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, there are nuance positions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, is attempting a nuance position. Some other people in the course of the debate have had more nuance positions. But those who introduced Section 28 in the first place, those who are the most vociferous in its support and the need for its retention do not have a nuance position; they have a deeply prejudiced position and one which we need to remove from the statute book.

The right reverend Prelate referred to Section 28 as being a stabilising bench mark. That is an entirely erroneous position. It is not a stabilising benchmark. It is, unfortunately, the spark of a deep dispute within our society. It is one which has been seriously misinterpreted, I would agree, by the zealots on all sides of the matter and it is one which has deeply misled the teaching profession, the media, politicians and parents. It is not one on which we can base a sensible approach either to sex education or to dealing with sexual matters in the rest of our society.

Given that we have a deeply destabilising benchmark here, one which has caused great conflict and one which is incapable of rational interpretation, is it not also rational, therefore, for the House of Lords to remove it? Why has the House of Lords hitherto--I hope that noble Lords will change their minds tonight--resisted its removal? It is very strange of this House, because normally it is a well recognised role of this House to defend the position of minorities. It may very well be that the majority of people out there, fed by slightly misleading information in our media and elsewhere, support the retention of Section 28--certainly those aged over 40--but it still remains the responsibility of this House--it is one of the great constitutional checks and balances of our system--to respect and protect the interests of minorities against a populist majority. In this case, for reasons known only to those who oppose the repeal, they have done exactly the opposite.

At the end of the day, it is a human rights issue. It is an issue for individuals. It is an issue of equal treatment of citizens. Section 28 cannot be said to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The House of Lords should recognise that that is an important statement for the Government and others to have made. I do not believe, therefore, that the House of Lords can, with any light conscience, continue to vote against its repeal. By doing so, it is sending a divisive signal to our society, and one which will encourage discrimination, whatever interpretation noble Lords might benignly try to put on the words of Section 28.

As was said earlier, I fear that there are not a lot of minds to be changed on this issue. However, I hope that when noble Lords go through the Lobbies they will also think of the reputation of this House.