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 Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 7:45 pm, 24th July 2000

My Lords, I hope that future generations will look back on your Lordships' decision today as a moment when we achieved a proper balance. I include as an item in that balance the new guidance to which reference has been made--I refer to the amendment which noble Lords passed last week--which is a safeguard, as the Minister has said.

Speaking previously on behalf of my noble friends from these Benches, I have made our position clear. It was a manifesto commitment on our part to secure the repeal of Section 28. As I have made our position clear, I shall not attempt to cover the whole ground but merely to pick out a few points. The support on these Benches for the repeal of Section 28 is not support for the proselytization of homosexuality, nor is it a green light for corruption.

The term "promote" has led us into all kinds of difficulties. I believe that it is inapposite. It is simply not possible to promote homosexuality. I believe that my noble friend Lord Russell said that one might as well seek to promote left-handedness or some other inherent characteristic. Nor do I believe--I hope that this goes some way to answer the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman--that it is within the powers of local government to promote homosexuality, even were that to be possible. Local authorities are creatures of statute. Their powers are matters of statute. I do not believe that this is a power which they have.

Not only do I believe that the section is nonsense; I believe that it is dangerous nonsense. None of us supports bullying. I absolutely accept the points which have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others about their concern to protect the vulnerable. However, we have different evidence. We on these Benches, in particular my noble friend Lord Tope, have much evidence of homosexual bullying and the inability or refusal of teachers to intervene. Teachers are confused as to what they can or cannot do. Some of them may use the existence of the section as a reason or excuse not to intervene or assist. Much distress, misery and, indeed, tragedy have been caused.

I am aware of the real anxieties about some of the material that has been cited, some of which, as has been said, has been issued under the aegis of health authorities--which is irrelevant to the debate. However, for the good of young people, we must permit first-class information to be issued. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, rightly pointed to the fact that no prosecution has occurred under the section despite the length of time during which the material has existed.

I regard Section 28 as bad legislation. If it is not repealed today, what effect will that have? Reference has already been made to the certificate attached to the Bill. Will the Bill, when enacted, be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights? Will it contravene our own Human Rights Act which comes into force in October? Will the Minister confirm that the courts could therefore give a declaration of incompatibility and the Government would then be able to use a fast-track procedure to abolish the provision? It should be abolished. We regard it as offensive. It reinforces stigma. It does nothing to assist inclusiveness of society. It reinforces discrimination and we shall be delighted to see the back of it.