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Lord Davies of Coity: It was not so long ago that I spoke in this Chamber opposing the reduction in the age of consent. The view that I take on the issue before us today is the same as I took then; that is, to protect the interests of young people and children and to do nothing whatever to increase the level of risk to which

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they are exposed, even if that risk is small and acknowledging that there will be no effect on the vast majority whether Section 28 is in place or not.

My one regret is that whereas on the question on the age of consent the Government allowed a free vote, on this issue they have not. That regret applies equally in respect of the party opposite whose action--despite it having "Whipped" in a way that coincides with how I shall vote--I believe to be wrong. I say that because I believe this to be a question of conscience, a moral issue and not a political one.

I know that there are those who claim that this is a political issue. They are entitled to that view. However, I do not share it. It came as a great surprise to me when the Government--whom I unequivocally support, and for whom I did as much as I could to bring to power--decided, very late on, to apply a three-line Whip, probably, in part at least, influenced by the fact that the Conservative Party had already taken the decision to apply a three-line Whip.

It is not my intention to repeat the arguments I advanced previously, important as I feel they are. I want to draw the attention of the Committee, very briefly, to a few points which I feel are directly relevant to Section 28.

Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 states that where sex education is given it should be,

    "in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life".

I agree with that--I believe that the vast majority of people agree with that--and nothing in Section 28 cuts across that approach.

I understand that the proposed new guidance will clearly set out that children should be taught about the importance and nature of marriage and family life in bringing up children. I welcome that. But, again, nothing in Section 28 prevents that. One would have thought that it reinforces it. I also understand that the guidance will stress that marriage and the family are the key building blocks of the community and of society; it will also make clear that it is not the job of teachers to promote a particular sexual orientation, that teachers will not be promoting homosexual relationships. Finally, the guidance will ensure that teachers are in a position to offer information and support to all young people as they develop into adults and to address incidents of homophobic bullying. I agree with all of that--but I cannot see the justification for repealing Section 28 in the process.

I feel that, whether or not we like it, we cannot ignore the perception that the British people have of the issue and of what they understand Section 28 reflects. The British people that we represent see the issue as this: those who seek the repeal of Section 28 support the promotion of homosexuality, whereas those who oppose the repeal of Section 28 are against the promotion of homosexuality. Of course we know that, as in most things, the issue is not as simple and as clear-cut as that--but I believe that that is the perception of most people. I fear that to ignore that

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perception can work only to the disadvantage of the Government, of whom I want to see in power for at least--

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Since the question of the beliefs and perceptions of the public has arisen, does the noble Lord think that the role of this House is to follow public opinion or to lead, educate and inform it?

Lord Davies of Coity: I certainly do not believe that it is necessary to follow public opinion in all cases, but I believe that it would be unwise to ignore it. I do not think that we hold a monopoly in terms of people's knowledge and feelings on issues of morality and conscience.

Because most people believe that protection is afforded by Section 28, its removal can only damage respect for the Labour Government. The message being sent out by proposing the repeal of Section 28 can only be a negative one for the Government. That I do not want to see. Like most noble Lords--many of whom are my noble friends--I have received an enormous mailbag on this issue, much of it from those we consider to be pillars of our society--teachers, headmasters, clergy, solicitors, and one letter from a director of education, to whom reference has already been made. These people are not considered to be cranks. They are rational, stable people with legitimate fears and concerns--and they plead with us to leave Section 28 as it is.

But the letters are not only from those to whom I have referred; they come also from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They all utter the same cry: "Do nothing to put our youngsters at further risk. Take no action that may ultimately confuse children before they become aware of their sexuality".

We are told that the repeal of Section 28 will not lead to the promotion of homosexuality. If that is so, why remove it? Section 28 is there only to prevent the promotion of homosexuality in our schools.

The arguments in support of the repeal of Section 28 do not seem to me to address the fears of most people--including me--that once the provision is removed, the possibility of increasing risk for young people and children will be greater, even though that risk will affect only a small minority.

Finally, if the removal of Section 28 is as straightforward and uncomplicated as is sometimes claimed, why is there a need for guidance notes? Further, why propose a change in the legislation before finalising those guidance notes?

Over the long 18 years that I have played a part in helping to make the Labour Party electable--despite many of its warts and sometimes misconceived and misguided policy decisions--I knew and I still know that the basic values and principles of the Labour Government are right. The compassionate belief in people, which is the hallmark of a Labour Government, reflects my profound feeling. But in this

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I think they are wrong. I have not so far voted against a Labour Government--but in this matter I shall vote for Amendment No. 365.

Lord Waddington: I should very much--

Earl Russell: May I--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We have a certain amount of time available to us. Shall we begin with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, followed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, followed by the Cross Benches?

Lord Waddington: I shall try to be very brief. I should very much have liked today to have supported the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn--not least because I live in his diocese. I greatly respect his judgment and I know him to be a wise, compassionate and sensible man. However, if one judges his amendment by its capacity to stop the circulation by local authorities of the pernicious material that we have seen recently--and which was on display in Committee Room 3A on two days last week and is again on display today--and by its capacity to stop local authorities targeting children with material which suggests that the homosexual lifestyle is quite acceptable, the amendment will be entirely ineffective, not least of course because the amendment deals with local education authorities and Section 28 puts a prohibition on local authorities.

Some have argued, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, today, that, because there have been no prosecutions, Section 28 has been ineffective. That is not the view of the homosexual rights campaigner, Mr Peter Tatchell, who said in an article a couple of years ago that he had identified at least 35 instances of self-censorship by local authorities which had been afraid of prosecution under Section 28. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, quoted from a letter from a Mr Derek Esp, formerly the director of education for Lincolnshire and Liberal Democrat vice-chairman of Somerset education committee. He could not have put the matter more clearly. He said:

    "Section 28 came about because some local authorities were using their powers to encourage schools to promote homosexuality. Since ... Section 28 was introduced this problem has greatly diminished. Section 28 greatly strengthens the hands of (local government) officers. If they have a proposal before them from a Council Committee which clearly promotes homosexuality, then if reason and common sense fail the officer can appeal to Section 28".

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: As he has been quoted several times, in the interests of clarity I should point out, first, that Mr Derek Esp, while he is a Liberal Democrat, is not vice-chairman of the education authority in Somerset; and, secondly, that in their guidance the officers of his own authority currently say that educational services have sometimes been unclear as to what they can offer to young people because of the Local Government Act 1988, Section 28. So although Mr Esp may express an individual view, he is not speaking for his authority.

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4.30 p.m.

Lord Waddington: I am not greatly concerned about the particular posts held by Mr Derek Esp. What he said was plain common sense and, therefore, I was not surprised when he said it.

The amendment of the right reverend Prelate will not stop the dissemination of the offensive material we have seen. It will not be as effective as Section 28 in deterring local authorities from disseminating that material. I do not see how that can be denied. For instance, there will be nothing to prevent local authorities from producing material directed at children and placing it in children's sections of libraries. Such material may tell them that sodomy is all right if people are born that way and that while marriage is the fundamental building block of society, it may not be right for them and that they may prefer a homosexual relationship. There will be nothing whatever to prevent a local authority from emulating the Avon health authority by publishing material encouraging young children,

    "to experiment with boys and girls to see who [they] feel comfortable with".

There will be nothing to prevent a local authority from emulating the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority and publishing, for the benefit of children, a guide to the etiquette of cruising and cottaging. For that matter, I must say with the greatest respect to the right reverend Prelate that there will be nothing to prevent a local authority from giving different meanings to the words "marriage" and "family" from the ones understood by the great majority of people. After all, government spokesmen have often asserted that the word "family" must be redefined to meet changing social conditions.

I ask, with respect, that we address the real issue. The real issue is that we have a duty to ensure that young boys, who are often confused about sexual matters and may go through a phase, often transitory, of being attracted to other males, are not made the target of homosexual propaganda. It is quite wrong that such boys should be told--here I use the words of a lady who wrote to me--that,

    "any sexual choice is equal to the next, like buying a brand of footwear".

It is quite wrong that they should be taught--whether in a formal sex education class or outside; perhaps in a library book--that a homosexual relationship is equally as valid and normal as a heterosexual one and that sodomy is perfectly acceptable behaviour. There are two obvious reasons why that is wrong, which have already been mentioned by one or two Members of the Committee. First, such teaching runs entirely counter to the teaching of all the main religions in the world and contradicts the belief of the great majority of people who can see from their own knowledge of anatomy and biology that sodomy is an unnatural act. Secondly, to teach young people that a homosexual relationship is as normal and valid as a heterosexual one is to conceal from them the appalling health risks involved in homosexual behaviour in general and sodomy in particular.

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Of course it is wrong to be intolerant of homosexuals as individuals. That must be said because, as my noble friend Lady Young mentioned, the word "intolerance" is so often wrongly used. But it is surely right to be intolerant of those prepared to make the target of propaganda children who are far too young to appreciate the implications of a decision to involve themselves in homosexual behaviour. Some of the material now being circulated is quite appalling. How on earth can it be right to teach children to,

    "experiment with boys and girls to see who you feel most comfortable with"?

That advice, contained in a video funded by the Avon health authority, is an argument not for repealing Section 28 but for extending its scope. It would certainly not be banned as a result of the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate. How can it be right for the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham health authority to fund a guide to the etiquette of cruising and cottaging; that is, actually to encourage promiscuous sex? I believed that health authorities were in the business of promoting health, not disease.

Last month, Mr Blunkett announced that new guidelines would be produced by the department as a substitute for Section 28. However, not only can guidance be ignored, but the wording hinted at would not have begun to tackle the mischief. I gather that although it would rule out proselytising in favour of homosexual behaviour, it would not be the vehicle for the deliberate promotion of any sexual orientation. Of course, that means that far from teachers being under a duty to point out that a homosexual lifestyle is not morally equivalent to marriage, they would be required, while paying lip service to the importance of marriage, to play their part in the Government's campaign to undermine its special status.

Some arguments have been advanced in support of the repeal of Section 28, not least by the Prime Minister himself, which do not hold water for a moment. I am not going to go over the business of bullying and the argument that Section 28 prevents people from teaching the facts of life. To say so runs entirely contrary to the guidance published by the department in its own circular. Mr Esp says from his experience that,

    "The argument that Section 28 has been responsible for encouraging bullying in schools is simply ridiculous. Every teacher has a basic professional duty to tackle the problem of bullying however it is caused. In my entire professional career I have never encountered a single case of pupils being bullied because they are homosexual".

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