Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: I have just indicated that there is already a statutory base for the guidelines. As has been said, many of the sensitivities and complexities of this matter can only really be reflected in guidelines. There is already a statutory basis in education law.

However, what I have said today--and I repeat it--is that if, as a result of the further deliberations, we consider that the statutory basis of that guidance needs to be strengthened, then we shall look at that matter.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I am sorry but my vote depends on this. Statutory guidelines are very fragile. Will the Minister guarantee absolutely that the Government will provide statutory guarantees?

Lord Whitty: I repeat what I said. If, as a result of the discussions, we consider that the statutory basis for those guidelines needs strengthening, then we shall do that. That is what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has indicated; that is what the Government are committed to; and no doubt we shall return to that at a later stage during the passage of the Bill.

Some noble Lords have attempted to deny the other fact of life that despite its lack of direct effect on the schools, there has been a terrible implication for teachers, local authorities and social workers that Section 28 prevents or inhibits them from dealing with the problems raised by pupils and young people who have concerns about their sexuality and who consider themselves to be gay.

Noble Lords have denied that. Others outside the Chamber have denied it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to a "baggage of misunderstanding". Whereas 61 per cent of parents, if they are asked, want

7 Feb 2000 : Column 479

their children to know about homosexuality and want it taught in schools, contrary to what has been alleged in part here, about half of teachers believe that they are prevented from doing so by Section 28. The noble Baroness shakes her head. She is very good at shaking her head in these circumstances and I have learnt not to be too disconcerted by it over the years. Nevertheless, all the surveys show that approximately half of teachers believe that they are in some way inhibited by the existence of Section 28. Whether they are right or wrong, that is the fact of the matter. Therefore, we need to tackle that.

We must also face the social facts of this matter--the context in which our teachers and young people exist. Reference has been made to the problems of access to information about sex of all sorts on television and in pornographic and other material and on the Internet. It is all available to very young children indeed. But it is true also that those young children and young adults live in family situations which are very different from those which seem to dominate the minds of many noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, very graphically pointed out that children and young people today have within their own families, in their neighbourhoods and among their relations people who are gay or who think they are; people who are involved in relationships with gay people; people who are, at the very least, outside the prescriptive narrow definition of normal relationships relating only to institutional marriage.

Whether we like it or not, whether we approve of it or not, the reality is that we are not in a world of Janet and John families. We are not in a world where the birds and the bees are sufficient for sex education. We must move on. I say this quite deliberately. The vast majority of us and the vast majority of the population as a whole have, at various times in their lives, lived in a sexual situation which is outside the confines of marriage. Pre-marital, adulterous and gay relationships are all outside what we might wish to regard as an ideal. All of those can be regarded as damaging to the institution of marriage and the institution of the family. Many noble Lords will do precisely that.

But as my noble friend Lord Peston said, you can hardly blame the homosexual community for the increase in the number of single mothers or the many other ills referred to by my noble friend Lord Stoddart. And yet, it is members of the homosexual community who are highlighted, stigmatised and identified separately in the legislation which we are currently considering. That is what we are trying to remove as a result of removing Section 28.

Earl Ferrers: Perhaps I may interrupt the Minister for a moment. What he says is understandable but there is only one word that really matters; that is that local authorities should not "promote" that sexuality. Why does he think that that is wrong? After all, it is

7 Feb 2000 : Column 480

surely correct that local authorities and schools should give a true recognition of marriage and life and not a homosexual one.

Lord Whitty: I thought I had explained that one of the problems about the current drafting of Section 28 is that the word "promotion" is being interpreted differently by different local authorities, individual schools and teachers. We want to inform our children about the kinds of sexual relationships that they will find in the life which surrounds them; that they are already asking questions about. We want to give them information and many people believe that the word "promotion" prevents local authorities and others providing information to describe, explain and put into total context for children. Children are bombarded with all sorts of information from their peers, families and from nefarious sources of information; for example, the Internet and other material which is available to them. The teacher or social worker should be able to deal with that in a total context and not with homosexuality and sex education as a "ghettoised" subject. It should be dealt with in a caring atmosphere and in an atmosphere in which there is some interchange between the concerns of the pupils, students or young people and their social worker or teacher. The teacher or social worker should not be inhibited from doing that.

I appreciate that many people in this House and elsewhere regard many of those deviations from the marriage norm as being sins, and that is because of their religion, their moral belief. Such behaviour is not permitted within their moral code which is often sanctioned by religious blessing. I respect and understand that position. But here we are not debating the law of God or the morality issue but the law of the land. We are not discussing conscience or a moral issue. We are discussing local authorities' powers in this context.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: But Section 28 simply states:

    "A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality".

Why is that in any way unacceptable? We are not discussing proper consultation by teachers. We are discussing intentional promotion which is very different.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness has, unusually, read only part of Section 28. The other part refers to "pretended family" relationships and other matters that frankly we need to respect even if we may disapprove of them and not wish our own children to engage in them. Moreover, several times I have explained the fact that the word "promotion" is being misinterpreted up and down the land in different ways, which is inhibiting much of what I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Park, would wish to see.

7 Feb 2000 : Column 481

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: I recognise that the Minister's role is to make quite a tendentious speech. I have not counted the number of times he has used the word "fact", but I suspect that we are now in double figures. Will he agree that in the world of rational and sensible discussion that the Prime Minister has requested we should judge matters to be facts when we have carefully weighed the evidence? On a number of occasions he has stated what the fact of the matter is while simply disregarding the fact that a number of people have another view that they are rationally arguing?

Lord Whitty: The fact to which I refer is the effect of the existing Section 28 in inhibiting teachers, social workers and others dealing with real personal and social problems. Those are the facts. I certainly recognise, as I thought I had been saying as clearly as I could, that there are many people who have a different view.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: It is precisely those facts that are in dispute. They do not become more evident as facts when stated loudly from the Dispatch Box.

Lord Whitty: Almost any survey has indicated the truth of what I am saying. It is also true--the right reverend Prelate is correct--that there are a lot of people who nevertheless regard the approach we are taking to Section 28 as helping or condoning something that they regard very seriously, and regard through their religious convictions and other moral convictions as a sin. I respect that view. I recognise that it applies to a large number of noble Lords and to a large number of people outside this Chamber.

Speaking personally, I was brought up in the bosom of the Methodist Church, which in the 1950s perhaps was not all that broad-minded on sexual issues. Nevertheless, I was taught to care for people. My understanding of the Christian approach to such matters--I believe this applies to the other great religions as well--is that you may well hate the sin but you love the sinner. Therefore, I believe that noble Lords would want to provide counselling services, advice and information, and would not want to have on the statute book a term which, however ambiguous and vague, actually inhibited that provision of care and counselling to such people.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: May we please have the guidelines, on which great store is placed, by Report stage if possible?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page