Section 28 is arguably the most perplexing and sensitive issue to come before this Parliament. I am sure that I am not alone in having been deeply disturbed by the nature and flavour of recent comments.
We have to be clear about what we are discussing. To me, this debate is not, and never should have been, about homophobia. It is not, and never should have been, an unseemly and at times offensive exchange of views.
For a society that aspires to reflect social inclusion, tolerance is, or should be, the foundation stone. I have no doubt that, when people are mature enough to make their own decisions on lifestyle, they must be free to make those decisions. The decisions are for them and them alone.
The issue in this debate is much simpler—the stable, reassuring and supportive environment that we want in our schools for our young people. During adolescence, young people go through arguably the most turbulent and difficult time of their life and are perhaps at their most impressionable and vulnerable. That is what any debate on section 28 ought to be about.
When the Executive first intimated that it proposed to repeal section 28—I recall that that was done not in this chamber, but at some event attended by the Minister for Communities at the University of Glasgow—the reasons advanced were that the presence of section 28 prevented or inhibited teachers from dealing with the bullying of young people who were thought to be homosexual, and it inhibited or restricted adequate discussion about homosexuality in schools.
Those arguments troubled me, because I find it unacceptable that bullying in schools should arise from any cause and that it should not be dealt with. It also troubled me that there could be any meaningful sexual education class in schools without reference to homosexuality; the discussion of such matters, as appropriate for the age and
That took me to the text of section 28. Reading that text as a lawyer rather than a politician, I found nothing in it that would prevent schools from dealing with bullying or would inhibit the discussion of homosexuality in our schools. I say that because the nub of this issue is the word "promote". A confusion has arisen about the meaning of teaching, as distinct from promoting.
In the "Oxford English Dictionary", "promoting" is defined as "advancing", "preferring" or "encouraging". That places a very different construction on the argument. As far as sexual education in our schools is concerned, section 28 is doing no more than preserving a balance. The reality is that, without any promotion at all, heterosexuality is the norm; and when I say the norm, I mean that it is the condition or situation in which the majority of people exist. That is a central tenet of society.
I understand that the First Minister has said that he does not wish to promote homosexuality, as has the Minister for Children and Education. If that is so, the question that I and a great many people in Scotland are asking is: why has this issue arisen?
Choice of lifestyle should not rest with schools, which are there to inform. Nothing in section 28 prohibits the imparting of such information. In my opinion, such information should also refer to the structure and value of marriage, the family and stable relationships, to use the Executive's own words in a newspaper this morning.
In considering section 28, I have been struck forcibly by two factors. Before the Minister for Communities made her announcement at the University of Glasgow last October, no one had raised the matter with me. Nobody had expressed the fears that the minister seemed to harbour or the difficulties that she seemed to have. That view is supported by Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector for schools in England and Wales, who recently said that the issue had simply not been raised with him by the teaching profession.
I presume that that is why the repeal of section 28 was not thought worth including in any party manifesto for the Scottish Parliament elections, and did not merit mention in the Executive's programme for government, the partnership agreement or any ministerial statement on the ethical standards bill. I cannot say that that silence has endured since the minister made her announcement.
I cannot believe that I am the only MSP to be overwhelmed by a mountain of mail from members of the public who are deeply alarmed at the threatened removal of what they see as a
I have to ask myself how the matter has arisen at all. There was certainly no public appetite in Scotland for raising it. I can only conclude that this is the naive afterthought of an Executive that is zealously obsessed with the politically correct.
Forgive me, Mr Macintosh, but there are intervals in your recollection. The Labour party has not shown consistent adherence to repeal of section 28. In particular—and Labour members can check this out for themselves—the Labour manifesto for the Scottish Parliament gave no commitment to seek to change that law. The public are acutely aware of that fact. At best, that may have been a convenient omission; at worst, it was deception.
No, I have dealt with that point.
I can conclude only that the proposal to repeal section 28 is the naive afterthought of an Executive that is zealously obsessed with the politically correct, rather than the result of mature and measured consideration of an issue that is profoundly sensitive and potentially hurtful to many people. Would that such consideration had weighed more heavily with the Executive, as something regrettable and profoundly undesirable has arisen out of its precipitate and ill-advised initiative.
In the past few weeks, I have seen a polarisation of views, caused by the Executive's decision to repeal section 28. That is unhealthy and unwelcome in our society in Scotland. An ugly and undisguised homophobia has been laid bare, to which the Executive's action has given a fair wind; its action has created a climate for the fertile spawning of such offensive attitudes. Had it not been for a clumsy and precipitate Government decision, those attitudes would never have seen the light of day.
Ordinary people—such as the mothers, fathers, surgeons, doctors, teachers, nurses, social workers and youth workers who are represented in my correspondence files—have been stirred into fear. They also feel resentment that the fundamental protection that they thought was in place to ensure their children's safety is to be
I, too, have had a big mailbag on this subject. I respond to my constituents and explain fully what the Executive's proposals actually are—as opposed to what they are reported to be—and most constituents seem content with that response. Has Miss Goldie done likewise?
Yes. Everyone who has communicated with me has received my response and I have had very few returns to that response. That suggests that I am not alone in my understanding of the position, which is that parents are deeply concerned about the removal of a protection that will be replaced by guidelines that do not have the force of law. That does not escape parents' attention, Mr Kerr, nor should it.
Parents feel that the fundamental protection that the Executive is removing, without democratic notice, should at least be replaced by something equally enforceable and protective. Guidelines with no force of law do not amount to that.
Miss Goldie's proposition seems to be that section 28 is required to give fundamental protection to some of our pupils. Does she feel that other areas—which are not currently legislated for but for which perfectly proper regulation exists—should be legislated on to provide that fundamental protection for pupils in our schools? Does she want other areas to be covered by the statutory protection that she thinks so important on this one issue?
Mr Stephen should be more interested not in my opinion, but in the opinion of people outside Parliament. Our legal system includes numerous laws that protect children; there are too many such laws to enumerate now, but they exist.
Section 28 undoubtedly provides protection, because it is concerned with promotion. I have given my understanding of promotion, which apparently is shared by many people in Scotland. Parents must have a fundamental say in what happens in our schools and must know that the protection of the law is behind them. They are saying that protection is required in this area. Mr Stephen has the democratic right to disagree with that view.
If Mr Rumbles does not mind, I am watching the clock.
The threat of removing that safeguard and of replacing it with guidelines that enjoy no force of law is a curious way in which to aspire to social
I am sorry.
Social inclusion is not about fostering division, as this proposal has done, but about respecting the views of the majority and seeking to reconcile those with the views of a minority. In my judgment, the Scottish Executive has failed that test.
I oppose the repeal of section 28, because I must listen to the fears and concerns of the people who put us in this Parliament, not to the zealous naivety of the Executive. I move the motion because it pledges continued statutory protection within a framework that promises a far better chance of promoting agreement, tolerance and integration; that is a form of promotion with which I have no problem whatever.
That the Parliament affirms its belief in an open, democratic and tolerant society where all members are treated equally under the law; calls upon the Scottish Executive not to include the proposed repeal of section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 in the draft Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Bill, to establish an official committee of inquiry to consider all aspects of the section and in particular the provision of sex education in Scottish schools and to give this committee the remit of ensuring that relationships form the basis for discussion and teaching of sex education and establishing what statutory protection for children, parents and school boards is required, accompanied by clear guidelines on what topics and materials are appropriate for pupils of varying age, experience and maturity, and agrees to defer further consideration of this matter until said committee has reported to the Parliament.
Amendment S1M-509.1 moved,
Leave out from "calls upon" to end and insert "notes the Executive's move to consult fully on all necessary safeguards before any repeal of section 2A and in particular the Executive's commitment to publish a draft circular to education authorities on introduction of the Bill, to set up a Working Group to review and consult on that circular, the existing curriculum material and support for teachers in relation to sex education and thereafter to use powers in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to issue any necessary guidance, and to consult on any other reassurance that may be required, including the status that then might be given to the guidelines."— [Bruce Crawford.]
I start by welcoming the tone of much of Annabel Goldie's contribution. This debate can do credit to the Parliament. I also welcome the fact that the Conservative motion does not call for the retention of section 2A, but simply for us to defer its repeal. The fact that the Conservatives are not calling for section 2A to remain on our statute books indefinitely tells its own story.
The case for repeal is not just about schools, but about society and about Scotland taking its place in the company of modern nations. Above all, this Parliament is the custodian of the law of Scotland.
It is important to make clear the position of the Conservatives. We framed the motion as we did to indicate as precisely as we could the framework of protection that we believe must continue for youngsters in our schools. When we talk about deferring the repeal of section 28, we are not saying that we are prepared to dispense with section 28, but that we seek reassurance from the Executive that an equally safe measure, which is enforceable in law, will be substituted.
Let me move on. There seems to be some confusion about whether the Conservative's position is a cover for continuing homophobia. Later, I will deal at length with the point about education raised by Miss Goldie.
I will take Mr Gallie's intervention in a moment.
By our actions in this Parliament, we have demonstrated that we want the law of Scotland to be characterised by a spirit of tolerance. The Liberal Democrat party has long been committed to civil rights, the SNP today champions civic rather than ethnic nationalism and the Labour party is ideologically rooted, not in clause 2A, but in our new clause 4, which commits us to building a society in which people can
"live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."
It was in that spirit of tolerance that Jackie Baillie, at her inaugural appearance before the Equal Opportunities Committee in September, affirmed our intention to repeal a piece of legislation that undeniably singles out a minority in our community for stigma, isolation and fear.
In October, having forewarned the Churches, I announced the Cabinet's decision. England and Wales followed suit. Mr McAveety launched the formal consultation and, the day after we announced the repeal, the Conservative spokesman said in the Daily Record that section 28 would have to be amended.
Will the minister explain why the repeal of section 28 did not appear in the Labour or Liberal Democrat election manifestos? Can she further explain why the repeal does not appear in the Government's partnership agreement and why it did not appear in the First Minster's statement to the Parliament on the Executive's programme?
Repeal of section 28 has been a long-standing policy of the Labour party and, as I understand it, of two of the other parties in the chamber. Since the day when the legislation was enacted, we have been in favour of its repeal. I hope that members can deal today with the principle of the matter, rather than talk about who said what, and when.
From the day on which we announced the repeal, we have acknowledged parental concerns, offered reassurance and promised a review of the existing guidelines. That is all on the record. Of course, some did not agree with repeal of section 28, but their disagreement was reasoned and credible—not so very long ago, extremism had not raised its head.
Then in January, on the last day of an eight-week consultation, when the end of the hype about the millennium had left the news pages bereft, came a carefully co-ordinated campaign of misinformation. That campaign was intent on fostering fear, rather than debate. The clearest example of that fear was the claim that gay sex lessons would be taught in Scottish schools.
In place of that fear, let us place on record the facts: before 1998 there were no gay sex lessons in Scottish schools; today there are no gay sex lessons in Scottish schools; and in future there will be no gay sex lessons in Scottish schools. Effective safeguards existed before 1988, they exist today and they will exist in the future.
I do not dismiss the damage that is caused by the fiction about proselytising teachers, titillating texts and terrible threats. That fiction has squeezed out the facts, and parents, the public and pupils have become perplexed.
The section has never been used for the protection of children in a court of law. It is not that law, but existing procedures that daily protect our children—now and in future, parental preferences and good teacher sense will shape practice in Scottish classrooms. Fear has undermined parental confidence. Our challenge is to restore that confidence.
There is much in the Conservative motion on which we can agree: parents are concerned; parents have fears; sex education is difficult. All that is common ground and that is why our review of education guidelines will be conducted with maximum participation. Rather than inviting interested parties to submit to the review, we have asked them to share in the process of the review.
Sam Galbraith today announced the membership of the working group. That membership is broad and representative. The group will review the new circular, the curricular material and the support for teachers in relation to sex education. Under the Education (Scotland) Act
That is all in keeping with the tradition of Scottish education. It is, simply, the way we do things up here. We part company with Conservatives over their plea that, in response to fear and misinformation, the chamber should turn the Scottish education system upside down.
I will give way in a moment.
I do not doubt the sincerity of many Conservatives or that of those in the SNP who, perhaps, hesitate on the issue. If we go down the route of singling out this issue for different treatment from all other issues relating to school curriculums, we will be betraying a tradition of Scottish education that is held dear by many members throughout the chamber. We have no national curriculum—we need no national curriculum to protect our children.
Does Ms Alexander accept that there was not a campaign of misinformation? Every constituent who has written to me has had a copy of section 28 and the guidelines that were issued in 1988 sent to them. They were left to make up their own minds. The minister accuses everybody who opposes the repeal of section 28 of being homophobic. Is she accusing virtually all parents and grandparents of being homophobic?
Let me try to provide some reassurance for those who are worried by the fear that misinformation has caused. The guidelines and the circular will, as they do at present, recognise the place of the family and reflect the values of the family, marriage and stable relationships as the basis for bringing up children and for offering them security, stability and happiness. However, the way in which to honour marriage and the family is not by denying the reality of different relationships that are now established in our society. The circular will also reaffirm the special position of denominational schools, particularly those where Church teaching bears most clearly on the curriculum.
As one spinster talking to another, I should say that the minister and I are perhaps ill suited to be talking about marriage, but I accept the spirit of what she is saying and the way in which she says it.
Looking at the amendments on the business list, does the minister agree that—notwithstanding what she says about consultation, and notwithstanding her express desire to ensure that the education that we agree is needed will still rest on the basis of guidelines—the public are seeking reassurance about how to provide statutory protection if something goes wrong? Where is that
Let me deal directly with the issue of protection. We do not believe that separate laws are required to govern the teaching of every sensitive topic in order to protect our children. The Scottish curriculum works.
Scottish parents can take action to stop inappropriate instruction of whatever kind, be it politics in the classroom, the promotion of promiscuity of any kind or the use of inappropriate heterosexual or homosexual material. Parents exercise their role by going to the teacher, head teacher, education authority or, ultimately, the Scottish ministers.
We are seeking consensus on the practicalities of safeguards. However, on the principle of repeal we will not delay, because justice delayed is justice denied. When all is said and done, section 2A remains a piece of legalised intolerance. The passage of time will neither heal it nor help it. It needs to go. Repeal will not leave a vacuum, but will take away a symbol of intolerance and a source of confusion. If people say that they do not discriminate, we should not let Scotland's law discriminate.
Repeal has been the stance of three of the parties represented in this chamber since the day the proposal was introduced. Let me recall the words of our last-but-one male Conservative Prime Minister. He said:
"We may be a small island but we are not a small people".
For those who are genuinely worried about our plans, we have sympathy. Of those who are deliberately distorting and demonising this debate, we despair. For all those who want to work out the best Scottish solution, we have an open ear.
I move amendment S1M-509.2, to leave out from "affirms its" to end and insert:
"supports a tolerant, just and inclusive society; notes the concern that section 2A constrains local authorities from serving all sections of the community, and has inhibited teachers who are concerned about the legal status of any action they may take against homophobic bullying; recognises the existing high professional standards of teaching and management in Scottish schools; notes the Executive's intention to consult on all necessary safeguards and whether further reassurance is required before any repeal of section 2A and in particular the Executive's commitment to publish a draft circular to education authorities on introduction of the Bill, to set up a Working Group to review the package of safeguards including the existing curriculum material and support for teachers in relation to sex education and thereafter to use powers in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 to issue any necessary guidance; and looks forward to a full debate on the Ethical Standards in Public Life Bill when it will have an opportunity to consider the package of safeguards on sex education and the views of the Working Group which the Executive has set up."
I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue. The Minister for Communities said that three parties were committed to repealing section 2A as policy. I can confirm the Scottish National party's commitment to that policy. However, I must correct the minister and tell her that five parties are committed to the repeal. Due respect should be accorded to that.
The debate serves as an important marker. It allows this Parliament to underline its commitment to create a fairer and more equal Scotland. However, it arises not from the Conservatives' new-found enthusiasm for a fairer and more equal Scotland, but from the fact that they have chosen to use this sensitive issue to their own narrow political advantage. [Interruption.] I must say that the members of the public in the galleries behave better than the members of the Conservative party.
Let us examine the position that the Conservatives have taken on this issue. It has been extremely unclear. When the ministerial statement was made, David McLetchie talked about his concern about the repeal of section 2A, but made no mention of the proposals contained in the motion that is before us today and of the need for a Cubie-style committee.
On 16 January, Brian Monteith stated in the press that he planned to lodge an amendment to allow teachers to deal with homophobic bullying but to stop the promotion of homosexuality within the school. If that failed, he said, the Tories would vote against repeal. That seemed a credible position for the Conservatives to hold at that stage. However, later that week, he appeared on the "Holyrood" programme to tell us that he wanted to establish a Cubie-type committee to investigate the matter. Before the Conservatives could gather round that commitment, Keith Harding was telling the press that, if appropriate guidelines were put in place, the Conservatives might support the repeal of section 2A.
Will Mr Matheson show me a copy of the article to which he is referring? I presume that he is talking about the article in the Daily Record , which does not state that at all. I said that the
I would be more than happy to pass the clipping on to Mr Harding.
Mr Harding is a member of the Local Government Committee, which has considered the ethical standards bill on at least four occasions. Not until the fourth occasion did he indicate that he had some concern about section 28. That seemed a little late in the day.
If Mr Matheson speaks to his colleagues on the Local Government Committee, he will discover that, at every stage of the debate, I have recorded the fact that I am against the repeal of section 2A. The only time that the minutes record members' opinions is when a vote is taken.
Mr Harding's comments in the Official Report tell another story.
The motion that we are considering today is fairly ambiguous. It does not mention whether the Tories want to keep or repeal section 2A. It says that educational material should to be appropriate to age, experience and maturity. I would point out that two 16-year-olds can have different levels of experience and maturity. The Conservatives have shed no further light on the matter today.
There has been considerable public anxiety around this issue. That has occurred because of the way in which the Executive has handled the issue and because of the misinformation that some organisations have promoted. The Executive could have handled the matter in a better way. The Minister for Communities gave evidence to the Local Government Committee on 27 October and outlined her plans for the ethical standards bill. However, she made no reference to the repeal of section 2A. The next day, we read in the press that she planned to repeal section 2A. That is not an appropriate way for an announcement to be made on a sensitive issue.
The SNP welcomes the Executive's new position, which is that it will consult on guidelines and have them in place before the repeal of section 2A.
I hope that this will be a helpful intervention. As Michael Matheson is a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, he will recall that, in September—well before the date on which the Minister for Communities addressed the Local Government Committee—I gave a clear indication of the Executive's intention, which he welcomed at the meeting.
I accept what Jackie Baillie says. However, there is a difference between what the Minister for Communities has done and what Jackie Baillie said to the Equal Opportunities Committee. Although she said that the Executive wanted to address the issue, the way in which the Executive's actions were announced by the Minister for Communities was unacceptable.
The SNP welcomes the fact that the Executive has moved to a new position on consultation, which is broadly in line with the position that we called for. Had ministers moved earlier towards consultation, it is possible that we would have been able to move away from some of the concerns that now surround the issue.
Like the Executive, the SNP fully supports the need to repeal section 2A. Our amendment demonstrates the considerable common ground that exists between us. It illustrates our determination to make Scotland a fairer and more equal society. Having pressed for full and proper consultation on the guidelines, we believe that it is essential that that consultation is as open and inclusive as possible. That is why we believe that there should be a consultation exercise to examine the status of the guidelines. We believe that this matter should not be prejudged. We should keep an open mind on whether it is desirable, necessary or practical to give guidelines a formal status.
I stress the point that this matter should not be prejudged at this stage. We recognise that guidelines should reflect the need to trust our teachers in dealing with this sensitive issue in the classroom.
I hope that members will support the SNP amendment and reflect on our commitment to the repeal of section 2A and to a wide-ranging consultation exercise. Section 2A promotes discrimination and singles out a minority in our society as unacceptable. If any other policy that proposed such discrimination was brought before the Parliament today, it would not be tolerated.
No thank you, I am winding up.
To argue that the repeal of section 2A would allow the promotion of homosexuality in our classrooms is, at the least, misleading. We must recognise that people do not choose their sexual orientation. To say that homosexuality can be promoted is equivalent to arguing that blue or brown eyes can be promoted, or that people can be encouraged to be tall or short.
Our children have a right to learn about the society in which they live and which they will inherit. They have a right to be protected from mental, physical and emotional harm. No amount of prejudice or hysteria should allow those rights to be removed. Some of our people—some of our children—will be gay. Whether as parents or concerned citizens, it is our duty to care for, nourish and support all our nation's children without exception. If we do not teach the acceptance of difference, we foster intolerance.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Equality of opportunity is one of the key principles of the Scottish Parliament. The definition of equal opportunities in the Scotland Act 1998 explicitly includes equality for people regardless of sexual orientation. Section 2A singles out homosexual people and labels as unacceptable them and their relationships.
I want to read a short extract from a letter written in January of last year by a mother.
"About a year ago, I found my son crying down the telephone to a gay helpline in London. It was the middle of the night, and he thought my husband and I were asleep, so we would not find out. He was only fourteen at the time. He knew he was gay and was desperate. He didn't know where to turn for help and was in a terrible state.
Please get rid of Section 28. It is damaging so many young people."
Many members will have seen another mother's open letter in The Scotsman.
"DEAR Scotland: I write because I can't be silent any longer about the continuing public abuse of many of our children. One of those children is mine. He is a loving, kind, friendly, intelligent and talented person. But for weeks now he has been confronted daily by headlines screaming how unacceptable he is as a member of his society . . .
Yet my son is a danger to no-one. He is not a murderer, rapist, thief, vandal, drug-dealer or drunk driver. Nor does he have any other failing which might render him anti-social. Quite simply, my son is gay."
I have received a lot of letters about families and I wish to read part of another one.
"I am bisexual. I have recently moved to Edinburgh to live with my partner and my two-year-old son. My son now lives with two parents who love and care for him. Previously, we lived with his father, who left us with no money for food or clothing, who wandered round our house with a long sharp knife, and who eventually left us totally homeless and in debt, yet that's a valid family and we are not."
Another correspondent is a 40-year-old lawyer, who votes Conservative, pays tax at a hefty rate and has two young sons.
I am in the middle of a quotation.
He is also homosexual, separated from his wife and living with a male partner. His sons have taken that in their stride—indeed, one commented that he was lucky to have two dads when he stayed with his father. As this man says:
"We are not—in the words of the Section—a 'pretend family' when we are all together, and it is offensive to me and my children to suggest that we are. Far from promoting homosexuality I have spent my life making it as normal as being straight and I am affronted that the law should discriminate against my children and undermine my efforts to have and live a normal life with my children and partner."
We hear the phrase homosexual lifestyle bandied about, often with the implication that lesbians or homosexuals lead promiscuous and unstable lives. That is far from the truth—lesbian and homosexual people have the same aspirations for love, commitment and stability as everyone else. They are as good or bad, as dull or interesting, as brave or cowardly as everyone else in the population.
The values that will help young heterosexuals to develop and grow up as responsible adults are just as relevant to young homosexuals. The difference is that life for homosexuals or lesbians, particularly when they are young, is more difficult, because they face considerable prejudice, often in isolation and without support.
In November 1998, the Daily Mail ran two stories, which the paper chose not to link. The first was that the Westminster Government had again postponed a repeal of section 28, while the second was a report on the inquest into the death of a 15-year-old boy driven to take his own life as a result of homophobic bullying at school. The boy had been physically attacked and verbally abused because his schoolmates had decided that he was a "poof". He felt unable to seek help from the school and was even disciplined for being disruptive when he tried to stand up to his
Section 28 has been portrayed as the bulwark preventing our schools from being flooded with homosexual propaganda. That is arrant nonsense. Schools are run by education authorities, teachers and parents, not gay activists. Like all members, I have been sent material targeted at adult gay men, which warns them of health risks that they may face. It seems to me to be very effective in the context for which it is intended, but I would find it quite inappropriate for classroom use. It is extraordinary to suggest that the people who are responsible for running our schools do not have the basic common sense and decency to decide what material is suitable for use in our schools.
Much of the material to which our attention has been drawn is on the internet, which remains an unregulated and uncensored medium. Young people can access any amount of pornographic images and material, homosexual and heterosexual. There is a valid debate about how to regulate access to that stuff, but it is not a justification for retaining section 28.
I accept and sympathise with many of the points that the member has made. However, is it not a fact that much of the material on the internet has been paid for from public funds?
I hardly think that that is relevant to whether the material will appear in our schools, which is the point that I was making. There is a lot of material that would be totally inappropriate for use in schools. It is my contention that that material is very unlikely to find its way into our schools.
I do not want in any way to diminish Nora Radcliffe's contribution to this debate. Some of the letters from which she has read extracts are familiar to us all. However, the member expresses a concern about the nature of some of the material that we have all received. A policeman outside this Parliament told me that if I handed it to passers-by in the High Street, I would be charged. Given that Nora Radcliffe has said that she would not wish that material to make its way into classrooms, what underpinning safeguard does she offer parents to ensure that if it ever made its way in or stood a chance of making its way in, it would be stopped by law?
I want to carry on with my speech, as I think that the next part of it addresses that question.
Teachers are trained professionals, whose effectiveness is undermined by discriminatory legislation. We should support and trust teachers, not impose restrictions such as section 2A that force them to marginalise their most vulnerable pupils. The minister referred to the safeguards that
Section 2A has never been used in courts and is, literally, meaningless. Homosexuality is a state of being. It is impossible to teach that homosexuality is a relationship, acceptable or otherwise, just as it is impossible to teach that being tall or short is a relationship. More dangerous is the very clear signal that the section gives out: that we cannot tolerate tolerance of homosexuals.
I want to finish by quoting a professional psychologist and the editor of the "British Journal of Social Psychology", who writes:
"nearly half a century of social psychological research, stemming from revulsion against the Nazi holocaust (which, it should be remembered was targeted at homosexuals as well as gypsies and Jews), has revealed that discrimination is all too easily triggered once a group is identified as inherently different and as constituting a problem for the majority. That is precisely what has been created by Section 28 and is exemplified in the recent debate. The very notion that one needs to 'protect' young people from homosexuality implies that it is a danger to youth. Equally, the idea that a 'homosexual lobby' seeks to prey on impressionable youth conveys the idea that homosexuals are a sinister menace. Such ideas are the root of intolerance, the wellspring of hostility and they are the start of a tragic descent into homophobic violence.
Section 28 cannot affect the 'promotion of homosexuality' but does serve to promote homophobia. It protects our children against nothing but exposes them to the danger of intolerance . . . We appeal to everyone who believes in teaching our children to embrace tolerance and compassion over prejudice and hatred, whatever their views on homosexuality, to support the repeal."
I endorse those views.
I welcome this debate, and I welcome the change in stance of the SNP. Michael Matheson, who is obviously an avid reader of the Official Report of meetings of the Local Government Committee , will know that his colleague Kenneth Gibson gave the SNP's total support to the repeal of section 2A without guidelines.
It has become clear from the debate over section 2A that the Executive could not care less about what anyone else thinks, and that it is determined to plough on regardless of public opinion or even of the opinion of some in the Labour party. That is arrogance on a grand scale. Wendy Alexander thought that she could slip the repeal of section 2A into the ethical standards in public life bill without anyone noticing—that she
Wendy Alexander conveniently forgets that neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats have any mandate from the Scottish people on this issue, as neither party included it in their manifesto for the Scottish elections. Indeed, the repeal of section 2A was such a low priority for Labour and the Liberal Democrats that it was not included in either their partnership agreement or their programme for government. However, Wendy decided that it should be a priority for the Executive, and what Wendy wants, she seems invariably to get.
I do not know about the mail that Wendy has received, but since the repeal was announced, I have had more mail on this issue than on all others put together.
No, I will not. As the Conservatives are restricted to four-minute speeches, we cannot be expected to take interventions if we are to make a contribution.
The letters I have received are overwhelmingly hostile to the Executive's proposal to ditch section 2A, and express anger that the Executive has tried to play the Scottish people for fools. Opinion polls have shown that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland want to keep section 2A. According to the ICN opinion poll for Scotland on Sunday, two out of three Scots think that the section should be kept, and certainly do not regard its repeal as a priority.
No, I will not.
It is no use the Executive portraying opponents of repeal as raving bigots, as that simply will not wash with the Scottish people. Is the Executive seriously saying that most Scots are bigoted?
Most people just want to ensure that their children are taught about homosexuality, and sex in general, in a way that is in tune with their wishes. In our current education system, that means that legal protection on sex education for our children is needed to reassure parents. That
Not only has the Executive failed to win over public opinion on this matter, it cannot even convince some of its own people. Down south, a Labour MP, Stuart Bell, has been vociferous in his opposition to the repeal of section 28. He has shown great courage in standing up for what he believes in. I hope that members of this Parliament will follow his example and that of the 15 Labour peers who defied the No 10 thought police to vote against the Government's line in the House of Lords.
Most notably of all, Labour councillors who are responsible for running our schools and have to implement the decisions of the Scottish Executive, have expressed their opposition to repeal. The leader of the Labour group on East Dunbartonshire Council, Councillor Charles Kennedy, said:
"In no way should the legislation be repealed until we have had the chance to have a proper and detailed consultation with every mother and father of school-aged children in the district".
As far as we are concerned, that should apply throughout Scotland. Labour-dominated Falkirk Council is also opposed to repeal. It held a public meeting to which hundreds of people came in appalling weather to express opposition to the Executive's proposals. The belief that they are always right will allow Wendy and her pals to ignore that opposition in the same way as they have ignored all the other opposition to repeal.
Wendy knows best, and anyone who says otherwise is either mad or extreme. That attitude is typical of the Executive since the Parliament was established. Labour may have created the Scottish Parliament but its representatives are not living up to the principles it is supposed to embody. Where is the consensus and responsiveness to public opinion that we were promised as part of new politics? I doubt parents think the Parliament is doing its job.
I will finish by saying—[MEMBERS: "Sit down."] We can make a start today by supporting my colleague's motion. We have sent a signal to the whole country that we are prepared to listen to public opinion and to act on it. I will certainly listen to my constituents. If we do not see proper, legally binding safeguards for parents, I will vote against the repeal of section 28.
Are you encouraging interventions, George?
Today's debate is clearly very significant, not only for the Parliament but throughout the country. It is a welcome opportunity to provide clarity, realism and reassurance. Forces of hysteria have stoked up a distasteful campaign, but we must listen to the voices of genuine concern. I share Annabel Goldie's sense of the significance of the debate, but I hope I will not be drawn into making personal comments such as have been made this morning, particularly by Mr Harding, whose comments were quite inappropriate.
I have been concerned for many years about a number of relevant issues: access to pornography and the effects of it, particularly among children; early sexual activity; bullying and wider issues of sexual violence; and the abuse of children. I could never be characterised as being soft on such issues. I strongly support the Executive's position.
Since its introduction, section 28 has been unworkable, unhelpful and short sighted. It is particularly misleading. Young people on the precipice of sexuality face myriad issues. Singling out one issue distorts the picture—young people need a range of supports. "Promoting" was always the wrong word. To promote or not to promote homosexuality is not the debate—that fundamentally misses the point. Repeal will not mean gay sex lessons; rather, we will have better guidelines to ensure sensitive and professional handling of all sexual issues.
All children and young people should be protected—
Margaret comments on future guidelines, but the existing guidelines, which went out with section 28, mandate teachers to stop bullying and to counsel. The only thing they are stopped from doing is promoting homosexuality. What is the problem?
Mr Gallie, research published in 1997 reported that 82 per cent of teachers feel that section 28 needs to be clarified and that 44 per cent have difficulty meeting the needs of gay young people because of their concern about the section. The guidelines are clearly not appropriate.
Section 28 legitimises the targeting of one section of the population. We cannot have the message in schools that the targeting of gay
I make a plea to the parents and others who have voiced concerns—which I understand. Please listen to the children's and teachers' organisations, Save the Children, Barnardo's and the Educational Institute for Scotland, which support repeal. None of those organisations treat children's emerging sexuality lightly. Rather, they are at the forefront of campaigns and services to protect and support children and young people. We cannot turn away when they tell us of the most horrifying catalogue of cruelty, abuse and violence that some young people have to face. It is our task to ensure that sensitive issues are discussed in an appropriate, informed, educational context.
I firmly believe that loving parents are the primary agents for the process of learning. However, we all know that our children are influenced by other things—by friends, by school and by the media. Young people know about gay issues not because of an uncontrolled gay campaign, but because they watch programmes such as "Emmerdale". We cannot leave the matter to be dealt with only by soap operas. We would fail our children profoundly if we were so naive as to fail to realise that these issues are discussed in the playground.
Does Margaret Curran agree that one of the benefits of the representation of homosexuality in soap operas is that it is at least shown in the context of loving relationships?
I do not particularly want to get into a debate about "EastEnders" and I am not saying that homosexual story lines should be banished from soap operas, but as a concerned parent I do not want my children's discussion of homosexuality to focus only on soap operas; I want them to discuss it in school as well. I say to Mr Monteith that we have to live in the world as it is and not as we hope it might be.
I hesitate to talk about my own children, because in politics we must be careful about that—I desperately want to protect my children from the horrible side of politics—but I have one son on the verge of adolescence and another a few years behind him. I do not treat these issues lightly, and I do not shirk the responsibility to provide a moral framework for their lives, but I would do them and others a disservice if I suppressed a proper discussion in schools. The guidelines are a much better alternative for my children.
In all honesty and sincerity, I would not support the Executive if I thought for a moment that it would damage the interests of my children. I profoundly believe that my children and Scotland's children will grow up much better in a tolerant and informed society.
For the avoidance of doubt—and particularly Mr Harding's doubt—I shall make the SNP position quite clear. In September 1990, I proposed a motion at the SNP conference in Dundee. That motion was in favour of repealing section 28 or 2A, and it was overwhelmingly adopted by the SNP membership at that conference. That was the position in 1990; that is the position now.
Perhaps Mr Monteith will allow me to begin my speech before I take any interventions. I have never seen the Tories so animated.
I hold that position, fully conscious of the fact that there are people in Scotland today who are genuinely afraid of the present situation. We have heard from many of those people in our constituency mailbags. I have answered every one of those letters positively and sympathetically, but saying what my position is: I shall vote for repeal. I have given my reasons, and they are the reasons that have been well outlined in the chamber today.
Our job is not to fear the fears, nor is it to scaremonger and fan up those fears with documents such as have been published by the Keep the Clause campaign. It is quite legitimate to argue to keep the clause; that is a considered position. It is not legitimate to head that document "Protect your children: Keep the Clause!". That is scaremongering. Our job as parliamentarians is to discuss, consult and reassure so that those fears should be assuaged. I suggest to the Conservatives that that is what political leadership is about. Their motion today is not about political leadership.
The fears centre around the reference in the legislation to "promoting homosexuality". Those words are unique in legislation; they occur only in section 2A and nowhere else. In no other legislation is there any mention of promoting any type of sexuality. That gives the clue to what section 28 or 2A actually is; it is not about sex education or about protection, it is about prejudice and discrimination. That is why it is there and why it has to be removed. It was put there to discriminate, but equality is indivisible. As I have said in this chamber before, one cannot believe in one form of equality and reject another. In these circumstances, we must remove that inequality.
What distresses me is that section 2A was not only put there to discriminate; it was also put there as a ticking time bomb of discrimination. It was designed to continue fear and prejudice. We must have the courage to defuse that time bomb. That is what political leadership is about, but we cannot do that in a vacuum. We have to accept that there are reservations, and we have to bring forward ideas and arguments about what will happen after repeal.
I commend to the chamber six principles for discussion that I received in the mail the other day, and which are important. The first is:
"Indoctrination, whether it be political, religious or sexual, has no place in . . . schools."
That is a fair principle. Secondly:
"Homophobia and its expression in abusive, violent and bullying behaviour in our schools must be challenged and eradicated."
"All young people should be given accurate information on sexual relationships, regardless of their sexuality."
"All young people, regardless of their sexuality, should learn about the importance of commitment, trust and respect in sexual relationships and the dangers of risk taking behaviour."
"Young people should be made aware of the teaching of religious faiths on homosexuality."
"Teachers should respect differing family backgrounds among their pupils. All young people should learn the importance of the family, recognising that families come in many different shapes and sizes, and the importance of marriage within heterosexual family relationships."
That does not seem to be wild, radical material. Indeed, the organisation that sent it to me made the point that all of those points must be taken together in balance. Those principles are from Stonewall's charter on education in schools. I commend it to the Conservative party as a responsible approach—an approach from people who are being demonised in this debate, but who are putting forward constructive ideas on how we might take this issue forward.
I will conclude by saying that it is an obligation upon everybody who was elected to this chamber to be involved in making laws that are fair to all members of our society. One cannot lift and lay that; it is an obligation upon us. Laws have to be based on the founding principles of this Parliament—as dictated by the consultative steering group—one of which is equality. That is what we are here for, and if we fall short of that out of fear of those who are not being helped by us, we do not do this Parliament, Scotland or
I would like to take a couple of moments to take part in this debate from a personal perspective. From a west of Scotland housing estate I entered the male-dominated, and sometimes brutal, world of a Clydeside shipyard. Coming from that community, and having been shaped by that environment, it will come as no surprise that I have no close gay friends—at least none that I know of. I have no connection with the gay community, but I recognise discrimination when I see it.
While I have no close gay friends, I would not wish them to be excluded, stigmatised or bullied. I take heart from the constituency letters and representations that I have received and the fact that 90 per cent of them accept and support that view. On the one hand they do not want homosexuals to be victimised; on the other they have expressed genuine concerns that we must respond to.
There is great apprehension that the repeal of section 2A would lead to the promotion of homosexuality, or classrooms being filled with sexually explicit material. People are afraid that their views are being ignored and that their children are being put at risk for the sake of political correctness. Do they believe that the parents and grandparents in this chamber will vote for something that would promote homosexuality or fill classrooms with pornography? Of course we would not. Like most of the grandparents who have contacted me, I would vigorously oppose any measure that placed our children at risk.
I welcome this debate, because it reminds us all that we have a long way to go before the final vote on the ethical standards in public life bill. I welcome the Executive's commitment to consult on the safeguards and to establish a working group—which will include parents, teachers and Churches—that will review the package of safeguards, including current teaching materials and support for teachers in relation to sex education.
"The answer is to get a package of safeguards that reflect the values of family, marriage and stable relationships and which offer . . . children security . . . and, hopefully, happiness."—[Official Report, 3 February 2000; Vol 4, c 776.]
Today's debate has, unfortunately, been brought about for reasons of political opportunism. Whether we support or oppose the repeal of section 2A, it was clear that members would get their opportunity to give their view and cast their vote during the passage of the ethical standards in public life bill. There was no reason—other than political opportunism—for the Tories to introduce this motion today.
Although all parties occasionally indulge in political opportunism, there are times when they should not.
As the whole country is talking about section 28 and substantial publicity campaigns are being run on the issue, does Shona Robison not accept that it is reasonable for Scotland's Parliament to discuss, in this chamber, the issue that Scotland's people are discussing outwith it?
In some ways this is a false debate, because we will have the real debate in a few weeks' time. All of us are engaged in dialogue with the public about what has become an important issue. On some occasions one just does not exploit political opportunism—this is one of those occasions.
This issue has been terribly distorted, but it must be said that it was naive in the extreme for the Executive to think it could announce the intention to repeal section 28 without adverse reaction. The Minister for Communities should realise that although the people around her and her advisers may think like her, many members of the Scottish public do not and were likely to be concerned by the way in which the repeal was announced.
The lesson is that clear and early information—and proper consultation—must become the norm in this Parliament when changes such as this are announced. Would not it have been much better to take the entire Scottish public with us on this issue?
Is Shona Robison arguing that the Executive did not give early indications of the issues relating to the repeal of section 2A? When Shona Robison considers the tone of the discussion on this issue, particularly the publicity campaign organised by Keep the Clause, does she not think that this is about more than the way in which the Minister for Communities introduced
Something has gone wrong somewhere, given that we are in this position.
I am trying to say that when the Executive makes announcements such as the one on section 2A, information must be put in the public domain that counteracts some of the negative and discriminatory arguments before they can be made. Unfortunately, that did not happen on this issue. We must all learn from that experience, so that we handle matters differently in the future.
We have reached consensus that full and proper consultation on the guidelines for teachers must now take place—
I must move on.
Let us not fall into the trap of trying to prescribe the nature of those guidelines, or we might find ourselves open to further criticism. Rather, let us hear from people out there the kind of guidelines that will allay their fears.
Repealing section 28 is the right thing to do—not the politically correct thing to do. For me, the main reason for its repeal is that it is a symbol of discrimination. How do I know that? Because that was the intention when it was introduced by the Tories in 1988.
I would like to think that Scotland is ready to move on and to reject one of the last bastions of the Thatcherite legacy—I hope that we can do that in a rational manner. The Scottish National party amendment will go some way towards achieving that; I urge members to support it.
I believe that it is the collective duty of the members here today to seek at all times to protect the children of Scotland. However, we do not have to retain section 2A to do that.
I welcome the motion, when it says:
"the Parliament affirms its belief in an open, democratic and tolerant society where all members are treated equally under the law".
However, I am not sure how that can be put into practice, when a piece of legislation could legitimise discrimination against a section of our society.
The other issues raised in the motion, regarding topics and materials and their appropriate use for
As convener of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, I would like to contribute to today's debate by explaining how I believe that the genuine concerns of parents can be answered. It is the role of the committees in the Parliament to ensure that ministers act appropriately. I can assure the Parliament that the Education, Culture and Sport Committee will ensure that the minister delivers the package of safeguards set out in his letter.
Let us consider those safeguards. The minister says that clear guidelines, including consulting parents and listening to their concerns, will be given to education authorities. There would also be a requirement to consult parents when planning sex education. I am sure that I am not the only parent here who has attended their child's school to discuss the provision of education.
Nor can I be the only one who is impressed with the sensitive way in which teachers deal with the issues. We put a lot of trust in our teachers. Why should we doubt their integrity on this issue? It may help some parents, however, to have it said that if a teacher did act inappropriately, disciplinary action could be taken. It is worth repeating that the use of pornographic materials of any sort not only would be the subject of disciplinary procedure, but would constitute a criminal offence.
Another question that is frequently asked is how we, as parents and policy makers, can be sure of what is happening in the classroom when we are not there. Teachers will continue to work within the context of curriculum guidelines and advice, and within the context of local authority and school policies. The normal quality assurance arrangements regarding lesson delivery in schools would apply.
Removing the prohibition to promote homosexuality is not the same as encouraging its promotion. I question why anyone would believe that teachers would do that when, if we are being really honest, even with the existence of section 2A, that would not be stopped. If we trust teachers now, removing section 2A will not make them any less trustworthy.
I welcome the provision in the minister's letter to ensure that parents have a route to raise any concerns that they may have. It is important that such concerns could be raised with the teacher, with the school or with the education authority. The monitoring by the education authority, by the school and by parents of what is being taught will be as important as ever. We all have a responsibility to be vigilant to safeguard our
Finally, the establishment of a working party to review curriculum advice and supporting materials is also to be welcomed. However, any move towards a statutory arrangement would be inappropriate in Scotland. Here, the curriculum is not set out in statute, but in national guidelines that are developed through very wide consultation. There appears to be no argument to change that. As has been said, section 2A has never been enforced. It is seen as an unworkable piece of legislation. However, the fact that it exists could lead to discrimination and therefore, if we are serious about being a tolerant society, the section should be repealed.
I want to end as I began, by saying that our top priority in the Parliament should be to protect the most vulnerable in our society. Scotland's children must be at the top of the list. I assure the Parliament that the Education, Culture and Sport Committee will continue to monitor the actions of the Executive, to ensure that our children are protected.
Over the past few weeks, I have been astonished and dismayed, as I am sure have many members, by the sections of the tabloid press that have delighted in stirring up people's fears and worries about the Executive's proposed repeal of section 2A. However, I have been heartened by the more thoughtful comments from newspapers such as the Sunday Herald , which told us that this is a defining moment for Scotland, as we stand on the brink of two very different countries—one a modern, tolerant and understanding country, the other defined by intolerance and a quickness to condemn.
As a parent of two boys aged 12 and nine, I understand the worries of parents about this matter. However, section 2A is clearly a law that discriminates against a minority of our fellow citizens. The evidence is clear: it has had a damaging effect on the ability of some of the teaching profession to treat issues of homosexuality in the sensitive way in which they need to be treated.
The Executive has made it clear many times that the guidelines for teachers will be updated before the section is repealed.
No, I will not.
The debate is not about the issue of promoting homosexuality in schools. It is clearly about whether all our citizens are to be treated equally under the criminal law.
Shona Robison welcomed the tone of Annabel Goldie's speech, but I am not sure whether she listened to the words of that speech. The Conservative motion is the height of Orwellian doublespeak. Annabel Goldie is the real wolf in very gentle and fluffy sheep's clothing.
The motion begins by saying
"That the Parliament affirms its belief in an open, democratic and tolerant society where all members are treated equally under the law".
Unbelievably, it goes on to call upon the Scottish Executive to withdraw the proposed repeal of section 2A. I could vehemently disagree with, yet respect the Conservatives if they were open in their criticisms of section 2A. However, to pretend that section 2A is anything other than a clear attack on one section of our society is abominable. They hide behind words such as "openness", "democratic" and "tolerant", yet in the same breath call for the retention of this outrageous law.
The repeal of section 2A is not about the promotion of homosexuality. It was never promoted in Scottish schools before the introduction of the legislation and it is not currently promoted in Northern Irish schools, where section 2A does not apply. The section is not needed to prevent the promotion of homosexuality in our schools now. Those of us who believe in a modern, liberal and tolerant society must be prepared to work at every turn to counteract the misinformation and propaganda which is being churned out.
"Cardinal Winning of Glasgow, has spoken out in an unappetising way with which I certainly, as a Catholic, do not agree. I regret very much that the moderate voice of Cardinal Hume is no longer to be heard to guide us" —[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 Feb 2000; Vol 609, c 403.]
Lord St John's words certainly echo strongly with me.
This is the second issue of institutionalised discrimination that we have addressed in the Scottish Parliament. I am glad that Lord James is here. On the debate on the Act of Settlement 1701, I had great pleasure in congratulating Lord James on his speech as the very best I had heard
"The important issue is whether there should be legislation that blatantly discriminates against a Christian religion. The subject is particularly relevant as we live in a multifaith community."—[Official Report, 16 December 1999; Vol 3, c 1632.]
Lord James also quoted from a letter from Cardinal Winning:
"Nevertheless its continued presence on the statute books is an offensive reminder to the whole Catholic community of a mentality which has no place in modern Britain."—[Official Report, 16 December 1999; Vol 3, c 1633.]
How right both these statements are. All I would ask those who made them to do, especially Lord James, is to recognise that these two issues—the institutional discrimination contained in the Act of Settlement and the institutional discrimination contained in section 2A—are not unrelated.
In closing, I will return to my main point. This issue really has nothing—nothing—whatsoever to do with the promotion of homosexuality in our schools. This is an issue of equality before the criminal law for all our citizens. I spoke out in this Parliament against the institutionalised anti-Catholic discrimination contained in the Act of Settlement and I am speaking out again now against the institutionalised discrimination contained in section 2A.
Because it is a reserved matter, the Scottish Parliament cannot do anything about the Act of Settlement; but, for goodness sake, we must not fail in our duty to get rid of section 2A. This is a defining moment for Scotland. We stand on the brink of there being two very different countries, and I know which country I want to live in.
On a point of order. I appreciate what you have just said, Presiding Officer, but I ask that, in future, on a subject that has generated as much publicity as this one has, the smaller parties be allowed at least to make a statement of their position. Had that happened today, it would have shown that we are a tolerant Parliament.
On a point of order. We have had a very serious debate, but a very short one. We have heard just seven
For all that this debate was initiated this morning for purely opportunistic reasons by the Tories, whose position on this issue has—as demonstrated by Michael Matheson—shifted almost weekly, the debate has given Parliament a welcome opportunity to examine the issue calmly and rationally, in most instances, and to dispel some of the myths. Most important of all, it has given us an opportunity to address the very genuine fears and concerns of many people in Scotland.
The SNP supports, unequivocally, the repeal of section 28. That is, and will remain, our position. However, section 28 is not what people are being asked to vote on today. We support the repeal simply because it is right.
Let us be absolutely clear about one very important fact. Section 28 was not enacted as a reaction to any practice in Scottish schools. I challenge the Tories, when they wind up, to come up with even one example of homosexuality being promoted in any Scottish school, either before or after the enactment of section 28. I predict that they will not do that, because they cannot do that.
I believe that Mr Monteith is winding up, so he will have ample opportunity to answer the point then.
Section 28 is plainly and simply about discrimination. It is about singling out one section of the population and labelling it as unacceptable. That has been done in a way that, frankly, had it concerned any other minority in Scottish society, would have been unimaginable. Section 28 legitimises intolerance and prejudice, and it restricts the ability of responsible teachers to deal
However, the fears being expressed by many people in Scotland about what will happen after the repeal of section 28 are genuinely held, even if they are being exploited by organisations that are intent on peddling misinformation. The Parliament's job is to reassure the Scottish people and to convince them that its priority is to safeguard our children. The repeal of section 28 will not lead to the promotion of homosexuality in schools: of that, I have no doubt.
However, thus far, that assurance alone has not been enough; it is important to go further. The SNP welcomes the Executive's move to introduce a package of safeguards following wide-ranging consultation. I thank the Minister for Children and Education for his usual courtesy in providing an advance copy of the remit and membership of the working party.
The SNP believes that consultation should be as open and inclusive as possible, which is why our amendment suggests that the consultation should seek views on the content and status of guidelines. That debate is happening outside this chamber and will continue with or without this Parliament's agreement. I hope that the Executive has the confidence in its own position to embrace the debate.
Of course, we do not have a national curriculum in Scotland and the SNP certainly does not desire to go down such a road. Our education system works; however, that does not preclude consultation on whether local authorities should be obliged to have regard to guidelines on sex education to ensure that they provide protection for our children and support for our teachers, whose judgment is beyond doubt, as is the Scottish people's trust in them. The First Minister's spokesman was quoted this morning as saying that such consultation would be feasible. Although the SNP does not want to prejudge the issue, it is important that we listen to the views of the Scottish people to ensure effective guidelines that promote tolerance and understanding and have the Scottish people's confidence.
By making the consultation process over the next few months as open as possible, we can take
I support Michael Matheson's amendment.
I have now had time to reflect on the points of order raised by Tommy Sheridan and John McAllion. Mr McAllion's point clearly has substantial support among back benchers. The best that I can do is to give an assurance that I will raise the matter next Tuesday at the Parliamentary Bureau and ask the managers to consider the matter.
Mr Sam Galbraith will now wind up for the Executive.
Having listened to the debate this morning, I can say that I am proud to be a member of the Scottish Parliament. It has been conducted in a decent, considered, well-measured manner, and I hope that our behaviour is reflected by people outside who might wish to conduct the debate in a similar manner.
It is unusual for me, when winding up, to single out any individual member rather than to deal with the points that they raised. However, I want to commend Nora Radcliffe's speech, which was given with some feeling and moved many members in the chamber.
In contrast, I was disappointed by Keith Harding's speech, which was rather ill judged and mean spirited. I hope that that was a reflection merely of his inexperience in debating such subjects and that he will change his habits in future. In particular, Mr Harding should not seek to personalise the argument in the way that he did. The decision to repeal section 2A was taken by the whole of the Scottish Executive, in the full and certain knowledge that similar action was to be taken south of the border.
Please sit down.
There is not much that I can add to the debate, because most points that I would have wanted to make have been made already this morning, better than I could have made them.
Nicola is too kind, but I always like what she has to say, so I will go along with her on that.
As I said, I do not have much to add, but I will deal with Annabel Goldie's speech. I note that the Conservatives do not actually ask for retention of section 2A. I think that that is because, in their heart of hearts, they do not want retention—they just cannot bring themselves to say so. I say to them: "Be of good courage. Please, let us know your true feelings." Although I enjoyed Annabel's speech, I thought that her logic failed her. She seemed to be arguing that, by raising the subject, the Executive somehow or other produced homophobia and drew a large number of people out of the woodwork, but to say that is just to respond to bigotry. Is she saying, in other words, that we should not dare raise the issue because all the bigots will come out of the woodwork? For goodness sake, that view reinforces bigotry rather than rejecting it. Please do not use that argument again.
Mr Sheridan makes points that I know are shared and that all of us would wish to make.
I am grateful to Michael Matheson for his contribution. He asked why we did not move earlier on the guidelines. The reason was that we were very sensitive to the Parliament and its rights, and to the correct procedures. We felt that we should not be seen to move on an issue on which Parliament had not yet decided to change the law. Once it became clear to us that Parliament wished us to move in anticipation of that decision, we did so as soon as we possibly could.
I am sorry that we were not able to agree with the SNP on an amendment. Let me make it clear that that was not because there are any great differences between us; our views on this matter are more than similar. Rather it was because of my genuine fear, which I am sure that the SNP would share, that the term "statutory guidelines" that is suggested in the SNP amendment is, in itself, an oxymoron. How can we have guidelines that are statutory?
In addition, the basis of Scottish education is that the curriculum is non-statutory; one of the pillars of Scottish education is that the curriculum is decided under guidance and by consensus. The minute that we raise even the spectre of a statutory curriculum, we set out on a road that is dangerous to tread. I am sure that the SNP would not want to be the first party to be seen to go down the English road of a statutory curriculum. I ask SNP members to reflect on that; I know that that is not what they want.
I am sorry, but I must move on. I have already used five of my seven minutes.
There has been much talk today about fears. I can well understand the concerns and fears of many parents and many teachers, so I have sought to allay those fears. As everyone knows, I wrote on 27 January to the chairs of the school boards in Scotland and to all head teachers to set out the package of safeguards that will ensure that sex education in Scottish schools is of the highest standard and sensitive to parents' concerns.
In addition to that, I announced today, in reply to a parliamentary question from Kenneth Macintosh, that we have established a special working group, including representatives of parents and Churches, to examine the range of material dealing with sex education and to consider whether, in the light of the legitimate concerns of parents and the public, it provides appropriate advice to schools and teachers.
The composition of the working group has also been announced. I am sure that all members will agree that it is a widely representative and inclusive group. I am grateful to all members of the group for taking on the important task of reviewing existing guidance and considering whether any new material is needed. A copy of the answer to Kenneth Macintosh's question is available in the office at the back of the chamber.
When I look around the country and when I hear some of the things that have been said and see the actions of some people, I wonder whether this is the vision that we had when we built the new Scotland. My vision was of a tolerant, decent society in which we can live together in harmony, with confidence and at peace with one another, and in which we pursue our lives in the certain knowledge that we will be respected and tolerated by others. When I look around and listen to this debate, I wonder whether we have achieved that.
As many people have said, this debate is a defining moment for the Parliament and for this country. We better get the choice right. I therefore commend the amendment to the motion, in the name of Wendy Alexander.
Before I call the final speaker, I remind members that this debate will end at 12.20 pm. There will then be a ministerial statement. The session will run until 12.50 pm.
I, too, looked forward to a sensitive debate about section 2A, that is, a debate that was sensitive to the issues. I certainly do not feel that the way in which the Scottish Executive has handled the matter is sensitive.
When the matter was raised, we were concerned about homophobic bullying. Our view was that homophobic bullying could be dealt with. I quote an extract from the Scottish Executive-sponsored anti-bullying network's website.
"There is at present no legal bar to prevent teachers from explicitly condemning homophobic bullying or from discussing pupils' concerns about homosexuality in a balanced manner that is appropriate to the age of the young people concerned and sensitive to the beliefs and customs of the wider community."
The website also says:
"School managers should ensure that homophobic bullying is tackled with the same vigour as other forms of bullying, harassment and abuse."
We support that position. It is entirely right. Nevertheless, we consulted councils, because we were concerned that there could be a genuine risk that a teacher or local authority might be challenged legally. We were told that there was a slim chance—but a chance none the less—that a parent could take a teacher to court over the interpretation. In that spirit, it was our belief that if section 2A was to remain, there should be, at the very least, an explicit clause in it to allow teachers to deal with homophobic bullying. In that context, we announced that we would include such an amendment.
Not for a moment, however, did we pull back from the belief that section 28 should remain. Our position has been consistent all along. For the benefit of Michael Matheson and others, I will read it out.
"If the removal of Section 28 were to be pursued, it would only be acceptable against a background of devolving far more control over the running of schools to local communities and particularly to parents. In our manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary elections we set out policies to remove schools from local authority control. That would give parents far more choice as to the school their children attended and far more power over how these schools were run. Parents are the best people to decide what is best for their children and we have faith in parents' ability to take these decisions on behalf of their children. If our amendment fails we will vote against the repeal of Section 28."
That has consistently been our position.
I must update Karen Gillon. The repeal of section 28 is a policy for all schools. There is no question of any opting out. In the light of the fact that the Conservatives are not presenting an education bill to the Parliament, we will not be delivering the sort of structure that Karen Gillon mentions. We have made it clear through our statements in the press that, if there is to be repeal of section 28, guidelines are not enough to replace it. There must be legal backing for parents and for teachers. I will explain why later.
I know you can't.
While I treat the issue of sex education and sexuality with sensitivity, the behaviour of the Scottish Executive has called into question the manner of the repeal. Wendy Alexander did not announce to the chamber the policy journey that has taken the Executive into a parallel universe that is completely divorced from the reality of what the Scottish people want. She announced it at the University of Glasgow in a return to her alma mater. She triumphantly announced, "I'm delivering this for you."
For the purposes of accuracy, it might be worth reviewing when announcements about the repeal of section 28 were made. The announcement was made first to the Equal Opportunities Committee on 28 September 1999. Does Mr Monteith acknowledge that the Executive has used the passage of the local government bill as a vehicle for making it explicit that there would be a review of the national five to 14 curriculum guidelines, and that the Executive has undertaken to consult with parents on the matter? That review had started when the announcement was made.
No. I am moving on to deal with the rest of my points.
While guidelines have been mentioned by the Executive, it is also the case that the only movement we have seen on guidelines has come as a result of pressure from the Conservative benches to provide a timetable for their introduction. No timetable was explicit in any of the Government's statements that have been made by the Executive. When Dr Sylvia Jackson asked
If the First Minister were here, might he be able to tell us on which page of the 1999 Labour manifesto the announcement appears? No, it is not there. I ask Mike Russell, who is still chortling at Sam Galbraith's joke, where in the SNP's manifesto there is mention of repeal of section 28. There is no mention of it in the Liberal Democrat manifesto either.
What is interesting is— [Laughter.] I will answer: it was not in our manifesto. [MEMBERS: "Hooray."] We are clear that one of the reasons that this Parliament came about was the poll tax. One of the reasons— [Interruption.] We know that it is one of the reasons. There is nothing unusual in that.
In the debates about the setting up of a Scottish Parliament, in many of which I took part, Scotland was assured that it would not have laws like the poll tax that it did not want. What are we getting now? The repeal of something that the Scottish people do want.
Donald Dewar and Sam Galbraith say that we
I will not. I will be finishing soon.
We must give parents legal protection. We must give parents the ability to withdraw, explicitly, their children from sex education in schools—[MEMBERS: "It is there."] It is not there. If members check the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, they will find that it is not explicit on the question of sex education.
Furthermore, we should provide—
I am carrying on. Please sit down.
We must ensure that school boards have the ability to veto material provided to them by local authorities. Only in that way will parents and teachers be able to ensure that the material in the curriculum is in touch with what parents want. In that way, we can see if there is a change in law which gives parents and children protection. Then there might be a position in which the repeal of section 28 could take place. That is why we want a committee set up; that is why we want to consider guidelines; that is why we want to consider legal protection.
Wendy Alexander may be the high priestess of political correctness, but we in this party will not let Scottish schoolchildren be our sacrificial offering.
In speaking to the motion, I reaffirm that—and this is the test for the SNP—if we lose, we will still have voted for the retention of section 2A. I welcome the SNP moving towards us.
I ask the SNP members, if there are no statutory guidelines or backing, will they vote for the retention of section 2A, or will they vote for its repeal? That is the test that they face.
Earlier, Mr Galbraith referred to the adult way in which this debate was being conducted. In the wind-up speech, there was a rabble, which made it difficult for us to hear Mr Monteith. Is that not disgraceful? [Interruption.]
On a point of order. In the hope of clarity in the press coverage which will follow today's debate, will the Presiding Officer confirm that today's vote does not determine the issue of the repeal, but that that decision will probably come in late May, and certainly after 16 March?
I have not yet received the bill, and I cannot therefore say anything about its timing. Dr Ewing is right in principle: the substantive vote on this issue will happen if and when the bill comes before the chamber.