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 Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 7:45 pm, 24th July 2000

My Lords, like the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Hooson, I also regret that this is a political debate. However, there are two things that we cannot avoid. First, this amendment was added to the Local Government Bill by the Government; it was never intended to be included. Secondly, it constituted a Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge.

At the outset we were accused of concentrating on schools. I make no apology for concentrating on the education of our children in schools. The government Minister, and others who have supported him, have completely ignored youth clubs, play areas and children's homes, on all of which local authority spending can have an impact. If repeal goes ahead, local authorities will be free to fund the voluntary sector organisations which are determined to produce material of the kind we are discussing. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that much of the material that we are discussing is pertinent to schools. I have some of it with me. If noble Lords wish to see it, I should be only too willing to show it to them.

The guidance which was approved last week, which I predicted would be proposed in this debate as a substitute for repealing Section 28, is weak; it is very weak. The House refused to strengthen it.

It is also unenforceable, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, both in its aims and because one cannot legislate for children to learn. One can legislate for children to be taught, but not for what they learn.

I am delighted that a number of local authorities, led by Kent and Surrey, will put in place something equivalent to Section 28 if repeal goes ahead. This is not about making gay and lesbian people second class, as has been suggested; it is about making all of our children first class. The Minister said that we have a right to protect minority interests. I agree with that--but not at the expense of the majority, which includes all the children of our country.

The noble Lord, Lord Alli, was concerned about the role of teachers. I advise him that Section 28 does not prevent teachers discussing homosexuality; nor does it prevent teachers counselling, or referring children to other agencies for advice and counselling. Indeed, the statutory guidance that goes together with Section 28 positively encourages teachers to do just that.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that on this issue the Prime Minister was more substance and less spin. I am about to prove otherwise. In the leaked memo, the Prime Minister said:

"It is bizarre that any Government I lead should be seen as anti-family".

The memo is very revealing on so much, but particularly relevant to this debate are the Prime Minister's comments on the family. He said:

"We need two or three eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of their attitude to the family ... I should be personally associated with as much of this as possible".

In addition to seeking the repeal of Section 28, the Prime Minister heads a government who are actively considering allowing transsexuals to marry and to adopt children; who are considering using the Parliament Act to lower the age of consent for homosexuals to the age of 16; and who are generally relaxing the law as it relates to gays and lesbians and to people cruising on our public roads for sex.

It is not homophobic to care about the moral and spiritual education of our children; it is not homophobic to argue that the promotion of homosexuality to our children, in or out of the classroom, is not acceptable; it is not homophobic to promote marriage and to teach that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships and the most reliable framework for raising children; and it is not homophobic to prohibit local authorities using their funds--taxpayers' funds--either directly or indirectly through third parties, to allow materials or individuals to promote homosexuality as equal to marriage as a lifestyle.

Thousands of people--parents, grandparents, teachers, faith groups of all denominations--have written imploring Members of the House to oppose the repeal of Section 28. They know that local authority money is spent, either directly or through other organisations, to produce offensive materials, some of which have been circulated to school-age children, both in schools and in their play areas, in youth clubs and in children's homes. They, like I, find it objectionable.

My noble friend Lady Young has fought courageously, and I have been proud to stand with her, to support the vast majority of parents by opposing the Government on this issue. Should my noble friend Lady Young succeed with her amendment tonight it would represent a vote in favour of the majority of the people in the country, as well as a vindication of the patient and painstaking way in which my noble friend has fought to retain Section 28.

However, should the Government succeed in their Herculean and time-consuming attempts to repeal Section 28, the more militant gay and lesbian groups will dance for joy; so, too, will the Government's supporters. But tears will be shed by many parents, grandparents, Christians and other faith group members throughout this country. Our duty is to support them and it is for Parliament to protect our children.