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Earl Peel: I thank the noble and learned Lord, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I have sat throughout the debate and have not left my seat and, with the Committee's permission, I want to add a few words. First and foremost, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in his opening remarks drew your Lordships' attention to the fact that Section 28 refers only to a certain part of today's debate. Its effect on the ability to control, if I may use that word, is extremely limiting. I am slightly confused as to how much Section 28 has the effect people believe. However, having listened to the debate today I am even more convinced that Section 28 must be left on the statute book. I have held that opinion for some time, but it was reinforced when I, like other noble Lords, received the Local Government Association briefing on the debate. The paper dedicates a considerable amount of time to describing why Section 28 is irrelevant in the classroom. However, it goes on to ask:

I can only assume that that implies that in its opinion it is fair to do so. And the one advantage that my noble friend Lady Young has when she rightly puts forward her strong views is that we have the experience of knowing what these local authorities will do if Section 28 is repealed. We have heard many speeches tonight telling us that it is necessary to repeal Section 28, but, as my noble friend said most strongly, if we change it we are in for all kinds of difficulties, many of which we have witnessed already.

The Local Government Association brief goes on to state that the discretion of local authorities to act and to choose on behalf of local communities should be constrained only by an overriding national interest or because of a significant risk of harm. Well, if protecting our young people from a lifestyle which in many cases can harm them, particularly mentally, is not of national importance, I do not know what is. Of course I believe that it is right to allow adults to choose which lifestyle they want to adopt and I reject any accusations of homophobia--if my noble friend Lord Ferrers will allow me to use that term. But I do not accept the statement made by Stonewall and referred to by a number of Members today. It stated in its briefing that it did not accept the premise that anyone can make anybody lesbian or gay. In other words, we are what we are.

In the long run, that may be true, but as a parent--and I know that I speak for most parents in this country when I say this--I know that teenagers are deeply impressionable and can go through periods of

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same-sex attraction. It can certainly be influenced by others. I have seen it, as I am sure have most noble Lords, and judging by the letters I have received, most ordinary parents in this country have seen it, too. There is no doubt in my mind that that can lead to confusion and a great sense of guilt and regret later. Therefore, I believe that it is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to prevent such cases occurring.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn said in his opening remarks that it is all about signs and signals. I agree entirely and I believe that it is incumbent on this House to show the right signs and signals and to vote with my noble friend tonight.

Before I sit down, perhaps I may make one more comment. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I find it tiresome to be told that there is no point in debating issues in this House because any decision will be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights. If that is the case then what is the point of us debating this issue? We have a perfect right to debate the matter and I find it restrictive and offensive--

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am grateful to the noble Earl. I certainly did not intend to be restrictive or offensive. However, it is useful for those who have the responsibility of making the law to know the background against which they do so. I hope that I can inform the Committee that I would prefer to see a committee that could do that job for us. However, since there is no such committee, I took it upon myself. I mentioned the matter only to inform the Committee and certainly not to curtail any debate.

Earl Peel: I understand what the noble Lord is saying. However, I have heard him make the same kind of comment on a number of occasions. I simply wish to make the point that I believe it to be restrictive.

I do not agree with the comments of the noble Lord, but I agree that it is a very serious matter and something that we should all bear in mind.

8 p.m.

Lord Peston: This has been a rather queer debate. The Opposition Front Benches felt that they ought to speak before the Back-Benches, which is unusual in your Lordships' House. However, most of the speeches that were relevant to the important amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, were made on other amendments. That is why some of us are having considerable difficulty in getting our minds around what we should be talking about.

I hope that I have good enough credentials to allow me to take part in the debate. I have been married to the same person for over 40 years. Perhaps my credentials are not as good as those of some noble Lords who are so keen on marriage that they go through the process two, three, four or five times. Furthermore, partly in response to the noble Earl, Lord Peel--putting this as delicately as I can--I have always preferred the company of women to that of men. I have never been attracted to people of the same sex, but since one of the questions that I wanted to ask is, "What is this all

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about?", I think that the noble Earl may have put his finger on it. Perhaps it is all about some noble Lords resisting attraction to people of the same sex and thus regarding themselves as having escaped from that kind of problem in the past; I do not know.

I must also reveal that I am as prejudiced as anyone else. In my younger days I was as bigoted an anti-Catholic as you could imagine. Admittedly I had never in my life met a Catholic and my bigotry was based on pure ignorance. I believe that I know about prejudice and what to do about it: you learn to get rid of it. It is called growing up. Perhaps I may also say that another of my prejudices was a similar bigotry against the hereditary peerage. Robespierre had nothing in comparison to the views I held, although I had never met a hereditary Peer. I did not realise that they were human beings like the rest of us. Again, experience does teach us that we must get rid of our prejudices.

Many in the Committee feel that the central issue here seems to be one of morality. However, if I ask myself about the alleged moral decline of our country, especially when considering the enormous divorce rate, I cannot see how, on any logical or empirical grounds, that can be blamed on homosexuals. A fortiori, the problem of the rise in single mothers could be blamed on many people but it cannot be blamed on homosexuals. Equally, the great rise in crimes of violence has no connection whatever with homosexuals. What I do believe underlines much of the decline in morality is the great advertising industry, what we see on the television and the rise of modern consumerism, particularly when it takes the form of, "I want everything and I want it now". Those problems seem to me to be more deeply connected to the decline of morality in our country.

For those who single out homosexuals, I put this question to them: why single out homosexuals? Of course, all--including the noble Baroness, Lady Young--will put their hands on their hearts and say, "We are not prejudiced". Indeed, those people are outraged at the suggestion that they might be prejudiced. But I must repeat the question: why focus on sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular to blame for our moral decline? I have not heard a single response to explain the obsession held by many people on this point.

I promised to be extremely nasty to three or four noble Lords and so I shall now do so. I shall start with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Lichfield. He referred to Section 28 as a bench-mark that he wishes to keep. The right reverend Prelate ought to know that some of us regard Section 28 as evil. I use that word quite literally. The reason why I am appalled by his intervention is that he wishes to retain a bench-mark that a great many people regard as evil.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: Perhaps I may intervene. I made the point that I am not prepared to give up something when we do not know where we are

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going. It is not the bench-mark as such; it is because we are moving to another position that has yet to be spelt out.

Lord Peston: I shall repeat to the right reverend Prelate that I am appalled, in particular because some of us do know where we are going. We also know where those who support Section 28 want to go. It is the path of prejudice that they wish to follow.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that when listening to his contribution I was reminded of the writings of the American author, Randall Jarrell. Some years ago he stated that homosexuals have replaced Jews in those famous, "Some of my best friends are..." remarks. Nothing appals me more than someone who starts an argument by saying that.

Lord Elton: I find the remarks of the noble Lord rather strange. It happens to be true. It is not a political stance.

Lord Peston: Perhaps the saying does not resonate with the noble Lord, but "Some of my best friends are..." connects up with some of the worst prejudice in our society. In my judgment--I promised to be nasty--the noble Lord should not have made that remark. If I were a homosexual, I would deeply resent it because of its resonances.

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