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Baroness Blatch: I wish to make a point in support of my noble friend Lady Hanham. She has been incredibly kind to the Minister by saying only that she believed that if the Minister said that we had received everything available, that was correct. However, my knowledge of the staff in the Library since I have been a Member of this House is that they are absolutely assiduous. If a document had been placed in the Library in the formal sense in which we use that expression, the staff would not have said that the document did not exist or that no copy of it was available.

Although my noble friend has remarked that the noble Lord is correct, I think I would prefer to phrase it differently and say that, while that may be the noble Lord's understanding, he is well supported by a number of officials who could put us right within a few moments. I invite them to do so.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am as good as the advice I am given and I understand the position to be as I have said. However, I accept the comments made by Members of the Committee and, in fact, I am extremely concerned about it. If it is the case that the drafts are not in the Library, then obviously that is a matter of profound concern. I shall ensure that officials check on it. Furthermore, if noble Lords wish, I shall try to ensure that copies are secured so that they can look through them before we proceed to the next stage of the Bill. It is only right that, noble Lords having requested the information, it is in place and made available to them as promised.

I shall pick up on some of the other points that were raised. A question was put to me about the role of the fire authorities. It is our view that it will be for fire authorities to determine and set policies and standards for prevention and emergency response. We think that that is the right way to proceed.

On the question of whether a failure to implement proper local consultation would be judicially reviewable, yes, we think that it would be, but such decisions would relate to individual cases and circumstances and, of course, they would be a matter for the courts and thus outside our determination. However, it is our view that a failure to consult in line with what is deemed to be proper consultation—no doubt recommendations and guidance will be made available on what such consultation might look like—would feature as a part of that consideration.

Yes, this is linked to the Bain report, but it has been included in this Bill because it is also linked to our aim of ensuring that these freedoms and flexibilities are

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exercised at the local level so that decisions affecting local circumstances are made as locally as is practicable and sensible given the nature of the service.

Turning to the question of resources, fire authorities will be expected to use the flexibility afforded by the repeal of Section 19 to deploy their existing resources more efficiently. But many authorities have raised issues about resourcing in their responses to our consultation and we shall give careful consideration to those points.

I appreciate that I may not have answered all the questions that were put to me—in particular those raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham—but I repeat my undertaking to check on the issue of the draft guidance. I shall do all that I can to ensure that all those contributing to this debate and who wish to read the import of that guidance are able to do so. When we consider the matter again on Report, those who seek to contribute at that point will be better informed.

Baroness Maddock: Perhaps the Minister cannot give me a response to a question that I put to him—namely, how is this to fit in with the White Paper on the reform of the Fire Service and how will it fit in with future legislation?

I am somewhat surprised by some of the Minister's comments given that the point that the draft guidance was not able to be considered was such a controversial point when the Bill was considered in another place. It may be that this was something which was to have been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. If that is the case, perhaps that is why we have not been given a truly satisfactory answer.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: As ever in ministerial parlance, the White Paper will be published shortly. It will be significant and no doubt the policy will be explained within the overall context of that White Paper. After all, this is something which has been considered as a desirable development so that local fire authorities are able to make decisions for themselves based on their assessment of local fire risks and taking into account all the pressures on the Fire Service. So we see this as a positive and modernising development.

I welcome the support that has been expressed for this proposal. I repeat my undertaking that, in regard to those questions that we have not dealt with as adequately as we would have liked, and in particular on the issue of the non-arrival of the draft guidance in the Library—even though I am advised that it is available there—I shall return to these matters and ensure that all those who have expressed concerns are satisfied.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for that reply. We still do not know whether the draft guidance has been placed in the Library. However, we were sent a large bundle of paper earlier in our Committee proceedings. At that point we understood that we had been given the total available paperwork attached to the Bill. It is clear that that bundle was not complete.

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The only point I wish to make is that life is quite difficult for the Opposition. I appreciate that it is not for the Government to make our lives easier, but equally it is not for the Government to make our lives more difficult. It would have been easier if we had been in receipt of everything which had been made available.

Sight of the guidance will be extremely helpful in light of the questions that I have put to the Minister. I do not think he responded to my question asking whether this is to be statutory guidance, that is, guidance that will have to be followed, or whether it will be permissive. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that point.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It will not be statutory guidance; it will be permissive.

Baroness Hanham: That, too, will be an interesting point which we shall certainly have to return to on Report. I say that because the matters which are now to be devolved raise issues such as the number of fire-fighter posts to be cut and the potential for closing fire stations. In light of the fire strike we have just been through, those issues will be inordinately controversial and potentially combustible. No doubt we shall have a considerable debate on it. However, I shall not press the matter any further today since there is little more that we could usefully pursue at this point.

For the moment I withdraw my opposition to the Question on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill, but it is likely that we shall return to this.

Clause 120 agreed to.

Clause 121 [Repeal of prohibition on promotion of homosexuality]:

On Question, Whether Clause 121 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Blatch: For the convenience of the Committee I shall speak to the Question whether Clause 121 shall stand part and also to Amendment No. 221F, which is not in the grouping. However, in order to address the whole issue, I shall speak to both.

As I look around the Committee I predict that we are now coming to a most controversial aspect of the Bill; that is, Clause 121, inserted by the House of Commons, to repeal Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. In view of the accusations made against me yesterday by the Minister, which I contend were completely unfounded, I shall make it clear that on these amendments, my primary concern is appropriate sex education for school-aged children.

As I said at Second Reading, in matters of controversy Parliament has placed a number of legal constraints and safeguards on local authorities and schools. We do not allow teachers to promote a particular political party view. Section 407 of the Education Act 1996 sees to that. And local authorities are restrained from party political expenditure by Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986. There are also elaborate statutory provisions governing the way in which religion is handled in schools.

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The reasons for these provisions regarding politics and religion is that they are sensitive and controversial subjects. Parents want schools to be sensitive to the beliefs of the home. Of course young people must study political issues, but parents do not want to see schools promoting the views of one particular party; and of course young people should learn about religious belief, but again, teachers must not manipulate children into belief.

Given the controversy surrounding homosexuality, we clearly need similar provisions governing its treatment. Homosexuality is, at the very least, a controversial subject—and I suspect that this debate will bear that out. This touches on the heart of the matter, because those who want to promote homosexuality are often those who refuse to accept that it is even controversial. They refuse to accept the validity of the opinions of those who take a different view. They regard homosexuality as a good thing and they want this view to be reflected in the classroom. Alternative views are written off as outdated, bigoted, homophobic or even hateful.

But I believe most people think that if homosexuality is to be addressed in the classroom, then it should be taught as a controversial issue. It should certainly not be promoted. The key word in Section 28 is "promotion". Is it ever acceptable for a local authority to promote homosexuality to children, whether in a classroom, a youth group or anywhere else?

Before I spoke against the repeal of Section 28 on 6th December 1999, I went to the Library to look up the word "promote". Some allege that the word is confusing. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the definition as,

    "to move forward, advance or raise to a position of honour, dignity or emolument, to raise to a higher grade, to prefer".

I think that is crystal clear. If a person handles the subject of homosexuality in a classroom or a youth group in such a way as to raise it to a position of honour or preference, that is promoting homosexuality.

I have certainly seen classroom material which can be regarded as promoting homosexuality in this way. I shall come to this in a moment.

In July 2000, your Lordships voted to retain Section 28. The vote followed a passionate debate. On one side of the argument we had the Government, gay rights groups and a number of children's charities. On the other side, led by my noble friend the late Baroness Young, were many Churches, denominational groups and representatives of the major religions, along with—and most significantly—parents up and down the country who expressed their views in the many letters received on this subject. I supported Lady Young. I thought her arguments were right then and I think her arguments are still right today.

Section 28 protects children. It is children—not gay rights—that ought to be our primary concern.

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