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Lord Tope: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for reminding us of Monday's opportunity. I believe that the words used by the chief inspector were to the effect that Section 28 has not had a negative influence on teachers' ability to tackle homophobic bullying. Would the Minister agree that there is ample evidence that it has had such a negative effect and is not the fact that the chief inspector is apparently unaware of that, a more serious indictment of his failure to create an atmosphere in which teachers and pupils can confide their real concerns to him?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord in that Chris Woodhead does not seem to reflect the view of teachers. Forty-four per cent of them felt that they had difficulty in meeting the needs of gay and lesbian pupils as a result of Section 28 and 28 per cent felt that the section may leave them open to legal proceedings. That is ample evidence of the need to alter this pernicious clause.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, many of my colleagues will be shocked by the way in which the Minister dismissed the comments of the Chief Inspector of Schools, who I believe has given excellent service to this and the previous Government. Has the Minister seen the marvellous exhibition upstairs which has been put together by my noble friend Lady Young? Does he agree that it contains materials which were depraving and corrupting, upon which public money had been spent and which was being peddled around to very young children in our schools and youth centres?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, many noble Lords will be aware of the exhibition and of the material that is being peddled around. That material has not been produced by or for the Department for Education and Employment, local education authorities or schools in most respects. Some of the material is sensible, good guidance to teachers, social workers and youth workers and I would very much approve of it. However, I should not want to see other parts of the material used in schools and youth clubs.
The guidance which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is in the process of producing--he is doing so in consultation with a wide range of opinion, including the Churches and everyone involved in sex education--will soon be available. It is important to deal with these issues in a sensitive and detailed way and not attempt to do so by a few
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the number of organisations set up by parents of gay young people because they are concerned about the bullying of their children? Furthermore, is he aware of a report published some years ago by a gay teenagers' group which describes the misery caused by bullying in schools?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, yes, I am aware of several parents' organisations which have brought the issue to the attention of Ministers and education authorities and of the wide range of reports from people who have suffered from homophobic bullying in schools. I am also aware of the report to which my noble friend referred and of the wide range of organisations which, as a result of their experience with young people, and in particular the abuse received by them, support the repeal of Section 28. I hope that on Monday the Committee will do the same.
Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Mr Woodhead's opinion of the effect of Section 28 must be contingent on his opinion of its meaning? Does he also agree that, as in 12 years no one has tested the meaning of the section in court, any opinion of its meaning must be conjectural and therefore personal?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, in my opening remarks I said that Chris Woodhead had spoken personally. One of the many defects of the section is that it is not clear and has never been tested by the courts. If it were so tested, it would not achieve any of the objectives which its original proponents sought from it.
What it has done is create an appalling atmosphere among teachers and social workers who believe that they cannot touch on some of the most difficult problems which people bring to them and that they cannot give them information, education and counselling. That is the effect, not its legal effect, and it is therefore inappropriate for the face of primary legislation.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I ask the Minister an unemotive question? In the context of the repeal of Section 28, does he accept that the Act as it stands, without amendment, confers absolute discretion on a local authority to promote anything considered to be likely to improve social well-being?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, no, I do not believe it does in that absolute sense. I am pleased that the noble Lord attempted to take some of the emotion out of the debate and I, too, shall attempt to do so on Monday.
The position is not that if we remove Section 28 there will be a vacuum. If we remove Section 28, school governors and teachers who are responsible for sex education in schools will be subject to the very detailed guidance which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is producing as well
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is even more surprising that Mr Woodhead can make such a statement when the 1997 report from the Institute of Education makes it clear that the existence of this legislation sends a confusing message to teachers and affects the lives of young people with whom they seek to work? I cannot believe that he is not aware of this report and its comments.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am aware of the report from the Institute of Education and believe it to be well founded on the experience of school teachers and head teachers. That is one of the main motivations behind our desire to see the repeal of the section and to provide a sensible, calm and caring context in which sexual relationships are advised on by school teachers, social workers and youth workers. The continuation of the section has a pernicious effect and we ought to remove it.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the law about insolvency; to amend the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11. I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to know that I do not intend to make a long speech on these amendments. However, I should like to give the Minister an opportunity to respond so that the House is made aware, before we say au revoir to the Bill, of the current state of policy development on two or three outstanding issues.
The amendments all relate to the definition of "public authorities", with the exception of Amendment No. 11 which relates to the proposed policy of duty to promote equality. Noble Lords will recall from our previous debates that what is being sought here is a combination of a specific definition of "public authorities" by means of a schedule and a generic definition by reference to the Human Rights Act. During our debates on Report, I suggested that a solution might lie in having both. That is the proposition which these amendments seek to pursue. I beg to move.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his brevity; I shall try to be equally brief. Noble Lords are well aware that the issues surrounding the definition were
I undertook on Report last week that the Government would look again--without commitment-- at this matter. For that reason, I do not believe that we can move much further at this stage and I hope that noble Lords will not allow the issue to delay the passage of the Bill. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, will feel able to withdraw his amendment in the knowledge that we are looking at the whole matter again.
I must say that I think his proposal to bring the two definitions together is novel, has value and has merit. Together with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, we have agreed to look at this matter in the round. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, knows that we have had useful further discussions. That is the state of play at the moment. We shall continue to examine the matter positively to see whether we can accommodate both attempts at a useful definition by means of a single approach. However, I do not wish to predict the outcome of those discussions and no doubt the issue will be revisited in detail when the Bill goes to another place.
For those reasons, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for his intervention. We shall be considering the matter further and it is hoped that we shall be able to accommodate all sides of the argument in future debates.
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