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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, did the noble Lord say that I said I was an enemy of homosexuals?

Lord Alli: No, my Lords, I did not. I said that the noble Earl said he was no enemy of homosexuals but that when they break the Christian rules they have to be penalised. The noble Baroness said again today that there can be no moral equivalence between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, said that not all abuse was carried out by homosexuals, but that a good deal of it was.

But today is very different--I do not feel so alone. The noble Baroness and her followers are no longer attacking only me, they are attacking everyone who lives outside her idealised model of a happily married family. Standing side by side with me today are not only the 3 million gay men and women who do not fit into her model, but we are joined by the 1 million divorced or separated people who do not fit into her model; the 4 million widows and widowers who do not fit into her model; the 2 million co-habiting couples who do not fit into her model--and the millions of children that they are successfully bringing up. So I hope that the noble Baroness and her followers will explain to them, in the same way as they have explained to me, why they are not morally equivalent to her. More importantly, I hope that she will explain why their children are to be taught that their parents are immoral.

The Government's amendment before us today has been developed in an inclusive rather than exclusive way. It sets out important objectives for sex education in schools. The amendment and its accompanying guidelines will ensure that no child, from whatever background, should feel that their family is of less worth than any other; that no child, whatever their

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sexuality, should feel that they are less equal than others; and that no teacher should feel unable to support any pupil from coming to terms with his or her sexuality.

Surely the right way to go forward is by uniting, not dividing; by combining morality with tolerance. I ask the House to reject the noble Baroness's amendments and to support the Government amendment. All we ask for is tolerance and not prejudice.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, there is much in what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said. As someone who has worked with children, on and off, for 13 years, and who was taught in a primary school near here, I remember a 10 year-old boy putting his hand up all the time and the teacher telling him not to. I noticed he was very pleased to give me presents. I did not have to be told that he did not have a father.

When we talk about the key building blocks and the best way to bring up children, is that not ultimately what marriage is for? Ideally, children should have two parents. They cannot always have that, but that is the best upbringing for children. I say that not only from my own experience but from talking to many professionals in that area.

I am concerned about the clarity of Clause 2(a) and 2(b), as was the right reverend Prelate. Does the Minister accept that we should aspire to a marital relationship where children have security and an ability to grow up with confidence and a feeling of independence? Not everyone achieves this, but surely we must try to help others to see that that is very important if they wish their children to grow up in the best possible way.

7 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, in Committee on the Local Government Bill, I am afraid that I irritated the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and the noble Earl, Lord Peel, by referring to the European Convention on Human Rights. I shall briefly irritate them, and others, again by doing so now, and for a very simple reason. Unfortunately, we do not yet have in this House a human rights committee like the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee to advise us before we exercise our right to vote about the implications of what we do under the human rights convention.

I said during the Committee stage of the Local Government Bill that I thought that Section 28 as it stood breached the European Convention on Human Rights in several fairly obvious ways. I asked the Minister to confirm that. I did not receive confirmation, and I make no complaint about that. But subsequently, two of my colleagues, David Pannick QC and Helen Mountfield, gave an opinion which made clear their view that there were clear breaches of the human rights convention in Section 28.

Finally, when the Secretary of State had to decide, under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act, whether to give a statement of compatibility for the Local Government Bill, for the first time a Minister was

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advised that he could not give a statement of compatibility. Why was that? I take it that the reason why the Secretary of State stated on the face of the Bill that in his view he could not say the Bill was compatible was that it would breach the convention. I hope that the Minister, in replying, will clarify and confirm that view.

If that is correct, the Government have been extremely sensible. They have enabled us to solve the problem by producing the guidance that was lacking when we debated this issue on 7th February and by replacing Section 28 with a provision that offers a fair compromise given the passionately held views on all sides of the House. I very much hope that we shall remember the wise words of Judge Learned Hand, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, frequently reminds me: that the spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right. The point about the government amendment is that it reconciles two camps, each of which is fairly sure that it is right, in an honourable compromise. For that reason, I support the amendment.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords--

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order.

Lord Carter: My Lords, this is a little difficult. My noble friend Lord Stoddart has his name to some of the amendments. Also, I think the sense of the House is that we are beginning to move towards the end of the debate. Perhaps we can hear three more Back-Benchers, not all from one side, and then hear from the Liberal Front Bench and the Minister.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, as my noble friend has said, I have put my name to five of the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Like my noble friend Lord Longford, I very much regret that this has become a whipped matter. I used to be obsequious about supporting Whips but I am no longer quite as obsequious as my noble friend.

It really is unfortunate that the Government consulted the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and certain other people but did not consult the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about their amendment. I simply cannot understand that, bearing in mind that the noble Baroness has been the most steadfast leader of the campaign to prevent the promotion of homosexuality among children. Why was she not consulted? We are entitled to an answer. Indeed, it was the failure to consult that persuaded me to add my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, because I think that she has been badly treated.

It is also deplorable that the government amendment has been brought forward at this late stage. I repeat a point that had been made, but my noble friend appeared to suggest that he would have

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supported recommitment if had he understood that that was what many people wanted. He is shaking his head, but it is possible for a manuscript amendment to be moved even at this stage, is it not? Perhaps he would support that.

Lord Carter: My Lords, not at Third Reading.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I stand corrected by my noble friend. So we cannot have a proper discussion--a Committee-type discussion--of the government amendment and the amendments to it, as they deserve. We should not be discussing this important matter in the straitjacket of a Third Reading debate.

The new amendment and guidelines do not deal adequately with the complicated moral and personal issues involved in sex education. Like other speakers, I feel very sorry for the teachers who will have to implement these measures. Whatever they do will be seen to be wrong by someone; they will be made scapegoats if things go wrong and government policy is seen to fail. That is most unfortunate. The teachers' unions ought to have made that plain to the Government when the amendment was being prepared.

In that connection, have the teachers been properly consulted about the new guidelines? And what about parents, whose views should be paramount? How have they been consulted? Have they been consulted at all? There is an increasing tendency to ignore parents as the state seems to take on an ever-increasing role in the upbringing of children which properly belongs to parents.

What we never seem to do is take a good, hard look at whether compulsory sex education in schools has delivered what was intended. We merely say that it is a good thing, and go on saying that, even when it has proved to be a bad thing. The aims of the Education Act 1993, the consolidation Act, were, on the face of it, reasonable. But what has turned out in practice is not what we were led to expect.

For example, the numbers of single-parent families have risen by 230,000 since 1992. The number of conceptions among under-16s rose from 7,200 in 1992 to 8,900 in 1996. The number of conceptions among under-14s rose from 363 in 1992 to 451 in 1996. As for marriage, between 1992 and 1997 the number of marriages fell by 10 per cent, while the figure for divorce fell by only 2 per cent. So compulsory sex education has not done much to stabilise, let alone promote, marriages; and the divorce rate continues to rise inexorably--the reverse of what was intended in the legislation.

There is more promiscuity, less sexual morality, less marriage, more divorce, more single mothers, more under-16 pregnancies and more child pregnancies; and, I understand, more cases of HIV--and all those matters were supposed to have been dealt with by the various Acts that have been passed. Clearly, they are

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not delivering the goods. Therefore, we ought to consider whether we should continue with this approach.

So the objectives of the 1993 Act have not been achieved--quite the reverse. The logic ought to be that we should examine the kind of sex education that has been promoted in schools and consider whether schools are the best places for children to learn about sexual matters. In that, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. But instead of a complete review, we are being offered more of the same. Even the longstop of Section 28 to prevent the promotion of homosexuality is to be removed without any satisfactory replacement.

It is clear that a great majority of the general public are not in favour of any weakening of the safeguards. Yet those of us who try to reflect that anxiety are often vilified, derided, insulted and even slandered by the so-called liberals. Majorities do not seem to count for anything these days. The powerful minorities with friends in high places hold sway and have to be appeased.

Finally, it appears from at least one project on sex education which is authorised as a guide to teachers--the Avon Project--that heterosexuality is under attack from our health authorities, or at least one of them. I shall quote two passages--

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