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10 Mar 2003 : Column 58—continued

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): If a second ballot were lost by 1 per cent., what would happen next?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: That is clear. We believe in democracy, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does. If the

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second ballot were lost even by one vote, the parents would obviously be dissatisfied with the material, so the matter would go to the Secretary of State. That seems to me exactly the right thing to do.

The final lacuna in the Bill is that section 2A applies only to pupils in maintained schools, as I stated clearly in my longish summing up of the legal position. It emerged in Committee that there is a lacuna, as the provision does not apply to youth clubs. I have referred to the nasty little document that is circulating among children as young as 12 in youth clubs. If section 2A is abolished, there will be nothing in the law to cover that situation.

It was difficult to make sure that the new clauses would be in order, because we are trying to amend an Education Act by means of a Local Government Bill. We propose that section 508 of the Education Act 1996 should be included in any guidance. I shall give my hon. Friends an idea of what section 508 covers. It provides that a local authority may

and may organise games, expeditions and other facilities. So we say, through new clause 17, that it is incredibly important that all facilities and organisations, where they are in any way funded by the local authority, should be brought within the guidance.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Will my hon. Friend confirm that the section covers youth clubs?

5.45 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am as satisfied as I can be in that respect. My hon. Friend brought up the matter in Committee, and I am grateful to him for trying to assist by tabling amendments (a) and (b). He obviously feels that the section would apply to youth clubs.

Kali Mountford : If what the hon. Gentleman describes as a nasty little document is available in youth clubs, why is it not prohibited under section 2A?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Because, as I have tried to explain to the hon. Lady, section 2A applies only to maintained schools. That is precisely the point.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): So why not vote to get rid of it?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The hon. Gentleman asks why we do not vote to get rid of it. We have to ensure that safeguards are put in place. If the House votes to get rid of section 2A, as I suspect it will, hon. Members must be aware of the lacunae that will still exist. One of the difficulties that I mentioned to the Minister, who undertook to consider it, is that boys and girls who go to youth clubs when they are relatively young will be left unprotected. That is an unsatisfactory position. If the

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Bill emerges without any amendments or new clauses, the Government will have to consider that aspect, among others.

Mr. Borrow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I will not give way any more; I have given way enough.

The Minister needs to address three major issues, apart from the whole issue of sex education and guidance: the material that is produced by health authorities, and how the guidance applies to them; bullying and how to deal with it; and, in particular, youth clubs.

We are all concerned to protect children and we are having an important debate about that. I suspect that the House will vote to leave the Bill as it is. That means that sex education in schools is moving on, so appropriate safeguards must be in place. The beginnings are there, but substantial problems remain. The compromise measures that we propose in new clauses 11 and 17 and amendment No. 37 would address that situation. I urge hon. Members to vote for them.

Mr. Bryant: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. I shall talk about only one of the many amendments that are before us—amendment No. 8—for the simple reason that it strikes to the heart of the debate, which essentially concerns the morality of the society in which we live and the way in which we choose to incorporate that into law.

Every society is constituted by its mores, the pattern of which forms the morality by which we all live our lives. Sometimes those mores are simply customs such as shaking hands or kissing somebody when you greet them; sometimes they are commonly held assumptions that everyone believes that everyone else holds; sometimes they are intellectual assertions that are propounded by teachers, educationists or the authorities of the land, and are often fiercely contested. It is rare, however—at least in modern democratic societies—that those mores are enshrined in law. In the modern world, it tends to be only theocratic states that have retained the enshrinement of mores in law.

Mr. Andrew Turner: What does the hon. Gentleman mean by mores, in this context? Many of our morals are enshrined in law—such as, "Thou shalt not kill."

Mr. Bryant: I do not want to get into a lengthy discussion on the ten commandments, although they would clearly form part of the mores of any society. However, mores stretch across a wide range of issues. In this country, it might be thought immoral for two men to greet each other by kissing; in Argentina, it would be thought very peculiar for two men to greet each other not by kissing.

David Cairns: I know that my hon. Friend does not want to get into a discourse on the ten commandments—neither do I—but we would not dream of legislating, to bring into law and enshrine in statute, that people had to honour the Sabbath. My hon.

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Friend is right to suggest that these are complex matters. Does he agree that simply parroting out the ten commandments does not get us anywhere?

Mr. Bryant: Indeed. I do not think that any of the ten commandments touch on the matters that we are discussing tonight.

Often, the mores on which a society's morality is built are based on myths—myths that were held in days gone by but that have subsequently been proven incorrect. The most common myth about homosexuality is that it is a choice—that somebody has chosen to be homosexual. Some people's interpretation of the Old and New Testaments may be that those who have chosen to be homosexual are acting outside the law of God, whereas those who have no choice about their sexuality, and for whom their sexuality is something to be discovered, are not acting outside that law. That view has often been preached by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the late 20th century and now in the 21st century, most people have accepted that people do not choose to be homosexual but discover that they are homosexual.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful contribution, but does he accept that the sexual orientation of young children can be influenced, and that sex education can play a part in that?

Mr. Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is tending towards the argument that homosexuality is an illness that can be caught. From experience, I know that the pressures of modern society are so strong that nobody would choose to be homosexual unless they felt that it was absolutely inevitable, that being homosexual was an integral part of who they were, and that they could do no other. For many years—from Jung onwards—psychiatric opinion has contested the idea that homosexuality was an illness that could be cured by aversion therapy, by electric shock treatment and by a whole range of other treatments.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I want to press the hon. Gentleman on the point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). Does the hon. Gentleman accept that teaching a child encompasses an element of influence? Is it not therefore important, when teaching children, that a way of life that—as the hon. Gentleman has just admitted—can cause problems in adult life should not be promoted?

Mr. Bryant: The right hon. Lady once told me on Radio 4 that I was "gambling with eternity" because of the way in which I led my life. The right hon. Lady makes a common mistake. She believes that the influence that can be brought to bear on a young person can so transform their sexual leanings that they will become homosexuals. From my experience as a youth worker in the Church of England, when I assisted youth organisations all round the diocese of Peterborough, I know that that is not the case. If it were possible for somebody to catch homosexuality or to be influenced into becoming homosexual, I think that Oscar Wilde's children would have been gay. They were not.

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Homosexuality cannot be caught. One of the myths that is perpetuated in common parlance is that homosexuality and paedophilia are more or less the same thing. Sometimes, in the debate on this issue—especially in the House of Lords, where it has been referred to many times—there has been an enormous conflation that is both ignorant and profoundly unhelpful.

There are two myths than can easily be dispelled. They strike perhaps a slightly lighter note. One is that no clergy are gay. That was the firm belief of the Bishop of Oxford who, three weeks after ordaining me, said that he had never laid hands on a gay man. Either he did not know, or he chose to ignore it. It is one of the profound sadnesses of the past 50 years that, although the Church of England has had many gay clergy who have served it extremely well—especially in many inner-city parishes where many clergy with children would not want to serve—the Church has pretended that those people have not served it well. That has been a great disservice to the Gospel.

The second myth is that no married people are gay. I cannot count the number of times I have heard somebody say, "Oh, no, he can't be gay, because he's married with children." I have already mentioned Oscar Wilde but I am sure that there are many others—some of whom have been Members of this House—who could prove that myth untrue.

I have always felt section 28 to be immoral because of the profound damage that it has done to enormous numbers of bruised individuals. The number of young men who have committed suicide when they have started to understand their own sexuality is phenomenal. The more tolerant attitudes in many other countries have made it far more possible for people to come to understand themselves and to grow into adults who play an important part in society.

Section 28 was not brought in to protect children; it was brought in to make a declamation—that homosexuality was abnormal, immoral and wrong. That has caused profound damage, not only to homosexual men but to literally millions of wives. How many women, because their men have felt, in the society in which they lived, that they had to get married to cure themselves somehow of their homosexual tendencies, have ended up leading a miserable married life because they never really knew the person to whom they were married? I do not want to mention any particular people, but if any hon. Member doubts what I have said, they should watch the film "Far from Heaven", which is a dramatic version of a story that literally millions of people have gone through. Millions of wives have had their lives destroyed. For that matter, millions of children of homosexual men have never been able to know their father properly. Those men have sought to marry but have done so against what they probably knew to be their proper nature. Their children have often inherited denial as a psychiatric pattern, which has affected the rest of their lives and given them further problems.

A declamatory law that says that homosexuality is not to be promoted. because in some way or another it is abnormal or immoral, leads to a greater sense that it is okay to bully somebody because they are homosexual. Section 28—as it was called in 1988 and as many of us still think of it—is purely a declamatory law. The

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hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has already said that it has no effect in modern law. Law that has been drafted means that the section has been sidelined in a way that is marked. There has not been a single prosecution since section 28 was brought in, despite all the things that the hon. Gentleman referred to.

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