Previous SectionIndexHome Page

12 midnight

Every now and then, the mask slips. It slipped last night. Baroness Young said that, if section 28 was repealed, it

In other words, the champions of section 28 made it clear that it is not only the promotion of homosexuality--whatever that means--that causes them problems, but teaching children that minorities, like everyone else, have human rights and that they should be regarded as equal citizens.

We also heard about fears that bordered on paranoia--for example, that teachers might promote homosexuality through English and history lessons to get round the Government's guidelines. What does that reveal about the trust that section 28 enthusiasts place in our teachers, and in the parents and others who sit on governing bodies and control what is taught in our schools?

During the many debates that we have held on section 28, the Government have been accused of being obsessed with the issue. But who are the real obsessives? What sort of world do they think that we live in? What sort of education do they want our children to receive? We heard the answer last night.

Section 28 was born out of a climate of prejudice and discrimination. It was introduced by a Conservative Government who were intent on dividing our society. The defenders of section 28 want to perpetuate a society in which gay men and lesbians are regarded as second-class citizens with second-class rights; a society in which legitimate concerns for children and young people are replaced by irrationality, fear and intolerance; a society that creates the climate for homophobic bullying and other violent assaults on gays and lesbians. Those views unfortunately held sway last night. They must not be allowed to triumph.

Labour Members remain committed to the repeal of the unnecessary and divisive legislation. Legislation on children is clear; section 28 adds confusion, which led to problems in the past. We believe that the section must go.

Mr. Don Foster: The Minister said clearly that the Government believe that section 28 should be repealed as quickly as possible. What measures do the Government intend to introduce to ensure that that happens?

Ms Armstrong: We are committed to repealing section 28. I have discussed that with colleagues throughout the Government today. We will continue to consider the precise way in which we intend to repeal the legislation. We want to ensure that we get it through not only this House, but the House of Lords. We will, therefore, have to introduce the most appropriate measure, as soon as we are able, to ensure that we repeal the legislation and make it clear that we want both a tolerant and supportive society for all our citizens, and proper respect and protection for children at school.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): With respect, the Minister has not answered the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Members on both sides of the House who support her view want to know whether she can guarantee that the

25 Jul 2000 : Column 1037

Government will repeal section 28 in the lifetime of this Parliament by any means other than insisting on the measure.

Ms Armstrong: Given the views of the House of Lords, which is blocking repeal, I am unable to give that assurance. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member long enough to know that, whatever we do about the House of Lords this side of the election, the procedures of this House do not allow any Minister to guarantee that the Government will get legislation through in any given period. We are not in a position to give such a guarantee and--unlike others, perhaps--I am not prepared to mislead the House in any way. However, the House must understand that we will find ways in which to repeal the legislation.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). Can she say categorically whether the Government will introduce in the next Session, which will start in November, a Bill that will carry into law the Labour party manifesto commitment to repeal section 28?

Ms Armstrong: As I explained to the hon. Members for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), whatever we do--even if we introduce a simple Bill in the next Session--we will be unable to guarantee that it will get through both Houses and pass into law this side of the general election.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Constituents have written to me in confidence to express their heartfelt feelings--their desire for us to repeal the legislation. My right hon. Friend will be aware that they are vulnerable people and that we must represent them here. The last thing that they need is the door slamming in their face because of procedural matters relating to the House of Lords. Surely she agrees that it is our duty to find a procedure that will finally remove the legislation from the statute book. Section 28 must be repealed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Lady is making a speech, not an intervention.

Ms Armstrong: We are determined to find the most effective way to get legislation to repeal section 28 through both Houses and on to the statute book. It is our responsibility to find a means to do that that we know to be effective. As my hon. Friend says, we must not wind people up only to disappoint them, and we are considering ways to introduce effective measures to ensure that section 28 goes. I have made the Government's views absolutely clear to the House. Those views are shared across the Government and we want to find ways to repeal this pernicious and prejudicial legislation. We will do what we can to achieve that, but we must be effective.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): This is one of the most cowardly acts by the Government. They believe that it is far more important to save the provisions in the Bill that bully councils into accepting structures than it is to save a principle that the Minister has spent 15 minutes arguing for.

Ms Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman may well read his remarks tomorrow and think about them. He, as a council

25 Jul 2000 : Column 1038

leader, and members of his council have urged on me the importance of the promotion of well-being and the duty of community planning contained in the Bill. His friends on the Local Government Association are determined that the Bill should go through. They want to ensure that we repeal section 28, and so do I. Sending the Bill back to the Lords would not achieve either the repeal of section 28 or the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not be distracted by Conservative Members who want to uphold bigotry and prejudice--we have no doubt about that. I believe that the overwhelming majority of people on both sides of the House want to secure the repeal of section 28 at the earliest opportunity. Let us do that in a way that can be successful. From working with my right hon. Friend over the past three years, I have no doubt of her commitment and that of the Government to doing what the people on the Tory Benches do not want them to do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg) that in the House we refer to each other as hon. Members.

Ms Armstrong: We have consistently worked with anyone who is interested in finding a way forward that reassures parents and repeals section 28, which has supported prejudice. We want to tackle intolerance and prejudice.

Mr. Corbyn: I thank the Minister for giving way a second time. She will recall the number of attempts that have been made ever since section 28 was introduced to get rid of it, and this is yet another. I want to hear from her exactly by what means the Government intend to introduce clear legislation with a chance of getting through before the end of this Parliament. Otherwise, people will feel that once again the whole issue has been fudged, and the criminalisation of young people will continue as a result of this legislation.

Ms Armstrong: I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that we are determined to find the most effective way of getting rid of section 28. It is because I want to work with others in the House to ensure its repeal that I am not able to tell my hon. Friend the precise way of doing it. We must work effectively with all supporters of repeal. I am determined to do that, and will continue my efforts. By so doing, we will get rid of section 28 more quickly than we would if I made declaratory statements tonight that might not in the end deliver this objective as quickly and as effectively as we want.

Mr. Waterson: Some Ministers are capable of making a graceful retreat, but the Minister is not one of them. As she well knows, we support aspects of the Bill and tried to improve them in Committee. It is no good going on about the good things in the Bill and how they would be prejudiced by holding the line on section 28. The plain truth is that this proposal should never have been tacked on the end of the Bill in the first place.

Next Section

IndexHome Page