MOTION MOVED ON CONSIDERATION OF COMMONS AMENDMENT No. 377

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 24th July 2000.

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Photo of Lord Brightman Lord Brightman Crossbench 7:45 pm, 24th July 2000

My Lords, I believe that the time has come for me to say a word about my Amendment No. 378B. I am not speaking to any other amendment. My amendment is relevant only if the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is not successful so that Section 28 is repealed. The Commons amendment states that the Section 28 prohibition against promoting homosexuality shall cease to have effect. My Amendment No. 387B would add two subsections to the Commons amendment. The object of the amendment is to fill the vacuum which would arise as a result of repealing Section 28 and putting no words in its place. If a section of an Act of Parliament states that a local authority shall not promote homosexuality and that section is later repealed, the obvious inference is that a local authority is thereafter permitted to promote homosexuality.

I am not concerned with whether that is the strict legal effect of Section 28: I simply do not know. But I am absolutely certain that it is the inference which will be drawn by the public as a result of the repeal. Therefore, the question which arises is what words can be added to the words of repeal--if your Lordships decide that that should take place--which will prevent that inference being drawn and will not detract from the repeal and will accord with government policy so far as we know it.

Amendment No. 378B provides a possible answer. The amendment has two subsections with three components. The first component refers,

"to the general principle that the institution of marriage is to be supported".

Those words are taken directly from Section 1 of the Family Law Act 1996. That Act provides that regard is to be had to certain general principles, the first of which is,

"that the institution of marriage is to be supported".

That Act was introduced by a Conservative Administration, but the principle was equally accepted by the Labour Opposition. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench said,

"It is common ground in your Lordships' House that we are anxious to support the family as an institution and to support marriage as an essential factor in that".--[Official Report, 22/2/96; col. 1153.]

The first component of my amendment, that the institution of marriage is to be supported, is therefore unassailable. The Government cannot object to that wording without back-tracking on what they said from the Front Bench when they were in Opposition.

The second component of my amendment is that a local authority,

"shall not encourage ... the adoption of any particular sexual life style".

I am no expert on local government, but when I pay my council tax I expect my money to be used for maintaining and lighting streets, keeping them clean and doing 101 other things which make for good local administration. I do not expect local councillors to set themselves up as a court of morals; that is for the Churches and the education authorities. It therefore seems to me right expressly to preclude local authorities from encouraging the adoption of any particular sexual lifestyle; it is simply not their job.

Precluding local authorities from encouraging the adoption of any particular sexual lifestyle will help to allay the fears of those opposed to the repeal of Section 28, if your Lordships decide that Section 28 must go. The amendment avoids giving offence to the homosexual community. It does not single them out for mention. It does not seek to disparage them. It is totally neutral. The important thing is that it fills the vacuum which would otherwise be left by the bare repeal of Section 28.

I turn to the third component of Amendment No. 378B which provides that,

"This section does not prohibit the provision for young persons of sex education or counselling services".

Your Lordships may recall that at Second Reading the reason given by the Minister for repealing Section 28 was that local authorities,

"are in effect prevented by Section 2A of the 1986 Act-- that is to say, Section 28--

" ... from providing young people with information to deal with issues relating to their sexuality".--[Official Report, 6/12/99; col. 1026.]

That was the reason given by the Minister. The third component of Amendment No. 378B is included for the purpose of making it absolutely clear that the objection raised against Section 28 by the Government cannot be raised against my amendment.

I hope that I may pull the threads together by reading the repealing clause as it will exist if Amendment No. 378B is accepted by your Lordships:

"(1) Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material) ceases to have effect.

(2) Subject to the general principle that the institution of marriage is to be supported, a local authority shall not encourage, or publish material intended to encourage, the adoption of any particular sexual life style.

(3) This section does not prohibit the provision for young persons of sex education or counselling services on sexual behaviour and associated health risks".

I do not speak against the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I am merely trying to provide a fallback position--a safeguard--if your Lordships come to the conclusion that Section 28 has to be repealed.