Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 24th July 2000.

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Photo of The Bishop of Winchester The Bishop of Winchester Bishop 7:00 pm, 24th July 2000

My Lords, if you could question all of us who sit on these Benches, whether present or absent today, you would find us in agreement on at least four important points in relation to the matters before us in these amendments, even though we may not all be found in the same Lobby when the matter comes to a vote.

First, as last Tuesday evening showed, we are gladly and firmly convinced of the priority of marriage within sex and relationships education in schools. I regret that I could not be present to participate last Tuesday in expressing that conviction. Had I been here and had the opportunity to speak, I should have asked when the Government intend to reissue the guidance produced earlier this month, updated in accordance with their support for the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. As they consider how best to do so, I hope that they will find helpful some of the suggestions that I and others made for strengthening the draft guidance in respect of an appropriate emphasis on marriage when we spoke in your Lordships' House on 23rd March of this year.

We are equally united in the conviction that victimisation, ill-treatment, stigmatisation and verbal or physical violence of any sort are as wrong against individuals of any age who are or who are thought to be homosexual as they are against anyone else. I am confident that we are all also sensitive to the responsibility that lies upon anyone who speaks publicly about these matters, to guard, as far as possible, against their words encouraging or being thought to justify such behaviour and such victimisation or bullying.

And we should be found united too in supporting the provision, everywhere in this country, of appropriate counselling, personal health education and medical care for those who are, or wonder whether they may be, homosexual.

Where, perhaps, we may be found to come to differing judgments on this section, which has regrettably gained such symbolic importance, is in our determining priorities between those shared convictions and in their application; in our view as to which course will promote the greater good, the more consistent welfare and the health of this society now and for many years to come; and in the ways in which we balance what may, in those matters, be the competing needs, even the competing rights, of society on the one hand and of a small minority of individuals on the other; in our preparedness or not to face charges of discrimination, arguing that that particular discrimination is justified if we do not treat identically and equally what used to be called "estates", and, therefore, individuals who participate in them.

My own judgment of those matters still leads me to argue against, and to vote against, the Government's amendments. It seems important at this point, in the light of something which I believe I heard the noble Earl, Lord Russell, say just now, to say that there are principles and commitments on more than one side of this discussion.

It is important to note too what a peculiarity it is of our society and of others like it in today's world, let alone down the centuries, that it should be thought that age must, in every respect, give way to youth in matters especially of ethics and moral behaviour.

Of course I recognise that the wording of Section 2A leaves something to be desired. I recognise too that in the relevant clauses of the Learning and Skills Bill, the Government, significantly assisted by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, have attempted to replicate as many of the requirements of Section 28 on those now responsible for schools as the Government consider desirable. But I believe that our schools are not all that we should be concerned about in this debate, a point well made just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Yet it was to schools alone, and almost entirely alone, that the Minister referred as he opened this debate.

It seems to me that it needs saying that the reality is that local authorities--and rightly--continue to have responsibility for PSHE training and advisory service and for libraries. In the provision of both, they will be the first line of decision making as to what constitutes the appropriate teaching and materials required by the DfEE's sex and relationship education guidance. Very significantly in that context, local authorities have extremely important responsibilities for a range of services for children, young people and young adults outside schools.

They also provide, in collaboration with health authorities and trusts, health education or promotion services for young people and young adults. I regret that I have not found the time to develop with others an amendment analogous to that in the Learning and Skills Bill proposed by the Government and accepted both in the other place and in this which would have the effect of bringing those authorities and trusts within the scope of Section 2A. And local authorities have the power to distribute public money to a great range of causes, events and voluntary organisations.

In all those, I believe that there are today delicate, difficult distinctions to be drawn between the properly publicly-funded provision of education, support and care and health promotion and protection for homosexual people on the one hand and, on the other--and I quote the Chief Rabbi, who referred to,

"the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as morally equivalent to marriage".

For those whose responsibility it is to draw those distinctions in decisions about the use of public funds, I continue to believe that Section 28 continues to provide what my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield described in a debate here earlier this year as "a stabilising benchmark".

So, if we are concerned for the welfare and stability, the health in those senses of this society--health which is substantially critically dependent on our continuing to honour and sustain the estate of marriage in public policy--then I judge that we shall be most unwise to agree to the removal of that section. And so I shall join those who vote for its reinsertion in the Bill.