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The third reason is that section 28 has undoubtedly, despite what some hon. Members have said, led to great confusion among teachers about whether they can or cannot deal with issues of homosexuality in school.
The hon. Gentleman has said that homosexuality cannot be promoted. However, on the encouragement of young people to experiment with the same sex, does he not accept that particularly younger boys in their teenage years often go through a period of confusion and that encouraging them to experiment just makes that worse?
The key point is that section 28 causes confusion in the minds of teachers as to how they are to respond to issues of homosexuality and, in particular, to the issue of homophobic bullying. Indeed, it has put confusion in the minds of some council officers as to how they can or cannot provide services for gay and lesbian council tax payers and others.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne suggested that there is no evidence that section 28 has caused the confusion that I have described. Such evidence has already been cited by the hon. Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Bedford (Mr. Hall). Other examples can be cited. I wish to use just one: the evidence provided by my noble Friend Lord Tope. He has gathered a considerable body of evidence, which is, incidentally, informing some work by the Institute of Education at London university. His evidence from school pupils, their parents and teachers testifies to harrowing personal experiences of homophobic bullying, ranging from verbal abuse and the ruining of books and clothing to physical attacks. Perhaps the most tragic of all the episodes that he came across was that of Darren Steele, a 15-year-old comprehensive schoolboy in Northamptonshire, who committed suicide following years of such abuse. Some of the young people who wrote directly to Lord Tope spoke of their own attempts to take their own lives.
In many cases--not all, but in many--the accounts that Lord Tope received pointed to the apparent inability of teachers and adults who knew about the bullying to interfere. A constant theme in those accounts was, "Teachers say they cannot do anything because of section 28." We all know that teachers have got it wrong. We absolutely accept that the correct interpretation of section 28 should not have led to that situation, but the reality is that it has. Far better then that we remove that legislation and replace it with an acceptable alternative. I fear that some of the evidence that has been given to Lord Tope suggests that some of the teachers themselves have perhaps been homophobic. I am sure that no hon. Member would condone that.
As I have said, I accept that there have been some examples that have not been helpful--I have referred to the Avon video--but what matters above all is not the symbolism of removing section 28, but what it is replaced with, which is why it is so important that all hon. Members study carefully what has been done and said during consideration of the Learning and Skills Bill.
learning to make choices based on an understanding of difference and with an absence of prejudice.
I support the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who on 27 June sought assurances that there would be time for a parliamentary debate on the detail of the guidance. The Minister for Local Government and the Regions is not responsible for that legislation, but I hope that she will be willing to seek an assurance from her right hon. and hon. Friends that there will be such a debate, and I hope that the issue will be taken forward with cross-party support.
Reference has already been made to the difficulties that section 28 has created, such as the situation in Glasgow. It is relevant to repeat the facts of that case. Mrs. Sheena Strain, a Glasgow nurse, with the support of the Christian Institute, has brought a case against Glasgow city council for funding organisations that have given valuable support to gay and lesbians on health issues, to carers of people with HIV and AIDS and to young people in distress over their sexuality.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale rightly reminded us that section 28(2) states that that should not happen. It shows the confusion created by section 28 that such a case can be brought, and is another reason why we should repeal section 28 and replace it with appropriate alternatives.
Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in a debate on the repeal of section 28, which I, and many hon. Members, believe does nothing to foster tolerance in our society. We are half way through a new year of a new century, but yet again we are having to beg for tolerance. That is unacceptable.
Virtually all Members present on the Opposition and the Government Benches want a tolerant and fair society. I know that my colleagues support organisations that want the repeal of section 28. We take their advice and we use their knowledge. Organisations such as Barnardos, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and those that represent my own nursing profession are concerned with the physical and mental health of our young people. Surely we all remember our
Are we saying that homosexuality does not exist? Are we saying that homosexuals are not equal to other people? If we are, we should say that that is how we feel. If hon. Members feel that way, they should have the courage to say so, and not hide behind section 28 by saying that it is about protecting young people. Section 28 does nothing to protect young people. The organisations that I have mentioned would not say that section 28 did not protect young people if it did. I think that we all honour those organisations.
All our young people are entitled to have their lives valued equally. Surely all our young people in families should be allowed openly to discuss within their family how they feel. Of course they should do that privately. However, those families will require guidance and support. For some families, such discussions are an extremely difficult and stressful time. In fact, some parents do not respond positively to young people who express their sexuality. Very sadly, some families ask their young people to leave home. Many young homeless people on the streets of this city and others across the United Kingdom are there because they do not have their family's support.
Some of those young people are also afraid to go to their teachers. I am not talking about all teachers, and would not for a moment suggest that all teachers are not capable of using sensitivity and discussing privately the feelings of young people. We are, however, discussing a matter of perception.
I genuinely believe that not one hon. Member who has spoken in this debate wants to foster an intolerant or prejudiced society. However, such a society already exists. I believe that, when I spoke on this issue previously, I offended some hon. Members by saying that intolerance gives rise to actions such as David Copeland's bombing. As I also said on that occasion, however, I do not believe that any hon. Member would attempt to justify or in any way to support such an act. Nevertheless, the longer ignorance and intolerance continue, the more people will feel that they are acceptable.
Hon. Members do not in any way support racism or homophobia, because those traits are wrong and should not be supported. It is as simple as that. It is also wrong for anyone to feel intimidated. Earlier, when my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith) was speaking, some of my hon. Friends tried to intervene, and other hon. Members told her not to be intimidated. I well understood why my hon. Friend wanted to continue her speech. However, was that really intimidation? What about intimidation at school, at work, or in one's own family? Surely that intimidation cannot be acceptable.
I have received very many letters about the issue, including some printed reply slips from a certain newspaper, which said, "Please do not do anything to repeal this provision." Some articles on the issue are extremely ignorant and have frightened many people. They certainly do not demonstrate the behaviour of a responsible newspaper.