MOTION MOVED ON CONSIDERATION OF COMMONS AMENDMENT No. 377

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 24th July 2000.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions 8:00 pm, 24th July 2000

My Lords, I had better not comment on that. However, the noble Lord is undoubtedly right about some teachers I know. Nevertheless, the courts do have a role here as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that when the Learning and Skills Bill becomes law that will have no effect in relation to youth workers and the youth service. That is not correct. The DfEE guidance specifically covers youth workers. It says specifically that it is inappropriate for youth workers to promote sexual orientation, that they will be expected to respect its guidance when dealing with school-aged children and that their individual views should not affect the independent advice given. Moreover, the youth service itself is inspected by Ofsted in order to ensure that it operates properly in accordance with those guidelines.

The noble Baroness also suggested that if sexuality could not be taught in sex education lessons it could be taught elsewhere. Again that is not true. The provision in the Learning and Skills Bill will apply to sex education wherever a school delivers it. If it occurs in an English lesson, a literary lesson, a history or a citizenship lesson then the guidelines continue to apply. It is not true that teachers would be free to promote homosexuality in English literature. They are, however, allowed to refer to the fact that homosexuality exists.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that she did not like gay and lesbian issues being referred to in history lessons. But what are we supposed to do? Airbrush the whole of the gay and lesbian community over the ages out of history, and not refer to the lifestyles of some of our greatest painters, artists, generals and indeed politicians? Of course gay and lesbian matters can be referred to. But when it comes to explicit sex education, whether it takes place in a citizenship lesson or whether it takes place in a sex education lesson, the guidelines apply. It is also not the case that social workers are excluded from any of that legislation. They too will be subject to the legislation to be brought forward with regard to the general care standards authority.

Therefore, there has been much said today which is actually not true. The Government have not only brought forward the guidelines, indicated their general approach and taken account of what has been said in your Lordships' House by right reverend Prelates and others with regard to the importance of marriage, and what has been said elsewhere, but they have also extended the effects of their decisions to these other areas where young people may be affected by local authority activity.

The question therefore is why are we persisting with retaining Section 28? The Government have indicated how all the fears which were run, and in many ways exaggerated during earlier consideration of the Bill and in the more irresponsible parts of the media, have been met under the auspices of the Learning and Skills Bill. Yet we persist in thinking that we need Section 28 in order to protect someone.

Part of the problem was referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, when he said that if we delete the clause, that is carte blanche for local authorities to promote sexuality. That is why he has presented his own alternative amendment should the noble Baroness's amendment fall. I have some sympathy with what that amendment tries to achieve, but I have some concerns regarding its wording. First, the meaning of the term "sexual lifestyle" is in any case far from clear. Secondly, while the amendment does not prohibit the provision of sex education or counselling by local authorities for young people, how does that apply to adults who are doubtful about their sexuality or are themselves homosexual or bisexual. Thirdly, in relation to schools, it is unnecessary in view of the developments under the Learning and Skills Bills.

While I recognise the need which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, identifies to replace what he sees as a vacuum were Section 28 to be removed, I do not believe that that is necessary. Indeed, he asks what would happen if the repeal were simply adopted as the Government wish. That would not give local authorities any powers to promote homosexuality in schools or anywhere else. Local authorities can only undertake those activities for which they have specific powers. Therefore, the strict legal effect is not to give local authorities any additional powers over and above that which Section 28 gives them to promote homosexuality.

Behind all that is what we mean by "promote". If we mean proselytise, if we mean hassle and pressurise people into homosexuality, then clearly we are all against it, as we would be in terms of pressurising young people in particular, and indeed adults, into any form of sexual relationship. But it is clear from what the opponents of repeal have said that they do not regard promotion as simply those objectionable facets. They regard promotion of homosexuality almost as any reference to homosexuality and certainly to any explicit sexual information provided either in terms of education or in terms of counselling and social services to the homosexual community or those who may feel that they might be homosexual. It is for that reason that the word promotion cannot be taken at its face value. It has not been defined ever by the proponents of Section 28; it has not been defined in earlier debates on the Bill; and it has not been defined today. As long as people regard any mention of homosexuality, any explanation of what homosexual relations mean as being the promotion of homosexuality, then the words of Section 28 are impossible to interpret with any degree of objectivity.