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Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) rose--

Mr. Borrow rose--

5.30 pm

Mr. Luff: I shall give way first to my hon. Friend and then to the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow).

Mr. Heald: Many of the representations that I have received in favour of retaining section 28 have been from

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mothers with sons, who feel worried about the change. Does my hon. Friend agree with my impression that the mothers of Britain are saying no to the proposed change?

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): Rubbish.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North): Rubbish.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Ladies should not get so excited.

Mr. Luff: I hear the cries of "rubbish", which you rightly rebuked, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from two people on the Government Benches whom I know to be mothers. All I can say is that they are in a minority of mothers and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) is right.

Before I give way to the hon. Member for South Ribble, I shall develop the point on which I think he wanted to intervene. I was quoting the doctor who said that young people can be vulnerable and impressionable. I think that the hon. Gentleman said that it is irrational to say that one can promote homosexuality. I disagree with him; it is possible to promote anything, including homosexuality.

Mr. Borrow: I know that the hon. Gentleman is not quoting his own words, but what does he understand by the term "homosexual lifestyle" in the letter that he has read out?

Mr. Luff: I do not want to be drawn into detail--this debate has been mercifully free of details--but I would have thought that the phrase is self-explanatory. I do not understand how I can expand the point. It is a life style lived by homosexuals, with the practices of homosexuals. It seems self-explanatory. I am at a loss to understand what further explanation I can give. The subject matter is well known on both sides of the House.

Dr. Harris: Is the hon. Gentleman at all troubled by the fact that no respected group of medical opinion accepts the view that a sexuality can be promoted, just as femaleness cannot be promoted? Is he at all put off his stride by the fact that organisations such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the National Children's Bureau and the Royal College of Nursing are all campaigning for the abolition of section 28 because of the damage that it does to the welfare of children?

Mr. Luff: The representative bodies may take that view, but I know many medics in my constituency, including the doctor whom I am quoting, who profoundly disagree. It is common for representative bodies to be out of step with ordinary members. If anything, the hon. Gentleman's point encourages me in my viewpoint.

The third question that we must ask is: what are the risks of repealing section 28? I and many hon. Members take a view about the importance of promoting conventional family life, and believe that promoting homosexuality risks undermining it. As I have explained, we believe that young children can be impressionable and open to pressures at the wrong time in their lives.

I happen to believe that there is too much pressure on young people, whatever their sexuality, to engage in early sexual experimentation--homosexual or heterosexual.

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Indeed, in the previous Parliament, I led a discussion from the Government Benches on a Bill to control the outrageous nature of teenage magazines for girls. I received great support on both sides of the House, for which I was grateful. We should be reluctant to promote anything that encourages excessive sexual experimentation.

My constituent, the doctor, says:

that is, encouragement to experiment.

Ann Keen: Will the hon. Gentleman please clarify whether he is suggesting that sex offenders come under the category of homosexuals? That is certainly the impression that he is giving, and I am sure that he would not wish to do so.

Mr. Luff: No, of course I would not wish to give that impression. I am citing a consequence feared by a doctor who has worked in prisons with sex offenders. However, I am grateful for the hon. Lady's clarification.

Finally, my constituent raises a fundamental objection that goes to the heart of section 28 and the debate. She says:

That is the heart of the argument. All forms of discrimination are abhorrent. We do not have to promote Islam or Judaism to urge tolerance and understanding of Muslims and Jews. We do not have to promote homosexuality to fight prejudice, intolerance and bullying. All bullying in schools is abhorrent, whether on the grounds of race, obesity--as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury said--wearing glasses, having red hair, being too clever or sexual orientation. Keeping section 28 would not be a bully's charter: it is misleading to argue that it would. The House should vote for the continuation of the section with absolute confidence.

Mr. Patrick Hall: The argument for section 28 and its retention, which the previous Government made in 1988, rests on the contention that homosexuality was being promoted deliberately among young children in schools. Of course, if that were true, I would agree that section 28 had a purpose. That contention has only one flaw: there was no evidence then that homosexuality was being promoted in schools, and there is no evidence now.

Let me deal briefly with a matter that has been raised mostly by Conservative Members today, but which has been raised by others in previous debates in this House and in the other place. It is claimed that an illegal and irresponsible way has been found to get pro-homosexual materials into schools in order to corrupt impressionable young children. Many who wish to retain section 28

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have claimed, usually in the media, that if it were removed, a floodgate would be opened and such promotional material would re-emerge.

I believe that that material has never been promoted in schools. The whole thing was brought about by the Conservative Government setting up a false target to generate populist acclaim. They wanted to create an enemy, shoot it down and claim that they were doing a good job. That technique is well known and well tried in politics, and does a great deal of harm because it hurts people.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Did the hon. Gentleman visit the exhibition laid on by Lady Young in a Committee Room earlier this year? I assure him that that material exists and, if it exists in such quantities, I presume that there is an intention to use it.

Mr. Hall: I did not visit the exhibition. However, what I am about to say may deal with some of the matters that may have been in the exhibition.

From the work that I have done, it appears that two kinds of material have been referred to in debates here and in the media in the last few months. One is a group of videos prepared by the Terrence Higgins Trust to promote safe sex among gay men. I have not viewed any of that material, but I understand that it is sexually explicit and is specifically designed for adults. It is not used in schools and, given the considerably reduced incidence in the spread of HIV and AIDS compared with forecasts a decade or so ago, it is probable that such materials have been successful.

The other group of material that has been alluded to includes, as we heard today, the teachers' pack and video "Beyond a Phase", prepared by the Avon health authority. The video is subtitled "Talking about Gay and Lesbian Relationships" and the accompanying document is subtitled "A Practical Guide to Challenging Homophobia in Schools". That material has been prepared for teachers; it is not for promotion among children. I have a copy of the document and, like the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), I have watched the video. She and I have totally different interpretations of that video, and I think that it is necessary to state on the record that there is a different view of it.

In my opinion, that 14-minute film is humane, thought provoking and socially responsible. Of course, as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said, it could have been done better, but it has been misrepresented. It presents young people, whom I believe to be between the ages of 13 and 16, talking honestly and openly about discovering their sexuality. Many of them say that they have discovered their homosexuality. They talk about the pain, confusion, unhappiness and loneliness of realising that their sexuality places them in a small minority imprisoned by social prejudice. They talk about the bullying, harassment and abuse that they have received from some people. They explain how all that interferes with their studies and their ability to form friendships and relationships. Those children are speaking for themselves, and they offer insights into the fear and ignorance that presents them as unnatural and dehumanised.

At the very end of the film, one young person comments that he had thought about experimenting with boys and girls to discover his real feelings. That comment has been

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mentioned several times today; it has been mentioned in another place and in the press. It has deliberately been inaccurately reported as characterising the purpose of the whole film as advocating experimentation for all. Having seen the video, I know that that is a mischievous travesty of the truth.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will refer to the Government guidance for schools on sex and relationship education, which has already been referred to. Having seen the principles that the Department for Education and Employment set out some months ago, I believe that the approach that has been adopted is mature, balanced and caring. There is an urgent need for open information on these matters and for clearer, better sex education in this country.

We have not performed well in that respect, as is suggested by the fact that Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the European Union and the evidence that children are becoming sexually active too young. Evidence from countries where there is more effective sex education shows that there has been an accompanying reduction in early sexual activity and that there are far fewer teenage pregnancies.

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