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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am puzzled as to why those who support the repeal of Section 28 are deemed by the Government to be entirely rational or sensible, but those who oppose the repeal of Section 28 are somehow being extremist and distorting the facts.
My noble friend Lord Pilkington asked about the views of the Board of Education. Only today I received a letter from a member of that board, Mr Locke, who was present at the relevant meeting. He refers to a letter from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn of 14th March. Mr Locke states that the board welcomed the content of the Bishop's letter which emphasised,
The right reverend Prelate also laid great store by parental rights of withdrawal. I was responsible for that being on the statute book at all. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, has produced written material advising teachers how they can circumvent the right of parents to withdraw their children by making sure that sex education is taught through a number of subjects, which makes it nearly impossible for parents to exercise that right. I do not believe that the Government's amendment--even amended by our amendments--is a substitute for the repeal of Section 28. The fight will continue.
However, there is a bafflement not just on these Benches but among Labour Members of both Houses and among the public as to why the Government are preoccupied, indeed, obsessive, about the repeal of Section 28. One clue could be the almost ecstatic support from gay activists. It is no surprise that the Government have elicited whoops of delight from Stonewall and other gay activists. The amendment in its present form is unacceptable. There should be a distinction between marriage and any other stable relationships as a cornerstone of the community.
The one point on which I agree with the Prime Minister is that this kind of role playing in schools is nonsense. However, the difference between us is that I believe those words; I am not saying them simply to win a by-election in Ayr.
Earl Russell: My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw any accusation that we do not believe our words; I do not think that a civilised parliamentary debate can usefully be conducted on that basis?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I made the distinction between my saying that I thought role playing should not take place on that basis and the Prime Minister also saying that it should not take place on that basis. However, the Prime Minister is responsible for putting his name, along with noble Lords opposite, to guidance advocating that such role play should take place in our schools.
Public surveys north and south of the Border confirm that Section 28 has worked and should be kept. Childhood should be nurtured and cherished and not be made subject to the distorted message of much of the material that would surely circulate if Section 28 was repealed. My noble friend's amendments strengthen the Government's amendment by strengthening the role of marriage, protecting children from inappropriate teaching materials--there are proper tests now in the amendment to make that judgment--and give parents and governors not just the right they have at the moment but a strengthened right not only to be concerned about sex education in schools but also to have a statutory right over control of the materials and the curriculum arrangements for sex education in schools and its teaching. I believe that that is an important extension.
The people of Ayr have spoken on this matter. I hope that noble Lords will follow my noble friend into the Division Lobby tonight; she can certainly count on my support. Meanwhile, as I said earlier, whether or not the amendment is amended, the fight to retain Section 28 on the statute book will continue.
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, as I rather think she called into question my integrity with regard to the meeting of the Board of Education, does she accept that Mr Locke was one member of that board and that the board expressed a whole range of opinions, and that Mr Locke did not feel able to press at that meeting the kind of amendment referred to in his letter? We ought to get the record straight. Just as the Churches have a range of opinions about this matter, so, too, I believe, does the Conservative Party. It is quite inappropriate to suggest on the strength of that letter that the Board of Education was united behind what Mr Locke has written.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I did not and would not call the integrity of the right reverend Prelate into question, nor that of Mr Locke. I spoke to Mr Locke ahead of the meeting. As he went to that meeting,
Lord Alli: My Lords, six weeks ago in this Chamber we debated at length the proposal to abolish Section 28. At the time I made clear my strong view that Section 28 should go. I said then, as I say now, that it cannot be right to enshrine in law personal prejudice or to disguise it as reason. It is from that prejudice that intolerance, hatred and, ultimately, persecution come. I am opposed to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, because once again they seek to enshrine that prejudice into legislation. Their amendments are old-fashioned, divisive and, I believe, homophobic.
At the end of the debate on Section 28 the House was dramatically polarised. However, in the midst of fixed and inflexible views, the contributions of some noble Lords stood out. From the Benches opposite, I think of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley; from the Cross-Benches, the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow; from the Liberal Democrat Benches the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee; and there were countless contributions from my own Benches, as well as the brave intervention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Their contributions had in common an overwhelming desire to unite the House; to find a way to reflect how society has moved on rather than to live out the old doctrines of the past. I am glad to say that the spirit of their contributions has been incorporated in the Government amendment which has been tabled today.
I can see the fingerprints of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, all over the amendments, and I know she and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not be satisfied with anything less than outright victory. But this is not a war: there are no enemies; there are no battlefields. The debate is about how we teach our children.
When I spoke in last month's debate, there were many supportive words from colleagues, but I felt myself very much alone. As a gay man, I sat here and heard speeches of pure prejudice. Some noble Lords may not have been in the House for the entirety of the debate and may have missed some of the speeches. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that homosexuality can have terrible and tragic results and that he was no enemy of homosexuals.
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