramount, that there are some quite nasty people out there. I am happy to give way to the noble Baroness.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I intervene only to say that I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was not in his place when I was speaking. I should like to reiterate what I said. I do not hate anybody. To assert that people like myself, who hold our own particular views, go around hating or encouraging others to hate, is quite wrong. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, might reconsider those remarks.
Perhaps I may also say that we have all received unpleasant letters. I have received many very unpleasant letters. I have chosen not to refer to them because I have tried to concentrate on the matters which I believe are most important.
I believe that it is not unreasonable to place oneself in the position of people like my noble friend Lord Alli--although he was referring to a broader range of people--and ask what they feel when they hear that kind of remark and read that kind of amendment.
I make two final points. In this as in so many debates in your Lordships' House it upsets me when we are told that we are up to our old tricks and that we are old people telling young people how they should behave. That has occurred ever since I arrived here. We should realise that out there are many young people who say, "I wish they would talk about things that they know something about and not about the world in which we are living". I try hard not to tell young people how to behave, especially as the young people whom I know are my own children. I shall not tell your Lordships how they respond to me.
I believe that overwhelmingly this is a moral issue. I disagree with some noble Lords who have asked the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. I am desperate that she divides the Committee on this matter so that I, at least, may vote against her.
I have been married for only 47 years, but I am working on it! I may feel rather like the best man at a wedding who stands up just when everyone cannot bear another speech and, quite insensitively, proceeds in detail to read out a great heap of telegrams. These are some of the 150-odd letters which I have received, all beseeching me to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Before your Lordships take fright or die of boredom, I shall not read them out. However, through them all runs the theme that all children have a right to their childhood and their innocence.
Yesterday, when I was kneeling in the snowdrops in the woods at home, picking fresh white blossoms with their sharp, sweet scent, they made me think of the innocence, purity and loveliness of children, of their fresh clear eyes and of their direct way of looking at things. I was lucky enough to have a very happy childhood; so did my children and my grandchildren. I should like all children in the world to keep that childhood happiness and innocence for as long as possible. We all have a long time indeed in which to be grown up.
I know that some Members of the Committee are becoming impatient. However, some of your Lordships will remember that we agreed earlier that those who wanted to speak, having not spoken on the first amendment, would be able to contribute "at reasonable brevity"--I added that myself!
I wish to speak briefly. I have been waiting for five hours. These are the first six pages of my speech and I turn them all over. I want to say simply that I support those who argue that Section 28 should be repealed.
To strike out that section would be a victory not only for those who suffer from it; I believe that it will also send out a powerful signal that the society which we want today in our country in the 21st century is various, multiple, welcoming of difference, determined to extend the equalities of tolerance, and all the richer for it.
I am of the view that misinformation breeds myths. Myths breed intolerance, and intolerance then breeds violence. I rather assumed--naively perhaps--that in coming to your Lordships' House I would not be exposed to misinformation and myths. I speak as someone who was leader of Haringey Council for 12 years, and whose sons attended primary schools in Haringey in the 1980s when so many dreadful, dreadful things are alleged to have happened.
I listened with interest to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in introducing her amendment. I listened also to the remarks of a trio of noble Baronesses opposite in the debate on Second Reading on 6th December. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for example, referred to the Haringey Council document, Mirrors Round the Walls--Respecting Diversity, which, she said, makes "pretty awful reading". She told us that she had read it in 1988 and that she had re-read it subsequently. I believed that perhaps we were talking about a different document. Therefore, I checked my copy of it and found that it does make pretty awful reading. It is long-winded, bureaucratic and boring, but, my goodness, I do not believe that it conveys the sense to which the noble Baroness referred. The document was produced by a working party of 27 members, including four head teachers, three deputy heads and other teaching staff. It contained at length submissions from the diocesan board of education and a range of worthies who clearly were concerned about what might or might not happen in respect of education in Haringey. But I do not believe that it was "pretty awful reading" in the terms suggested by the noble Baroness. It is stretching things somewhat to suggest that somehow it was promoting homosexuality or something inappropriate.
Then we had the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, who referred to the document which has been referred to again today: Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. She said specifically that it has on its front cover a picture of a six year-old sitting up in bed with her naked father and naked lover on the other side. But that, too, turns out to be misinformation. I am sure that the noble Baroness did not intend to mislead the House, but the cover has three separate head shots of a young girl and the head shots of two men, all of them fully clothed. Therefore, where did this image come from? It certainly was not from the front cover.
Then we had the story about the video, How to Become a Lesbian in 35 Minutes. Apparently, it was suggested that that was produced specifically to be shown in a school for handicapped children, some of whom were "very young". In fact, it was a video; it was shown to a lesbian youth group which happened to meet at the Blanche Neville school building in Tottenham. Yes, that is a school for special needs children, but it was an evening letting. There were no special needs children in the school at the time. It just so happened that that is where the meeting was located. However, the impression was given--I believe erroneously and without ill intent--that somehow that was all part of a plot to indoctrinate--if indoctrination were possible--young handicapped girls into the art of how to be a lesbian.
The title of the video was ironic. I appreciate that sometimes irony is in short supply in this House, particularly in this debate. However, that is what was intended. It was irony to demonstrate that one cannot teach someone to be lesbian or gay by a video, or even by one or two lessons in a classroom. My goodness, how wonderful the maths, English and science results would be in this country if it was that easy to inculcate things into our children.
I am sorry to stop the noble Lord in full flow. I read just one line from the document from Haringey Council to which he referred:
"All social work and community care programmes should include a compulsory block on sexuality and this should promote positive images of gays and lesbians to young people in care".
I shall, of course, look at the reference in detail to check that it is in context. However, the point is that that is about making sure that professionals know how to cope with situations in which young people are not clear about their sexuality. I was hoping that we would return to Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin because there is an interesting quotation in this document about the circumstances in which that book should and should not be used. I find it extraordinary--
I believe that I am right in saying that one will find the photograph which was referred to inside that book. The noble Lord is perfectly correct that it is not on the cover, but it is inside. I mention that simply as a matter of fact.
That may be the case. However, the point is that when people use the phrase "on the front cover", a specific impression is given. Of course, it was not a document promoted by my local authority or by any other local authority. The quotation which I was itching to read and which, thanks to the noble Baroness's intervention, I now shall read, is from the famous document Mirrors Round the Walls, which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, found such awful reading. It says:
"We have been unable to discover anyone who would positively recommend the book Jenny lives with Eric and Martin for use in a school".
So a mirage is created, a climate where attacks can be made on lesbians and gay men. If anyone doubts that the significance of Section 28 does not live on, I am aware of a case in a London borough in which the deputy manager of a children's and adolescents' residential home asked the manager what to do about the fact that one of the young women residents had informed her that she thought she was a lesbian. She asked where she should go for advice. The deputy manager told the young woman that she could not talk to her about that because she could lose her job. That is not the intended consequence of Section 28, but it is the practical consequence of Section 28. That is why it is bad legislation. We need to remove that section. We need to ensure that we have sensible guidance for the professionals who have to deal with these situations every day of their working lives.
I think that the Members of the Committee do feel that all sides of this debate have been represented.
I am perfectly willing that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, should speak now. He was behind me and I could not see him.
I am most obliged to my noble friend the Minister for what he has said, and for giving way to me. Like my noble friends Lord Peston and Lord Bragg, I, too, have been sitting here all day listening to the debate. I wanted to make a substantial speech. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, I have scrapped that speech. I want to make only two points.
First, my noble friend Lord Peston, asks what we have against homosexuals. The fact of the matter is that many of us who support the retention of Section 28 have nothing against homosexuals at all, but we do not want the promotion of homosexuality in our schools. That is the simple message. Many of us are very concerned that sexual teaching in school should be of the right sort and should achieve the objectives. Many of us who supported compulsory sex education have been appalled at some of the results which have occurred. There are more teenage single mothers; there is sexual promiscuity; we now have child mothers aged 11 and 12. Young boys of 10 and 11 being prosecuted, or at least arrested, accused of rape. Therefore many of us are concerned about the quality of sex education per se. That might include, at a later stage, sex education about homosexuality. But for the time being we have only what we have. I want to see that improve.
Secondly, many of my noble friends have been encouraged by a Whip--I think that is unfortunate as this is a matter of conscience--to vote against their conscience. I hope they will not do so tonight. The reason for that is that until there was resistance to Clause 68 in the Bill, the Government were proposing to do absolutely nothing to improve Section 28, and the question of homosexual education in schools. It is only since there has been an outcry in this Chamber, in another place, and throughout the country that the Government have moved in any way and given any promises at all. Therefore, although I hope we can arrive at an agreed position on this, I hope that at this stage, in order to encourage the Government further to bring forward relevant amendments and relevant legislation, that we shall keep Section 28 in the Bill. I hope that my noble friends, who may have been discouraged by the Three Line Whip, and who previously voted for Section 28, will continue to do so tonight.
I think that, even in a slightly more subdued form, I now have the ear of the House. I think it was right to allow this debate to go on. One can look back and see how the groupings were structured, and of course it is necessary for us to look back at precisely what was contained in each of the amendments. We began this afternoon rather well. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn was accused of being Jesuitical in getting to the head of the list. Leaving aside the fact that I think in this debate of all debates we would rather have a Jesuit than a Dominican, nevertheless, whatever means he found to get to the head of the list, it was very important that he did so. That enabled not only the right reverend Prelate to spell out the concerns of the Churches and others, but also allowed the Government to indicate that we were--I refute what my noble friend Lord Stoddart has just said--already engaged in a constructive dialogue with those who had moral and other concerns about this legislation.
As a result, I had hoped that we would have a rational debate and would treat this issue in the same mature way as other Committee stages. I regret, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has indicated that she wishes to push this matter to a vote tonight. I am afraid that the Government will have to oppose her amendment. Therefore, although I do not necessarily disagree with all that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said, I shall also have to advise the Committee to oppose that amendment.
I was hoping for a rational debate to which we perhaps could return at a later stage of the Bill, because I believe that much of the concern that has been expressed both outside and inside this House has now been removed from this debate and we can now concentrate on the real issues. Members of the Committee should be in no doubt that much of the discussion causes grave distress to groups of people who adopt different attitudes to the issue. It is the role of this House to examine the way forward calmly, collectively and with the maximum consensus that can be achieved. It is not the role of Members of this House--as has occasionally occurred in the course of this debate--to rationalise their prejudices and believe that we can transfer them into law. That is always bad law. It is particularly bad law in an area where a significant proportion of our community would feel themselves rightly and seriously discriminated against. That is the history of Section 28.
Perhaps I may record a few of the facts of life, if I can use those words. The first facts are legal facts. Section 28 is probably one of the worst drafted clauses on our statute book. Reference has been made to how badly the Section is drafted and the fact that the word "promote" is subject to a wide range of interpretations, and how that has led to some of the difficulties in discussing this issue. The other part of Section 28 refers to "pretended family relationships". Those, too, are not the words of calm parliamentary draftsmen. Those are the words used by those in the saloon bars in the Home Counties. It has nothing to do with precision in legislation. It is the kind of terminology used by two middle-aged gentlemen in florid ties who with one breath claim that they have never met a homosexual since they left boarding school and in the other claim that the BBC is absolutely crawling with them.
Those are the sentiments which were reflected in the discussion of Section 28 when it was first proposed and we should sweep such sentiments from our statute book.
It is wrong also because it has led to the impression that it applies directly to teachers in schools when, as Members from all sides of the argument have indicated, it does not.
It has been alleged also that if we remove it, despite its imperfections, then we open the floodgates. Even before we make--it is hoped--some further progress, as I indicated in my reply to the right reverend Prelate, we already have a substantial substructure of protection for our children. Guidelines exist already in relation to sex and health education. That is legally embodied in statute, in Section 403 of the 1996 Act. The guidelines exist and there is the procedure built in to the role of school governors and parent governors in particular. We are not leaving a vacuum. We hope that we can improve on that infrastructure through further discussions. I commit the Government to engaging constructively in those discussions and I am glad that the Churches and other faiths have indicated that they too wish to engage in them.
I have just indicated that there is already a statutory base for the guidelines. As has been said, many of the sensitivities and complexities of this matter can only really be reflected in guidelines. There is already a statutory basis in education law.
However, what I have said today--and I repeat it--is that if, as a result of the further deliberations, we consider that the statutory basis of that guidance needs to be strengthened, then we shall look at that matter.
I repeat what I said. If, as a result of the discussions, we consider that the statutory basis for those guidelines needs strengthening, then we shall do that. That is what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has indicated; that is what the Government are committed to; and no doubt we shall return to that at a later stage during the passage of the Bill.
Some noble Lords have attempted to deny the other fact of life that despite its lack of direct effect on the schools, there has been a terrible implication for teachers, local authorities and social workers that Section 28 prevents or inhibits them from dealing with the problems raised by pupils and young people who have concerns about their sexuality and who consider themselves to be gay.
Noble Lords have denied that. Others outside the Chamber have denied it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to a "baggage of misunderstanding". Whereas 61 per cent of parents, if they are asked, want their children to know about homosexuality and want it taught in schools, contrary to what has been alleged in part here, about half of teachers believe that they are prevented from doing so by Section 28. The noble Baroness shakes her head. She is very good at shaking her head in these circumstances and I have learnt not to be too disconcerted by it over the years. Nevertheless, all the surveys show that approximately half of teachers believe that they are in some way inhibited by the existence of Section 28. Whether they are right or wrong, that is the fact of the matter. Therefore, we need to tackle that.
We must also face the social facts of this matter--the context in which our teachers and young people exist. Reference has been made to the problems of access to information about sex of all sorts on television and in pornographic and other material and on the Internet. It is all available to very young children indeed. But it is true also that those young children and young adults live in family situations which are very different from those which seem to dominate the minds of many noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, very graphically pointed out that children and young people today have within their own families, in their neighbourhoods and among their relations people who are gay or who think they are; people who are involved in relationships with gay people; people who are, at the very least, outside the prescriptive narrow definition of normal relationships relating only to institutional marriage.
Whether we like it or not, whether we approve of it or not, the reality is that we are not in a world of Janet and John families. We are not in a world where the birds and the bees are sufficient for sex education. We must move on. I say this quite deliberately. The vast majority of us and the vast majority of the population as a whole have, at various times in their lives, lived in a sexual situation which is outside the confines of marriage. Pre-marital, adulterous and gay relationships are all outside what we might wish to regard as an ideal. All of those can be regarded as damaging to the institution of marriage and the institution of the family. Many noble Lords will do precisely that.
But as my noble friend Lord Peston said, you can hardly blame the homosexual community for the increase in the number of single mothers or the many other ills referred to by my noble friend Lord Stoddart. And yet, it is members of the homosexual community who are highlighted, stigmatised and identified separately in the legislation which we are currently considering. That is what we are trying to remove as a result of removing Section 28.
Perhaps I may interrupt the Minister for a moment. What he says is understandable but there is only one word that really matters; that is that local authorities should not "promote" that sexuality. Why does he think that that is wrong? After all, it is surely correct that local authorities and schools should give a true recognition of marriage and life and not a homosexual one.
I thought I had explained that one of the problems about the current drafting of Section 28 is that the word "promotion" is being interpreted differently by different local authorities, individual schools and teachers. We want to inform our children about the kinds of sexual relationships that they will find in the life which surrounds them; that they are already asking questions about. We want to give them information and many people believe that the word "promotion" prevents local authorities and others providing information to describe, explain and put into total context for children. Children are bombarded with all sorts of information from their peers, families and from nefarious sources of information; for example, the Internet and other material which is available to them. The teacher or social worker should be able to deal with that in a total context and not with homosexuality and sex education as a "ghettoised" subject. It should be dealt with in a caring atmosphere and in an atmosphere in which there is some interchange between the concerns of the pupils, students or young people and their social worker or teacher. The teacher or social worker should not be inhibited from doing that.
I appreciate that many people in this House and elsewhere regard many of those deviations from the marriage norm as being sins, and that is because of their religion, their moral belief. Such behaviour is not permitted within their moral code which is often sanctioned by religious blessing. I respect and understand that position. But here we are not debating the law of God or the morality issue but the law of the land. We are not discussing conscience or a moral issue. We are discussing local authorities' powers in this context.
But Section 28 simply states:
"A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality".
Why is that in any way unacceptable? We are not discussing proper consultation by teachers. We are discussing intentional promotion which is very different.
The noble Baroness has, unusually, read only part of Section 28. The other part refers to "pretended family" relationships and other matters that frankly we need to respect even if we may disapprove of them and not wish our own children to engage in them. Moreover, several times I have explained the fact that the word "promotion" is being misinterpreted up and down the land in different ways, which is inhibiting much of what I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Park, would wish to see.
I recognise that the Minister's role is to make quite a tendentious speech. I have not counted the number of times he has used the word "fact", but I suspect that we are now in double figures. Will he agree that in the world of rational and sensible discussion that the Prime Minister has requested we should judge matters to be facts when we have carefully weighed the evidence? On a number of occasions he has stated what the fact of the matter is while simply disregarding the fact that a number of people have another view that they are rationally arguing?
The fact to which I refer is the effect of the existing Section 28 in inhibiting teachers, social workers and others dealing with real personal and social problems. Those are the facts. I certainly recognise, as I thought I had been saying as clearly as I could, that there are many people who have a different view.
Almost any survey has indicated the truth of what I am saying. It is also true--the right reverend Prelate is correct--that there are a lot of people who nevertheless regard the approach we are taking to Section 28 as helping or condoning something that they regard very seriously, and regard through their religious convictions and other moral convictions as a sin. I respect that view. I recognise that it applies to a large number of noble Lords and to a large number of people outside this Chamber.
Speaking personally, I was brought up in the bosom of the Methodist Church, which in the 1950s perhaps was not all that broad-minded on sexual issues. Nevertheless, I was taught to care for people. My understanding of the Christian approach to such matters--I believe this applies to the other great religions as well--is that you may well hate the sin but you love the sinner. Therefore, I believe that noble Lords would want to provide counselling services, advice and information, and would not want to have on the statute book a term which, however ambiguous and vague, actually inhibited that provision of care and counselling to such people.
Earlier I referred to the discussions involving my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Clearly, on Report I shall indicate how far those discussions have progressed. I hope that they will have progressed as far as the noble Lord seeks. It is certainly important that at the next stage the House knows which way we shall go and what degree of consensus we have achieved. I can give that undertaking, which may not be quite as absolute as the noble Lord would like, but the Government's good intentions are clear.
It is wrong to think that those whom the noble Baroness referred to as dealing with the moral issues are all on one side in this argument. In no sense are they. We have already seen that even among religious leaders there are significant differences of opinion. We have seen that in this Committee and in pronouncements by Members of the Bishops' Bench. We have heard also from the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, who has a very strong and powerful background in these matters. We should respect that. The noble Baroness may quote the Chief Rabbi, but it is also true that the leader of progressive Judaism has today made it clear that that organisation opposes the retention of Section 28.
Let us not pretend that all the world's religions are on one side in this argument, and not only religious leaders deal with moral issues. On our side of the argument are representatives of doctors, teachers, nurses and social workers, all of whom day-to-day have to deal with moral issues, the personal problems of young people and indeed adults.
It is important that we do not allow this debate to be highjacked entirely on the issue of schools and young people. Counselling services for the adult gay community are also involved. I would advise noble Lords to read Section 28 again. It applies also to local authority services to adults.
That brings us to the area referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, because human rights issues are involved. If an activity is not against the law, it is wrong that the state should discriminate against those who engage in it either in terms of their civil rights or in terms of the services we offer them.
Like many of us, even on this side of the argument, I have probably spent a fair amount of my life being an unconscious homophobe. Homophobia is a little like racism. As various black friends of mine would say, it is not the unthinking racist one has to worry about, but the thinking racist. Nevertheless, unconscious homophobia exists in many of us and lies behind a lot of the apparent good intentions in Section 28.
It is very important that we tackle the matter as early as we can. That includes not allowing unconscious homophobia or indeed explicit homophobia to develop within our schools through bullying and other attitudes. We must remember that if we do not address this issue in schools it is a very short step from 14 and 15 year-olds who receive the sex education to which we refer and the gay-bashers who are on the streets of our capital and elsewhere.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that she liked my noble friend Lord Alli but that she dismissed his ideas. We all have to address this issue of hate against the homosexual community. Let us hope that we can address it by sweeping Section 28 aside, engaging in a more constructive dialogue with all concerned, and removing the fear in the homosexual community, but allowing teachers, social workers and others to address the real personal and social matters presented by the issue of sexuality.
I regret that in Committee we are getting into a debate that is as emotive and as difficult as this. I hope that even at this late hour the noble Baroness will not press her amendment. We shall return to this matter at a later stage with the benefit of the discussions that my right honourable friend intends to have with the Churches and others. I hope, therefore, that if she wants to press a vote tonight she will recognise that she does so in a way that will not create the best atmosphere for those discussions. Therefore, I plead with her not to press the amendment.
I am in somewhat of a quandary. If I withdraw this amendment and the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is passed, from my point of view the provision will have become impoverished. I am minded to give weight to the Government's promise to talk to the Churches and to people of other faiths. Perhaps, at this stage, I should withdraw my amendment, but reserve my position until the Report stage.
I am sorry to do this but, in the absence of any other provision, I must support the retention of Section 28. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
At this late hour I do not intend to make a further speech. We have had a full debate. I thank all those who supported me so vigorously and so forcefully. I draw the Committee's attention to the valuable speech of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Hapgood, which summed up the situation extremely well. I shall not answer the other points that have arisen. I test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
[Amendment No. 365A not moved.]
[Amendment No. 365B had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendment No. 366 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
[Amendment No. 366A not moved.]
Clause 69 [Orders and regulations]:
[Amendment No. 367 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 368:
Page 42, line 8, after ("section") insert (" 3(3),").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 369 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 370:
Page 42, line 9, after (" 10(5)") insert (", (Alternative arrangements)").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 371:
Page 50, line 28, leave out ("52") and insert (" 52(3A)(a)(i) or (ii)").
On Question, amendment agreed to.
There is too much noise as my noble friend the Deputy Chairman of Committees is putting the Questions. I should like to point out to the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip that this is not the first time that this has happened. I wish the noble Lord the Chief Whip could do something about the noise when noble Lords leave the Chamber, both after Question Time and Divisions. The situation is getting very serious.
moved Amendment No. 372:
Page 50, line 33, at end insert--
:TITLE3:("Local Government Act 1974 (c. 7)
. In section 30 of the Local Government Act 1974 (reports on investigation by Local Commissioner)--
(a) in subsection (3), the words "except where subsection (3A) below applies" are omitted,
(b) subsection (3A) is omitted.").
In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 375. These amendments deal with the alignment of the Local Government Act legislation in relation to the ombudsman. I do not believe them to be controversial and at this time of night I hope that they can be taken without extremely lengthy debate. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 373 to 374A:
Page 50, line 34, at end insert--
(".--(1) Section 5 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (designation and reports of monitoring officer) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), before "the officer so" there is inserted "subject to subsection (1A) below".
(3) After that subsection there is inserted--
"(1A) The officer designated under subsection (1) above by a relevant authority to which this subsection applies may not be that authority's head of paid service.
(1B) Subsection (1A) above applies to the following relevant authorities in England and Wales--
(a) a county council,
(b) a county borough council,
(c) a district council,
(d) a London borough council,
(e) the Greater London Authority,
(f) the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a local authority or police authority, and
(g) the Council of the Isles of Scilly."
(4) In subsection (8), in paragraph (a) of the definition of "relevant authority", for "(j)" there is substituted "(k)".
. Sections 31 and 32(1) of that Act (National Code of Local Government Conduct) are omitted.").
Page 50, line 35, leave out ("the Local Government and Housing Act 1989") and insert ("that Act").
Page 50, line 42, column 2, after ("tribunal") insert ("or interim case tribunal").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.
Schedule 5 [Repeals]:
moved Amendments Nos. 375 and 376:
Page 51, line 8, at end insert--
|("1974 c. 7.||Local GovernmentAct1974.||In section 30, in subsection (3), "except where subsection (3A) below applies" and subsection (3A).")|
Page 51, line 13, column 3, after ("Sections") insert ("31, 32(1) and").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 72 [Commencement]:
[Amendments Nos. 377 to 379 not moved.]
Clause 72 agreed to.
Remaining clause agreed to.
House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.