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10 Mar 2003 : Column 63—continued

Andrew Selous: I want to correct the hon. Gentleman on that point. He is probably aware that, in the case of Glasgow City Council, there was a judicial review as a result of section 28, although the section has since been repealed in Scotland.

Mr. Bryant: I know that the hon. Gentleman is making a point, but we are talking not about the way that legislation will affect Scotland but about the way that it will affect here.

Kali Mountford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way as it gives me an opportunity to clarify what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). Is it not the case that section 28, as it is known, applies to local education authorities and therefore to youth clubs that are run by them, so any material that is produced for or by youth clubs would be covered by the Act as it now stands?

Mr. Bryant: To be honest, the single most important reason for getting rid of section 28 is its declamatory effect. The words that many gay men, lesbians and bisexuals find profoundly offensive are those that state that a local authority shall not

I cannot imagine how anyone could have written that from any perspective, whether it be profoundly Christian or Muslim, without deliberately intending to be offensive.

Mr. Brazier rose—

Mr. Llwyd rose—

Mr. Bryant: I will give way, but I am being particularly generous.

6 pm

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman is being generous and his speech is courageous, but what does he think about new clause 21? Without mentioning either homosexuality or heterosexuality specifically, it would dissuade local authorities from sexualising young children.

Mr. Bryant: I said that I only wanted to speak about one aspect of the subject. New clause 21 is ambivalent and is merely a smokescreen for those who want to pretend that they are in the nice party when really they are not.

Mr. Llwyd: Surely the best case for the repeal of section 28 is that it is obsolete. The hon. Gentleman is

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right to say that no one was prosecuted under it. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) referred to a civil process in Scotland. As far as I know, there has never been a criminal prosecution.

Mr. Bryant: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.

My problem with such a declamatory law is that it leads to an assumption of prejudice. Some hon. Members may believe that there is hardly any prejudice left against homosexuality in this country. Homosexuals are in nearly every soap opera on television and many celebrities feel able to come out. Indeed, many hon. Members on both sides of the House are honest about their sexuality and see it as something to be celebrated. But prejudice is alive and well. Many children speak of bullying. Being called a poof or a queer can be devastating for young people and they will do everything in their power to prevent that from being levelled at them if they happen to be homosexual. If they are not, it might not matter so much.

Everyone who guesses the number of homosexuals comes up with a figure of their own, but perhaps between one in 20 and one in 10 are by nature homosexual, as they will discover by the age of 18, 21, 28, 34 or whenever—it will happen at some point in their life. For many of those people, that bullying can be profoundly bruising, and the bruises can sometimes be very real. There are more than a dozen cases every year of serious queer bashing in which individuals are killed or beaten for their sexuality and for doing something that other people would find entirely normal—perhaps for going to a bar or for kissing someone whom they love. It is not many years since the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in Old Compton street. Very few people in the gay community in London or, I suspect, across the country were not as profoundly touched by that experience as the Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities were when bombs were let off in their communities.

In addition, gay men or lesbians have to think twice about many thoroughly normal things that are part of an ordinary person's life. They have to think twice before booking a hotel room because the woman on the desk at the hotel might say, "Sorry. We don't allow homosexuals in this hotel", when they turn up. They have to think twice before taking out a mortgage in case the woman falls off her chair when someone says that his partner is a man, not a woman. However, gay and lesbian people do not have to think twice when they write their wills, but three, four or five times because of the difficulty of constructing a will that allows their partner to live in the home for which they may have paid throughout their life. They have to think twice before going abroad because a large number of countries, including many in the Commonwealth, have legislated against homosexuality and the penalties are severe. For that matter, they have no right to attend the inquest of the person with whom they may have lived and shared their life for 20, 30 or 40 years and whose funeral they may have organised.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am sure that the House has considerable sympathy with the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, but how do his remarks relate to sex education in schools and section 28?

Mr. Bryant: I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would have ruled me out of order had I steered away

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from the Bill's content. My point is simple, however. At the moment, the section is obsolete. It only exists as a declamatory law and it makes people feel all right about being prejudiced against homosexuals in society. If we are to have a declamatory law on homosexuality, it should proclaim that everyone is equal under the law and has an equal right to live and love.

Many of us presume that this House will come to one view on the matter and that the other place will come to another. A friend of mine who sits in the House of Lords told me that her first day there was spent in a debate on section 28 which she found perplexing because she had never heard so many medical terms in her life. I profoundly hope that as a result of, I think, four free votes in this House, the House of Lords will honour the views of the democratic Chamber.

Mr. Edward Davey: The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant). He put his case powerfully and sensitively. Some of the real-life examples that he gave reminded me of gay friends of mine who faced huge prejudice and difficulty when they decided to declare to their family and friends how they really felt about their sexuality. When I spoke at length on the issue in Committee, I mentioned a colleague of mine who was at university with me. When he realised his sexuality in his late teens, rather than face his family, he hanged himself in a toilet in our university. That is the reality of the prejudice and discrimination that many people experience, and that is why it is wrong to have a prejudiced piece of legislation on our statute books.

I shall be brief because the Liberal Democrats position on section 2A has been clear for a long time. We voted against it when it was first proposed and it has been party policy in successive manifestos to repeal it. Liberal Democrat MPs have voted against it time and again. It was our privilege to move an amendment in Committee, with cross-party support, to remove the section. In particular, I give credit to the hon. Members for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) for their support.

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) confirmed that the Conservatives will have a free vote and the Minister confirmed by nodding earlier that that is also the case for Labour Members. Do we take it that the Liberal Democrats will not have a free vote?

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman can take it that that is case. It is party policy and has been in three, if not four, manifestos.

David Cairns: I commend the hon. Gentleman's party on that choice. I am sure that the vast majority of my hon. Friends will support his case. We would not dream of allowing a free vote on issues of race discrimination or gender discrimination. I understand the history but, frankly, would prefer my party to take the same stance as the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful for that comment. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is a matter of party policy and demands that approach.

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We tried to get cross-party consensus on the amendment when we moved it in Committee and it is extremely important that the House gets consensus tonight. In yet another vote, we need to give a clear signal to the other place that the mind of the democratic House is made up. It needs to know that we have voted time and again on the issue and that it no longer splits the parties. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have made up their mind on it—indeed, some have even changed their mind. We must send a powerful message to the other place, so that it does not try to obstruct the democratic House on the issue yet again. It is time we got rid of the legislation.

In Committee it was noticeable that the majority of members from all parties voted to delete section 28, or section 2A, whichever one wants to call it. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), and the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) and for Poole (Mr. Syms)—all Conservative Members—voted to delete section 28. They were right to do so, and I believe that their example will be followed by many other Conservative Members tonight. I hope we can maximise the Conservative vote tonight. People outside and in the other place know where the majority of Liberal Democrats and Labour Members stand. It is important that we get rid of the issue by as many Conservative Members as possible voting for the amendment. That will be the best way of getting rid of the discrimination once and for all.

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