Local Government Bill

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Mr. Davey: Will there be one set of guidance? Presumably two sets will not be allowed to run in parallel at any one time?

Mr. Raynsford: We certainly do not want the confusion of two separate guidance arrangements. The Audit Commission will work initially according to the Housing Corporation guidance. However, as the integration progresses, inevitably there will be some consideration of the need for new combined guidance. We do not want to see a framework in which there is a confusion of separate forms of guidance in operation. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to set out specifically why we are using section 11 of the Local Government Act 1999 as the basis rather than the Housing Act 1996, and I hope that he will accept that explanation.

I urge the Committee to support the new clause and the Government amendments, and I urge the hon. Member for Isle of Wight not to press his amendments.

Mr. Turner: I am not wholly satisfied with the Minister's explanations on amendments (b) and (d), but I am sure that this will not be the last piece of housing legislation this millennium, and that if we find that this does not work, we will have the opportunity to press such amendments in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality

    'Section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (c.10) (local authorities prohibited from promoting homosexuality) ceases to have effect'.—[Mr. Davey.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Davey: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 18—Repeal of section 2A of Local Government Act 1986—

    '(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide that section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (c.10) shall cease to have effect.

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    (2) No order under this section shall be made unless the Secretary of State has certified that—

    (a) appropriate guidance has been issued under section 403(1A) of the Education Act 1996 (c.56); and

    (b) an appropriate mechanism has been established for consulting parents of registered pupils by ballot about the contents of any written statement made in pursuance of section 404(1)(a) of that Act.

    (3) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.

Amendment No. 10, in

schedule 7, page 105, line 38, at end insert—

    'Local Government Act 1986 (c.10) section 2A'.

Government amendments Nos. 135 and 137 to 139.

Amendment No. 8, in

clause 122, page 69, line 9, leave out 'and 114' and insert

    ', 114 and (Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality)'.

Government amendment No. 140.

Amendment No. 9, in

clause 122, page 69, line 12, at end insert—

    '( ) section 2A of the Local Government Act 1986 (c.10)'.

Government amendments Nos. 141 and 142.

10.15 am

Mr. Davey: In beginning the debate, I stress that new clause 1 and the related amendments have been tabled in a spirit of cross-party unity on the issue. I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) who, although he is not on the Committee, is in the Room today. I am also glad to say that the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon has attached his name to the new clause, along with other Conservative Members.

It is not just in the House of Commons that there is cross-party unity on the issue. At the recent meeting of the executive of the Local Government Association, representatives of all parties were determined that they should campaign to remove this legislation from the statute book. It is against that background of different people of different parties having moved significantly on the issue that we are debating the new clause.

In my remarks I will look forward, as I hope other hon. Members will also do, rather than looking back at the history of which party did what at what time, because that is irrelevant. I will look at how we can move forward on the issue. It is important to remember the number of changes that have taken place in legislation and guidance in this area since the original legislation was passed. At the time, some of us were against that legislation, but many other people can now be against section 28 as a result of the changes.

I am sure that other hon. Members have a more comprehensive list, but the Learning and Skills Act 2000 makes it clear that local authorities have no responsibility for sex education, which makes section 28 completely redundant. It prohibits the national health service from producing material for sex education for adult gay men, and ensures that it cannot be used in schools. Section 148 of that Act ensures that

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the Secretary of State must provide relevant sex and relationship guidance for schools. The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2001 provides a strong framework of protection for children—not that section 28 was ever about protection for children. Nevertheless, people who are worried about that can now point to that Act.

One could name many other pieces of education legislation. Previous Governments, as well as this one, have issued much guidance on the subject, and parents always have the right to withdraw their children from sex education lessons in school. Given that panoply of guidance, this Committee needs to approach the debate differently to the way in which Committees and Parliaments in past decades have approached it.

Mr. Turner: Is the hon. Gentleman asserting that parents have the right to withdraw their children from sex education?

Mr. Davey: Yes. Section 5.7 of the sex and relationship guidance, published in July 2001, states:

    ''Parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or part of the sex and relationship education provided at school except for those parts included in the statutory National Curriculum (see section 3).''

The parts that section 3 lists are quite a narrow part of sex education. The guidance states that when parents exercise the right to withdraw their children from sex education:

    ''Schools should make alternative arrangements in such cases. The DfEE will offer schools a standard park of information for parents who withdraw their children from sex and relationship education.''

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman a copy of that guidance if he wants to read it.

There are many reasons for removing section 28 from the statute book. I shall not talk about them at length, as I know that many hon. and right hon. Members want to speak about the issue, but I shall mention a few. We should remember that there is a high incidence of homophobic bullying in many of our schools. My noble Friend Lord Tope has done a great deal of research on that in partnership with some of the teaching unions and the Local Government Association. An important corollary to that is an anxiety among many teachers that they cannot support children who are suffering from that bullying. That anxiety may be the result of a misunderstanding of the law, but it is a fact. This House must legislate on the basis of fact. If we are concerned about that homophobic bullying, we should remove section 28 to make it clear that teachers with pupils who are suffering have an unfettered duty to help them.

Mr. Turner: No one would argue with that, but the hon. Gentleman cannot say that a false perception exists and then claim that it is a fact. It is a fact that there is a perception, but the perception is inaccurate.

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman is arguing against himself. He agrees that the perception is a fact, which is what I was saying.

We should be clear about the effect of allowing homophobia and homophobic bullying to remain in the system and of not working sensitively to remove it.

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I am sure that other hon. Members will have figures to hand, but there is good evidence that the number of suicides among young males correlates to their sense of guilt and bullying as a result of their sexuality. The incidence of suicide in that group is higher than in any other section of the population.

We all have friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have suffered because of their sexuality. I heard after I left university that a colleague, a very talented young man, hanged himself in a toilet in the college. His friends believed that he committed suicide because of guilt about his sexuality and because he felt that he could not go back home and confront his parents. That is the reality; that is the sort of discrimination and fear that people have. When we approach the matter, let us forget the tabloid headlines, but remember the reality of many people who suffer because of their sexuality.

There are other reasons in favour of the proposal—issues related to sexual health and to the bizarre notion, which I completely reject, that a particular sexuality can be promoted and that people can be converted to it. There is no independent professional support for that view; the British Medical Association, for example, completely rejects it. It is a strong reason for getting rid of section 28, and there are many others. I do not want to labour that point, as I am sure that other hon. Members can do it better than I can.

Hon. Members need to be aware of the support for repeal. A huge number of bodies are in favour of our proposal, although I know that others are against. However, there is an impressive list of people and organisations that want the legislation to come off the statute book.

Mr. Goodman: Can the hon. Gentleman explain something to me? I understand that not only are a range of organisations in favour of scrapping section 28, although several are against, but the Government are in favour of doing so and will be sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's proposal. That being so, why does the hon. Gentleman think that the Government have not tabled an amendment to that effect themselves?

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