Section 26 — Councils' duties to children

Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 21st June 2000.

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Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

The Conservative group has consistently argued against the repeal of section 28 without adequate reassurances or safeguards in its place. The Government may have made four climbdowns, cave-ins and U-turns in its argument, but it is our contention that it has failed to accept two key requests that we have made.

Guidance may be issued and it may mention marriage, as may the guidelines. However, neither the guidance nor the guidelines will have the force of law. Let me reiterate that the Conservative group does not support guidance or guidelines being statutory. It is scurrilous for members of the Parliament and members of the media to suggest that that is our position. It is also wrong to suggest that the guidance will be statutory. The guidance may be issued by statute, but it does not have the force of law.

For the avoidance of doubt, I will read an excerpt from the stage 2 debate on the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Bill. In response to a question on the statutory powers in section 12, the minister replied:

"Let me make it clear that this section does not give us that power. We will not have such a power and we do not intend to instruct people. Guidance is what the word suggests that it is . . . However, it is reasonable that we should issue guidance that they should take account of before they arrive at their decisions. We will want to be satisfied that that guidance has been taken account of—this section has no greater force than that."

To reiterate his point, he went on to say that

"this is a permissive power and is not an obligation."—[Official Report, Education, Culture and Sport Committee, 26 April 2000; c 846.]

Guidance will probably be issued, but it will not have statutory and binding effect on local authorities. Therefore, we made two key requests. The first was that parents should have the legal right to withdraw their children from sex education. If members care to read what I might call the McCabe report, they will find that it includes a degree of confusion and tension that needs to be resolved. That could have been resolved by accepting our amendments to the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Bill, but it was not. Secondly, we requested that school boards should have the legal right to consider sex education materials. Those requests, which were modest and non-discriminatory, were rejected.

Of course, we have lodged other amendments, so that the application of the repeal that the Executive seeks would at least be closer to the wishes of the Scottish people. That is why we have sought to ensure that marriage is given legal recognition—no more or less—in the guidance and in the duties to children.

Although I welcome the Government's reluctant decision to include marriage in the guidance, it could have done so far sooner, as I am sure many members, from all parties, would agree. Indeed, had the Executive accepted Michael McMahon's amendment, or my amendment, which was based on words formulated by the Church of Scotland, it need not have been so embarrassed by its subsequent U-turn. Had the Government started the other way round, with a review of guidance and guidelines before announcing the repeal, it might not have been able to satisfy everyone, but it would have had a less divisive effect on Scottish society.

Amendment 89 is a final attempt to ensure that marriage is given its rightful and legal place in the bill. My amendment has taken account of the stage 2 debate. Members who have followed the debate closely will notice that I have changed the wording. I now refer to

"the significant place of marriage in society and in raising children".

I have given consideration and weight to the arguments that were made. Some people feel that too much emphasis is put on marriage by including it in the bill. That is why, instead of "importance", I have used the word "significant", which can excite a variety of opinions as to the exact strength of marriage. It clearly states that marriage is included, but does not give it greater importance than other family lifestyles.

Further on in my amendment I speak of

"the importance of parental responsibility in all family units".

I am sure that many members would agree with that.

The amendment still mentions "stable family life". It does not seek to remove that phrase from the bill. Borrowing from Michael McMahon's earlier amendment, it includes an important subsection on

"the importance of avoiding intolerance, stigmatisation and stereotyping of the children of alternative family units".

The argument that I have made previously is, I believe, still irrefutable. Marriage is distinct, by virtue of its legal status. It is more than a religious vow; it is a religious vow that includes a contract that can be broken only under the terms of our law. That makes it quite different. It does not necessarily make it superior; that is not the argument. However, we must recognise that it is different. That is not to demean or stigmatise those who are not, are no longer or never choose to be married. It is simply to recognise marriage's difference, which is legal. I do not accept the argument that putting the significance of marriage into law is contradictory.

The fact that the Government has had so much difficulty with the m word illustrates just how out of touch it has been in bringing about the repeal of section 2A. The repeal will, no doubt, go through, despite our opposition, but it has been bungled and has left the nation divided about the priorities and relevance of this Parliament. The ruling parties must listen to the people, or this Parliament's reputation will suffer and ministers will end up vacating their chairs.

I move amendment 89.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate, particularly this part of it. I have no problem with the m word, and I know that my colleagues in the Labour party have no problem with it.

The points that Brian Monteith made about the amendments that he proposed to the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Bill were well made. However, he did not point out to the chamber that he failed to persuade any member of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, from any party, to support the points that he was making. All members recognised that it would be wrong for our education system to move towards a national curriculum in Scotland.

The right of parents to withdraw their children from sex education was well debated, and all members recognised that that right already exists and that parents exercise it when appropriate.

I will now address amendment 89. I know that the issue of marriage has become the focus of debate since the repeal of section 28 was conceded. We know that the repeal of section 28 will not lead to a flood of pornographic material in our schools. It will not lead to our children being victimised or being subjected to inappropriate materials.

One must be careful when dealing with the issue of marriage. I am married. I am having a child in September, and that child will be lucky enough to be brought up in a married family relationship. I do not know what the future holds for me or my family, but I have placed the value of marriage at the centre of my relationship. However, when I was seven years old, my married parents divorced, and I was left part of a single-parent family. I know the stigma that was attached to that position. Friends used to say to me, "You've not got a dad," and "You don't have a father." They used to ask, "Where's yer daddy about?" That was a difficult time for me, even though I knew who my father was. How much harder will it be for young people who do not know who their dad is—who, perhaps, do not know who their mum is—and are coping with children who can be very cruel and do not always know what they are saying?

We must create in Scotland a society in which all our children can feel valued—where all our children, regardless of their parents' decisions, believe that they are equal, equally valued and equally part of society. I am concerned that the debate has shown that that is not the kind of society that we have built. We must now do a great deal of hard work to ensure that our children are valued and are given an appropriate part in society.

If somebody had said to me some time ago that the people on the McCabe committee—representing the Churches, trade unions and parents organisations—would be able to come up with a form of words on which they agreed unanimously, I would not have believed them. I would not have believed that it was possible to find common ground among all those differing organisations, but that is exactly what has been done. That wide spectrum of Scottish society has come up with a form of words for statutory guidance issued to local authorities by ministers that will form the basis for sex education. That is the appropriate road for us to go down—the recommendation of the widest spectrum of Scottish society. The Parliament turning its back on that decision and deliberation because of narrow-minded political point scoring would be the wrong way to go.

Marriage has a valuable part to play in Scottish society. No one in the chamber would deny that. However, the Parliament would not be doing the people of Scotland, particularly our children, a service by placing that relationship above the others that people find themselves in through no fault of their own.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I shall speak against amendment 89, in the name of Brian Monteith. It is important to say at the outset that, throughout the debate, the Conservatives have contributed absolutely nothing to the efforts to find an honourable settlement to a very difficult question. Amendment 89 is simply another illustration of that. At a time when people on all sides of the debate appear to have reached a consensus, the Conservatives are still out on a limb.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

No, I will not. The Conservatives are interested in nothing more than pointless posturing. Perhaps that is why the ICM poll published last week showed that the Conservatives have suffered a net loss in support in Scotland because of their opposition to the repeal of section 2A. I do not think that anybody in the chamber will accept lessons from the Conservatives on how to settle the debate that has raged around the issue.

By contrast, the SNP has, throughout the debate, put forward a principled case for the repeal of section 2A, while also arguing that the real concerns of parents must be addressed. We have been consistent in our argument that those fears should be addressed in the guidance and the guidelines on sex education in schools. That consistent, commonsense approach explains why the same ICM poll showed that the SNP is the only party in Scotland to have enjoyed a net gain in support because of our stance on section 2A. That stance combines principle with responsiveness to public opinion, and has chimed a chord with the people of Scotland.

The SNP was the first party to take up and argue for a suggestion made by Judith Gillespie that guidance should be given a statutory underpinning. That was a vital step in reassuring parents that local authorities would not be at liberty to disregard guidance. The Executive, having first set its face against such a move, belatedly agreed with the logic of that position.

Following that logic, the SNP then argued for a non-discriminatory reference to marriage to be inserted into that guidance. Again, the Executive initially set its face against such a position, with Sam Galbraith, the Minister for Children and Education, reportedly threatening to resign if such a reference was inserted into the guidance. Last Friday, however, the Executive—again belatedly—finally accepted the good sense of that position.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I will not give way.

That is why we are now in a position in which we will have legally binding guidance that makes clear reference to the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage, but which also values and recognises the great diversity of relationships in Scottish society. That is a commonsense position, which the majority of people in Scotland are happy to support.

If the Labour-Liberal Executive had handled the issue better and reached that position earlier, instead of being dragged there kicking and screaming at every turn, a very difficult debate could have been made a great deal easier. I hope that the Executive—Sam Galbraith and Wendy Alexander in particular—will reflect on that, instead of sitting in the back row barracking, as Sam Galbraith is doing at the moment. That said, I believe that we have now reached an honourable settlement of the debate, which is why the Tory amendment—in keeping with that party's best traditions—is irrelevant and superfluous.

It is important that we, as a Parliament, do not lose sight of what we are doing today: a discriminatory and shameful piece of legislation—a piece of legislation that was imposed on Scotland by Westminster—will today be repealed by the Scottish Parliament ahead of other parts of the United Kingdom. For all the furore that has surrounded the debate, I believe that that says something about the state of Scotland that we can all be proud of. We have to learn lessons, but we can also say that we have stood up for what is right.

For those reasons, I ask all members to vote against the posturing of Brian Monteith and his Conservative colleagues.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 5:15 pm, 21st June 2000

What I have heard from Nicola Sturgeon is absolutely disgraceful. We in this chamber are expected to stand up and speak for what we believe in. That is what the Conservatives have done. Nicola claims that the SNP has been consistent on this issue. At the Ayr by-election, the SNP had more changes of position than dogs with fleas have.

I recognise that Karen Gillon spoke from the heart and from her own experience, but I believe that she is wrong to suggest that the repeal of section 28 will not bring other dangers. I believe that the section has worked—lying dormant, but lying as a deterrent. It has worked with Gay Men's Health in Edinburgh, which brought out a disgraceful magazine called "Spurt!". The magazine was stopped. The group then started a website. That, too, was stopped. That was possible because the group had contravened section 28.

Rather than debate Brian Monteith's amendment, I would have preferred to debate the repeal of section 28 once again. I recognise that that was not possible under the rules of this Parliament, but I have to say that people outside the chamber will not understand how the repeal of section 28 could have slipped through without a real debate on the issue.

Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour

Will Phil Gallie give us some examples—from the time before this odious piece of legislation was introduced by his party—of problems in our schools of the kind that he refers to?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I believe that a number of issues arose in Stirling and—remembering that this is UK legislation—a threat also arose in London. Those issues were nipped in the bud. That was the purpose of section 28.

When I consider Brian Monteith's amendment and the fact that it encourages marriage as the ethos that we should strive for, I have to ask the minister why it cannot be accepted. Marriage is recognised by the state, in civil and religious terms, as a bond or contract that has been established between a man and a woman. Surely that offers protection for children, which is surely all-important in this debate.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Is it not a little disingenuous of Mr Gallie to suggest that repeal of section 2A is being sneaked through, that he has not had the opportunity to debate it and that he will not have the opportunity to vote against repeal at the end of this debate? He has the opportunity, if he wishes, to speak about the amendment and to vote against it. Pretending that it is being sneaked through in some underhand way is scurrilous.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

That is not the case. I was careful about how I addressed the issue covered by section 25. Had I repeated arguments about section 28, I am sure that the Presiding Officer could have taken me to task for it.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I will take you to task on something else. Earlier, you said that there was no chance to debate it, but there was no amendment to section 25 for me to select.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

My understanding was that an amendment had been lodged, but that it was ruled out on the basis that it was, effectively, part of the long title. If that is not the case, I stand corrected. My colleagues and I have perhaps erred if we had a further opportunity to lodge such an amendment. It was my understanding, given previous judgment, that that was not possible.

On Brian Monteith's—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I am always prepared to give way—I believe in democracy.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

On how many occasions did the member attempt to lodge an amendment?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I have not lodged amendments on this, as my colleagues have taken the bill through. I participated in a previous debate. My opinions are well known. The opinions of the Conservative group have been consistent throughout this argument.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I interrupt you, Mr Gallie, to say that you are absolutely right: an amendment such as you are suggesting would have been contrary to the long title. I was wrong about that, and I apologise.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I appreciate that very much. Given the abuse that I took when I made that statement, I trust that every member in the chamber will take that on board.

I return to Brian Monteith's amendment, which refers to

"the significant place of marriage in society".

How can any member turn their back on that statement? It continues by referring to

"the value of stable family life in a child's development".

Remember that marriage is a contract that offers a degree of stability that other relationships may be unable to offer.

The amendment mentions

"the importance of parental responsibility".

I believe that for every parent, responsibility should be to the fore. That is what Brian Monteith's amendment suggests.

The amendment refers to

"the importance of avoiding intolerance, stigmatisation and stereotyping of the children of alternative family units".

We recognise that not everyone ends up in a blissful state of marriage and that other loving relationships can be established, but for Nicola Sturgeon to castigate us for standing up and saying what we believe to be correct is—

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

No, I will not give way to the member. She never gives way to anyone—that was demonstrated today. I have given way to other members; I will not give way to her.

I suggest that the Minister for Communities consider amendment 89 carefully. She remembers Brian Souter's referendum, in which more than 1 million people in Scotland spoke. We remember the recent health service referendum carried out by the Government south of the border, to which only 2 per cent of the population responded. She has to take such issues aboard. I plead with her to consider putting marriage on the face of the bill.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I start by paying tribute to Tim Hopkins of the Equality Network, who said from the outset of the debate that he accepted that guidelines should refer to marriage. If we had listened to Tim Hopkins and others then, we would not have been through what we have been through in the past few months.

One of the Parliament's important achievements is the widespread consensus on this issue, proof of which is the working party, which took its natural course and reported last week. The Conservatives should realise that, in this Parliament, they stand alone on this point—yet they still pursue their amendment to its bitter end, albeit because certain parties came along to help them late in the day As for the amendment, the Conservatives have made many attempts to include it in the bill. I must say that I take great offence at amendment 89. It begins with the phrase

"the significant place of marriage in society", which implies that marriage is more important than any other relationship. That is a quite deliberate choice of wording. Furthermore, I take offence at the final part of the amendment, which talks about

"the importance of avoiding intolerance".

That is so mealy mouthed and weak that—

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I will give way in a minute.

The amendment also contains the phrase "alternative family units", which implies that there is something different about such units. That distinction is discriminatory and the Parliament should lend no weight to it at all.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Why does the member waste so much time and energy berating the Conservatives when the author of the words used in the amendment is sitting on her own back benches? Why does she not turn and berate him for a change if she disagrees with his opinions?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

That is complete and utter rubbish.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am sorry if the Conservatives are having some difficulty with the way I am going through their amendment, but they will just have to grin and bear it. The amendment is discriminatory.

Reference to marriage is rightfully contained in the guidance that will be issued on a statutory basis. As the guidance will allow Churches to give marriage the status that they want, none of the Churches or the beliefs they represent will suffer. However, this society must teach children that all relationships have equal value and that the welfare of children is at the heart of the matter. Labour has said from the start that children are the focus of this debate, and we have glossed that focus time and time again. The beauty of the Scottish system of guidance is that people can engineer it how they want, which is particularly important to the Churches.

Like Karen Gillon and others, I believe in marriage, but members cannot come to a Parliament and legislate according to their own personal views and circumstances. We owe it to the Scots we represent to take an objective view of marriage, which means a non-judgmental, non-discriminatory view. All relationships of whatever form must have equal value.

Finally, I want to deal with the issue of repeal.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Although I am interested in the member's comments, I am slightly confused. She seems to be saying that her colleagues south of the border have got it all wrong because they think the Labour party in Scotland is disowning them.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Some parties cannot seem to get it through their heads that we have a Parliament and are entitled to legislate, which is what we are doing.

It is only through repeal of this discriminatory piece of legislation in conjunction with the bill before us that we will truly produce legislation that is non-discriminatory. The bill is a landmark in the history of equal opportunity policy. Labour has been consistent on this issue. If we had been listened to at the very beginning, we would have had a more sensible debate.

Phil Gallie thinks that repeal and its consequences are dangerous, but the views that he expounded are more dangerous in this society; we have to accept that people are equal but different.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

The legislation and the accompanying guidelines emphasised that intolerance and bullying were not to be accepted and that counselling should be available to those who were feeling the stigma to which Pauline McNeill referred. How can she describe that as harmful?

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 5:30 pm, 21st June 2000

Quite easily—I find Phil Gallie's approach patronising and disingenuous. I am sorry, but as that is the way I see it, that is what I will say.

Today is an important day. I know that many members on all sides of the chamber—from five out of the six parties—are genuinely committed to repeal of this discriminatory piece of legislation. Eventually, that is what we will celebrate.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Like Pauline McNeill, I wish to pay tribute to a range of organisations. She mentioned one or two of them and one or two individuals who have been involved in the debate about the repeal of section 2A. I also pay tribute to my colleague, Nicola Sturgeon, who has worked hard and tirelessly over the past few months, and to colleagues elsewhere.

I say to the Conservatives that even at the 11th hour it would be possible for the Parliament unanimously to repeal section 2A, which would be much appreciated by people throughout Scotland. I ask them to consider doing that and to consider that Mr Monteith's amendment might be "too clever by half", in the memorable words David McLetchie noted in the margin of Mr Monteith's letter. I ask them to reconsider their position and to consider whether all members of this Parliament can share an opinion on this matter.

I approach the end of this debate from the stance of repeal and with a considerable sense of relief. The debate has illustrated an important point that we must consider in relation to all the changes that will have to be made in Scotland in coming years. It is not just intention that is important—how one goes about acting on that intention is also important.

I do not question for a moment the intention of members who have supported repeal for many years, but this has been a profound learning experience for every one of us. It is not enough to say that those with whom we agree are always right and those with whom we disagree are always wrong. This debate has shown us that we cannot change ideas, intentions and society simply by fiat, by command, or by saying, "It will be so." We must work with people starting with where they are and how they see things and we must persuade them to change.

It is an immense relief—and something to be celebrated, strangely enough, despite all the difficulties—to arrive at the moment of repeal, having reached, admittedly with great difficulty and, in some cases, at the very last moment, agreement about how we can all move forward. Today we should celebrate not only repeal but the fact that some listening has taken place.

I hope that, as we move forward, we will examine all the changes that we intend to make, whether from the SNP benches, those of the Executive parties or possibly even those of the Conservatives—although that seems hardly likely. We will look forward to those changes and we will approach them by listening to what people say—

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I am sorry, Mr Davidson, but I want to be brief.

We will approach those changes by listening to what people say, by recognising where they come from and by working with them, rather than by simply telling them what to do. The nanny state is dead and we should not resurrect it over an issue such as the repeal of section 2A.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

I welcome section 25 of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill. It will, at last, remove a nasty and discriminatory blot from the statute book. My personal preference was to leave matters at that but, given a determined public relations campaign of misinformation and its understandable effect, section 26 is a sensible addition to the bill, as it will meet the concerns of parents and others.

I oppose Mr Monteith's amendment, which I find ill judged and unnecessary—as was the Tories' original clause 28.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I have with me today's mail in support of the repeal of section 2A from students of the University of Edinburgh.

In light of the philosophy and advice that has informed—and will continue to inform—the practice of guidance in Scottish schools, section 2A was always redundant and irrelevant. It has to go for the simple reason that it is uniquely discriminatory. I am delighted with the wording the Executive has come up with in section 26. I shall vote against the Conservative amendment and with the Executive on the bill.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

It is with some reluctance that I oppose Mr Monteith's amendment. I will not oppose it on the same basis as other members—attacking the motivation behind it or some of its detail: I believe that amendment 89 is somewhat unnecessary.

At the close of this very long and difficult period for the whole country on this issue, we should come together and try to heal our differences. The direct consequence of this debate is that we have divided our country rather than pulled it together. This Parliament is here to pull our country together and to take it forward.

On one side, much has been said about equality and discrimination in the arguments for repeal. On the other side, people feel excluded when we are striving hard to include everybody in our country. People with religious beliefs in particular feel that the straightforward repeal of section 2A would mean that their views were being excluded and trampled on.

It is always difficult to bring together two sides that are apparently so incompatible. It is to the great credit of the McCabe committee that it has succeeded in doing that. Until Friday, I was not in a position to vote for what has been put before us today. I wrestled with the matter over the weekend and consulted many people. I have had discussions with members from all sides of the chamber.

In my mind, there is nothing wrong with Mr Monteith's amendment, other than the fact that it does not move the debate forward one iota. Because we have had such a difficult debate, I cannot imagine any circumstances where, in practice, the offending material that some people have been concerned about will ever appear. If it does, so many people will be watching for it that we will hear about it soon enough, and there is always the opportunity to take corrective action.

I genuinely ask that the Conservatives, having had this debate about the merits or otherwise of including section 26 in the bill—a legal matter, as opposed to guidance that has a statutory underpinning—to recognise that this subtle matter has been raised, that we have had the debate, but that the section will not make any substantive difference to what will happen in our schools.

Many parents had concerns. It is hoped that the McCabe committee will address them. I have been satisfied, although I know that other members have a different view. Some members will genuinely feel that they cannot support this at all. I respect that. I hope that we can now reach a point of closure, which is why, on this occasion, I cannot support an amendment that I supported when it was lodged, in Mr McMahon's name, at stage 2.

I appeal to the Conservatives to withdraw their amendment. If they feel so strongly about the bill, they will have the opportunity to vote against it or to abstain. We have had the debate on amendment 89, but I do not think that it advances the cause one way or the other.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I welcome this debate. There is great public interest in the matter and I think that it would have been very bad if the Parliament had not debated it properly. Speaking personally, it was a good thing that the Executive tackled this issue, but the way it and the Parliament has tackled it has not been very clever. As Mike Russell said, we must learn lessons from that.

Those of us who wish to get rid of section 2A have to do a lot more explaining to the public—we must go out and sell our case better. The referendum was on the quality of Mr Souter's advertising boards. There is a lot of public opinion that has to be addressed, and the facts have to be explained.

Some people who have written to me—I am sure they have written to all members—feel that the Churches have the right to determine such matters and that we must fall in line. The Churches have the absolute right to set out their policies for their members, who can accept those policies, whether on divorce, alcohol, activities on Sundays or whatever, voluntarily. Churches have every right to press their point of view on Parliament and we have the duty to assess what they and other people are pressing for and to decide on the right conclusion. We must listen carefully to arguments, but we must not give way to pressure.

I am encouraged by a quotation from a an important English Baptist, who said in the early 1900s:

"the state is more sacred than any church . . . for the state stands for the whole people in their manifold collective life; and any church is but a fragment of that life, though one of the most important fragments."

That gives us a good conceit of ourselves. We can accept that. We must make up our own mind. We must not be pressured by Churches or by any other group, but must listen to their arguments.

I am sure that all members support marriage as an institution. The law supports marriage as an institution in many ways, but people on our side of the argument do not accept the implication of the amendment: that marriage is above everything else. A community might include a married couple in whose household all sorts of terrible things, including violence, happen. There might be another family, where the couple—for whatever reason—is not married, but brings up the children well. There could be single people who are pillars of the community, two homosexuals who live together and a manse—or whatever the correct term is—where a couple of Catholic priests live. We do not accept that the married household is at the top and that there is a sort of football league, with Rangers permanently at the top. Life is not like that.

We object to the league table concept. Marriage is important but, often, voluntarily, people do not get married. I do not understand why, but that is the case. We support marriage, but we do not want it written into the bill as the amendment suggests. Marriage should not have primacy in our thinking, except in one sense—if I had to choose between antagonising my wife and antagonising Jim Wallace, Jim Wallace would not get the vote.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I will deal here with amendment 89, on marriage. I say to Phil Gallie that immediately after this debate there will be a discussion of the principles of the bill, when I will be happy to state the case for repeal of section 2A. Like Mr Russell, I invite members in all parts of the chamber to consider the case that we make at that stage. I will also use the opportunity to dwell on some of the issues of process, consultation and how we do things in the new Scotland that have been raised.

As has been noted, amendment 89 is almost identical to an amendment that was lodged at stage 2 and rejected by the Local Government Committee. Usually, rejection at stage 2 would preclude another amendment in similar terms being lodged at stage 3 but, given the widespread interest in the matter, I am happy to have the opportunity to put on record why the Scottish Executive believes that section 26, as it stands, provides the best protection for our children.

In asking Parliament to reject amendment 89, I am not suggesting that we should ignore the concerns that have been raised. Indeed, I am anxious to deal with them honestly and directly. Concern over recent months has ranged across three distinct areas, all of which have been raised this afternoon. The protection of children from inappropriate behaviour was raised by Phil Gallie. The character of sex education was raised by Nicola Sturgeon. Brian Monteith raised the place of marriage. I will deal with each of those issues.

On the protection of children, section 26 sets out the responsibility of local authorities towards children—all our children. The character of the parental home from which any child comes is not relevant to their right to protection. As Karen Gillon so eloquently put it, every child in Scotland deserves to be given protection by this Parliament. This measure will buttress existing safeguards that have worked well and stood the test of time. It is not the only safeguard.

As Brian Monteith acknowledged in his opening remarks, from the beginning, on behalf of colleagues in education, we offered a review of existing materials to alleviate any parental anxieties. In February, we announced the composition of the working group to review the curricular materials in schools. We sought a consensus. We invited the Churches and parents organisations to sit alongside education professionals on the group and, in response to concerns that were expressed, we asked the working group to take a wider remit and examine the adequacy of all existing safeguards in schools. In that, as in so many other ways, we signalled our willingness to listen and we responded to legitimate concerns, separated out from the maelstrom of misinformation that raged. In its first report, in April, before stage 2, the working group concluded that the Executive's package of safeguards was sufficiently complete, wide-ranging and robust to meet the legitimate concerns of the public, parents and teachers.

The second concern, raised by Nicola Sturgeon, is the nature of sex education in our schools. We provided a new draft circular for education authorities and invited the working group to review it and the existing curricular materials. As has been noted today, its report was published last week. It concluded that the existing curricular guidelines, advice, support and information are adequate and require no revision, but that they could usefully be complemented by additional material to support teachers, schools and parents. We will provide that. The working group also recommended a key set of principles and aims for sex education that the Executive should incorporate into the guidance circular. Again, we will do that.

During committee consideration of the issue, I indicated that the Executive's preferred option was to await the recommendations of the working group because, rightly, prior to the completion of the group's report, nothing was ruled in or out.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 5:45 pm, 21st June 2000

The way in which the minister outlines events makes it all sound perfectly reasonable. Can she explain why, the day after the meeting of the Local Government Committee that she refers to, a spokesperson for Sam Galbraith said that there would be no more U-turns, that marriage would not be mentioned in the guidance and that that was official? Will she accept that the fact that the Executive made such comments rather than waiting for the outcome of the working party has led to confusion in the debate and is characteristic of the Executive's bad handling of the issue? That, more than anything else, has led to what has been happening in the past few weeks.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Throughout this process, the Executive, and education colleagues in particular, stayed within the consensual Scottish tradition of asking others. Despite provocation and the invitations to pre-empt the working group's findings, we waited for that advice. In the event, we can all take pride in the fact that the working group produced an excellent, well-balanced and inclusive report. I commend the report to Parliament.

The fact that the group's findings were unanimous has been widely welcomed. It is a testament not only to the group's hard work, but to its consensual approach. The group's existence and its approach were firmly within the traditions of Scottish education and distanced from ministerial diktat.

As a further sign of our determination to alleviate the real anxieties that exist, without compromising the principle of toleration, we have amended the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Bill to provide a statutory underpinning for the guidance.

Having addressed those first two very real concerns, about child protection and the character of sex education, I will address the third issue that emerged—marriage. As other ministers and I have made clear on many occasions, the Executive recognises the central role of marriage in Scottish society. In family law and elsewhere, we acknowledge and respect the special status of marriage. I recognise, as others have done this evening, the value that the institution of marriage has for many people throughout Scotland. However, the section is not about marriage; it is about children—all our children—and the responsibilities of our local authorities to them. The section should not make distinctions between children based on the character or legal status of the homes from which they come. In an inclusive way, we will protect children and honour those who care for and love them.

In seeking to secure the best start in life for all our children, the bill recognises the value of stable family life in bringing up children. Stable family life is our aspiration for all our children—none should be left out in the cold because of the choices or circumstances of their parents or carers. We do not honour or respect marriage by denying the reality of those other relationships that are well established in Scottish society. To suggest, as some have, that those of us who urge rejection of the amendment somehow hate marriage is as fanciful today as was the claim, when we first debated repeal in February, that more than 100 MSPs wished harm on the children of Scotland. That was a terrible untruth four months ago and this is a terrible untruth today.

The accusation that we are against marriage is untrue and offensive. Neither the bill nor the section should be about marriage. The bill is about ethics, the section is about children and the guidance is about sex education. Repeal is about society as a whole—rich in its diversity. I recall that, on the day on which the Parliament opened, Sheena Wellington sang "A Man's a Man for a' that". It would shame us to risk ending the year since then with "Holy Willie's Prayer".

I do not question the desire of Mr Monteith or his colleagues to protect our children, but their efforts, however sincere, are misdirected, as the amendment would distinguish between children because of the families from which they come. That is why the Executive urges members to reject the amendment. It is unnecessary for the protection of children, it has been overtaken by a unanimous report and it is inappropriate for inclusive legislation. I urge members to reject it.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

As Brian Monteith is waiving his right to respond, I will put the question. The question is, that amendment 89 be agreed to. Are we all agreed?



Division number 30

For: Aitken, Bill, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Fergusson, Alex, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Harding, Mr Keith, Johnston, Nick, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLetchie, David, Monteith, Mr Brian, Mundell, David, Scott, John, Stone, Mr Jamie, Tosh, Mr Murray, Young, John
Against: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Mrs Margaret, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Galbraith, Mr Sam, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Gillon, Karen, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, MacLean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Matheson, Michael, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McGugan, Irene, McLeish, Henry, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, Mr John, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Paterson, Mr Gil, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Quinan, Mr Lloyd, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Russell, Michael, Salmond, Mr Alex, Scott, Tavish, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Thomson, Elaine, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watson, Mike, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Wilson, Andrew

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The result of the division is: For 20, Against 100, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 89 disagreed to.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before we embark on the main debate, I should say that we are running comfortably ahead of our maximum time limit. If that continues to be the case during the coming debate, I will accept a motion without notice to bring forward decision time. Members should be alert to the possibility of decision time taking place before 7.05 pm as we agreed earlier.