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Lord Moran: My Lords, one thing on which I hope that all noble Lords can agree is that on this matter the interests of children should come first, last and always. Anyone who seeks to put the rights of homosexuals or heterosexuals or any other group ahead of the need to protect children is deeply misguided.

I supported the late Lady Young on Section 28 and I greatly admired what she did. I was, and remain, sure that it is right that local authorities should not intentionally promote homosexuality. I believe that the clause was effective in deterring some councils from promoting the homosexual agenda, but it was defective in dealing only with homosexuality. It has now gone and we are considering a new approach.

Simply to repeal Section 28 and to put nothing in its place, in my view, would be quite wrong. I fear that to remove the prohibition on intentionally promoting homosexuality, by itself, will be a green light to those who want to corrupt children.

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At the heart of the debate is the issue of sex education. I never had any sex education, at least I do not recall it. No doubt it is necessary to give children in maintained schools some simple explanation of the process of reproduction and the details of contraception, but it seems to me that sex education has got out of hand. Most ordinary people would be appalled if they were to see the material now used by a small minority as a basis for sex education.

Of the many letters that I have received on this subject I was particularly struck by one I received from a secondary school teacher in Wales from which I should like to quote. The lady wrote:

    "I am on the front line in the sense that I have to teach Personal and Social Education (which includes Sex Education) and I am involved in helping pupils pastorally. I have read some sex education resources being used currently by a minority of local authorities which have managed to slip through the net, and I am both appalled and immensely disturbed by what I have seen. If Section 28 were repealed then it would be highly likely that these resources could spread throughout the country, and I might have to end up using them in my teaching. I am no prude, but the information contained is highly explicit and encourages pupils to experiment with homosexuality . . . Furthermore, it seems that there is a false belief that more explicit sex education at increasingly younger ages will solve the problems of teenage pregnancies and the growing crisis of sexually transmitted diseases. I see no evidence of this at all. Indeed in my experience, many pupils are sexually active and promiscuous at a younger age than ever before. It is time some limits were drawn".

I welcome and support the amendments which have been proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and by my noble friend Lord Palmer, especially the need for parents to know what the materials used are, both for children and to brief teachers, and to see the material for themselves. I warmly welcome subsection (2A)(e)(i) of Amendment No. 91. There is also a need to stop, or at least closely to control, those other than teachers who come in to take part in sex education. I think that subsection (2A)(e)(ii) of Amendment No. 91 is also important. Our children deserve not the debasing of sex that is encapsulated in the injunction for 13 year-olds quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, "try experimenting with other boys and girls and see what you feel most comfortable with", recommended by Gloucestershire and East Sussex County Councils, but the experience, if they are lucky, of the magic of life-long love.

5.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, influence on teenagers comes from a number or sources—from parents, from teachers, from peer group and from the media. In those contradictory influences we give to children choice, which is the most precious thing that one can give to a young person. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in her Amendment No. 91 has attempted to elevate parents to a position of sovereignty in this web—and is therefore pulling the web apart.

Our teachers and local authorities are not the European Union—they do not deserve to be treated in that way. Parents come in all shapes and sizes. I knew one who said that there was no credit in loving her children, it was like loving one's big toe. That is a proprietary attitude which is not always in the interests

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of the children. If it had chanced that my father had been the father of the noble Baroness, she might have wanted more to have been protected from his influence than by him. As my noble friend Lady Scott said, there is also a big problem with parents for children who are homosexual. I have discussed this with pupils who want to come out. The one matter that most terrified them was their parents knowing their state. If one works on teenage homelessness, as I have done from time to time, it is full of cases of people who have been thrown out because their parents discovered that they were homosexual.

Parents should have strong influence on their children. They should not have absolute power. No one should have that over another human being. It is because this amendment builds up the absolute power of parents that, thinking what the noble Baroness knows I think about Section 28, I even prefer Section 28 to this amendment. It is possible that the Secretary of State might think the same, which is why the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was right to say that this was a wrecking amendment.

Earl Peel: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, talks about the importance of giving choice to children. I accept that this is a hugely important part of parental responsibility. But it seems to me—and we are talking here about children of young and vulnerable age—that the most important thing we can give to them is guidance. That is exactly what my noble friend's amendment is about.

I had no intention of speaking today. Unlike other noble Lords, I have not participated in the debate so far. But the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, made reference to a letter that was circulated to your Lordships on this subject. I fully understand that at times it is difficult for your Lordships to be in their places at the appropriate time. It is interesting to note that of the five people who wrote the letter, only one is in his place at the moment—my noble friend Lord Norton. The rest are not in their places. That does not mean that they do not feel strongly about the subject, but, having gone to the trouble to write the letter, at the very least they could have attempted to be in their places during today's debate.

I have one other point. My noble friend suggested that we should address our remarks to the points she raised. I crave her indulgence and that of the whole House as I move on to one other item, which I think is incredibly important. It appears once again in the letter which your Lordships received. I find it extraordinary that the five noble Lords who put their names to the letter should suggest that the debates that have taken place on this subject, which they describe as,

    "highly emotive and divisive debates",

should thus far have done the public reputation of this House little good. I am sorry, but I take extreme exception to that.

I believe that quite the reverse has happened. The letters that I have received—and there have been more on this subject than on virtually any other—have been

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totally supportive of the actions of your Lordships over the years on the question of Section 28. And let us not forget that the duty of this House is to subject legislation to full and proper scrutiny in a way which sadly does not happen now in another place. That is what we are doing, and we should continue to do so. Anyone who suggests otherwise is in my opinion taking a very dim view of your Lordships' House.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I had not intended to speak because I felt that noble Lords had made many of the points I wanted to make. What I shall say focuses on two questions that I want to put to the noble Baroness. I begin by saying that it seems to me that all noble Lords have at the core of their hearts the protection and development of children. We may come at it from very different positions.

If we had been discussing Section 28, I should have been speaking on behalf of its repeal. As a Christian and a childcare enthusiast and worker for many years, I would have exactly the same standing as people whom I respect—and I do respect the position of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—for taking a different view on these issues. It is our responsibility to think through the issues. I have thought very carefully this afternoon because the noble Baroness's amendment has many attractions.

Having sat through the debate, I want to tell the House why I shall not be voting in favour of the amendment having thought about it during the afternoon; and I have listened very openly. I have two questions, which were encapsulated for me by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The first question is: what happens in a classroom after the late night show or after a child has picked up the magazine I picked up in my hotel last night called Elle, which I thought was an ordinary magazine for females? I do not read many of those magazines. As I flicked through it I read story after story of lurid sex. I am sure that that magazine is on the coffee table of many middle class homes. I am sure that many children I have worked with actually listen to and watch those TV programmes. I, too, caught one recently: I learnt a great deal. But these things are there for children as well as for adults to see, which I do not think we can deny.

So what happens in the classroom on the Tuesday morning after the programme when the child asks the question: what is oral anal sex? What are these other things that they see on television? Does the teacher say, "I cannot engage in a discussion about this." What does that do in terms of mystique? I would much rather that a child for whom I was responsible had a direct answer to that question than for them to come home with real queries, even though someone in another place had voted against that happening. I would give them a reasonable answer. We know the level of child poverty. I do not have the numbers in front of me because this was not the speech that I was going to make. But there are many children who go back to homes where they could not even admit to the question.

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The noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned the many children who are worried about their sexual development. For many years I was the chief executive of Childline. Last year Childline counselled 16,000 children who were confused about their sexuality. This does not mean that they thought they were one thing or the other, they just did not understand about their sexuality. It says something about present sex education in this country if that is happening with children. If teachers are prevented from giving education, then it would be even more difficult.

They talked to 124 youngsters, mostly boys, who were concerned about being homophobic. The stories of children speak for themselves. I spoke to a youngster whom I will call Bill. He was 15 and very distressed. He had been called names and experienced homophobic bullying at school which, as we all know, is a result of Section 28. He could not talk to his teacher who told him to go home and talk to his parents. Bill's father was extremely homophobic. He knew he would be beaten. He had been beaten anyway. That child decided to run away. If he runs away, he ends up on the streets of London. We know what happens to young homosexual boys and men on London streets. They get into the sex industry. I worked with youngsters involved in that. Once in that industry, the children do not get out of it. That is the long-term consequence of not helping children to understand the nature of what goes on.

When I was younger I do not really remember my sex education, although I think I had it, but the world now is a very different place. If we are to protect our young people then we have to make absolutely sure that every child has proper sex education. I have the utmost confidence in teachers and in my very long experience I have never seen the material to which the noble Baroness refers. I feel sorry about that. It is something that I should have seen. I have great confidence that our teachers will convey to young people the right information. They will be able to answer their questions and therefore give them the protection and care that they rightly deserve. I hope that your Lordships will reject the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

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