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Mr. Hall: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Spelman: No, I have made my point. I do not want my children to be encouraged to experiment with children of their own sex or the opposite sex at the tender age of 13, 14 and 15. I feel incredibly strongly on that point. If that is the only point that I make in the House tonight, I want to make it most forcefully.

The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale said that section 28 was poorly drafted, and I tend to agree. As parliamentarians, we could do something to make it clearer. None the less, it acts as a deterrent on my local authority, preventing it from purchasing documents, such as the one to which I have referred, to distribute within the schools for which it has responsibility, and I want to see that deterrent retained.

Closer to home for me is the booklet produced jointly by Birmingham city council and Birmingham health authority, the target group for which is local youth groups, which, in a couple of years, children of mine will be eligible to attend. That booklet also portrays under-age children experimenting with sex. Both from my perspective as a parent and with my interest in health matters, I find its cavalier attitude towards the attendant health risks irresponsible.

Referring to sexually transmitted diseases, the booklet says on page 86:

Yet on page 88, the same booklet says:

Apart from the obvious point--

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Mr. Hall: The hon. Lady has clearly read the document to which she has just referred, and I am pleased that she has. She quoted from a video called "Beyond a Phase" made by Avon health authority. Has she seen that video?

Mrs. Spelman: Yes, I have watched that video, and I replayed it twice to make sure that I had the words of the young lad. Do I need to repeat them? For such words to be presented to children is most shocking. He said:

Any parents of my acquaintance who hear those words want a law in place that would prevent their children from being exposed to such material.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): The hon. Lady has told the House that she has watched the video; will she confirm that it included several interviews with young people who expressed their abhorrence of gay activity and put the other side of the case?

Mrs. Spelman: The video contains a wide range of information, but it also includes something that should not be presented to young children. I would not wish my children to watch that.

The Birmingham health authority document was also produced with taxpayers' money. Apart from the blatant inconsistency of claiming on one page that sexually transmitted diseases resemble colds and stating on the next page that they do not, the document flies in the face of information that a health authority is in a position to promote differently. Britain has the biggest increase in sexually transmitted disease among teenagers; since 1988, the figure for teenage women has doubled. Who could possibly describe a disease such as chlamydia as anything like a cold? It can lead to pelvic inflammation, ectopic pregnancy and infertility. It is grossly irresponsible of a health authority, which has joint local authority funding, to issue a document that encourages young people to experiment with sex and describes sexually transmitted diseases as resembling a common cold.

In a Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions press notice of 26 November last year, the Government state that they want to create

Parents do not want section 28 to be repealed. If it is repealed, how can we protect our children from materials such as "Beyond a Phase"? How can a taxpayer prevent public money from being spent on a document that contains misleading information and on documents--such as that produced by Birmingham health authority--that compare sexually transmitted diseases to a cold?

As the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale said, section 28 is almost the only route whereby a taxpayer can call for a judicial review of whether a health authority should be allowed to spend taxpayers' money on the documents that I have described. For me, that is an overwhelming argument for retaining the section.

Mr. Don Foster: I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) because I hope that my contribution will contrast starkly with hers. I disagreed with almost everything she said. I also disagreed with

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almost everything that the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) said, although I agreed with two points that she made. First, the hon. Lady was right to say that there is an urgent need in society for everyone to be more tolerant. I hope that my contribution is founded on the principle of the need for greater tolerance. I also agree with the hon. Lady that section 28 is badly drafted. However, we reached different conclusions about the action that we should take.

New clause 2 has barely been mentioned. I hope that we will be able to vote on amendments Nos. 6 and 7, which are at the heart of the matter that we are debating. I want to deal with those amendments in my speech. The House is familiar with what section 28 purports to do, but it is worth reminding hon. Members of that. It purports to prevent local authorities from "promoting" homosexuality. It forbids councils to publish material that has the intention of promoting homosexuality and to promote teaching in their schools of

In Committee, we agreed that we wanted to see the back of section 28. Our debate today is about whether we want to change the decision that we made in Committee.

We made a great deal of progress in our deliberations on the Bill yesterday. We made several changes on matters such as equality of entitlement to pensions by different categories of councillors, indemnity for councillors and subjecting executives to greater public and media scrutiny. I am delighted that those changes were agreed. However, I hope that no changes will be made today to what was agreed in Committee. I hope that we shall continue to support the repeal of section 28.

Leaving aside Liberal Democrats' abhorrence of discrimination that is based on sexual orientation, there are three key reasons why I shall continue to oppose attempts to retain section 28. First, we believe that the section is a redundant piece of legislation as it affects schools. Secondly, it is meaningless in both legal and common-sense terms. Thirdly, it has led to much confusion among teachers about whether they can deal with issues involving homosexuality in schools, and especially homophobic bullying.

The repeal of section 28 alone should not be the issue. We should be concerned also with what will replace it. I was disappointed when the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) said that he had not been studying carefully the passage of and deliberation on the Learning and Skills Bill. That Bill reflects clearly the Government's intention, with Liberal Democrat support, to replace the current arrangements in respect of section 28.

I referred to three reasons. The first is the redundancy of section 28. I am confused when those on the Opposition Front Bench are seeking to retain the section to give powers to local education authorities on the very day when we read in newspapers that it is the Conservative plan to abolish LEAs. I find confusion in Conservative thinking.

Mr. Waterson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman sort it out for me.

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Mr. Waterson: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is in danger of dragging us both out of order. It is not our policy to abolish local education authorities, but I fear that it is the Government's policy.

Mr. Foster: If that is so, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be rapidly firing off a letter to, for example, Mr. John Clare, the education editor, who believes that that is what the leader of the Conservative party announced only yesterday. I could cite others.

Leaving aside Conservative plans for the future of LEAs, I hope that at least the Opposition will agree that it was a Conservative Government who made head teachers and governing bodies, which include parents, responsible in law for all relations relating to sex education within their schools in the Education Act 1996. Heads, governors and parents have total control of sex education and the teaching material that is used in their schools. They are free to reject any material that is sent to them by the LEA, campaign groups, health authorities or anyone else. In addition, parents have a right to withdraw their children from sex education. If we trust parents, head teachers and governors to be responsible for running our schools, managing quite significant budgets and ensuring that schools meet requirements and statutory duties, surely we can trust those people to be responsible for sex education.

Local education authorities now have no direct responsibility for sex education in our schools, whether that relates to issues of homosexuality or otherwise. For that reason, and that alone, we should be repealing section 28. It is entirely redundant legislation.

Secondly, in legal and common-sense terms, the section is nonsensical for the following simple reason. Homosexuality cannot be promoted. It is not possible to do so. We might as well introduce a Bill that forbids the promotion of left-handedness. As they grow up, some young people will start to realise that they are attracted to those of the same sex. Most of them do not. However, homosexuality is not taken up like train spotting or even joining the Conservative party. Young people cannot be persuaded to become gay, but the crucial thing that should matter to every hon. Member is that those young people need care. They need guidance. They do not need their lives to be made more difficult by decisions in the House.

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