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The Lord Bishop of Guildford: As a fairly new Member of this House, I speak with some reticence. One or two observations have been made about marriage. I begin by reminding the Committee that the law of our country is very clear as to what marriage is. Marriage is a giving relationship between one man and one woman who so consent for life, and exclusively so. That is the doctrine of marriage as embedded in the law of our country. If there were any proposals to change it these Benches would be even fuller than they are today.
Perhaps the issue before us is not quite as important as some Members of the Committee have made it out to be. We should lower the temperature a little in debating this matter. I suggest that the issue is not primarily about lesbian and gay relationships but the quality of government, especially local government, in the context of this Bill. When one starts to address that matter some very important moral questions arise in relation to the practice of law-making and the character and content of our law. One aspect of this House that has impressed me since I joined it is its capacity to rise above sectional matters in the interests of the quality of the law of our country. We are primarily a law-making body. We are not here to ensure the re-election of a Labour Government. We are here to legislate for our people and to ensure that that legislation is of a quality worthy of the rule of law in our country. That is the most important moral principle at stake.
It is easy to see how, occasionally, governments, parliaments and local authorities yield to the interests of lobby groups. The temptation is then before us to legislate for those interests. But the law needs to be dispassionate and detached. It must apply equally to all of us; and it must be applied with great care.
One of the problems is that Section 28 draws the law of our country into a sexual dispute. It is vital that the law is equitable in its reference to citizens. Irrespective of the judgments we make about people's personal lifestyles and choices, the law has a duty to refer to all citizens with the respect required by their God-given dignity. The law has a special duty to protect those who are vulnerable from any form of discrimination. We need carefully to consider that moral principle when we legislate at any level.
The law should resist the temptation, however justified some of us may believe it, to use language about people in terms which those people find difficult to accept. It is important that the law is not one group telling another group how its relationship is viewed. Section 28 does that. It has been badly drafted. It is not one of the best pieces of legislation on the statute book. It is difficult to remove Section 28 from the statute book without giving the wrong messages to the community.
Having heard the quality and range of the debate today, I believe that my good friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has done us a great service. He sought to ensure that legislators such as ourselves, in local government, or school governors are reminded of their dispassionate duty to uphold the values of the fabric of our society involving our personal and domestic relationships. The drafting of the amendment may not be right. There is time to sort that out. The amendment offers a provision which draws all sections of the community together. That is the provision's strength and value.
That seems a proper role for the Church to perform in this Chamber. We should be helped greatly if the Government were to describe expeditiously their intentions. People are right to say that these matters should not enter the statute book until the Government have made clear their intentions. There is time to do that. I encourage the Committee to support my colleague today. The amendment preserves the dispassionate integrity of the law and offers a way to move forward together on these matters.
Earl Ferrers: I wonder whether it would be possible to think for a moment about the debate, some of which has been enormously interesting. We have heard of the experiences of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson. I am glad to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity--it is not for the first time, although I have not always agreed with him--who says that he will vote for the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Young when it is moved.
We know that the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has strong views on these issues. I was sorry to hear him say that children are taught to hate and to have prejudices. With the greatest respect, I do not think that that is right in most cases. It is a matter about which people feel very strongly, and one on which I have received the biggest postbag that I have ever had on any issue. People are worried.
I agree with my noble friend Lord St John of Fawsley that all sorts of people have all sorts of complications; and those should be considered in private, with their parents or teachers--in his case, the confessional. I dare say he goes there often--and has good reason to do so! It is not right to say, "Because people want to do this, therefore it must be natural and good". In an article in a newspaper, Tom Kemp asked,
Until about 10 years ago I had never heard of the word "homophobic". If you do not like something you are given a really nasty name like homophobic. That is not particularly helpful. It is not only what people are taught in their schools: they absorb by a process of osmosis. As noble Lords will recall from their schooldays--and if I remember correctly--osmosis occurs when two liquids are separated by a barrier and the contents of one move over into the contents of the other without anyone interfering. That is very much so as regards schools. Some people think that I went to Eton--I do not know whether that is a compliment or an insult--but I did not. I went to a school at Winchester. Every Saturday evening we went to chapel. We sang Psalm 122,
I had the privilege of being a Minister in the Home Office when it produced a new common format passport to deal with the Common Market. When I was asked whether I would like one of the early numbers, I said, "Yes, 007 please". I was told that I could not have it because the Foreign Secretary
Baroness Crawley: I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. He spoke of the importance of what people absorb--the osmosis. Is it not the case that if a law provides that homosexuality cannot be promoted--we have discussed the meaning of "promotion"--young people will absorb from it the fact there is a section of people in society about whom they, adults, parents and social workers cannot talk and who are different? Do they not absorb the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said, difference can eventually lead to hate?
Earl Ferrers: I am afraid that I totally disagree with the noble Baroness. It does not mean to say that if something is not promoted it cannot be discussed. It does not mean to say that people cannot be counselled about it and that it cannot be explained. But it should not be promoted. That is the issue that we are discussing as regards the section and I hope that the Committee will feel that it is not appropriate to remove it.
Lord Brett: I bring to the debate not only the fact that I am a new Member, but also the fact that I have two young daughters in state schools. I share the concerns of many about their education and I have a knowledge of my own education. There is a sensitive and real feeling about the issue in the world at large.
That was brought home to me some 14 years ago when I was General Secretary of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists and my union announced on its notice-board that the gay and lesbian groups would be able to have a contact address. We were inundated with accusations that we were promoting a homosexual lifestyle and received a considerable postbag from people who were most upset.
Ten years ago I decided that we should do something about that because we had a problem with gay members who found difficulties at work. I wrote a piece for my journal, which I reproduced yesterday to remind myself, entitled, "Discrimination and prejudice". In that article, I explained my upbringing as a working-class Catholic boy in Lancashire, going to a Catholic school and reaching the age of almost 20 before I knew that homosexuality existed. I also pointed out that my parents reminded me that notices stating "No Catholics or Irish need apply" were posted outside factories in Lancashire as late as the 1920s. I went on to say that for that reason I believed that without promoting a gay lifestyle we should give our gay and lesbian members the opportunity to have their problems dealt with at work sympathetically. With that, I dispatched the journal to 100,000 members and we did not have too much of a problem. There was one of two reasons for that; either my words of wisdom were satisfying or, more likely, no one read it.
However, some months later, one of my branch secretaries from the Ministry of Defence in the west of Scotland came into headquarters and said to me, "Bill, that article you wrote in the Bulletin has caused a furore. We have had threats of resignation and threats of motions of censure. People are very upset. Most of all, they are upset because they supported you and nominated you for General Secretary". I said, "Come on, they can't be that homophobic, even in the Ministry of Defence". "Oh", he said, "it's not just that, Bill, they didn't know you were a Catholic".
The message is that ignorance is an ally of discrimination. I believe that I am a caring parent--it is for your Lordships' to judge whether I am wise; I know that as regards moral values my wife and I can educate our daughters at home. However, I cannot say the same for every child in their classes. I should like a teacher sensibly and sensitively to deal with a difficult situation. I can see nothing in Section 28 that has improved that situation.
With due respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and amendments to be debated, I believe that the right reverend Prelate's proposals for guidelines is the most sensitive way of dealing with the issue. I should not be able to support any of the amendments because I believe that there are better ways. I am sure that no Member of the Committee intends to give the impression of homophobia, but, if not homophobia, a lack of understanding has come across in some of today's speeches.
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