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Mr. Howarth: The names are all in Hansard. The bishops who voted for retention were the Bishops of Bradford, Manchester, Rochester and Winchester. Those who voted against were the Bishops of Bristol, Oxford, Portsmouth and St. Albans. The hon. Gentleman can read that in Hansard, just as I did.
Mr. Woodward: I shall speak briefly as a trustee of Childline, as a former deputy chairman of Childline, and as someone who has been responsible for child protection. Childline has counselled 1 million children in the past 12 years. Whatever the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) may wish to say about Childline or however he may wish to traduce it and the other charities involved in child protection, it is a gross distortion of what the charities have said and the evidence that they have produced.
The truth is that children are not protected by the current law. Those Opposition Members who have no interest in listening to facts and no interest in listening to children's charities are wilfully damaging, not protecting, children in Britain today. Nobody in Britain wants the promotion of homosexuality. People in Britain want tolerance, fairness and understanding.
Mr. Woodward: I will not give way, and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) knows well why I will not do so. Every time I have asked him to give way, he has petulantly refused to do so. I shall return the compliment. He cannot face criticism. His comments are based on ignorance, intolerance, prejudice and a failure to consult children's charities.
If Conservative Members had once done children's charities the courtesy of spending time with them, they would have learned--[Interruption.] Conservative Front- Bench spokesmen moan about this, but I have never seen a single Conservative Front-Bench spokesman at the offices of Childline. They have never consulted the children's charities. Why are they not interested? They had a two-minute discussion in shadow Cabinet in which they decided that it was so-called good family values--or short-term political opportunism--to ignore the evidence of every single children's charity and every single teacher who said that the section was a mistake. They do not care
Conservative Members will not listen, but if they care one jot about children, if they care one jot about a Sarah Payne--[Interruption.] Listen carefully. [Interruption.] Those of us who are involved in child protection know that unless one listens to the problems that are raised by the children and their families they become a serious matter, sometimes ending in death.
I can tell Conservative Members that there will be children who will telephone Childline or the Samaritans and talk of suicide and despair, and if the House chooses, out of prejudice, intolerance and short-term political gain, to ignore those children, it will fail our country in a way which is singularly irresponsible.
Dr. Harris: I have three points in refutation of some of the points made by Conservative Members. First, it is not the view of any medical organisation, psychological or psychiatric authority that homosexuality can be promoted. That is like saying that femaleness can be promoted. It cannot. Unless hon. Members have discovered some new developmental biological insight, or developmental psychological insight--
Secondly, section 28 does not allow for young people to be told that homosexuality is acceptable as "a pretended family relationship". That means that young people should be told that homosexuality is unacceptable and that anyone who is homosexual and has any kind of family relationship is somehow unacceptable. That is what is unacceptable to those of us who believe that gay and lesbian people have a right to private family lives and to the freedoms and privileges that other British citizens rightly enjoy. That is why that part of section 28 is anathema.
Thirdly, Conservative Members have attempted to say that they care deeply about the problems of bullying, including homophobic bullying, while supporting section 28. There is clear research on the effect of section 28 on the mental health and freedoms of young people who are teased for being gay or lesbian or because they are felt to be gay or lesbian.
Research by the College of Ripon and York St. John presented this month at a conference of the British Psychological Society shows that a large proportion of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils who are bullied by their classmates try to commit suicide, and that 17 per cent.--nearly one in five--display symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder in later life. The authors of the report clearly link that to section 28.
Perhaps we are worse off than when we started because we have handed our opponents a victory, which will succour prejudice, give momentum to the view of those who oppose the human rights of lesbian and gay people, and kindle homophobia and the sort of hate crimes that we have witnessed in their severest form recently. Could the Government have taken action earlier to avoid our current position?
The Government must urge the repeal of section 28. They could have made it a manifesto commitment. A vote against the Government's position tonight will send a message to those in charge of manifestos that the House of Lords shows greater respect to Government manifesto commitments. If, like us, the Government had included their policy to repeal section 28 in their manifesto, we would probably not be in our current position.
The Government could have introduced the provision in their first Bill on local government. It would have been better to do it immediately and associate a popular Government with an important measure, which may not be populist according to the tabloid press. We would be further away from a general election and there would be less electoral leverage for the more intolerant parts of the media, and less of a chance for our opponents to whip up homophobia around election time.
The Government could have repealed section 28 in a House of Commons Bill, which would have allowed for the operation of the Parliament Act. I know that they were urged to do that. The Library report states clearly that if a House of Commons Bill had been introduced earlier in the Session, the Parliament Act--the cure for Lords obstinacy--could have been used.
It did not take a rocket scientist to realise that the House of Lords would oppose repealing section 28. It does not take much to realise that headlines in the newspapers--even The Guardian--which suggested that, if the Government lost, they would make the announcement that they made today, would improve the Lords' chances of defeating the measure. That happened on measures such as the reduction of the age of consent. The Government should give no clue to their future tactics because that aids our opponents.