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Mr. Waterson: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and it will be interesting to hear what Ministers have to say about it. I want to make progress, but these are detailed issues and they deserve detailed debate.
I wish to put on record my gratitude to Angela Mason of Stonewall for providing information on this issue. We have not necessarily agreed, but she has been very reasonable and reasoned in her representations to me. In a letter to me, she said that
The third issue about which we have heard something, although not a great deal, appears on the face of the Bill. It is suggested that section 28 is somehow objectionable under the European convention on human rights. It is a convention that the Government do not show us the legal opinions that they receive, but I have seen other opinions that suggest the opposite. Commission case law on the subject has consistently held that same-sex relationships fall outside the family-life provisions of article 8 of the convention. At the very least, the point is arguable. Indeed, there is an argument the other way: parents might feel able to bring a case under the convention if section 28 were repealed and certain things happened as a result.
Mr. Waterson: Let me finish the sentence. I shall not at all insist that Ministers break with precedent and show us the legal opinions that they have received, but the Minister for Local Government and the Regions could be a little more forthcoming in this debate than she was in Committee in talking us through the sudden appearance of the certificate in the Bill.
Mr. Marsden: The hon. Gentleman mentions the Human Rights Act 1998 and European Court judgments. It is obviously of great satisfaction to those of us on the Government Benches that the Opposition are taking such a keen interest in matters European. However, may I refer the hon. Gentleman to something domestic in this respect? As he will know, section 28 refers to the unacceptability
Mr. Waterson: I have a feeling that that case was to do with the Rent Acts. If it is the case that I am thinking of--it may not be--their lordships made it abundantly clear that their decision only concerned matters affecting the Rent Acts. No doubt we can look at that later.
The fourth point made--in a sense I have dealt with it in response to interventions--is that, as there have been no prosecutions, the provision does not matter. I have made the points on that, which are clear. Either the provision is a dead letter and nobody worries about it, in which case why all the fuss, or it has been having an effect and we therefore need to debate it.
Perhaps the worst aspect of this issue is what it reveals about the Government's metropolitan attitudes--their domination by a liberal elite who are out of touch with most people and even with large tracts of their own party's supporters. The provision simply does not pass the Kilfoyle test. An awful lot of decent Labour Back Benchers, many with religious convictions, will, if whipped, vote with a heavy heart.
By contrast, ours is a common-sense approach that seeks to prevent the abuse of taxpayers' money and to give parents the reassurance that they want and deserve. We have always felt that the provision was tacked on to the end of this substantial Bill because it seemed to the spin doctors like a good idea at the time, and would distract attention from the much more important provisions affecting local government. I hope and expect that the Lords will stand firm again on this issue, as on others, because on this issue, as on others, they are more in tune with the views of the British people than this Government.
Have no fear: Government spokesmen are already spinning that they will have to drop the abolition of section 28 if they do not want to lose the whole Bill. I hope that the same attitude applies to the fourth option that we discussed yesterday. It is time for the Government to see sense, abandon their obsession and move on.
Miss Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale): Section 28 has always been highly controversial. It most certainly did not achieve all that its supporters claimed for it--nor will its repeal alter in any significant way the homophobic attitudes and prejudices in our society. The repeal of section 28 would not have stopped the London nail bomber killing innocent people in a pub. It would have made absolutely no difference. Section 28 applies only to local authorities, and cannot be invoked against individuals, companies or other publicly funded bodies such as the Arts Council, the BBC and the Health Development Agency.
It therefore follows that section 28 does not inhibit or prevent teachers and school governors from including in their school curriculum the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as an alternative form of family relationship, should they so desire. In fact, the guidelines make the matter quite clear when they state:
Miss Smith: It is extremely sad that that evil person, the London nail bomber, carried out those acts. However, that has nothing to do with section 28, and saying that it does is a red herring. Would the London nail bomber have considered whether or not section 28 was in operation before he carried out those bombings? Of course not.
Section 28 does not apply to schools and should not affect the delivery of sex and relationship education in schools. It does not affect the activities of school governors or teachers; nor does it prevent objective classroom discussion of homosexuality. Schools can provide counselling, guidance, advice and support to all pupils. Any claim that section 28, in itself, stops homosexuality being discussed in schools is clearly unfounded. It is complete and utter nonsense to claim that section 28 inhibits schools or teachers from having in place appropriate measures to deal with cases of homophobic or other types of bullying.
For many years, I have had close contact with schools and teachers in my area. They have raised a host of issues with me, but on no occasion has a teacher, head teacher or school governor brought to my attention any problems arising from the implementation of section 28. It would appear that the chief inspector of schools has had a similar experience, as we heard earlier that the issue of section 28 has not been raised in any of the schools that he has visited. Indeed, it has not come up in Ofsted inspections as a matter affecting schools.
I would be surprised--I am willing to accept interventions on the matter--if anyone could produce a teacher or head teacher who was prepared to say that he or she allowed bullying in school and did not take preventive measures to stop it immediately because of concern about falling foul of section 28. Teachers would not let that happen.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I am not as distinguished a former head as the head to whom the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) referred. However, the matter is not simply about heads not giving way to bullying; it is about how we deal with the issue of inculcating into young people respect for those who are different. That is the challenge, and I should be grateful if the hon. Lady would address that issue, rather than the spurious argument that head teachers or teachers could condone bullying which, in fact, they do not.