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Miss Geraldine Smith: I think that every hon. Member would agree that that is a tragic story. However, what does it have to do with the repeal of section 28? Section 28 does not affect schools; it deals only with the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities. It is quite a specific provision. My hon. Friend is introducing red herrings into a debate in which there have already been too many.
Ann Keen: I do not believe that my hon. Friend's comments stand up. The issue is not a red herring if people feel that they cannot ask for advice, or when those who have responsibility for young people who have been bullied feel that they cannot deal with the problem. It is a real issue if people feel intimidated.
We have talked about sex education and teenage pregnancies and I know personally how much we need education in that area. Such education must be offered openly and with parental consent, and applied with good common sense and guidance. That is what we should provide for our young people today. We need that because, sadly, our society is not perfect. It does breed bigots and people who deliberately promote prejudice. Open discussions have changed minds on this issue. However, I cannot accept that religious groups, who claim to protect people, should also promote prejudice.
It is time that we listened to the organisations that are skilled in dealing with young people and those responsible health professionals who argue that, as well as sex education, we should provide education about drug addiction. Do we really think that such education would lead people to become drug addicts? We should tell young people about the issue, because it might affect their families, themselves, their friends or people with whom they will work, study or socialise in future. That applies in the House itself. All hon. Members are different, and we show amazing tolerance to each other. That is good, and can show the House at its best. I hope that today's debate sees the end of intolerance and that we can give families, parents and our young people at schools the opportunity to talk openly without prejudice and to protect each other while still being proud of their differences.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): I congratulate the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Miss Smith). During my first Parliament, I ended up speaking out against almost my entire party on a particular issue, and it is a lonely and difficult business. I do not think that some of her hon. Friends did themselves or the House any favours by intervening on her repeatedly, sometimes before she had finished a sentence. If ever I saw intolerance, it was then.
The House is probably united in the belief that what should be taught in schools should be a matter for the governors. All hon. Members who have touched on the issue have agreed on that, and I endorse that point. I am afraid that that is the only point of consensus that I shall make this afternoon, but I shall add a few brief remarks to the excellent contributions we have already heard from hon. Members on my side of the argument.
Every so often, somebody introduces a red herring and says that the section does not make any difference. But the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) is not an isolated one. There are others from various sources. Grampian health authority warned that teachers should not use
The fact that nearly all the worst examples come from health authorities not covered by section 28 suggests to me that the section is making a difference. Why else should health authorities produce material of this sort, while education authorities are not? As we have been rightly reminded again and again--first by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), and then by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale--section 28 applies only to education authorities.
Mr. Brazier: The job of health authorities clearly relates to the health of the nation. Producing a video encouraging 13 and 14-year-olds to experiment with sex, heterosexual and homosexual, does not make an obvious contribution to the health of the nation. But the only point that I am trying to make is this: no one can seriously argue that section 28 is a dead letter or an irrelevance when organisations not covered by it are producing such material, while, on the whole, organisations covered by it--education authorities--are not. It is clearly making a difference.
The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Ms Hilary Armstrong): The hon. Gentleman may not know that an amendment tabled to the Learning and Skills Bill covers his point. It will ensure that health authority guidance is subject to exactly the same conditions as guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. On that basis, the hon. Gentleman need have no further worries about repealing section 28.
Mr. Brazier: I know that you will restrain me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I go far down the road of debate on another Bill, but as the Minister has tempted me, let me make one point in response. As she will know, I was present for a substantial chunk of the debate on that Bill, during which the efforts of a number of Opposition Members to include a specific commendation of marriage were voted down. Given the overwhelming evidence that monogamy, abstinence and marriage are the best foundations for the rearing of children--that was the context of the debate, but the same applies in a number of other contexts--I am not entirely convinced by what
My second point is that a practical issue is involved--an issue that some speakers have been unwilling to face. I refer to the balance between the framework in which teaching is given, and the need for tolerance. One issue has featured a great deal in the media over the past fortnight. It has been dealt with rather flippantly, but I am the first to say that it is a serious issue. Obesity is a significant cause of bullying in schools. The bullying of fat children is probably the most common form of bullying in schools. It is repulsive, as is every other form of bullying. Some excessively thin or anorexic children are also bullied and are subject to unpleasant jibes and names such as "beanpole".
Would any hon. Member seriously suggest, however, that overweight children should not be warned of the medical dangers of being overweight? If their condition results from a medical condition, should not they be pointed towards doctors? [Interruption.] I heard some lengthy speeches from hon. Members opposed to the new clause and did not intervene, and I hope that they in turn will hear me out.
Is it seriously suggested that pupils should not be warned of the dangers of obesity? However, given the attitude developing among some health professionals, I wonder whether teachers would not be actively discouraged from telling pupils about the considerable medical dangers posed by homosexual practices.
Mr. Brazier: I am not an expert on the medical dangers of lesbianism, but the medical dangers of sex between men are a subject on which the hon. Gentleman has heard me speak before. As a doctor, he must know many of them. For instance, more than half the cases of HIV in this country involve the relatively small proportion of people who are practising homosexuals. The dangers also include a range of bowel disorders, and blood disorders. Some of the damage caused by male homosexual practices can be caused by protected sex as well as by unprotected sex. However, I do not want to go further down that road.
As I said earlier, in a physical context a contrast must be drawn between tolerance and teaching children the full facts. However, a wider moral argument underlies the debate. It is worth sharing with the House some of the comments made by major religious leaders in this country. The Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, has stated: