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Community Reinvestment

Mr. David Kidney accordingly presented a Bill to extend the regulation of financial institutions so as to require them to demonstrate that their deposit facilities serve the convenience and needs for credit services and deposit services of the communities in which they are regulated to do business; and to require the Financial Services Authority to encourage such institutions to help meet the credit needs of the local communities in which they are regulated to do business, consistent with the safe

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and sound operation of such institutions: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 July, and to be printed [Bill 154].


Madam Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

International Immunities and Privileges

Question agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Local Government Bill [Lords]

As amended in the Standing Committee, further considered.

New Clause 2

Prohibition on promotion of homosexuality: bullying

'( ). In section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material), at the end of subsection (2) there is inserted '; or

(b) prevent the headteacher or governing body of a maintained school, or a teacher employed by a maintained school, from taking steps to prevent any form of bullying.'.--[Mr. Waterson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.45 pm

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 7, in page 74, line 2, leave out clause 98.

No. 6, in clause 102, page 75, line 9, leave out from beginning to end of line 14 and insert--

'paragraph 63 of Schedule 37 to the Education Act 1996'.

Mr. Waterson: The new clause and amendments concern what is euphemistically known as "section 28", but more accurately as section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986. Their effect would be pretty straightforward: they would simply return the Bill to its state when it left the House of Lords a little while ago. They would, in fact, do two things. They would reinstate section 28--as I shall continue to describe it, euphemistically--and they would reinstate their lordships' amendment relating to bullying. In other words, Opposition Members seek to overturn the amendments made by the Government in Committee.

We may have to return to this, but it occurs to me that it might be convenient, in due course, somehow to engineer a vote not on new clause 2 but on amendment No. 7, the key amendment in the group. It seeks to leave out clause 98--in other words, to reinstate section 28, or section 2A. I hope that that is reasonably clear.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter): I am sure that, in the wake of the conviction of the London nail bomber, the hon. Gentleman, like all other Members, would want to condemn homophobia in all its manifestations. Why, then, does the Conservative party continue to support this nasty little homophobic piece of legislation?

Mr. Waterson: I will not co-operate with the hon. Gentleman's nasty little press release; but if he has any grown-up contributions to make to this serious and, indeed, narrow, debate, no doubt he will try to catch your eye, Madam Speaker.

Our position, which has been consistent throughout, is very clear. It has never had anything to do with bigotry, prejudice or intolerance. Homosexuality is a personal and

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private choice for consenting adults, and that is as things should be. This provision, however, has never had anything to do with any of that; it is simply to do with whether public money should be spent in schools on promoting homosexuality among children.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Waterson: No. I want to make a little progress, because I think some Members are becoming slightly overheated. I intend to deal with every point that they are either muttering about from a sedentary position, or seeking to intervene on.

The first point to make--one that the Minister conceded in Committee--is that the Government's proposal was not in the manifesto for the last general election, although, curiously, it was in the manifesto for the 1992 election. I do not know whether the Government still intend to whip their Members for the vote, but no doubt their ability to do so will depend partly on what I have just said.

This nasty little provision is typical of the Government's attitude. We believe that it is based not on principle, but on spin and political correctness. The proposal to repeal section 28--as I shall call it for ease of reference--is on a par with the Prime Minister's ill-fated remarks about cashpoint criminals. It is cheap gesture politics. It is designed to curry favour with the gay and lesbian community, and, in its early stages, it was designed to be part of the Prime Minister's again ill-fated attack on what he was good enough to call the forces of conservatism.

Sadly for the Government, it turned out that those forces actually represent most people in the country. It is interesting to note that, in a recent survey in the Prime Minister's constituency, 71 per cent. of his constituents--of whom 63 per cent. were Labour voters--said that they wanted section 28 to be retained. It is also noteworthy that the leaders of all the major religious groups take a similar view.

Mr. Bradshaw: That is a lie.

Madam Speaker: Order. I heard that.

Mr. Bradshaw: I apologise, Madam Speaker, and I will retract what I said. Nevertheless, I would like some evidence, because the hon. Gentleman is wrong.

Madam Speaker: That is another matter. We will not have that sort of language in the House.

Mr. Waterson: I am afraid the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) will have to contain himself, Madam Speaker. I have got as far as page 2 of my remarks.

Although more heat than light has been generated on this issue, it is instructive to look at the history. The provision first saw light as a Back-Bench amendment. The Minister glowers--[Interruption.] We are going to have a serious and restrained debate on the matter, whether Labour Members like it or not.

The amendment was tabled originally by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), and was later supported by the Government. The 1987 debates

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are interesting. Given all the words expended on the issue since, it is worth noting that the amendment was accepted in Committee without a Division.

Indeed, there seems to have been quite a constructive debate about the correct way to address what was clearly perceived to be a problem. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that the earlier part of what was then clause 28 of the Local Government Bill was

However, it is fair to say that the hon. Gentleman clearly had criticisms of the rest of the clause. In an amendment, he proposed that the word "commend" be used in place of "promote"--the word that has caused so much controversy. If that had been accepted, one wonders how it might have changed the way in which the provision has been perceived.

Dr. Harris: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that, although there was no Division when the proposal was considered in Committee--it happened before my time in the House--Liberal Democrat Members opposed what became section 28 in this Chamber, both then and ever since.

Mr. Waterson: I am not sure that they were Liberal Democrat Members at the time, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I was not trying to suggest that they did not oppose the measure.

The Minister in charge of the 1987 Bill was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who made the following points. First, he said:

That does not seem to have met with a great deal of controversy in the debate. He also said:

We, of course, agree with that.

My right hon. and learned Friend went on:

I think that that is a very fair view.

A central issue in the debate on section 28 has been bullying. Any lingering concerns on that subject were addressed in the Lords amendment that the new clause would reinstate, but the Government's rhetoric on the matter has moved on. At one time we heard a lot about bullying, but we have heard much less recently. That is probably as well, for reasons that I shall explain.

Sadly, the Minister does not seem to have kept up with the Government's changes in rhetoric. In Committee, she said:

She then went on to say:

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That seemed to make the case that bullying was the main evil to be addressed. If that were so, there would be agreement on both sides of the House. However, we take the view that bullying must be tackled whether it is because of someone's hair colour, because they are fat or thin or because of their possible sexual orientation. Any teacher worth the name should be prepared to crack down effectively on bullying as a matter of urgency. There cannot be much disagreement about that. However, for those who take a different view, there is the Lords amendment, which we are seeking to reinstate.

All too often this argument proceeds by assertion rather than evidence. How much evidence is there of a major problem of homophobic bullying? Back in January, a spokesman at the Department for Education and Employment said

The chief inspector of schools is on record as saying

That seems a pretty telling point, because I cannot imagine that anyone has made more school visits than the chief inspector of schools.

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