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

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Photo of Lord Alli Lord Alli Labour 7:00 pm, 24th July 2000

My Lords, last week this House came to a consensus that was both principled and inclusive. In my view, it paved the way for the repeal of Section 28 by removing many of the hurdles, some legitimate, that had been in its path. I am sure that I speak for many noble Lords when I praise the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn who worked so hard to find a way for this House to come to a settlement. He cannot be in his place today but I thank him anyway.

Tonight we have a chance to build on that consensus, a chance to repeal Section 28, safe in the knowledge that there is now clear guidance on sex education and clarity about the responsibilities of head teachers, governors and parents in agreeing what is taught in our schools. We can be secure in the knowledge that marriage and family life are at the heart of sex education in schools. For, like the majority in this House, I believe that marriage and family life are a cornerstone of our society, but in saying that I do not intend to denigrate other people's relationships or my own. Society is about living with other people based on our common bonds and not negatively exploiting our differences.

I want to focus on our common bonds. I do not want to be painted by the opponents of the repeal as a champion of the gay rights movement. I do not want to be blamed for material that I find as offensive as do many other noble Lords and that should never find its way into the hands of our children. Instead I want to play my part in securing a consensus in this House. In my belief, that consensus is best served by building on last week's vote with the repeal of Section 28.

I have re-read the debates on this subject and I have found myself asking the question: what purpose does this piece of legislation actually serve now? Since the section was introduced 12 years ago, it has never been used against a single local authority. Noble Lords must question why a piece of legislation that sits on the statute book has never been used, particularly given the alleged mountain of material that others would have one believe is making its way into our schools.

So, it must have a symbolic power for those who believe that homosexuality is wrong, just as it does for those of us who believe that the rights and dignity of the individual should be protected. Tonight I want to examine and to refute the main arguments that underpin the case against repealing Section 28, which seem to break down into three broad categories: first, that without Section 28 our schools will be flooded with gay propaganda produced by local authorities; secondly, that without Section 28 one must be in favour of promoting homosexuality to children; and, thirdly, that homosexuals are sinners with whom we should have nothing to do.

First, let me deal with unsuitable sex education material. A number of speakers have highlighted publications produced by health authorities and trusts. At Second Reading and again today, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, expressed concerns about material from Avon, Camden & Islington, Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. Much of that material was never intended for schools but, in any event, parents, head teachers and teachers have responsibility for what is in our schools and not the local authorities. Last week we agreed that the choice and responsibility for sex education policy, quite rightly, lie with schools themselves, with their head teachers, governors and parents. That is how it should be.